August 23, 2017

10 Things To Do In New Orleans

New Orleans has the dubious honor of being one of the most haunted cities in the United States, and you guys know by now that I’m a huge fan of getting creeped out for fun. From the malaria outbreaks that plagued the first settlers as they attempted to establish a settlement, to the great fire of 1788 which destroyed more than three quarters of the French Quarter, as well as the disastrous effects of hurricane Katrina in 2005 & the Gulf Oil debacle of a few years ago...New Orleans sure has a rich history of tragedy which some paranormal enthusiasts feel goes hand in hand with a higher than normal prevalence of spooks and haunts.


Ghost Tours

I definitely recommend going on a ghost tour of any city you visit, since they are a fun and nontraditional way to learn about the history of the place you’re visiting.  A tour is also a great way to get your bearings as you’ll get to walk around a bit with a local who knows the ins-and-outs of the neighborhood.
Travel Tip: I always join the Groupon site of any city I plan on visiting to get a heads up on good deals and fun things to do.

Preservation Hall

Tucked away on a quiet side street in the quarter, Preservation Hall is one of the coolest music venues in the city with a rich tradition of preserving the jazz music scene and culture of NOLA. Constructed in 1961, it is very sparsely furnished & more often that not there is just standing room only. The bands rotate, and it’s an extremely intimate venue.  They also take requests for a buck or two, but if you want to hear the "When The Saints Go Marching In", (according to the sign near the stage) you’ll need to shell out ten. Since most of the musicians performing depend on tips for a large portion of their livelihood, tip often and generously when “Philip” ( as in "Fill-Up the tip jar") gets passed around. 


Frenchmen Street

Frenchmen Street is in a part of New Orleans just outside the Quarter called 'The Marigny'. It is a long street with jazz clubs, restaurants, bars, and little shops. We really enjoyed this part of the city since it’s off the beaten path, and it wasn’t quite so bustling as say, Bourbon Street.
If you’re into draft beer and good booze then you should definitely check out DBA (which stands for Drink Better Alcohol). Just down the street is another bar called Three Muses which serves fun tapas sized plates and features live music and an eclectic specialty cocktail selection.


Cafe du Monde

A trip to New Orleans wouldn’t be complete without some chicory coffee and beignets, and it took us until our last morning on the way to the airport to get there, but it was totally worth the wait.  I feel like I should preface this with the absolute truth. I’m so not a donut person, anything fried sweet (or savory) totally freaks me out, but I think it’s fair to say that I may be down with beignets.  Beignets are pillowy, yet not too doughy, confectioner’s sugar covered, bites of deliciousness.  They’re messy and fun to eat; and our rental car looked like an absolute disaster since we ate them on the way our flight. You should definitely stop by the iconic Café du Monde for a true taste of the Big Easy and perhaps early into your visit rather than later, so if you become a beignet enthusiast like me you’ll have a few more opportunities to get them.  You can also take home a can of their famous Cafe du Monde chicory coffee.  Believe me, it is STRONG, but very, very good. 


The French Market

Café du Monde is actually in the French Market, so you can kill two birds with one stone if you’re so inclined. There are absolutely tons of shops, drink stands, restaurants, and produce stands in this part of the Quarter. The French Market is also right alongside the mighty Mississippi River, which is ideal for scenic strolling. The absolutely gorgeous Saint Louis Cathedral is also near this part of the city so you’ll be able to check out the square there as well. Tons of local artists, performing and otherwise, hawk their wares in this area, and you can scoop up some cool souvenirs that weren’t perhaps manufactured abroad, all the while supporting local folks making a living. It is a great place to spend an afternoon browsing, and definitely a must-visit in New Orleans. 

Plantation Tours

One of the closest plantation homes to New Orleans is the Destrehan Plantation, which is also the oldest plantation home in the lower Mississippi River Valley. We opted to venture off the direct path on our way in to NOLA & made a detour to Oak Alley Plantation for a tour. It is an immaculately maintained plantation home, and our guide was in period dress. She had an encyclopedic level of knowledge regarding the history of the property and its owners.
Our guide was super informative and very patient answering all of the questions tour-goers had. Oak Alley also is supposedly quite haunted as well, but we didn’t run into any spooks that I know of, however I can see how eerie the location might be at night with the sprawling 250 year old oaks and nightly settling sounds that old homes notoriously make.

You can also sample a stiff mint julep to support the Oak Alley Plantation Historical Society.  They do not skimp on the bourbon, so be prepared to walk it off for a while if you decide to try one. They're tasty and for a good cause, can't beat that. While the legacy of the plantation homes is a very sad one, it is worth a visit for sure.  If you're hungry while you're there, I recommend the Oak Alley Restaurant that is adjacent to the Gift Shop on the grounds of the property.  They are open for breakfast and lunch 8:30 am to 3:30 pm.  I had the pasta primavera, mint tea & pecan pie and I was in awe of every delicious bite.

