Imani Woodin is a sophomore at Florida International University majoring in international relations with a minor in Portuguese. Starting her life in Kenya, moving around the state of Florida, and living as an exchange student in Brazil fueled her intrigue in learning about people and places. As someone who is fascinated by art, nature, language, and life, she is more than ready to explore Miami through this course.
Surfside is a town in Northern Miami Beach, Miami-Dade county. It is bordered on the south by the touristic North Beach neighborhood; north by an upscale neighborhood, Bal Harbor; and west by the small town of Bay Harbor Islands. As detailed in the map on the left, Surfside extends from 87th St to 96th st and is marked by signs that welcome you in.
The natural landscape in Surfside and the rest of Miami Beach was removed in its development. Contrary to popular belief, Miami Beach is not supposed to have sand (it’s imported from the Bahamas!), what originally occupied this space were mangroves. Now, the most nature to be seen are palm trees that line the streets. The closest natural area is the beautiful Beach Oceanside Park in North Beach.
The first to call the area that is now called Surfside home was the Native American Tequesta tribe. The first evidence of their village and burial mound was found during the 1923 clearing of the land by the Tatum Brothers who platted Surfside to build a large subdivision. They were attracted to the beautiful beach and the prominent social life in the area, as it was home to the illustrious Surf Club. Where, in addition to the parties, the club offered an assortment of entertainment options including extravagant musicals and balls, games such as bingo and bridge, elaborate luncheons with poolside fashion shows and an assortment of other high-profile soirees hosted by the club (George).
The residential area built by the Tatum Brothers served as home for 50 residents when in 1935 the town of Surfside was incorporated. The population boomed following World War II and single family homes, apartment buildings and condominiums started popping up. Collins Ave was the most desirable area, as it was once filled with small apartment complexes and beachside motels before today’s skyscrapers were built. A victim of this change is the Surf Club which was bought by the Four Seasons.
According to the census, Surfside had a population of 5,725 in 2019. 86.4% of the population is white and of that white population, 53.6% is white alone while 44.9% is hispanic or latino. 4.3% have two or more races and 0.7% is asian. The median household income in 2020 was $57,775 while the median value of owner-occupied housing units was $619,300 and median gross rent was $1,631. 55% of the population is female.
When walking through the neighborhood, it is obvious that you are in a majority jewish area. Cultural differences come through in subtle ways, you might catch someone reading a book in Hebrew, or notice how the population is dressed more conservatively than in the rest of Miami-Dade County.
Paulo Sufrediné is a retired engineer who has had a beach apartment in Surfside since 2002 and started living there permanently in 2015. I spoke to him at the Surfside Tennis Center, across the street from where the condominium collapsed almost a year ago.
Imani: “What’s your favorite restaurant in Surfside?”
Paulo: “My favorite is Café Ragazzi on 95th and Harding. It’s the best one here. An Italian restaurant.”
Imani: “Has Surfside changed since you started living here?”
Paulo: “Quite a bit. It’s much more crowded. The traffic is chaotic.”
Imani: “Were you here the day the building collapsed?”
Paulo: “Yes I was. I was sleeping so I did not hear [it], but lots of people in my building did, one of them was my son. He went to my bedroom to tell me what happened.”
Imani: “Do you remember that day?”
Paulo: “Clearly. I remember at 5:00 in the morning that day because it was chaotic and very traumatizing.”
Imani: “How long did it take for them to clear it”
Paulo: “Somewhere between 2 and 3 months”
Imani: “Do you think the incident poses a threat to the other residents here?”
Imani: “You think it was just that building?”
Paulo: “Absolutely. Buildings don’t fall like that. It was very strange.”
Surfside is home to the natural landmark of the beach, the economic landmark of Harding Avenue, and the tragic landmark of the Chaplain towers.
Surfside is home to a one-mile long stretch of sand and Atlantic. The beach is much more mellow than other areas in south Miami Beach and is one of the few natural areas of Surfside. It’s fit for any type of activity, whether you want to chill out or work out, Surfside Beach is the place to be.
You haven’t been to Surfside until you’ve walked through Harding Avenue. Some would say that it’s heart of the neighborhood- most of the markets, restaurants, and businesses call this street home. If you ever want to visit the places I mention below, you can park on 94th and Harding across from Publix for less than $2 an hour. Walking the street here cultural experience I’d never had before. I highly suggest taking a trip.
