Each winter I stay busy making escape plans. I do love the Midwest, but come January I start to question why I live here. This past winter, a close friend and I came across some incredible flight deals to New Orleans, so we packed our bags and headed down to the Big Easy. If you are looking for a domestic flight that transports you to another world, NOLA is it.
Upon arrival, I was smitten. The air seems lighter and carries the sweet melodies of street performers drifting in and out. You will somehow walk a little slower and and breath a little easier. New Orleans makes you float. A curious combination of Spanish and French architecture meld together perfectly, all in beautiful bright hues. It is a city with a deep history and of contrast. It holds stories of triumph and heartbreak, beauty and poverty. A culture all of it's own.
I spent most of my time in the French Quarter and the Garden District and plan to go back to explore other areas further. Make sure to leave extra time for wandering and taking pictures, the city is a street photographers paradise. Most areas are very walkable and street cars can take you further distances. Eat a lot. Talk to the locals. Listen to live music. And just slow down and enjoy.
Before you go
New Orleans: Wildsam Field Guides. These tiny books are my favorite. Bursting with stories and excellent recommendations, they always do a great job telling the full story and getting to the heart of a city.
This American Life 296: After the Flood. I was a bit younger when Hurricane Katrina hit and had a difficult time fully understanding this complex, devastating disaster. This American Life is a favorite of mine and they do an excellent job telling the stories of individuals affected by the storm.
This American Life 297: This Is Not My Beautiful House. Another episode on Hurricane Katrina.
As you arrive
"La Vie en Rose" by Louis Armstrong. Airy, romantic vibes will put you straight into a NOLA trance.
Hotel Provincial. In the heart of the French Quarter and a 3 minute walk from Cafe du Monde. Dripping with charm and a classic courtyard complete with trickling fountain. Pool included for hot days.
Spitfire. Teeny tiny coffee shop right in the French Quarter. Friendly people serving up delicious brews.
Central Grocery. Get the classic Muffeletta... a giant Italian sandwich on a sesame seed bun filled with Italian meats, cheese and olive giardiniera. Tip, the sandwiches are huge, so order 1 to split.
Cafe Du Monde. Cafe au Lait & Beignets...stop here at least once a day (don't be intimidated by the line, it moves fast).
Cafe Beignet. Another good place for Cafe au Lait & Beignets.
Cafe Amelie. Their courtyard is what French Quarter dreams are made of. Weathered brick and twinkling lights. Their food doesn't disappoint either. Southern cooking with a modern flair.
Petite Amelie. Right next to Cafe Amelie, great place to stop for a quick breakfast and cup of coffee.
Coquette. This gem is in the garden district. Described as southern cooking for the adventurous. The fried oysters were delicious.
Couchon the Butcher. Great place to go for meat based dishes. A laid back vibe and craft beers on tap. A good place to rest up on a slow afternoon.
Killer Poboys (at the back of Erin Rose) You go through a small dimly lit bar to get to this one, but don't be afraid, well well worth it. They have a variety of takes on the po boy...I got the classic grilled shrimp and it was one of the best things I've ever eaten. They also have frozen Irish coffee at the bar that is divine...kind of like an alcoholic milk shake.
Unfortunately I did not get my hands on any gumbo and missed out on a few other NOLA classics, but I know I'll be back again and in search of them.
Frenchmen Street Night Market. This magical gem is filled with local artists selling neat stuff.
Garden District. A historic district with beautiful and colorful homes. Also stop by the Lafayette Graveyard for a look around a traditional raised graveyard. Very eerie and somehow pretty at the same time.
City Park. An easy street car ride away from the French Quarter, a must see. Filled with giant old oak trees dripping in Spanish moss. They also have an art museum, a large statue garden and a botanical garden (walk all the way to the back and you'll find an incredible little greenhouse filled with succulents and cacti)
Confederacy of Cruisers Bike Tours. We did this our last day and I would recommend doing it on your first day, as the guides are extremely knowledgeable and give great recommendations on non touristy places to go. They also take you through neighborhoods you probably wouldn't go or find on your own. Their tours are in small groups and on cruisers so it is not tiring and we stopped half way through for a break at a local bar for the best bloody mary. I learned so much about the history of a very complex city and the history of jazz.
Bacchanal. I would go here every night of my life if I could. It's a bit off the beaten path but was only a $10 cab ride from the French Quarter. You walk into an unassuming corner building and enter into a wine store. You can buy a bottle of wine or champagne for market value. Then head out back to an amazing garden lit with twinkle lights. Its very eclectic, with mix matched chairs and tables. They have live jazz music from 7:30-10:30 on their stage. You can order food from the kitchen in the back...the whole grilled fish is not to be missed.
Spotted Cat. Live music with some of the best acts in town. Its a little small so it can get crowded but the mood is easy and the drinks are strong. The Frenchmen street night market is right around the corner so you can check both off your list in one night.
Candlelight Lounge. We didn't make it here as we learned about it on our tour the last day, but our tour guide who was an extreme jazz enthusiast said it was his favorite music spot.
Any bar on Frenchmen Street. This is where most of the jazz clubs are, I walked by all of them and it didn't sound like you could go wrong.