It’s hard not to have a good time in Nola, a city that a local friend described to us as “bawdy and brassy, but never tacky”, oozing an intoxicating combination of “elegance and decadence.” For New Orleans is unlike any other city in the U.S., it just feels foreign and exotic, reflecting its rich history of Caribbean, French and Spanish influences. Many come for the legendary music scene and to eat and drink; in fact you could spend weeks without getting to try all the restaurants and iconic dishes. From a fabulous tour guide to our favorite music joints here’s Daytripper's guide to the city often referred to as The Big Easy.
Each spring New Orleans plays host to Jazz Fest—the gospel, blues, rock and zydeco extravaganza taking place over two weekends, the last weekend in April and the first weekend in May. More than just music it’s also a celebration of the culture of the city and one hell of a party. Make sure to dress appropriately, it can get very hot and often rainy which turns the fairgrounds into a mud fest. Bring a light raincoat and inexpensive rubber boots; we got ones for $12 at Wal-Mart that we hosed down after a downpour. Make sure to allow time to explore the craft and marketplace area where we all picked up African beaded necklaces and colorful hats. And come hungry so you can sample jambalaya, crawfish, po-boy’s and gumbo from the many food tents.
Stay: Don’t let the location in the French Quarter scare you; Soniat House is a hidden oasis, a small boutique hotel with 31 rooms spread across several historic townhouses on a quiet street on the edge of the Quarter. It’s a special place and highly recommended. Bigger hotels such as The Roosevelt, Windsor Court, and the W are all good options, though lacking the local charm and personality of Soniat House.
Breakfast: There’s going to be a line at Café du Monde, it’s a given no matter what time of the day, but it’s worth the wait for the most delicious beignets and chicory coffee. This is a must for first time visitors (Open 24/7.) Located right on Jackson Square, Stanley Restaurant serves one of Nola’s best breakfasts; order the decadent Bananas Foster French Toast or an Egg Benedict Poor Boy.
Walking History: There’s a lot more to the French Quarter than just Bourbon Street. Book an extremely engaging, entertaining and informative tour with Frank Currie and learn a whole lot about the history of the Quarter and the city of New Orleans. We met at Jackson Square, the historic park and a popular Big Easy attraction, where on a nice day you could be tempted to spend the afternoon watching the amazing array of street performers, amateur and professional. (You may even wind up in an impromptu second line!) Then we were off, wandering the streets with Frank, stopping at Nola landmarks such as the LaLaurie House, considered one of the most haunted houses in New Orleans, caught up in the fascinating stories and legends at each stop. We walked through Lafitte’s Blacksmith Bar, dating back to the 1700’s, where we vowed to come back later for a cocktail. Our tour ended at the Napoleon House, a landmark restaurant for over 200 years, oozing with old fashion atmosphere. We sat on the back patio sipping their signature Pimms cocktail. (According to Frank they have a pretty good muffaletta.) To organize a tour with Frank call him at 504 881-6015 or send him an email at: email@example.com. Frank can also show you around the Garden District, the Cemeteries, or can customize a Literary, or Haunted New Orleans tour.
Lunch: Dine right in the Quarter at one of the classic, old grand dames of the city: Galatoire's, Brennans or Antoine’s for gumbo, oysters Rockefeller, etouffee and remoulade. This is old school Creole fine dining at its best, and people are smartly dressed--check the dress code in advance when you make your reservation. More modern interpretations can be found at Susan Spicers excellent Bayona located in a charming cottage with a lovely courtyard. Sylvain, a casual gastro pub meets Southern bistro has everyone talking about their killer cocktails (try a Sazerac here) and the food is solid, serving lunch only on Fridays-Sundays.
Wander: After lunch explore the Quarter on your own, checking out the atmospheric art and antique galleries on Royal Street. Don't miss a stop at Faulkner House Books, a literary landmark housed in the former home of William Faulkner.
Afternoon: Even if your not a history buff, don’t miss a few hours at the intimate, moving WW II Museum, an interactive, immersive experience with exhibits displayed throughout three large pavilions giving audiences a close look at the Second World War.
Dinner: Chef Donald Link helms two of Nola’s top restaurants. Head to the Warehouse District to seafood centric Peche or for traditional Cajun Southern dishes to Cochon, housed in a casual, rustic old warehouse. We still can’t stop thinking of the wood fired oysters with chili garlic butter, one of our best bites in New Orleans!
Morning Sweets: Made from scratch donuts and small batch coffee at District Donuts and Sliders on Magazine Street will keep you going until brunch. (Their chicken slider on a biscuit is worth coming back for later in the day.)
