Things to do
French Market. 1008 N. Peters St. down by the river in the French Quarter. Best place to buy inexpensive New Orleans souvenirs, spices and cooking supplies.
Art Galleries. In the Warehouse/Arts district, on Royal Street in the French Quarter, and on Magazine Street Uptown. There’s an emerging arts corridor on St. Claude Avenue, and art markets every month showcasing local artists, of which there are many. More information at: Arts Market of New Orleans.
Museums. Top excursion to recommend is the Whitney Plantation. The tour books and sites will have plenty of info on the other plantation tours. I really have no use for them, as most of them gloss over the shameful history of slavery in Louisiana and focus on the beautiful architecture and stories of the masters, told by women in reproduction hoop skirts. The Whitney was built from the perspective of the enslaved individuals who lived on the plantation. It’s a powerful, moving and educational way to spend part of your time here. It’s about an hour ride out there, and you should buy tickets for a specific tour time in advance.
Backstreet Cultural Museum. 1116 Henriette Delille St., in the famous Treme (pronounced “treh-may”) neighborhood, are a little off the beaten path but great if you want to explore the roots of the city and the birthplace of Jazz.
House of Dance & Feathers. 1317 Tupelo St. 504-957-2678 in the Lower 9th Ward is great if you want to take a deep dive into the Mardi Gras Indians, Social Aid & Pleasure Clubs and other local cultural traditions.
Historic New Orleans Collection. 533 Royal St. 504-523-4662 is a museum, research center, and publisher dedicated to preserving the history and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf South. They have rotating exhibits an sometimes live music in the courtyard.
Other Museums to check out: New Orleans Museum of Art, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, Contemporary Art Center, National WWII Museum, and the Louisiana Children’s Museum and the Southern Food & Beverage Museum are all well worth visiting.
Audubon Zoo and the Aquarium of the Americas are both great, especially for kids, and they have a boat ride package deal between them up the Mississippi. Both are run by the non-profit Audubon Institute.
Swamp Tours are fun and informative if you want to get out into the bayou.
Degas House, owned by my friend Dave, is the 19th century estate where French impressionist Edgar Degas briefly lived in the early 1870s.The renowned artist, whose mother was born in New Orleans, produced close to two dozen paintings and drawings here.
Learn to cook—at the House on Bayou Road and the New Orleans Cooking School.
Tours—there are all kinds of walking tours through the French Quarter and Garden District, which are nice if it’s not too hot out; there are also tours of New Orleans’ famous above-ground cemeteries, and “ghost” tours. Any tourist website or guidebook can provide more information, or check out the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau site. You might also be interested in the New Orleans Culinary History Tour or Drink & Learn, the cocktail tour.
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (a.k.a. Jazz Fest). The best time you’ll ever have if you’re into great music, great food and great fun. Jazz Fest (which is about all kinds of music, not just jazz) is always the last weekend in April and the first weekend I May. Book flights and lodging the winter before. I haven’t missed a Jazz Fest since 1994.
Of course, there’s Mardi Gras. Unless you’re under 25, we advise experiencing Mardi Gras in the neighborhoods of New Orleans, rather than on Bourbon Street.
One of my favorite hotels in the French Quarter is the Hotel Monteleone. 214 Rue Royale, 504-523-3341 or 800-535-9595.
Of course all the usual chain hotels are here. The Marriott has two particularly nice Renaissance hotels, the Pere Marquette (across Canal St. from the French Quarter) and the Renaissance Arts (in the Warehouse District). They also have a nice standard Marriott across the street from the Convention Center. There are many boutique hotels as well. We recommend the Valentino Hotels.
Check Trip Advisor for reviews of other hotels, Air B&B and Vacation Rentals By Owner for longer stays or more lodging in a neighborhood. We are happy to give advice on neighborhoods if you see something you like.
There are also lots of Bed & Breakfasts. One we recommend is the Crescent City Guesthouse just outside the French Quarter in the Marigny neighborhood.
