New Orleans has a certain reputation. Sure, it’s a popular place for bachelor parties, for groups of friends to drink in the streets all night and find clever ways to procure a string of beads. But, contrary to popular belief, Crescent City is so much more than Bourbon Street. I mean, this is the birthplace of jazz, the host of more than 130 festivals a year, and a hotbed for deep history surrounding food and culture. So next time you find yourself in New Orleans come nightfall, put down the plastic souvenir cup and get a bit more creative with these ideas.
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Visit a museum or gallery
Arts District, City Park That’s right. You can get plenty of culture here, and many local institutions stay open after the field trips are done. There’s the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, which hosts Ogden After Hours every Thursday and features up-and-coming musical acts like Joy Clark, a hometown singer-songwriter described as Tracy Chapman meets Stevie Nicks. Keep the week going with Friday Nights at NOMA, the nighttime series that includes live music, panel discussions, and film screenings. Cap it off with the First Saturday Gallery Openings, where you can take a self-guided tour through the Arts District and see the amazing talent New Orleans has to offer up close and personal. Plus, there’s typically free wine and cheese.
Get spooked in the Quarter
French Quarter Learn all about the dark history of New Orleans and meet a couple of new friends on a Haunted History Tour. The two-hour tour takes your group through the illustrious French Quarter and -- using police records and city archives -- identified some of the most haunted spots in the 'hood. Some highlights included a ghost-filled tavern and American Horror Story: Coven house.
Break out the opera glasses
Tremé One of New Orleans’ lesser known nicknames is America’s First City of Opera -- and that tradition is alive and well at Mahalia Jackson Theater, named after a hometown gospel singer. The theater produces shows all year-round and this upcoming season features Carmen, Joan of Arc, and The Magic Flute. Once the fat lady sings, step outside to take a photo at the famed Louis Armstrong Park.
Boogie to music on Frenchman Street
Marigny Though this has been filling up with tourists, too, the decidedly cooler alternative to Bourbon is Frenchman Street, the city’s most popular spot for live jazz venues. On any given night you can hear soul music at The Blue Nile, listen to blues at The Spotted Cat, jam out to reggae at Cafe Negril, or -- the most local tradition of all -- second line with a brass band.
Take in dinner and a bowl
Warehouse District While you probably wouldn’t think to spend your time in New Orleans bowling, Fulton Alley is well worth the visit. Think less Big Lebowski and more charming parlor with hand-crafted cocktail and Southern cuisine. Between frames, enjoy crawfish and pork boudin balls or chicken and waffle sliders while sipping on of the bar’s Old Fashioned varieties.
Embrace your inner sleuth
CBD Do you consider yourself a detective? Do you frequently win at Clue? Like all across the county, New Orleans has plenty of escape rooms for you and your friends to play Sherlock, but we recommend one with a distinctly local theme -- like the Mardi Gras study at Escape My Room or the Voodoo Room at Clue Carré.
Enjoy some local flavor at the front bar of Buffa’s
French Quarter Avoid the tourists at Cafe du Monde and enjoy food and drinks at this 24-7-365 dive at “the border of the Quarter” open since 1939. No matter the hour, Buffa’s offers delicious burgers and wings, cheap drinks, live music, and some truly epic people-watching. But be warned: Buffa’s has a couple live cams viewable from its website. So keep your wits about you.
Channel Mark Twain on a steamboat cruise
Mississippi River Truly one of the best ways to take in the city at night is along the mighty Mississippi. Thankfully, the steamboat Natchez offers nightly dinner jazz cruises with Instagram-worthy views of the skyline, a buffet-style dinner, and live swing music by the Dukes of Dixieland. The boat departs from the Toulouse Street Wharf starting at 6pm and may we suggest doing some shopping at nearby Jax Brewery to prepare for your high-sea adventure.
Take in a concert at the new Fillmore at Harrah’s
Canal Street This massive, 22,000-square-foot music venue just opened in February inside Harrah’s Casino and has already booked some of the most impressive acts to come through our city. This season, The Fillmore is featuring shows by Lizzo, Cat Power, Rick Ross, Tom Morello, and Kacey Musgraves, to name a few. Unlike most concert venues, there’s a ton of great food and drink options -- including the legendary Impossible Burger.
Laugh your ass off at a comedy club
Citywide New Orleans is a highly caloric city, so burn some of that off with a good laugh. Head to the Howlin’ Wolf, which hosts free showcase Comedy Beast in The Den every Tuesday. On Wednesday night, there’s stand-up show Comedy Gold at the House of Blues and, most nights of the week, you can catch an improv, sketch, or comedy show at The New Movement tucked away in the Bywater.
See a Broadway show on Canal
Downtown You don’t have to travel to New York City to catch a Broadway show. New Orleans is lucky enough to have the historic Saenger Theatre, built in the 1920s and -- after some careful restoration -- still maintains that old movie palace feel with a giant marquee and original organ. This season is sure not to disappoint with productions like Wicked, Dear Evan Hansen, A Christmas Story, and Mean Girls coming to town.
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Alisha Reed is a pharmacist, mom, and self-care expert who loves rose and spa days in her hometown of New Orleans. She's a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the Junior League of New Orleans, and founder of Nola Bougie -- a platform to help women live their best life. Follow her on Instagram @iamnolabougie.