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Wynwood – the new center of Miami

Wynwood has been transformed from an industrial inner city zone to an alternative area popular with artists, and has pretty much become the established center of Miami in the space of a few short years.

When Juan Lazaga moved his car repair company in 1988 from the Bronx to the Wynwood district of Miami, a totally industrialized, working class area with many immigrants, he had no idea he’d just made the best investment of his life.

Juan Lazaga. Photo: Mattias Lundblad

The area was then full of garment manufacturers and large warehouse-like stores that sold clothes byweight at ridiculously low prices.
“You paid by the pound and most of the clothes were shipped to Haiti and Cuba to be sold there,” he says.

Even though Lazaga still has his company and his oily premises, on which he mostly renovates older vintage cars, everything around him has changed. All over the workshop are telltale signs of KYU, an elegant Asian fusion BBQ restaurant, where you often have to book a table at least a month in advance. The history of the property across the road speaks volumes about Wynwood. When Lazaga arrived in the area, it was a factory that made aluminum furniture. About ten years ago, the owners first sold the company then the premises on which it was based. The sum? Four million dollars. One year later, the plot was sold again, this time for five million. In turn, the new owner waited another twelve months before selling the land, this time for an eye-opening $24 million. A large apartment block is now being built on the site. “There are new build residential and commercial developments appearing all around here,” Lazaga says.

Spacious stores with polished concrete floors, scaled back cafés with award-winning baristas, experimental, architect-designed restaurants and large galleries packed with modern art line the streets of Wynwood today. 

Local artists are encouraged to continually update and refresh the walls in the area. Photo: Mattias LundbladTogether with graffiti. Graffiti is to Wynwood, as art deco is to South Beach and it’s impossible to separate Wynwood’s transformation from the emergence of art and the additional layer that it’s brought to Miami’s identity over the past ten years.

The first Art Basel art fair was established in Miami in 2002. The creation of an enormous gathering point for the art world’s most financially successful figures on the planet, a stone’s throw from the turquoise waters and chalk white sands of Miami Beach, proved to be a stroke of genius. In the space of a few short years, Art Basel established itself as one of the leading and most important art fairs in the world. The weeklong art festival has triggered a long line of spin-offs in the form of alternative fairs that have emerged at the same time, to create an enormous festival of art and partying. As an added bonus, it opened the eyes of several figures within the art world to Miami as a destination to move to.

Legendary investor and real estate developer Tony Goldman (the man behind the development of SoHo in New York from an industrial zone to a designer and flagship store district) spotted Miami’s potential early, and more specifically, in the Wynwood district, where artists had started to move into industrial premises, a few years previously, as is so often the case. Goldman began to invest and acquired a long line of properties in the area. He also had a brainwave: 
“Goldman came up with the concept of creating an outdoor museum, consisting of many large walls decorated with enormous graffiti artwork. The museum would be open to everyone, with free entry,” says Santiago Garza, an artist who has been resident in the area since 2009.

This led to the birth of Wynwood Walls, one of the most famous tourist attractions in the area. You don’t have to go to the museum itself to see painted walls, however – almost every building façade is covered by huge works of art.
“They’re being painted over all the time, especially around the time of Art Basel each year. This means the area is constantly changing, which as a resident is something that I appreciate here,” Garza says.

The graffitied Wynwood Walls have been central to the transformation of the area. Photo: Mattias Lundblad

The area has changed remarkably quickly. Now there are designer stores everywhere, lavishly styled restaurants and hordes of people on the streets. Numerous apartment complexes are under construction. Alexis Jacot, owner of Miam café has watched the transformation at close quarters.
“When I first arrived, it was difficult to stay afloat. Quite simply, there weren’t enough people here. But I knew things were changing. More and more homes were being built and that was the only thing that was missing.”

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