The most reliable web site for what’s open and what’s good in New Orleans is: New Orleans Menu. Check out NOLA Eater for the latest hot new spots. There are a zillion great restaurants in the city and new ones opening up all the time, so consult Yelp to get ideas and reviews. Here’s a recent article with more ideas: New Orleans Dining Guide, spring 2017: The Essential 100. Here’s another fairly recent article with some guidance. Here’s a good food site, and also check out our friend Poppy Tooker’s podcast, Louisiana Eats. If you’re a foodie, you’ll want to make reservations at one of our celebrity chef-owned restaurants, e.g. John Besh, Donald Link, Susan Spicer and of course Emeril Lagasse (really from Fall River, MA but a famous New Orleans chef nonetheless).
This is by no means an exhaustive list of restaurant recommendations, just a smattering of places we like that you might not find on your own.
Clancy’s. 6100 Annunciation St., 504-895-1111.
Brigtsen’s. 723 Dante St., 504-861-7610.
Patois. 6078 Laurel, at Webster. 504.895.9441.
Jacques-Imo's. 8324 Oak, Riverbend 504-861-0886. Uptown near the Maple Leaf club. Interesting, eclectic and funky but be prepared to wait a very long time for a table. Reservations only for parties over 6, and you may still have to wait. Forget it during Jazz Fest.
Pascale’s Manale. 1838 Napoleon Ave., 504-895-4877. Oysters and Italian food in a fun atmosphere. Great place for a group.
Mandina’s. 3800 Canal St., 504-482-9179. A Creole-Italian neighborhood restaurant. Be prepared to wait.
Boucherie. 1506 S. Carrollton Ave. (Carrollton), 504-862-5514.
Uptown po-boy shops, snowball stands and bars
Igor’s. 2133 St. Charles Ave., 504-568-9811. Combination laundromat, pool hall and bar, with a great jukebox. You can get a burger at Igor’s, but go for the ambiance and one of the best Bloody Marys in town.
Domilese’s. 5240 Annunciation St., 504-899-9126. Possibly the best po-boy (sandwich) in the city.
Frankie & Johnny’s. 321 Arabella St., 504-899-9146. Great place for boiled crawfish in season.
Hansen’s Sno-Bliz. 4801 Tchoupitoulas St. 504-891-9788. “There are no short-cuts to quality.” Best snowballs (not to be confused with a snow cone) in the city. Open seasonally, and Jon’s son Bryce might be behind the counter.
Café Degas. 3127 Esplanade Ave., 504-945-5635.
Parkway Bakery & Tavern. 538 Hagan Ave., 504.482.3047. Legendary po-boys.
Central Business District (CBD)
Cafe Reconcile. 1631 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., 504-568-1157. The non-profit mission is unique: to lift undereducated, under-skilled youth into careers in the hospitality industry.
Herbsaint. 701 Saint Charles Ave., 504-524-4114.
French Quarter Restaurants
Muriel’s Jackson Square. 801 Chartres St., 504-568-1885.
Antoine’s. 725 Saint Louis St., 504-581-4422. One of the grand dames of New Orleans restaurants (along with Arnaud’s and Galatoire’s). Private dining rooms available for large and small groups. Men will want to wear a jacket.
Palace Café. 605 Canal Street, 504-523-1661. Don’t miss the white chocolate bread pudding.
Central Grocery. 923 Decatur St., 504-523-1620. The best muffalettas in town, eaten standing up at a counter in the crowded Italian grocery store. Take lots of napkins.
Acme Oyster House. 724 Iberville St., 504-522-5973 www.acmeoyster.com or the lesser-known but equally good Felix’s across the street at 739 Iberville St., 504-522-4440.
Drago’s at the Hilton Riverside is renowned for the charbroiled oysters.
The Italian Barrel. 430 Barracks St., 504-569-0198. Don’t let the cheesy sign out front fool you. This is a great little place with authentic Northern Italian cuisine—rare in New Orleans. It’s tiny so better to make a reservation.
Marigny & Bywater Restaurants
Elizabeth’s. 601 Gallier St., 504.944.9272. One of our go-to places. Great weekend brunch and dinner.
Mariza. 2900 Chartres St., 504-598-5700.
Paladar 511. 511 Marigny St. 504-509-6782
Satsuma’s. 3218 Dauphine St. 504-304-5962. You can actually get a delicious and healthy meal at Satsuma’s. It’s also a coffee shop.
Camelia Grill. A tourist place but worth visiting. The original location is Uptown at 626 S. Carrollton, 504-866-9573 and now they have one in the Quarter at Chartres and Toulouse. Good for breakfast, lunch or fried pie (trust me).
