New Orleans Guide

You must allow for one fact, we’re awake 20 hours a day, so really we live much longer even if we drop dead at 64. -Andrei Codrescu on being a New Orleanian

My husband and I spent our second marriage anniversary in New Orleans last month. It was our first time traveling without the baby.  We mostly spent our time walking off our food comas, people watching in cafes, duck watching in parks, and were in bed by 11 after going to maybe two or three bars. I know, we were out of control.  But this city has so much love for life that you can’t help but feel its joyful energy pulsing through you. Maybe it’s the music or maybe it’s the daiquiri buzzing in my brain or maybe it’s all that Southern hospitality, but I always feel so happy when I’m walking around New Orleans.   Whether you like to party or just relax with some good music and food, New Orleans is for you and it’s impossible not to have a good time here.

I loved wandering around New Orleans with the hubby, just talking and laughing and eating our way through the city. Of course our conversations would often wander back to Ellie, with one of us remembering yet another funny story about her learning how to human. It was nice to step away from the daily parenting grind and reflect on how fun this whole parenting thing is. Our course I missed her like crazy, but I really appreciated this time with just the two of us.

My favorite neighborhood is the Bywater with its colorful shotgun houses.  Every house is as unique and interesting to look at as people, and I loved getting a peek inside sometimes when walking by at night and catching sight of a grand piano or beautiful artwork on the walls.  I realized that it will forever be the little things that make me fall in love with a place.  With Nola it’s the smell of jasmine, the bathtub gardens, the giant oak trees as big as a city block, and the art it lives and breathes.

This recent trip was my second visit to New Orleans, so I’d thought I would put together a simple guide on some of my favorite places and restaurants in the city.

Things to Do

Frenchman Street – I’m not saying don’t go to Bourbon Street.  I think everyone should walk down Bourbon Street at least once while drinking a daiquiri along with 10,000 other tourists.  But the daiquiri bars and strip clubs will start to get a little repetitive.  That’s when you go down to Frenchman Street for some good music, good art, and good stiff drinks.

Bourbon Street classics.

The Spotted Cat – A great little dive for live music near the end of Frenchman Street.  The first time I was there I fell in love with the performance of Shotgun Jazz Band and the whole place was buzzing with great energy.  This time, I took my husband there hoping to show him what New Orleans jazz is all about, but the band wasn’t quite as memorable.  The music was good, but we just weren’t feeling it, but the beauty of New Orleans is you can just hop next door to another music hall (we ended up going to the night Art Market instead).  

St. Louis Cemetery No.1 – This is where Nicholas Cage’s infamous pyramid tomb is located, but if you’re not interested in weird Hollywood celebrities, there are plenty of other stories and interesting bits of history that will grab your interest, so definitely go on a guided tour.  I especially liked learning about Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau and seeing her impressive tomb.  She’s just as big of a celebrity in death as in life.

Lafayette Cemetery No.1 – Another beautiful old cemetery in the heart of the Garden District. Within a few minutes of wandering around the big above-ground tombs, irreverent ideas will start to pop into my head like wouldn’t it be fun to play hide-and-seek here on a dark moonless night?  Or, whoever finds the weirdest name on a tomb wins.  Totally irreverent, I know.  So, to save yourself from boredom, go on a guided tour and learn about some true characters that are entombed there. 
Historical Pharmacy Museum – This museum has a great collection of medical artifacts, but what made them really come to life was the tour (I think it’s 1pm, but definitely check the schedule).  Medical history and semi-horror stories of old sawbones are always fascinating, but add in some voodoo magic and you have some truly unique New Orleans history.  You walk out of the museum kind of feeling like you were let in on a little secret about this town.
Backstreet Cultural Museum – We almost missed this place–it’s literally just a small house in the Treme but it has an impressive collection of Mardi Gras costumes, most of them made by hand.  You can probably find the owner Sylvester Francis hanging out there, as we did.  He was very friendly and eager to chat about the history of the costumes, although I recall it was a bit hard to understand him (heavy Southern accent and phlegmy voice).

