New Orleans is most known for coming to life during Mardi Gras, but the Big Easy actually has way more to offer than colorful beads and partying on Bourbon Street. This past weekend, I learned that there are so many things to do in New Orleans that families, foodies and serious night owls can all enjoy. Whether you want to enjoy live jazz music, take a walk through sculpture gardens or just eat lots of local Creole and Cajun cuisine, then New Orleans is the best place for your next vacation. I’ve put together a quick guide for you to make the most out of your next trip. Check it out below and let me know what you think.
WHERE TO STAY
HOTELS: My sister and I stayed at the Sheraton New Orleans off of Canal Street in the central business district. Our room was really nice and the location was perfect because we were in the heart of the city. I’m sure it might sound tempting to stay in a hotel on Bourbon Street, but be prepared to pay a little more money and to hear round-the-clock noise from the never-ending street party outside your room every night. Some other hotels that you might want to check out include The Roosevelt Hotel, the Hilton New Orleans Riverside and the Loews Hotel.
RIDE A STREETCAR: There’s no need to rent a car in NOLA because the neighborhoods are close enough for you to access by foot or bicycle. And it you get tired of walking you can give your legs a rest and ride a streetcar instead. Total cost: One-way fares are $1.25 or you can purchase an all day pass from the conductor to $3.00. Be sure to have cash and the exact change. Of course you can order an Uber/Lyft or grab a taxi for any of your transportation needs. We opted to ride the streetcar and do more walking to walk off all of the food we were eating all weekend.
PLACES TO EAT & DRINK
One thing New Orleans certainly has a lot of is amazing restaurants serving local Creole and Cajun cuisine. When you’re visiting New Orleans, you must-try the following dishes to understand the city’s love affair with food. A few things I enjoyed trying this weekend were the charbroiled oysters, gumbo, red beans and rice, Creole bread pudding and some fresh crawfish. Here’s a list of a few restaurants that I got to try:
ACME OYSTER HOUSE: As soon as I got into town last Wednesday night, my sister and I made our way out to find some food and ended up standing in line at the Acme Oyster House. Luckily we only had to wait 15 minutes for out table, but I’ve heard that you could stand in line for up to an hour sometimes. So if you see a short line at the door, then jump in it immediately. The menu includes a variety of seafood dishes from fresh fish platters to po-boy sandwiches to oysters. They are also known for their Boo Fries (which include roast beef gravy and cheese). We ordered the chargrilled oysters to share and the New Orleans Medley and an order of the Fried Half and Half Platter with shrimp and oysters. Everything that we ate was pretty amazing!
BAYOU BEER GARDEN: For a real taste of the local cuisine, then you’ll need to order some fresh crawfish. My sister and I really wanted to find a crawfish boil and found one at the Bayou Beer Garden. They serve 3lbs of crawfish with fixings for $12 at 3pm on Friday and 1pm on Saturday and Sunday. They also have a regular menu if you don’t want to eat crawfish and an extensive beer list with over 150 beers to choose from as well as a cocktail menu. Total cost: $12.00.
CAFÉ DU MONDE: Eat beignets at Café Du Monde for a quintessential New Orleans breakfast or a quick afternoon snack. What’s a beignet? It’s basically “fried dough” in French. This tasty treat is a deep-fried square, doughnut-like pastry topped with tons of powdered sugar. They are sold only in a group of three for about $3 after tax. And make sure you bring cash, they do not accept credit cards. Café Du Monde is famously distinguished by its green-and-white striped awning on Decatur Street across the street from Jackson Square. It’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except on Christmas and the occasional hurricane. My sister and I grabbed more than our fair share a beignets while we were there. Total cost: $3.00.
CENTRAL GROCERY AND DELI: Make your way to Central Grocery Co. on Decatur to grab a thick, meaty muffuletta sandwich from the home of the original muffuletta. This sandwich is a stack of meat and cheese topped with olive salad and packed between pieces of locally baked handmade bread in the shape of a disk. Total cost: $18.95 for whole and $9.95 for half.