I can’t talk about Surfside without mentioning the partial-collapse of the 12- story condominium on June 24, 2021. After standing for nearly four decades, one wing of the building simply caved in.
The skeleton of the towers is at the entrance of Surfside and is covered by a fence. There’s an odd calm in the area. There’s no way you can visit without thinking of all the lives lost and families impacted.
Surfside Tennis Center
Located on 88th st and Harding in south Surfside, the Tennis Center is a quaint place to sit under some trees or walk your dog, but the bustle of Collins Ave takes away from the ease of the nature. True to its name, there’s also a tennis court in the park that you can use by reservation.
Notably, there is a memorial on the wall as an ode to the condominium collapse which happened across the street.
96th Street park
Located in north Surfside, 96th street park is the perfect place for locals to clear their head or to let their kids run their energy off. Amenities include an athletic field, 2 playground areas, basketball courts, a handball/tennis wall, and a restroom facility.
Paws Up Dog Park
If you are ever in Surfside with your furry friend, Paws Up is the perfect place for them to run free. Located at the corner of Byron Avenue and 93rd Street, the park opens daily at Sunrise and closes at 8 p.m
The main mode of transportation is the car, of course, however commutes have become trickier in the last few years along with the population increase. According to a number of locals, parking has gotten harder but the amount of parking spaces remains the same.
Other than that, I took note of more mopeds and bicycles than I usually see in the rest of Dade County. This is probably because locals live by most places that they need to go, and it’s also cheaper.
In terms of public transit, the 120 and S bus runs through the area. You can get anywhere by bus here, it may just require a few transfers.
Something I learned at Surfside was that in Kosher eating (a Jewish diet), dairy and meat are consumed separately. If you ask someone for a restaurant suggestion, the first question they ask is “meat or dairy?”
kosh sushi grill
One example of a meat restaurant is Kosh. They have a calm dining environment with outdoor and indoor seating. On my visit, I had a delicious, well prepared sushi. Everything that is in a typical sushi roll that might disrupt a kosher diet, such as shrimp or cream cheese, is imitation. I would definitely recommend this restaurant, just be ready to spend (if you’re on a college budget)!
For dairy, Failkoff’s is the place to go. Compared to the other food joints in the area, this is the most casual (and affordable) option. Their limited menu was refreshing, as they only serve pizza with regular sauce, pizza with spicy(ish) sauce, and french fries.
Serendipity is another great Kosher dairy place to try! The rocky road is delicious and their pastel theme is super cute.
If there is one place I love in Surfside, it’s the Grove. If you or another friend have never been out of the country, this is a great place to experience what a supermarket outside of America looks like. As you can see on the middle right picture, all the brands that are sold at the Grove aren’t the typical ones that you’d see at Walmart- everything is Kosher. The magazines, as you can see on the middle left picture, are in completely different languages and are about topics that are completely foreign to me. The best part was the pastry area. Everything was baked in house, is affordably priced and DELICIOUS. Even the corn muffin (bottom of the bottom picture) was mouthwatering. 10/10 experience.
Miami beach chocolates
A great local business that deserves more love is Miami Beach Chocolates. You can go in and have a bite of your favorite kind of chocolates, buy a premade box of chocolates for that special someone, or order a large order for an office party. They even sell wine that can be paired with any type of chocolate you can imagine.
Tsniout Runway is the place to go if you’re looking for the latest fashion. The boutique is one of its kind and sells modest clothes.
Visiting and getting to know more about Surfside was a treasure. There are many cool events that are thrown there by the town (check out Townofsurfsidefl.gov for more info)- just like the Third Thursday event pictured above. The area, however, does feel overdeveloped as there’s so little nature, and the skyscrapers on Collins Ave really took away the old-towny feel. Overall it was such a unique place to learn about and see. I really hope you get a pastry at the Grove next time you’re in the area.
Al-Jamea, Albright, Blaskey, Conarck, Handley, Leibowitz, Newcomb. House of Cards: How decades of problems converged the night Chamlain Towers fell. Dec 30, 2021. Miami Herald.
George, Paul. History of the Town of Surfside. March 30, 2020. Miami-History.com
Town of Surfside. Home. Parks and Recreation. Parks Information. Townofsurfsidefl.gov.