I am heading for St. Louis for a few days in August and am dropping by New Orleans for a day or two. I will be staying in a hotel in or near the French Quarter. Anything I absolutely must see while there?
First of all, be prepared for temps in the high 80s and low-to-mid 90s, high humidity, and the ever-present chance for daily drenching thunderstorms. Pack cool clothing and an umbrella.
Much of the fun of being a tourist here involves doing stuff in and around the French Quarter. Breakfast at Cafe du Monde or at La Marquise on Chartres street. Visit the Louisiana State History museum in the Cabildo (left of St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square) and/or the Mardi Gras museum in the Presbytere (right of the cathedral) or go to the Jean Lafitte National Park Headquarters. Either way, get immersed in some history in the morning.
I recommend your getting a muffaletta sandwich for lunch at Central Grocery in the 900 block of Decatur street. A bag of zaps chips and some big shot cream soda round out the meal. You can eat on your lap in Jackson Square or go up to the riverwalk and watch the river.
The river ferry at the foot of Canal Street is free to pedestrians. It leaves the New Orleans side of the river on the hour and half hour and returns to New Orleans 15 after and 15 till the hour. You can stroll on deck or sit in the air conditioned upper deck. It’s a great view of the city.
Take a siesta in the afternoon.
Antoine’s, Gallatoire’s, Mulate’s, Tujague’s, and Gumbo Shop are all great restaurants for supper. Some have dress codes, some don’t take credit cards. Antoine’s and Gallatoire’s are pricy. Gumbo Shop isn’t. Research online.
If you like live music, check out the lineup at the Funky Butt or House of Blues or Preservation Hall. Or just walk around the well lit streets at night after supper.
If you’ve enjoyed your French Quarter day and want to do more in the city, and you have a car, head Uptown. Audubon Zoo is lovely. Camellia Grill is a great spot for breakfast and lunch. Plum Street Snowball stand in Carrollton (not too far from Camellia Grill in Riverbend) makes the best snowballs in town. Mandina’s (3800 Canal) is a great neighborhood restaurant for supper (cash only, no reservations). Angelo Brocato’s gelato and pastry shop is pure heaven for dessert after Mandina’s and is very close. The Art Museum in City Park is excellent. Audubon Park has a great walking loop for early morning strolls before it gets too hot. There are lots of good shops on Magazine Street.
Or, if you want a feeling for the post-Katrina struggle, and if you have a car, head down Claiborne Avenue south and east of town, cross the Industrial Canal, and drive around in the Lower 9th Ward. And/or go into the neighborhoods near City Park. Remember, 80% of the city flooded two years ago and we’re still putting things back together.
New Orleans is a world class city for food and unique entertainment. You can basically entertain yourself for an indefinite period of time just starting at the beginning of the French Quarter, opening your mind and wallet, and let the spirit and atmosphere take you. You can wonder in to all kinds of music or even get drunk walking around in the street like countless other people. New Orleans isn’t especially expensive but I would recommend bringing some big entertainment dollars because many people get swept up in the experience and go a little wild. If you figure out what to do because New Orleans isn’t like any other city, especially American ones.
The St. Charles street cars are good transportation to the nicer parts of New Orleans but they are also entertainment as well and can take you from the French Quarter to Uptown and back.
IvoryBill hints that New Orleans is as hot as hell during August. That is a complete lie. New Orleans is way hotter than hell then. I am from northern Lousiana and the brutality of the heat can be shocking for the uninitiated. Dress according and bring a big water bottle.
The St. Charles line is still a casualty of Katrina. You can go from Canal Street to Lee Circle and back (about 12 blocks one way) but that’s it. It was supposed to reopen this year, but that’s been pushed back to 2008. You can ride the Canal Street line up to City Park or to the Cemetaries, and you can ride the Riverfront line, though.
Yes, but it’s a humid heat.
It’s been twelve years since I was in New Orleans, but the Old US Mint there had an amazing museum dedicated half to Jazz and half to Mardi Gras, what could possibly capture the spirit of the city better?
We also visited a pharmacy museum near there, but, while it was OK, I wouldn’t consider it a “must-see”.
Ivorybill, thanks for your informative post! New Orleans is on my must-visit list, and I’ll file away your recommendations for future reference.
Actually, I did spend a few hours in N’Awlins WAAAAY back when I was a newly-minted legal drinker (was spending a week with friends in Alexandria and we took a wee road trip). I must say, I hit some of your French Quarter highlights:
-Hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s complete with souvenir glass and another drink in a to-go cup
-Strolled around Jackson Square with aforementioned Hurricane to-go
-Sidled down to the river so I could run my fingers through the Mississippi
-Had a beignet and chicory coffee at Cafe du Monde
-Listened outside Preservation Hall
-Walked up and down Bourbon St. It was the night before New Year’s Eve and throngs of football fans were in town for the Cotton (?) Bowl game which only added to the fun.
