I often get requests for information about where to eat, what to do, and how best to enjoy my adopted city of New Orleans. I keep this "tip sheet" to help visitors make the most of their stay in the Crescent City. I try to keep things current, but let me know if you find a dead link or other outdated information. Enjoy!
- Get a good night’s sleep before you go.
- Pace yourself, especially when it’s hot. Stay hydrated.
- Don’t rent a car unless you’re traveling outside the city (it’s expensive to park in the French Quarter, and you can walk/bike/streetcar/pedi-cab/Lyft/Uber wherever you need to go).
- Walk Bourbon Street once if you’ve never been, then go see the real city—those obnoxious drunk people are (mostly) not New Orleanians.
- New Orleans is a very friendly city. If you’re from the North, don’t be alarmed when strangers say, “good morning, how y’all doing?” when you pass them on the street.
- Don’t be looking down at your smart phone while walking. The city’s “vintage” sidewalks and streets might trip you up. Plus, you might miss a unique sight.
- Unless you’re going to a really fancy restaurant, you won’t need a suit, tie or pantyhose, especially in the summer.
- Be careful and don’t walk by yourself at night in remote areas (use your “big city” common sense); try not to carry a purse while walking around at night and keep track of your wallet in downtown crowds.
- If someone comes up to you on Bourbon Street (or anywhere else) and offers to bet you $20 he can guess where you got your shoes, politely decline and say, “I got my shoes on my feet and I’m standing on Bourbon Street.” [No lie: my Uncle Denny fell for this old scam and was out $20.]
THINGS TO DO
Check the official visitors guides for standard tourist information. The New Orleans Welcome Center, 529 St. Ann St. and the National Park Service sites at the Jean Lafitte National Park office at 419 Decatur St., 504-589-3882, and the New Orleans Jazz National Park, 916 N. Peters St., 877-520-0677 are good places to start.
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. See Arts New Orleans. Tons of galleries in the Warehouse/Arts district (like LeMieux Galleries), on Royal Street in the French Quarter, and on Magazine Street Uptown. Also, on St. Claude Avenue in the Marigny/Bywater and other areas of the city. More information on local art markets here.
Museums. Here are a few small museums that might be of interest:
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.
Degas House, 2306 Esplanade Avenue, 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.
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 and sometimes live music in the courtyard.
I highly recommend 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 people 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 on their website. You can stop for some good local seafood while you’re out there, maybe at B&C Seafood, and contemplate the impact of America’s original sin (well, that and the Native American genocide) on contemporary society. If you're venturing out that way, you might want to also check out the 1811 Slave Revolt Trail.
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.
Tours—A few you may not see on the tourist sites:
If you want a deep dive into the music of the city, check out A Closer Walk, or sign up for writer Chris Rose's hilarious (and irreverent) music-focused tour. (No website, you just have to send Chris a Facebook message to set it up).
There are all kinds of other walking tours through the French Quarter and Garden District, tours of New Orleans’ famous above-ground cemeteries, and “ghost” tours (which may or may not include “alternative facts”). 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 music, food, and fun. Jazz Fest (which is about all kinds of music, not just jazz) is always the last weekend in April and the first weekend in May. Book flights and lodging the winter before. I haven’t missed a Jazz Fest since 1994. Highly recommended, unless you get nervous in crowds or don't like being out in the heat.
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. There are lots of parades in the weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday, so check the schedule. The WDSU Parade Tracker app is a great way to stay informed.
In the Garden District, the Ponchartrain Hotel, 2031 St. Charles Ave, 800-708-6652 is a slice of local history. Tennessee Williams wrote “A Streetcar Named Desire” while staying there. The Hot Tin Roof bar has a cool view of the city.
Of course, all the usual chain hotels are here. The Marriott has a bunch, including 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 lots of Bed & Breakfasts. A couple we recommend: Crescent City Guesthouse (Marigny) and our friend Dave’s Degas House (Mid-City). [You can also do Air BnB but be aware that the regulations are changing to restrict them as they have had some horrific consequences for our neighborhoods. If you do book an Air BnB or VRBO, please remember you're likely in a residential neighborhood and act accordingly.]