City Park – This park is a little further north from the French Quarter, but it’s the perfect opportunity to take a classic New Orleans streetcar.  This park is massive and I’ve only seen a tiny part of it, but the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, Botanical Gardens, and New Orleans Museum of Art are all super gorgeous and definitely worth a visit.

Audubon Park – This is another beautiful green space is filled with lakes and massive live oak trees.  It’s surrounded by a beautiful old neighborhood with some really impressive looking mansions.  We actually walked there through the Garden District, which is another beautiful neighborhood for checking out Southern-styled mansions.  Tulane University is right next to the park if you are curious to see it.  The Audubon Zoo is another great option especially if you’re traveling with little ones.

Bayou Tour – I definitely recommend going on a bayou tour at least once!  It’s really the only way to get a good look at the flora and fauna (also known as alligators) of the great Southern swamps.  I forgot which tour company we went with.  We got a guide who grew up on the bayou and had quite the repertoire of stories to share.  Just don’t go expecting to see an animal show because the alligators and crocodiles are out in the wild and sometimes you get lucky and they’ll come for the floating pieces of marshmallows your guide tosses into the water, but most likely they’ll just keep sleeping and you’ll just have to squint at them from a distance.

Places to Eat

This is a list of restaurants that I’ve tried and liked.  My list for places I would like to try but haven’t yet is probably 5 times as long.  

Elizabeth’s – This homey little cafe in Bywater is where I first fell in love with New Orleans food.  Two words: praline bacon.

Cafe Dauphine – The husband and I took a long walk one morning from our house in the Bywater all the way to the Lower Ninth Ward to eat at this cafe.  But we knew the moment we stepped inside that it was going to be good authentic southern food, and it was.

Satsuma Cafe – This joint is a hip and artsy neighborhood cafe in the Bywater that has great coffee and healthy food options.  Of course by healthy, I mean it’s healthy compared to, say, the fried catfish or fried chicken and waffles we had at Cafe Dauphine.

Verti Marte – A small neighborhood market and deli that is known for their amazing po’boys.  Their menu looks intimidating at first but rest assured that you can probably pick anything and it’ll be tasty.

Parkway Bakery & Tavern – A little bit out of the way but definitely worth the trip.  It’s a popular spot with the locals and tourists so expect a wait.  They serve up delicious Creole and Southern dishes like gator sausage gumbo and banana pudding.

Coop’s Place – An unpretentious bar-restaurant with good Creole food.  The first time I went to New Orleans I had my first ever meal there right off the plane, and Coop’s Taste Plate of seafood gumbo, shrimp creole, cajun fried chicken, red beans & rice with sausage, and rabbit & sausage jambalaya gave me a good idea of what’s in store for me the rest of my stay in New Orleans.

Acme Oyster House – My tip is to get there early or in between regular meal hours.  It usually has a long line, but it’s worth the wait.  If you don’t want to wait in line, honestly speaking, any seafood place around French Quarter that isn’t completely empty will have some great charboiled oysters.
Cafe Du Monde – Duh, this world famous place for beignets is a must-try.  There is usually a line but an army of waiters serve up tray after tray of beignets and coffee with factory level efficiency.  If you don’t want to stand in line for world famous beignets, you can probably get tastier beignets are Cafe Beignet down the street or at several other locations around New Orleans.

Arnaud’s French 75 – Upscale Creole restaurant in the heart of the French quarter.  The food was great, but not amazing, but the service really makes you feel like a million bucks.  Reserve a table in the jazz bistro room and enjoy live music while you eat.  Tip: There are plenty of upscale Creole/Southern restaurants in the French Quarter, but play it safe and call to make a reservation.  Since we went on a jazz festival weekend, I called six or seven restaurants that were all booked for the whole weekend before I found this one.

Boucherie – I’m not going to lie, it’s been three or four years since I’ve eaten there so I don’t remember the details.  Except that they had Krispy Kreme bread pudding. 

Cochon Butcher – Not to be confused with the other restaurant, Cochon.  Cochon BUTCHER specializes in pork-focused Cajun cuisine.  The muffaletta, another famous Southern sandwich with a fancy name, is especially good here.  Just picture a cross between a po’boy and a hamburger, but the size of your head and that’s a muffaletta.  The drinks at this place are also creative and delicious.

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