Ruby Slipper. Several locations, Mid-City, Downtown & Marigny. All excellent.
For a really cool way to explore the city, check out WWOZ’s A Closer Walk NOLA site, a block-by-block curated history of New Orleans music. Open it on your smart phone and the GPS will guide you.
Clubs on Frenchman Street. Lots of great music in this lively district just outside the French Quarter. Jazz at Snug Harbor, 628 Frenchmen St., 504-949-0696; Spotted Cat, 623 Frenchman St., 504-943-3887; d.b.a., 618 Frenchman St., 504-942-3731 or the Blue Nile, 532 Frenchmen.
Preservation Hall, 726 St. Peter St. in the French Quarter. A legendary music venue and guardian of all that is sacred about New Orleans music, plus an innovative collaborator with all sorts of contemporary musicians.
Mid-City Lanes Rock ‘n’ Bowl. 3000 So. Carrollton Ave., 504-861-1700. Bowling and dancing to live, usually Zydeco or Blues music.
Chickie Wah Wah. 2828 Canal St.
Tipitina’s (Uptown). 501 Napoleon Ave., 504-891-6477.
Maple Leaf. 8316 Oak St., 504-866-5323 or 866-9359
House of Blues. 225 Decatur St., 504-529- 2583. They have a Gospel Brunch on Sundays too.
Best Local Music Store
Louisiana Music Factory. 421 Frenchman St. 504-586-1094.
WWOZ. Local community radio station plays mostly Louisiana music. When you get home and miss New Orleans, you can stream it live.
If you really want to soak up some local culture and brass band music, see if you can find a Second Line on a Sunday afternoon. Routes and details are usually posted at WWOZ’s “In the Streets” site.
My Spilt Milk. Our friend Alex Rawls’ blog. A great resource for serious music fans.
Books & TV Shows
A few good books to read to better understand the political, cultural and natural history of New Orleans:
Why New Orleans Matters, by Tom Piazza
Nine Lives, by Dan Baum
City of Refuge, by Tom Piazza (a great novel)
Groove Interrupted, by Keith Spera
Feet on the Street, by Roy Blount, Jr.
Rising Tide, by John Barry
Control of Nature, by John McPhee
Bayou Farewell, by Mike Tidwell
One Dead in Attic, by Chris Rose
The Great Deluge, by Doug Brinkley
Breach of Faith by Jed Horne
The Storm, by Ivor Van Heerden
Devil Sent the Rain, by Tom Piazza (a collection of articles and essays, some about New Orleans)
Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole
We highly recommend HBO’s series Treme as a binge watch to soak up accurate and poignant portrayals of the people, music, food and culture of New Orleans. It might make more sense to you after your visit. To really take a deep dive, check out local writer Dave Walker’s excellent series of blog posts explaining each episode.
Other important stuff
There is no "north, south, east, west." People will give you directions by "lake side, river side, uptown, downtown." Just go with it (and look at a map to understand why).
Pralines (pronounced “prah-leens”). Local pecan confection. Eat them right away—they don’t travel very well.
Andouille (pronounced “an-doo-ee”) Sausage. A Cajun spiced and smoked sausage.
Boudin (pronounced “boo-dan”). A ground Cajun sausage made with spices, one main meat ingredient and always mixed with rice.
File. (pronounced “fee lay”) Dried, finely ground leaves of the sassafras tree. Used as a thickener in gumbo.
Po-boy. A sandwich, kind of like a submarine or a hero but way better. You may be asked if you want it “dressed”, which means with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise.
Muffuletta. (prononced “muff-uh-LOT-uh." The proprietors of Central Grocery pronounce it "moo-foo-LET-ta”) An Italian sandwich best sampled from the Central Grocery.
Tchoupitoulas is pronounced “chop-ih-toolas” (basically, the first “T” is silent). It’s the street where Tipitina’s is, at the corner of Napoleon.
Esplanade is pronounced to rhyme with “lemonade” (not like the Esplanade in Boston)
It’s a streetcar, not a trolley.
Lagniapppe (pronounced “lan-yap”). It means “a little something extra.”
New Orleans (pronounced “New Orlins” or sometimes “New Or-le-ins” but not “N’awlins”). Try not to sound like a tourist.
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