DRAGO’S SEAFOOD RESTAURANT: My sister and I went to Drago’s inside the Hilton New Orleans Riverside specifically for their legendary charbroiled oysters. I ordered a half a dozen oysters and after the first bite, I regretted not ordering a dozen of them. These oysters are grilled over an open flame and topped with garlic, butter, herbs, and Parmesan and Romano cheese. They are served with two large chunks of French bread that is perfect for sopping up the rest of the They have such great flavor that you’ll remember them for days. I also ordered a cup of the Chicken & Andoullie Sausage Gumbo, which was just okay. Next time I’ll only order the oysters and I’ll be sure to get a dozen of them. Total cost: $19.95 for a dozen and $11.95 for a half-dozen.
HOTEL MONTELEONE: The Carousel Bar at the historic Hotel Monteleone in the French Quarter is an absolute must see when you’re visiting New Orleans. The bar is an actual functioning carousel that has been spinning for the past 65 years. Don’t worry about the speed either, the 25-seat, bright circus-like Merry-Go-Round rotates every 15 minutes. The bar serves classic cocktails and a food menu that features gumbo, blue crab and crawfish beignets and mini po’boys.
MERIL: My sister and I decided to try out Chef Emeril Lagasse’s newest restaurant, Meril, located in the Warehouse District. The menu reflects the current trend of small plate options that are perfect for sharing with family and friends. We ordered the Upside-Down Cornbread (pineapple & house bacon marmalade), the Brussels Sprouts, Meril’s Linguine & Clams, Jerk Chicken Thighs and the Candied Pork Ribs. At first we didn’t think we ordered enough food, but everything was surprisingly filling and not to mention delicious. We were so full that we couldn’t even entertain ordering dessert. However, we were able to try the birthday cotton candy courtesy of the guest at our neighboring table. Quick tip: Make a reservation to reduce the wait time.
MOTHER’S RESTAURANT: No trip to New Orleans is complete without experiencing Mother’s Restaurant. They have been part of the New Orleans tradition since 1938. This restaurant is open seven days a week from 7:00AM to 10:00PM and they don’t take reservations, so be prepared to wait outside for a little while before being seated. Mother’s is most famous for their ham po’boy sandwiches, but of course they also offer creole/Cajun cuisine such as gumbo, jambalaya and red beans and rice. The Ferdi Special Po’boy (ham, roast beef, the original debris with au jus gravy) is the top seller, so I decided to give it a try as well as a cup of the red bean and rice. My sister ordered the Turkey Ferdi Po’boy instead and a cup of the gumbo. The food was incredible and very filling. I wish we knew how big the sandwiches were because we could have shared one instead. I would definitely go again to try a few other things on the menu. Total cost for the po’boys: $11.00 - $18.00.
SOBOU: My sister and I stumbled upon SoBou while looking for a bathroom after we shopped a little at the French Market. SoBou stands for South of Bourbon Street and it’s located at the W Hotel French Quarter. We were impressed by the modern decor of illuminated clear and frosted glass bottles on the walls, cozy booths and the large bar in the back.
This “spirited restaurant” has an eclectic menu that includes yellowfin tuna cones with basil avocado ice cream as well as the sweet potato beignets with a foie gras fondue & chicory coffee ganache. I didn’t get to try either of them, but they both sound like they would be delicious. I decided to order the Chef Juan Carlos’ 3 Course Tasting which included the Louisiana Gulf Shrimp Skating on Ice for an appetizer, Bourbon Braised Beef Short Ribs for the main course and the Louisiana Strawberries & Chocolate Coma Bar.
Unfortunately, the restaurant sold out of the beef short ribs, so they substituted the meal with the Black Angus Grilled Ribeye Filet, which was perfectly tender. And my sister ordered the Geaux Fish a la Plancha which was pretty amazing. Overall, my tasting meal was fantastic. I wish we were able to order the Cherries Jubilee & White Chocolate Bread Pudding, but they need 25 minutes advanced notice to make it and we didn’t feel like waiting for it. However, it’s definitely on my list for the next visit.