Brigtsen’s,723 Dante St., 504-861-7610. Probably our favorite restaurant in the city. James Beard Award-winning Chef Frank Brigtsen is always in the kitchen, and his family works the front of house. Uptown
Pascale’s Manale, 1838 Napoleon Ave., 504-895-4877. Oysters and Italian food in a fun atmosphere. Great place for a group. For a real treat, sit at the oyster bar up front before your meal, and listen to the wisdom of Uptown T. Mid-City
Broadside, 600 N. Broad Ave., 504-218-1008, Mid-City
A few good books to read to better understand the political, cultural and natural history of New Orleans:
- Nine Lives, by Dan Baum
- City of Refuge, by Tom Piazza
- Salvage the Bones, by Jesmyn Ward
- Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole
- We Cast a Shadow, by Maurice Carlos Ruffin
- Why New Orleans Matters, by Tom Piazza
- The Yellow House, by Sarah Broom
- City of a Million Dreams, by Jason Berry
- Louisiana Eats!, by Poppy Tooker
- Unfathomable City, by Rebecca Solnit, et al.
- Witness to History, by Sybil Morial
- Congo Square: African Roots in New Orleans, by Freddi Williams Evans
- Jazz, Religion, the Second Line & Black New Orleans, by Richard Brent Turner
- The Baby Dolls: Breaking the Race & Gender Barriers of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Tradition, by Kim Marie Vaz
- Black Life in Old New Orleans, and We as Freemen, by Keith Weldon Medley
- Blues People, by Leroi Jones
- Groove Interrupted, by Keith Spera
- Feet on the Street, by Roy Blount, Jr.
- Gumbo YaYa, by Lyle Saxon
- Up from the Cradle of Jazz, by Jason Berry
- Words Whispered in Water, by Sandy Rosenthal
- Rising Tide, by John Barry
- The World that Made New Orleans, by Ned Sublette
- Control of Nature, by John McPhee
- Bayou Farewell, by Mike Tidwell
- One Dead in Attic, by Chris Rose
- The Great Deluge, by Doug Brinkley
- Katrina: A History, by Andy Horowitz
- Creole Italian, by Justin Nystrom
We highly recommend HBO’s series Treme (pronounced “treh-may”) as a binge watch to soak up accurate and poignant portrayals of the people, music, food and culture of post-Katrina New Orleans. It might make more sense to you after your visit.
Pronunciations. Many things are not pronounced the way you'd think. A lot of street names are anglicized, e.g. Carondelet is "Ka-ron-da-lette," Milan is "My-lin," Calliope is "Ka-lee-ope."
Directions. There is no "north-south-east-west" here. You're on the "lake side" or "river side" of the street (or the Neutral Ground, i.e. median side of a Mardi Gras float). Upriver or downriver. Look at a map and you'll see why the West Bank is not really "west."
Parking. If you are renting a car or driving, you may want to download the ParkMobile app and link your credit card to an account, which will cover almost all street parking. Most surface lots use Premium Parking, which you can also download.
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.
Beignet (pronounced “ben-ñay”) Fried dough served with powdered sugar on top. Don't wear black pants to Cafe du Monde.
Boudin (pronounced “boo-dan”). A ground Cajun sausage made with spices, one main meat ingredient and always mixed with rice.
Creole vs. Cajun. Two different, important groups of people in Louisiana. Learn more here. "Creole" are generally urban people, descended from African/Caribbean/French/Spanish heritage. Cajuns are generally more rural people, descended from the French Acadians colonists who got kicked out of Canada and re-settled in Louisiana. There's also a difference between Cajun and Zydeco music, more-or-less along Black/white lines. Here's a good article on the roots of Zydeco music.
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 sub, grinder, or hero but way better. You may be asked if you want it “dressed”, which means with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise.
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.”
Clap on the two and four.
Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler!
(Let the Good Times Roll!)