The Charm of New Orleans
There is a popular street in the Southern US that gets a lot of attention this time of year. Bourbon Street, the epicenter of New Orleans, annually attracts revelers for the infamous Marti Gras celebration. Donned in green, yellow and purple, these partiers celebrate “Fat Tuesday” unlike anywhere else in the country. I always thought Mardi Gras was a classic New Orleans experience, but after visiting in the fall, I do not know if I would want to share the city I met with so many other visitors.
New Orleans, fondly referred to as NOLA, has soul. And while the city is well known for its debauchery leading up to Lent, there is so much more to NOLA than partying – consider the cast iron balconies, musicians playing on street corners, the emphasis on food, and of course the city’s resilience. Everyone can remember that it was only eight and half years ago that Hurricane Katrina devastated the city and killed almost two thousand people. While many things may be different about the city than in 2005, some things remain the same – the city is strong, the people are energized and together they are rebuilding. Early in 2012, my mom and I read a travel article urging visitors to return to NOLA and give it some love because it was so deserving. Looking for a little travel inspiration for our mother-daughter trip, we decided to look no further.
So what did I learn from the Crescent City? It is so much more than Bourbon Street! Here is how to get the most out of your visit to the lovely and charismatic New Orleans.
New Orleans is a city that stays up late, so getting up early will show you a quiet, tame side of the city. A walk through the French Quarter will be eerily quiet on a Sunday morning, with water filling the street to wash away the previous night’s festivities. Make sure you look up as the cast iron balconies of the Victorian era are one of the architectural highlights.
I cannot stress it enough, GET OUT OF THE FRENCH QUARTER! While it is the most famous of the New Orleans neighborhoods, there is so much more to see. The Garden District is a beautiful neighborhood lined with elegant homes and is a nice walk outside of downtown. On the way, stop at the historic Lafayette Cemetery No. 1.
Additionally, Magazine Street certainly is worth the walk outside the French Quarter. Lined with boutique shops, restaurants and art galleries, make sure you venture out to explore what Magazine Street has to offer.
Start in Jackson Square and visit the Cabildo. As a U.S. National Historic Landmark, the building is noteworthy due to the fact that the Louisiana Purchase was signed inside and the momentous court case of Plessy v. Ferguson was decided within its walls. Move next door and you are at the Presbytere, which houses the Hurricane Katrina exhibit as well as a Mardi Gras exhibit. As we were short on time, we only saw the former, which does an incredible job of explaining how the hurricane happened and why it impacted the city the way it did. The stories about Katrina and the destruction it left in its wake are exceptionally sad, but the exhibit does a lot to show you how resilient the people of New Orleans are and how far the city has come since 2005.
If you head to Magazine Street for the boutiques and restaurants, the Central Business District offers two spectacular museums – the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and the National World War II Museum. The Ogden Museum is a unique museum that can be viewed in an hour, but has diverse pieces and an interesting collection by many Southern artists. However, save that extra time you thought you needed for Ogden for the World War II Museum. Your visit must begin with the Tom Hanks narrated Beyond All Boundaries. This 4D movie takes you back to the battle lines and highlights the significance the war had on the entire world. The museum has an in-depth look into each battle in each region, complete with airplanes and tanks from the battle lines. For history lovers, leave plenty of time to explore this extraordinary museum, one that I will certainly be heading back to next time I am in New Orleans.
Lastly, if time permits head up to City Park to see the New Orleans Museum of Art. After exploring the fine arts museum, make sure you traverse the grounds to see the sculptures and gardens outside. Also, traveling from downtown to the NOMA will afford you a ride in a classic New Orleans streetcar.
When they say that New Orleans has soul, they do not just mean the people. The music has soul as well and you can hear it wherever you go. Thought to be the home of jazz music, street performers delight on the corners playing jazz and blues, giving the city a happy and energetic vibe. Where else should you go to hear the best music in New Orleans? Frenchman Street has become the center of live music and nightlife in the city and a walk down the street will allow you to duck into whichever bar or club is playing music you want to hear. The Spotted Cat and d.b.a. New Orleans were two of the places we visited over our long weekend and I am eager to return and hear more of what Frenchman Street has to offer.
No trip to New Orleans is complete without a trip to Preservation Hall. (Alert: this was my ultimate New Orleans moment!). Prior to arriving in New Orleans, I did not know a lot about Preservation Hall. Only that it was the city’s most popular forum for jazz music, established in the 1960s to preserve the music it still plays today. Maybe it was the word “hall” that had me thinking we would be attending a show in a large music hall filled with hundreds of people. Boy was I wrong. Preservation Hall is the size of a living room and with the exception of the reserved tickets you can buy for a premium at the front (I believe there are only eight of those), the rest of the tickets are on a first-come first-served basis. Lines form down St. Peter’s street at least a half hour in advance, but it is worth every minute of the wait. The band pours their heart and soul into the music and will remove all reservations you had about classical jazz. They truly blew us away and we left not only with incredible energy and adrenaline, but a new jazz record for our collection. A word of advice, do not visit New Orleans without visiting Preservation Hall – you will not regret it!
Consistently ranked amongst the best in the country, New Orleans continues to impress when it comes to food. Taking some of the south’s most classic foods and mixing powerful influences of Creole, French and Spanish make for a memorable food experience. The city takes its food seriously and has you dreaming about your next meal. With so many talented chefs and innovative new dishes, it is certainly hard to choose where to go, but after completing the ultimate foodie weekend in NOLA, my mom and I have a list of fantastic restaurants you would be remiss not to try.
For breakfast, be sure to try The Ruby Slipper Café serving delicious locally sourced food (and pomegranate mimosas) as well as Red Gravy, where we had delectable red velvet pancakes. For a true New Orleans brunch, The Court of Two Sisters is the place to go. Sitting outside in the courtyard, you are treated to a large buffet of every southern dish you could ever hope to try.
Have you ever had beignets? Well these sweet doughnuts covered in powdered sugar are most famous in New Orleans, specifically at Café du Monde. It is the perfect snack after a long walk through the neighborhoods.
For dinner your choices are endless with a myriad of new restaurants continuously opening. Your best bet is to follow your taste buds. We knew we wanted to do one dinner in a quintessential New Orleans restaurant and that choice was Commander’s Palace based off a great recommendation. Nestled in the quiet Garden District, the hospitality at this restaurant is astounding and the Cajun and Creole flavors of our dishes blew us away. Emeril’s is another restaurant we were pleased with, indulging in local favorites of macaroni and cheese, barbecue shrimp and bread pudding. Lastly, and not to be missed, is our favorite New Orleans food experience, Coquette. Discovered by chance, this Magazine Street restaurant wowed us with an incredible tasting menu. It is another restaurant that is focused on locally sourced ingredients without diverging from its southern staples. If you are in New Orleans, you MUST try Coquette.
So as tourism to New Orleans surges over the next month for Mardi Gras, I hope those of you visiting take some time to see the other side of the Crescent City as well. This lively and resilient city is not to be missed!
Have you been to New Orleans? If not, is it somewhere you would like to visit?