Jackson Square
In a prime location on Decatur Street, between the Jax Brewery Shopping Mall & the French Market, right in front of the St. Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square earns it name for one of three bronze statues of Andrew Jackson located in the center of the square. The area surrounding Jackson Square is a unique combination of commercial and residential property. The Cabildo, the Presbytere (on the opposite side of the Cathedral), and one of the apartment townhouses of the Lower Pontalba Apartments are now state museums. The lower floors of the apartment buildings are shops and restaurants, while the second and third floors are residential apartments.
Jackson Square is also the location of an incredible open-air artist colony, where artists display their work on the outside of the iron fence. Visitors even have the opportunity to see the artists at work and perhaps have their portrait drawn by one of the many talents utilizing Jackson Square as their studio. One of my favorite street artists there is Ricco Rideaux, but there are many, many talented artists at the square you are sure to fall in love with. 

The Garden District

The Garden District is just a short street car ride away, and it is filled with some of the most gorgeous homes in the city.  It also is the home to Commander’s Palace, the restaurant where the famous Emeril Lagasse started his culinary career.  If you decide to eat here, you'll need to make reservations.

We spent the afternoon ambling around, and checking out some of the striking mansions.  Sometimes the attractions of a city are housed in museums, but in NOLA, the city itself is like one giant museum so you can spend hours just cruising around taking it all in.  There are cafes and shops dotting the area, and a few blocks over is Magazine Street which also is a fun shopping destination.  Stop into notable Magazine Street shops like Sucre (a do-not-miss-it bakery/gelato/chocolate store), Hazelnut (a home interiors store owned by "Mad Men" star Bryan Batt) or Garb Boutique (owned by New York Times bestselling author Antonia 'Toya' Wright (Lil' Wayne's ex-wife).

Near the Garden District is the Tulane college campus as well as the Audubon Zoo.  If you're into literature, a must-see is Anne Rice's old home at 1239 First Street.  It is where she wrote and the inspiration for the home in the Mayfair Witches series of books. It's a personal residence now, so you can only see the outside, but trust me, it is spellbinding & gorgeous.

Cities of the Dead

Due to New Orleans’ low elevation and high water table, the cemeteries in the city feature raised vaults, mausoleums, and crypts to keep the departed cozy and safe.  These cities of the dead are absolutely breathtaking and feature beautiful architectural elements and elaborate structures.  They serve as visually powerful memorials to the inhabitants of a city with an unbelievably rich history.  St. Louis No. 1, 2, and 3 are the oldest cemeteries and they are near the Quarter.

The infamous Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, Marie Laveau, is believed to be buried in St. Louis No. 1.  If you’re in the Garden District you could checkout Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 which is known to be in slightly better shape than the oldest cemeteries.  While the subject matter could be perceived as macabre, it really is a super interesting way to spend an afternoon.  Make sure to schedule your visit on a weekday or Saturday as the cemeteries are closed on Sunday and quite a few are closed on Monday as well.

The French Quarter

Most of our time spent in New Orleans was in and around the French Quarter which doesn’t really make it a thing to do I suppose, but more like a place to be. There are tons of bars, hotels, restaurants, shops, and residences in this visually striking part of the city.  One can find as much trouble as they would like in New Orleans, particularly on Bourbon Street.  I loved the spectacle of Bourbon Street, although I stayed away from the adult entertainment venues that dot the blocks closer to Canal Street.

I appreciated the variety of options throughout the Quarter from the cozy and romantic, to the bawdy and salacious, there really is something for everyone.  New Orleans is very much more than Bourbon Street, but it is definitely worth seeing; my impression was that I could have had a positively scandalous amount of fun if I had been with a handful of friends from my younger years and/or college (who will go unnamed), but since it was just the two of us on this trip we picked more low-key destinations to check out. By all means, check out a drink that most of the bars make called a 'Louisiana Lemonade' won't regret it.

All in all, New Orleans is a fantastic and culturally diverse place to visit.  If you’re even remotely into food, music, night-life, art, culture, ghost hunting, architecture, history, or any combination of the above it’s an absolutely must-visit vacation spot.

One of the many reasons I adore the city of New Orleans is the tenacity of its residents to defy adversity and their willingness to pick up the pieces, dust-off, and rebuild. They are absolutely inspirational, and despite the devastating series of events within the last decade, the heart of New Orleans remains hospitable, kind, and generous to those of us lucky enough to visit.  

 Laissez les bon temps rouler. 

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