Shop: Spend some time walking and shopping the 6-mile stretch along Magazine Street, a charming stretch that is the heart of the Uptown District. Find your own favorites or check out some of ours such as Passages and Perch for higher end antiques and home furnishings and Hazelnut for unique gift items and home wares. For high end women’s designer clothes stop at Mimi’s and Weinstein’s or Pied Nu for younger, more casual designs. Marion Cage has built up a following for her line of jewelry and tabletop accessories.
Best Brunch: We asked a friend who lives in New Orleans where to get the best shrimp and grits, and there was definitely a whiff of southern pride in his answer: “Well let's start with the fact that shrimp and grits is a South Carolina dish which has been appropriated by everyone else. The Louisiana/New Orleans breakfast of champions would be grits and grillades. This is a reddish brown gravy based veal dish over grits. This isn't to say there is not good shrimp and grits to be found in New Orleans.” Then we went to La Petite Grocery, Top Chef Justin Devillier’s lovely restaurant and we found a delicious version of shrimp and grits, along with the must order blue crab beignets and fettuccine with crawfish and guanicale. This is a perfect restaurant for a long , leisurely boozy brunch, though Petite Grocery is pretty perfect anytime. Our favorite meal in New Orleans.
Garden District: Spend the afternoon wandering the streets and viewing the antebellum era houses, perhaps arranging another tour with Frank. Make sure to stop at the Lafayette Cemetery, the oldest of the city operated cemeteries with above ground tombs. (Save our Cemeteries offers tours, click here to see the schedule.) Take a peek or a photo across the street at Commander’s Place, one of Nola’s most famous restaurants all dressed up in a distinct bright blue. (They have a wonderful Sunday jazz brunch if you’re in town.) Stop for a coffee across the street at Still Perkin, a local haunt and then head inside the small Rink Shopping Hall for the most luxurious Turkish handwoven blankets and towels at Loomed Nola. At the end of the afternoon catch a ride on the St. Charles Trolley back to the Quarter.
Dinner: Head to white table clothed Clancy's for classic Creole cuisine, make sure to save room for their famous lemon icebox pie. One trusted foodie friend speaks highly of Herbsaint, Compere Lapin and Meauxbar, all on our list for next time. You might question us sending you for hummus and tabbouleh in New Orleans, but the modern Israeli food served at Shaya has been the talk of the town. The homemade pita bread, served hot out of the pizza oven is worth the visit alone, oh and the aforementioned hummus and tabbouleh—some of the best you’ll ever have! Shaya is located right on Magazine in a bright airy space with a small outdoor patio that’s good for groups.
Must Do: You can’t leave new Orleans without having at least one po’ boy, the traditional submarine sandwich of Louisiana, usually made with roast beef or fried seafood. Mahoney’s and Parkway Bakery and Tavern are well known but we always head to Domilise’s Po-Boy and Bar, family owned and operated for close to 100 years. Slightly off the beaten track, not far from the Garden District, you’ll know you’ve arrived by the line out the door. Everything is fried to order, we recommend the half-and half, with one side fried oysters and the other fried shrimp.
— MUSIC GUIDE IN NOLA —
Nick’s Picks: No one knows music like our good friend Nick Robinson, who spends a few weeks a year in New Orleans. Here is his take on the best venues in Nola.
- New Orleans is synonymous with great music; it’s an integral part of the city’s culture and heritage. You can find music everywhere in NOLA – day and night. Try and plan your trip to include at least a couple of outings. The options can be overwhelming, so start with the Gambit, which features a comprehensive music calendar to help you plan your nights.
- Bourbon Street in the French quarter has tons of music joints. Avoid most of them, except for Preservation Hall (an institution) and House of Blues (they book great local and national acts). Otherwise, you will mostly find a tourist-trap mix of cover bands.
- If you want an authentic music experience that’s close by, go to Frenchman Street instead. It’s just outside the quarter in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood, and has a bunch of great clubs: The Spotted Cat, Blue Nile, and The Maison. Snug Harbor is a classic: go see regulars like Ellis Marsalis and Charmaine Neville.
- In the Warehouse district, I love Howlin Wolf. It’s got great sightlines, a big long bar, and is well air-conditioned…. a big plus depending on the time of year.
- Uptown, there is the landmark Tipitina’s on Tchoupitoulas. Named for one of Professor “Fess” Longhair’s tunes, Tips is a living history lesson of the great music that comes out of New Orleans. The decades-old posters than line the walls are a who’s-who of Rock, R&B, Blues, and Jazz.
- Bon Temps Roulé is a great bar/juke joint on Magazine Street. The music is in a tiny space in the back of the bar. Plan on getting to know your neighbor real well. (As well as the band--you will probably be only a foot or two away from the floor-level stage.)
- Further uptown is the Maple Leaf, another institution. There’s a small standing only space next to a larger bar room plus a nice garden out back to enjoy a drink when the band is between sets.
- Rock ‘N’ Bowl on Carrollton regularly books great acts so you can enjoy music and bowl a few frames at the same time.