Now that I list it all out like that, it really makes me want to go back and see more of the city.
It is the Sugar Bowl for New Orleans. My wife and I went to Tulane and chose it later as our destination spot for New Years 2000. It was a great time but it was a little odd to decide to go out to eat at 4:00 am and be given a 45 minute wait time for dinner even at expensive sit-down restaurants. That isn’t even unheard of at other times of the year. Some bars literally never close (except for Katrina maybe) and others just refuse new business between 6am and 7am or so to clean up. The French Quarter has a very distinct smell in parts but you will get used to it quickly and associate it with good times. Think of what your house would smell like if you hosted a continuous party for 300 years in reclaimed swampland.
A lot of people think that Mardi Gras is an event that people go too at a certain place during a certain time of the year in New Orleans. That isn’t really true. Mardi Gras exists throughout the city all the time. It just gets much bigger during the three week height of the season. You can make a beads for tits exchange almost anytime and public drinking is freely encouraged.
I have been working 8 hour days in a factory in the mid 90s with high humidity. Walking around a city with it is not really very daunting.
Lots of good information folks, I appreciate it. It is obvious there is too much there to see in any short length of time, but that seems to be true no matter where I go. Unfortunately I don’t know if I will have 1 or 2 days to wander around and won’t until the day before I leave. I will need to print this stuff out before I leave and see what I can see while I am there.
That smell is largely gone, and I for one don’t miss it. The one thing the mayor has done to improve post-Katrina New Orleans is to put out a modern trash collection contract. Garbage is picked up daily in the Quarter, the streets are washed daily, and the sidewalks are pressure washed twice-daily using a deodorizing spray. There are even a double-handful of street sweepers who roam around picking up litter. It’s very pleasant to have the place so clean.
I would amend that only to say that tourists and out-of-towners are welcome to celebrate their own version of Mardi Gras any time they come to visit. We’ll turn a blind eye to your shenanigans and hope that you have fun letting your hair down. Locals celebrate Mardi Gras during Epiphany and stop when Lent begins. I’ve yet to meet a local gal who would be willing to flash for beads at any time of the year (they know that a look at their tits is worth way more than a string of bad beads) though there are lots of out-of-towners who seem to think the exchange worthwhile.
You’re most welcome. Come on down and visit. We’ll be glad you came.
I’m glad you’re prepared. I maintain that New Orleans isn’t really hotter than other parts of the South in the summer. It’s the duration that wears on you. We start getting hot and muggy in late April and carry through until late September and sometimes into October. Also, the range in temperatures is narrow. Highs in the upper 80s and low 90s and lows in the low 80s. The thermostat is up for 5 months with the humidifier running full blast. We look forward to the first cool front in late September.
You’ll probably have the most pleasure going off script and seeing what you can discover just by wandering around and talking to folks you meet. Have fun!
I’m late to the show here but can definitely recommend for anyone looking to ‘medicate’ near the mint to pass by Buffa’s bar across the street on Esplanade. It’s changed hands over the last many years but has always remained a great joint.
Laffite’s Blacksmith Shop makes a mean hurricane. But if you really want a fine drink, walk all the way down to Esplanade (between Bourbon and Royal, IIRC) to Port of Call for a Monsoon. (They also have one of the best burgers in the universe, but you don’t want to eat there if it’s your only day in town.)
There’s an extremely cool bar in the Hotel Monteleone called the Carousel. Have a Sazerac.
The best meal I ever ate was at Bayona on Dauphine St. Pricey, but worth it. I also have a fondness for the Acme Oyster House.
Another Tulane grad here. I don’t know how “enriching” you want your activities to be (i remember the D Day museum being interesting) but the first things I always do when I go back are stuff my face with the best hamburger EVER and the most ridiculous cocktail EVER at Port of Call. (esplanade right on the other side of the quarter) And if you want to stay out until the wee hours, you should hit up my favorite bar on the face of the earth, Snake and Jakes Xmas Club Lounge. I hope its still open. Haven’t been back post-katrina yet.
Do not go to snake and jakes before like 2 am though. Its worth it you’ll feel like youre in a Tool music video.
