Congrats, you made it to New Orleans! We couldn’t be happier to have you in our beloved city (yes, even if you’re from Atlanta). The Big Easy is as unique an American town as has ever existed, and it’s rightfully won a reputation across the globe for its food, culture, music, and bead-driven public nudity. With all that awesomeness, however, also comes tourist traps -- here are some pro tips to make sure you get the former, rather than the latter.
You want to do this: Buy and wear plastic Mardi Gras beads.
Do this instead: Buy and wear a hat.
For some reason, visitors to New Orleans feel a soul-deep need to throw on Mardi Gras beads as soon as their plane touches down, regardless of whether or not it’s Carnival season, as though it’s our version of the Hawaiian lei. It’s not. The only time anyone should be wearing beads is if A) it's Mardi Gras, B) you’re at a parade, or C) you’ve caught them in the air yourself (not picked up from the ground, mind you, or paid for them in a shop like a sucker) or bartered for them "the old fashioned way". If you feel the need to buy something to wear for your stay in the Crescent City, make it a great hat. It’s hot down here, so it’s legitimately practical, plus we have some really fantastic artisanal haberdashers like the Goorin Brothers. Also, the ladies love a man in an excellent hat (“It makes you all look like Don Draper on vacation”, says SoBou’s bar chef Abigail Gullo).
Suckers: Get cafe au lait and beignets at Cafe du Monde.
Winners: Go to Morning Call.
Sure, wanting to gorge yourself on perfectly fried dough buried in a snowy mountain of powdered sugar, then chase it with creamy cafe au lait is perfectly natural, but if you want to get that same experience without the hassle of the French Quarter's Cafe du Monde, take the streetcar all the way down Canal Street to Morning Call in City Park. The doughnuts and coffee are better, City Park (filled w/ majestic live oaks dripping in Spanish moss) is stunning, and you get an awesome trolley ride. Plus, that’ll get you out of downtown. Speaking of which...
Naive fools: Keep to the French Quarter -- there’s so much to do!
The enlightened: Explore literally any other neighborhood.
There’s way, way more to NOLA than what you’ll find in the Vieux Carre (even though the French Quarter is pretty awesome, and certainly isn't just for tourists). But the city is worth some solid exploration, whether that means renting a bicycle and riding out to the lakefront, or taking the Canal St streetcar to Mid-City (where you’ll find some fantastic restos, including Mandina’s, a treasured classic -- the trout amandine is the size of your head), or all the way down St. Charles Avenue through Uptown and the Garden District, where there are some seriously cool historic cemeteries to wander through.
Squares: Party it up with live music on Bourbon Street.
Jives: Party it up with live music on Frenchman Street.
Wendell Pierce’s Treme character is told several times that "there’s a lot of pride on Bourbon Street", when he laments having to play a show there, and they’re right. There is. There are also questionable strip clubs, gaudy frozen daiquiri joints, chintzy gift shops, and some heavyweight cheese-ball karaoke bars. If you want to party and hear some seriously good music, walk over to Frenchman in the Faubourg Marigny and hit almost any music venue, especially the Spotted Cat, the Blue Nile, d.b.a., Cafe Negril, and Snug Harbor.
Chumps: Eat at Lucky Dog, because you’ve had a few cocktails, it’s late at night, and you’re starving.
Champions: Go to Verti Marte.
When you’re three sheets to the wind and deep into the evening (or early morning), the ubiquitous and colorful street corner Lucky Dog stands may look alluring for a quick bite, but don’t get sucked in -- those dirty-water dogs are possibly the most questionable street meat in New Orleans history. Instead, find your way to the back of Verti Marte, the tiny French Quarter grocery shop with a short-order counter in the back. Locals know it’s always good for a late-night shrimp po-boy (one of the best), hot muffaletta, jambalaya, and all that other great NOLA drunk food we love so much.
The brain dead: Take a tour of the Mississippi River on the Creole Queen.
The brain trust: Take the free ferry to Algiers and back.
The Creole Queen is a delightful piece of local history, and riding an old-timey paddlewheeler seems like a super New Orleans-y thing to do, but if you want to save your money for food, drinks, and shiny trinkets, take the FREE ferry from the French Quarter across the Mississippi to Algiers Point. This historic neighborhood is worth exploring for a few hours (if only to have a drink and a round of pool at the Old Point Bar, which you may have seen in any number of movies shot here) before hopping the ferry back to the Quarter again. (Note: The ferry’s still gratis for the time being, but they’re upping it to two whole dollars soon, so get in while the getting’s complimentary.)
1. Goorin Bros. Hat Shop709 Royal St, New Orleans
2. Morning Call56 Dreyfous Dr, New Orleans
3. Mandina's Restaurant3800 Canal St, New Orleans
4. The Spotted Cat Music Club623 Frenchmen St, New Orleans
5. Blue Nile532 Frenchmen St, New Orleans
6. d.b.a.618 Frenchmen St, New Orleans
7. Cafe Negril606 Frenchmen St, New Orleans
8. Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro626 Frenchmen St, New Orleans
9. Verti Marte1201 Royal St, New Orleans
10. Old Point Bar545 Patterson Dr, New Orleans
Your head will thank you after a trip to these legendary hatters, who've been crafting stylish and functional lids since 1895.
Self-dubbed as NOLA's "most famous coffee drinking place," Morning Call has been brewing its prized French drip coffee since 1870, which has the rich chicory taste that fans go wild for as they munch on the cafe's beloved beignets. Crunchy on the outside and puffy on the inside, the beignets here are arguably as scrumptious as those at the city's more tourist-packed institutions (with a cheaper price tag to boot), plus there isn't an outrageous wait to get your hands on these powdery pastries. Though the café au lait and beignets are the reasons you're checking out this lively, old-fashioned coffee shop, the short lineup of local cuisine (jambalaya, gumbo, crawfish bread) is worth a taste, too.
This Canal St destination for Italian fare and creole seafood is renowned for its pink building as much as it is for its turtle soup and fried trout. The brick- and wood-accented space enforces a family-friendly atmosphere, and on any given night, you'll see tables packed with multiple generations of cajun lovers indulging on signature oversize portions of fried fish.
If you're looking for some live music (specifically some smooth jazz), you can't go wrong with the Spotted Cat, which hosts live bands every night of the week, just steps from the French Quarter.
When you're lookin' for a live music fix, swing on down to the Blue Nile, grab a drink, and listen to some of the hottest blues, funk, soul, and brass artists that NOLA has to offer.
This music club features performances by local and regional acts every night of the week, and all tickets are first come, first serve. When you're not nodding your head to some tunes, you can partake in the killer selection of wine, cocktails and draft beers that's available. Or you can do both at the same time, whatever.
This dimly lit bar pours relatively cheap drinks and plays hosts to a myriad of musicians throughout the week, basically guaranteeing you a quality time out in NOLA.
Looking for some authentic regional grub and some outstanding live jazz tunes? Then look no further than Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro on Frenchman St.
A beloved 24-hour deli and sandwich shop is housed in the back of a small, unassuming grocery store on a quint street typical of the French Quarter. Verti Marte has earned a devoted following of night owls for their commitment to the all-important Louisiana food staple, the po’ boy, that baguette-like sandwich filled with meat and fried seafood. Their notably messy, calorie-packing takes include the must-try All That Jazz (shrimp and mushrooms get sautéed in Creole mustard before being piled onto ham, turkey, tomatoes and layered with Swiss and American cheeses and proprietary “WOW” sauce), in addition to plates of chicken-fried steaks, breakfast sandwiches and daily specials. They deliver, but you may want to budget in some time for a walk to pick up one of these monolithic po’ boys yourself.