Even though I consider myself a bit of a grandma and I’ve turned John into a bit of a grandpa (we both like to eat dinner early to beat the crowds and for me it has the added bonus of making it back home in plenty of time for my 9pm bedtime), New Orleans has been on both of our bucket lists for a long time. We didn’t want to go to New Orleans to party in the French Quarter or to spend our days drinking on Bourbon St. Well, maybe John did, but he went with the wrong person for that.
We really just wanted to go to New Orleans for the food and the experience. So, if you’re looking for a guide to New Orleans that is going to share all the best clubs, bars, and nightlife, you are in the wrong place. Sorry. If you’re thinking about visiting the Big Easy, but aren’t sure it has what you’re looking for because you, like me, aren’t much into the party scene, then read on!
Guide to New Orleans: The Garden District
This one is easy. Stay in the Garden District. We decided to get an Airbnb while we were in New Orleans because we didn’t want to park our van, Junior, in the street; we also wanted the ability to walk or take the trolley around the city. The Garden District is much less rowdy than staying in the French Quarter but you are still close enough to get everywhere you’d want to be really quickly.
There are also tons of great shops on Magazine Street. We spent several hours just strolling up and down the streets looking at all of the historic southern homes and azaleas in full bloom. We were also there a few days after Mardi Gras, so most houses still had their decorations up which was fun to see.
Say No to Bottomless Brunch
Skip the brunch spots that offer bottomless drinks. Several people recommended Katie’s to us as a place loved by the locals and a great spot to try a po-boy. We happened to stop by on a Sunday afternoon, which was a mistake.
On Sundays they do brunch. This means their menu was different from their typical Monday-Saturday menu. We were sad when we saw that there was only one po-boy offered. As we were waiting for a table I mentioned to John that everyone coming out of the restaurant looked completely hammered. I think he was jealous. When we got seated at a lovely outside table, I noticed there was a “bottomless brunch” option where you were served unlimited house drinks. That explained a lot, I thought.
We ordered our crab cake po-boy. It was delicious, but it’s not the most memorable takeaway from our brunch. Soon after we were seated, a truck pulled up in front of our table. The passenger threw open the back door, and a girl started vomiting her guts up in front of us for a solid five minutes. It totally killed the mood. We ended up spending the rest of lunch watching people walk right through the pile of throwup. I guess it was kind of fun playing the, “Are they going to notice it?” game.
Do try Katie’s though. If we ever make it back to New Orleans, we’ll stop there again…just not on a Sunday.
Hop On a Streetcar
If you have some time to kill for exploring and you just want to see some of the city, hop on a streetcar. It’s a fun way to see the city and they stop just about everywhere. This was a nice way to see parts of the city we weren’t planning to walk around.
Make sure to buy a Jazzy Pass if you plan on riding more than once to save some money. You can get a one day Jazzy Pass for $3, a three-day Jazzy Pass for $9 or a five-day Jazzy Pass for $15. This lets you ride the streetcar as much as you’d like. If you’re in a hurry though, I wouldn’t recommend the streetcars because they are often late and can get very crowded.
Guide to New Orleans: Bourbon Street & the French Quarter
You can’t have a guide to New Orleans that doesn’t recommend a trip to Bourbon Street and the French Quarter. You have to visit these areas at least once, especially if you’ve never been to New Orleans before. The architecture in Jackson Square (in the French Quarter) is very lovely. This is also a great area if you love people watching.
I would recommend visiting these areas early in the morning. That way, your chances of getting thrown up on or having beer spilled on you are far less. I also just like how quiet and peaceful everything is early in the morning. There are also less crowds to deal with.
Have a Beignet or Two…or Three
While you are in the French Quarter, stop by the famous Cafe Du Monde and have some beignets. The cafe is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, except for Christmas. This is another can’t-miss for a first-time visit to NOLA. Be prepared to wait in line though, even if you do make it there early. I’m pretty sure this location is always crowded. John and I decided to eat inside the open-air cafe for the experience. We waited in line for about 30 minutes, but once we found a spot to sit we were served very quickly.
Ride the Carousel at Hotel Monteleone
A stop at Hotel Monteleone’s Carousel Bar for before-dinner drinks is a must. This was quite possibly my favorite thing we did while we were in New Orleans. If the bar is full, it is worth the wait and awkward lingering to get a seat at the carousel, don’t give up!
The bar is made out of an old carousel and slowly revolves as you drink. There is no way to get behind the bar without climbing over it. Whenever a bartender needs to enter or leave he has to ask patrons to slide over for a minute so he can climb over. For some reason, this added to the charm for me. The bar serves up a variety of New Orleans favorites such as the Sazerac, the Hurricane, and Bourbon Milk Punch to name a few.
John and I probably spent about two hours here, enjoying the ambiance and a few delicious cocktails before we headed to dinner.
Guide to New Orleans: Cajun Cuisine
Try all the food! There are a few things you should try in New Orleans, even if you’ve had them somewhere else. These include: beignets, boudin, crawfish étouffée, po-boys and jambalaya. John and I made sure to have all of these during our trip, sometimes more than once.
Our top restaurant recommendations would be Cochon for dinner and then Willa Jean for breakfast/brunch. Wherever you decide to eat though, remember to make reservations to save yourself the headache of having to wait for a table, or even worse, being turned away at the door!
Stop By a Cemetery
Visit a cemetery. The cemeteries in the Big Easy are filled with above-ground tombs because the water table in the city is so high. This makes the cemeteries here very different from most of the other ones you’d see in the country. With row after row of above-ground tombs, they look like crowded little cities and are often referred to as “Cities of the Dead.”
Some of the more popular cemeteries (like St. Louis Cemetery No. 1) require guided tours but most do not. Just make sure you check the closing times. As it turns out, most close between 2 and 4pm for the day. John and I waited until our last afternoon in New Orleans before trying to check out a cemetery. We were going to go right before dinner so the lighting would be nicer for pictures aaannnnnd they were all closed, so we missed out.
Guide to New Orleans: Fill Your Ears with Jazz
You will likely hear jazz music playing on the streets most everywhere in NOLA. Street musicians playing saxophones are on every corner and you can hear live music coming out of shops and restaurants as you pass.
If you want to hear more music than what you might take in in passing, The Spotted Cat Music Club and Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro are my recommendations. The Spotted Cat has shows at 2pm, 6pm, and 10pm every day, so you don’t have to stay out late to enjoy some good live music. Snug Harbor has two shows a night starting at 8pm and 10pm.
Let us know what your favorite things to do in New Orleans are and what we need to add to our list for next time!