I know you didn’t just invoke the name of Snake and Jakes. I got into a fight with a female roommate about whether such a place could exist even in New Orleans and she took me there. You wouldn’t think a Christmas themed lounge hosting legions of bikers and preppies all night, every night could exist in the bottom of a house in the middle of a residential neighborhood but there you go. The place weired me out even more place like the Dungeon because it seemed to have grown organically somehow. It is like a David Lynch movie.
oh don’t be such a square! What years were you down there? The dungeon is just another french quarter bar tourists wander into by mistake. Snake and Jakes is where you find the best freaks and weirdos. I lived on oak street close enough to pour myself home at dawn most weekends.
Okay so I GUESS i could see how you might be weirded out. you MAY be able to do coke off the bar and you MAY be able to bring your dog and there MAY be a naked night. Drinking dollar shlitz there is better than a night at the Boot anyday.
Meant to come back and post, but my trip made me sick.
I got into NOLA on Sunday afternoon, stayed at a hotel a block out side of the French Quarter. I wandered around the Quarter for most the day and evening, walked along the Riverfront, lost my limit in Harrah’s for the trip. I had dinner at Gumbo Shop that day. I had a sampler dish, substituting crawfish etouffee for red beans and rice. I am now spoiled completely for creole cooking. It was incredibly delicious. I couldn’t try either Antoine’s or Gallatoire’s, my vacation clothes do not include jackets or ties.
As I wandered back to my hotel, I was amazed at the crowd on Bourbon St. It was Sunday night, and everything was open and crowded, with some amazing music. I expected the music, although the country bar was a bit surprising. I wandered up and down the street for a few hours enjoying the party, then back to my hotel.
Monday I again looked around the Quarter, trying the various shops and hitting the Jean Lafitte NHP on Decatur St. Some interesting things in the small museum, worth the time I was there. I was going to the Jazz museum in the Old Mint, but unfortunately it is closed on Sundays and Mondays due to lack of money and manpower.
Lots of time just enjoying the French Market and other shops and spending too much money on souvenirs. Some amazing artwork available in the shops there. Thank goodness I don’t have enough room on my walls for it or I would really have hurt my credit cards. Then I made a small mistake by going to Deanie’s Seafood for lunch. The mistake wasn’t the food, it was great. But I ordered the Half Platter, with several kinds of seafood on it. I don’t recommend doing this unless there are at least 2 people eating it. It covered the platter and at least 6 inches high. I finished it then went back to my hotel to try and digest it. That took a few hours, which meant less time for sightseeing.
That evening was back to Bourbon St. which was even busier. Again good music and lots of fun just wandering around.
I saw the various places selling Hurricanes and Hand Grenades, including one poor guy standing on a corner in a large hand grenade outfit. I resisted the temptation to tell him the line about after the pin is pulled. Since I don’t drink, there was no danger of my trying either of them.
I had to leave early on Tuesday since I was hitting Vicksburg on the way to St. Louis, so I didn’t do any sightseeing. I just got a small taste of the city, but it definitely makes me want to go back and see more. Especially since Snakes and Jakes sounds like a very interesting time.
The heat wasn’t any worse than here, but we only have a couple of months of it, not half the year.
Thanks for the good information, it gave me some good ideas and definitely made my time there better. I just wish someone had told me to avoid the Half Platter at Deanie’s.
I am glad you had a great time Lok It sounds like you did it the right way. A lot of people don’t understand that New Orleans isn’t like other cities and you don’t have to plan much at all but instead just let your heart and feet wander. I miss it now too.
All of that stuff was fine, I just thought their premium beer menu needed a bit of work.
Seriously, I graduated from Tulane in 1995 and I didn’t get keyed into Snake and Jakes until 1994 or so after I was (much too) well hardened into the New Orleans bar scene. I went many times many to show it to other hardened veterans but it is more than a little uncomfortable in atmosphere because it is so surreal. I visited it again in 2000 and it was till the same.
Other places try to establish weirdness on their own but Snake and Jakes literally feels like an imaginary place that snakes up out of the ground late at night and then disappears as the sun rises (I tried to show it to people during the day and could never find it). It ranks near the top of the most memorable places I have ever been in my life and I have traveled the world. I wouldn’t recommend anyone reading this to just run off there because it is literally just a bar in a residential complex with cheap beer but all bets are off on what might happen any given night and the mix of people and the decor are bizarre and the knowledge that people aren’t pretending is the most disconcerting.
I live roughly 4 or 5 blocks - - zig zagged - - from Snake and Jake’s. The building itself survived Katrina not much worse for wear. It didn’t even lose the “wreath” above the door. I have not had cause to drive by after dark since Katrina, so I cannot say whether it’s open or not. Were I not married and the father of four children, it sounds like the kind of place that would be interesting to visit. Given my current situation, however, it just doesn’t seem prudent.