I chose to live in New Orleans for six glorious years. New Orleans is real, gritty, crazy, violent, and beautiful. There really is nothing like it. The people are warm and friendly, oozing with southern hospitality and the streets are filled with vibrant colors and deep potholes. It’s a place where many people go to party and a place that anyone who has ever been holds near to their heart. It is a special place and a difficult place and that is how I will always describe it. I love this city.
In the words of the late Anthony Bourdain, “In America, there might be better gastronomic destinations than New Orleans, but there is no place more uniquely wonderful. So I would say New Orleans. With the best restaurants in New York, you’ll find something similar to it in Paris or Copenhagen or Chicago. But there is no place like New Orleans. So it’s a must see city because there’s no explaining it, no describing it. You can’t compare it to anything. So, far and away New Orleans.”
I am often asked for recommendations – where to eat and what to do – for New Orleans and I am happy to share. Rather than continuing to craft a list over and over again, I am sharing my recommendations here — How to explore New Orleans like a local.
The French Quarter
A trip to New Orleans would be incomplete without a day in the French Quarter. While we all know about Bourbon Street, there is much more to see and do in the Quarter than the beads, beer and boobs of Bourbon. It’s worth visiting once but after that, I don’t see much reason to return to Bourbon Street. The larger French Quarter is filled with hotels, bars, shops, galleries, restaurants, markets, gutter punks, and street artists. There’s much to explore!
My favorite spots in the Quarter are (1) Jackson Square for great river views, the cathedral and Cafe du Monde for beignets; (2) Royal Street for unique shops, galleries, and less of a crowd, and (3) Frenchman Street on the edge of the Quarter for its live music, great bars, and street art. You can’t go wrong here.
From the Quarter, hop on the red street car to City Park. I love visiting this expansive park. Bring a picnic and sit under one of the many large oak trees, visit the Museum of Art, wander around the sculpture garden, or kayak through the waterways. There’s also a cafe called Morning Call that serves beignets.
Spend some time on Magazine Street. It’s several blocks of restaurants, bars and shops and accessible from the green Street Car. I’d recommend even just a ride on this Street Car to or from the Quarter. The green street car will take you down St Charles Avenue, viewing beautiful, million-dollar homes and swaying Spanish moss from the trees. Hop off at The Columns Hotel for a drink and then walk down to Magazine Street from there. Some of my favorite spots along Magazine Street are The Bulldog, a bar with a large beer selection and cool beer garden, Guy’s PoBoys, and Dat Dog. For a fancier meal, reserve a table at Shaya and don’t miss the best bakery ever, La Boulangerie. I will stop in there at least once a trip. It has my favorite everything and they’ve just expanded their space to allow for more seating – hooray!
Food & Booze
This is the real reason you’re going to New Orleans, right? Like any great city, New Orleans is constantly cranking out new restaurants and, after being gone for a few years now, I always do my research before a visit. I can tell you my tried and true favorites and I can share my go-to website for all things New Orleans. Check out gonola.com for events, food and drinks, and news before you visit. They’ll have a more current list of where to go than me.
BRUNCH: Elizabeth’s and Ruby Slipper are great brunch spots with a Bloody Mary bar and pomegranate mimosas. Elizabeth’s is famous for their praline bacon but beware, you’ll likely need a nap after visiting. The NOLA food coma struggle is real. Commander’s Palace, the top restaurant in the city, hosts a Jazz Brunch on the weekends and features their 25 cent martinis. They have a strict dress code though so check their website when making a reservation.
BEER: New Orleans is exploding with craft breweries lately and I sadly have not tried many yet. My forever favorite is NOLA Brewing though my friends have recommended Second Line Brewing as well. Eater has a more definitive list here.
SEAFOOD: If its crawfish season (Feb-May), you must throw/attend a boil. Oysters are also delicious in NOLA and can be found in many forms. I like the raw bar at Luke’s, especially during happy hour when they’re 50 cents each!
FOOD: I can’t even begin to list off all the amazing places to eat. It’s hard to go wrong – skip the food on Bourbon as many are tourist traps with high prices and mediocre food. There are several amazing restaurants in the Quarter, many of which are fine dining options: Muriel’s, Sylvain, Antoine’s, Brennan’s, Galatoire’s, Arnaud’s, and Bayona. I always like to take guests to Jacquimos and can’t say no to a sandwich from Cochon Butcher or pizza from Pizza Domenica. Parkway Tavern is another killer poboy spot that’s right on the bayou. A perfect place to grab a poboy and watch the sunset.
NOLA is truly one of a kind. There’s much to enjoy. I know you’ll have the best time!