Out and About in New Orleans
Mike and I recently returned from a long weekend in New Orleans. It was my first visit to the city and even though I wasn’t feeling my best, we had a really great time. We were in New Orleans for 4 solid days and we did a TON of walking (10 miles in just one day!) because their public transit isn’t exactly the most reliable (I don’t think I can ever complain about the CTA again). This gave us plenty of time to do a lot of wandering and get to know this lively, colorful city.
The Mardi Gras festivities had ended by the time we arrived, but remnants of a pretty awesome party still lingered on trees, balconies, and doors around town. With a great central starting point from our hotel in the Warehouse District, Hotel Modern, we were able to get a good feel for the city and many of it’s diverse, beautiful neighborhoods. There was so much more that we didn’t have a chance to see, but that just means that a return visit is in order!
One of my favorite things we did on this visit to New Orleans was walking around the neighborhoods and checking out all of New Orleans’ famous architecture. Creole Cottages, gas lamps, large columns, Greek Revival houses, wrought-iron balconies, front porches, and Double Shotgun row houses in every color imaginable were quietly waiting for us around every corner. There was also the food (don’t worry, there’s a whole post devoted to that), the shopping, and the music – each neighborhood offering its own unique flavor. Here’s a rundown of the neighborhoods we loved, along with a few of the highlights.
You can’t go to New Orleans without walking around the French Quarter. Start your morning early with beignets at the famous Café du Monde – order them to-go from the take-out window around back and grab a seat on a bench overlooking the Mississippi River and Jackson Square. Make your way down Decatur Street to the French Market (the oldest public market in the country) and get your shop on before heading back and grabbing a muffuletta sandwich from Central Grocery.
Make your way over to Royal Street, the classy, refined neighbor of Bourbon Street, and take a leisurely stroll as you admire the flower-lined balconies, endless antique shops, and the talented street performers along the way. Stop for a Sazerac at the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone before heading to Bourbon Street, because you can’t visit New Orleans and not at least see what it’s about.
Enjoy the last hours of daylight over a Hurricane on the patio of Pat O’Brien’s then walk down to the Funky Pirate for some blues and a hand grenade, if you’re brave enough. Take your pick from any number of great restaurants in the area for dinner (Restaurant R’evolution, NOLA, GW Fins…) and end your night by candlelight at the purportedly haunted Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop.
There is definitely a lot to see and do in the French Quarter, but the Garden District wins my vote for favorite New Orleans neighborhood. The homes are gorgeous, there are tons of great coffee shops and restaurants, and the shopping on Magazine Street can’t be beat.
Hop on the St. Charles Streetcar (the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in the world) in the French Quarter and hop off at Jackson, where you’ll find District: Donuts. Sliders. Brew. a few blocks down. Enjoy a coffee and one of their simple, fancy, or extra fancy donuts (or a savory slider) before heading down Magazine Street to check out all the fantastic antique shops, art galleries, and boutiques like one of my favorites, Derby Pottery.
Head to Commander’s Palace (where you’ve made a reservation for lunch in advance) and enjoy their special 25¢ martinis and some of the best Creole and Louisiana cuisine you could ever ask for. After lunch take a stroll through Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, right across the street, to check out the above-ground tombs that fill the cemeteries of New Orleans. Continue walking off your martini buzz along the streets of the Garden District, checking out some of the iconic houses along the way.
If craft beer is your thing, stop in at The Bulldog for great patio seating or Avenue Pub, open 24-7-365 and offering over 40 beers on tap. If you could care less about IPAs and Imperial Stouts, venture a few blocks past Louisiana Ave. and grab a drink on the porch of the Columns Hotel during their happy hour everyday from 5p-7p. Although not “technically” in the Garden District, La Petite Grocery on Magazine Street is nearby and is the perfect spot for an intimate dinner, and afterwards you can grab a taxi and head up to Cure for some killer cocktails to end the night.
Tremé is the country’s oldest continuously inhabited African-American neighborhood and is full of rich Créole and African-American history. Take a walk through St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 and see the tombs of several famous New Orleanians like Homer Plessy of Plessy v. Ferguson and Marie Laveau, the voodoo priestess. Louis Armstrong Park and the New Orleans African American Museum are just a few blocks down and from there you can walk to Henriette DeLille Street where you’ll find the Backstreet Cultural Museum as well as several bright examples of unique New Orleans architecture. Before you leave, grab some famous fried chicken from Willie Mae’s Scotch House or Dooky Chase’s Restaurant.
Faubourg Marigny is a neighborhood just downriver from the French Quarter and it’s where you’ll find some of the best Creole architecture in the city. It’s also where you’ll find Frenchmen Street, the nightlife answer for those that aren’t into the beads and frozen daiquiris of Bourbon Street. Grab brunch at The Ruby Slipper Cafe and then take your time walking up and down the streets near Marigny and Dauphine to see the Marigny’s bright and unique homes. In the evening, take a stroll down Frenchmen Street, stop in at The Spotted Cat Music Club for a set, then peruse the Frenchmen Art Market if they’re open. Spend the rest of the evening hopping from bar to bar on Frenchmen, listening for a tune that draws you in.
Our home base was in the Warehouse District at Hotel Modern, so by default this was the area where we always started and ended our days. If it’s a Friday, make a reservation for lunch at August (technically in the Central Business District) to take advantage of their $20.15 prix fixe – possibly one of the best kept secrets in New Orleans. If it’s a Saturday or Sunday, start your day with brunch (and the Bloody Mary bar) at Tivoli & Lee.
Afterwards, head over to the National WWII Museum for a healthy dose of history (skip the Final Mission experience unless you have kids in tow). Make a dinner reservation in advance at Cochon, Peche, or Root and end the night with fancy (and damn good) cocktails at Bellocq. If fancy cocktails aren’t your thing, check out one of the many other low-key bars in the area. If you’re a Kansas alum or just looking to hang with some friendly, interesting locals, Union Station is the perfect spot.
Wow, that was a long one! If you’re planning a trip to New Orleans, I hope this post offered a few ideas to get you started. If you’re not currently planning a trip to New Orleans, I hope this post convinced you that you need to go! Any other New Orleans recs? Leave them in the comments below!