SNUG HARBOR JAZZ BISTRO: Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro is a small, intimate jazz club that has a large dining room and bar attached to it. You’ll have to pay anywhere from a $15-$40 cover charge for access to the music room to watch some of the best performers in the country. We went to an 8pm show on Saturday night and made our way to the dining room afterwards for dinner. The dinner menu at Snug offers great examples of traditional New Orleans fare. However, I wasn’t that impressed. We ordered the Blackened Fish with a baked potato and my sister ordered hers with asparagus. Both of our meals were just okay, so I probably wouldn’t go there for dinner again. The dessert on the other hand was pretty amazing. We ordered the bread pudding and we were not disappointed.
TWO CHICKS CAFÉ: On Saturday morning, my sister and I headed out for breakfast at what we thought was the Court of Two Sisters. Only to find out that we got our signals crossed and ended up at the Two Chicks Café, which turned out to be a happy accident. When we got to the restaurant, there was a long line at the door. Luckily, we didn’t wait too long to get seated. The menu offers all of your favorite breakfast/brunch items with a modern and creative twist like the Papa’s French Toast, the Crab Cake Benedict and the BBQ Shrimp & Grits. I ordered the Under the Sea Omelet which was filled with lump crab meat and shrimp with a side of potatoes and my sister ordered the Crab Cake Benedict, which were both delicious. Definitely recommend checking this place out if you've never been!
WILLIE’S CHICKEN SHACK: If you want a quick drink that you can take with you as you walk around the city, then grab a drink from Willie’s Chicken Shack. Willie’s features a large selection of alcoholic beverages including signature drinks like Hurricanes and frozen daiquiris by the yard. My sister and I grabbed a couple of the frozen Hurricanes while we were in town. We were both surprised with how much it really packed a punch. Total cost: $10.00 - $12.00.
THINGS TO DO
VISIT JACKSON SQUARE: Take a walk around the historic Jackson Square for local art and quirky street performers. This is also the home of the St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest Catholic cathedral in the US. The Cathedral is open daily from 8:30 am until 4:00 pm with daily Mass at 12:05pm. We didn’t get to go inside, but we next time.
FRENCH MARKET: If you’re looking for souvenirs, hand-crafted jewelry, fresh local produce and specialty food items, then make your way to the French Market. This 250-year-old market is open daily from 10:00am to 6:00pm and it covers 6 blocks. We made it out there a couple of times to grab some keepsakes from our trip.
SHOPPING ON MAGAZINE STREET: While in New Orleans, don’t miss the opportunity go shopping along Magazine Street like my sister and I almost did. I never heard about this street before, but now that I know about it I'll be back to do some more shopping. There are dozens of antique stores, specialty boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants to choose from stretching over five miles to downtown New Orleans.
CEMETERY TOUR: Only in New Orleans could cemeteries be major tourist attractions. Explore the famous above-ground tombs in the city’s cemeteries. You could pay for a guided walking tour or you can wander around on your own. Most tours will focus on the St. Louis Cemetery No. #1 on Basin Street because it’s the final resting place of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. With a guided tour you’ll learn more about the burial practices along with wall vaults and family & society tombs. This tour asks that you pay a $2.00 preservation fee.
WALKING TOUR OF THE GARDEN DISTRICT: Wander through the Garden District and admire the historic architecture of some amazing Victorian homes. There are self-guided walking tours available and walking tours available to help provide a history of the old plantation homes. Total cost: Free.
BOURBON STREET: Bourbon Street is one of the most touristy areas in New Orleans. This street, located in the French Quarter, is similar to a Fat Tuesday celebration every day of the week. Although Bourbon Street can get pretty rowdy, but it can also be a lot of fun, depending on what kind of experience you’re looking for.
FRENCHMAN STREET: Stroll down Frenchmen Street any night and you’re sure to hear some of the city’s best musicians. You can hop from club to club to hear a variety of sounds like jazz, funk, Latin, brass-band, folk and other kinds of music performed by local celebrities as well as visiting acts. Places to check out include: Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro, The Spotted Cat, Blue Nile and Café Negril.