My New Orleans Travel Guide
I was born in New Orleans, and while I grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and didn’t live here full-time until college, New Orleans has always been home in my heart. I worked in the French Quarter and on Magazine Street for many years, both in retail and for the Louisiana State Museum, so I’ve seen all sides of the “cultural economy” and the importance of tourism. Writing for my own blog as well as other local magazines and websites has been another great way to share the city I love so much with visitors.
Looking to plan a weekend trip to New Orleans? Here’s a fun weekend itinerary, with a good mix of must-see New Orleans plus plenty of local flair.
One weekend in New Orleans…
Where to stay:
As a New Orleans resident, Hotel Monteleone is the only hotel in town I’ve ever actually stayed at, when my boyfriend was head of organizing a small convention hosted here in 2006. It’s at a great location in the heart of the French Quarter, the staff and amenities are top notch, and this hotel has deep literary roots: Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, and William Faulkner all stayed here, and Truman Capote famously boasted that he was born here. Even if you decide to stay elsewhere, be sure to make a visit to the Carousel Bar and have a drink. The bar is on a circular moving platform!
What to do – Friday Night:
The perfect way to start a long weekend in New Orleans is with a night on Frenchmen Street. Check out Three Muses or Yuki for good drinks, live music and a variety of small plates before heading out the door to other Frenchmen Street hotspots like The Spotted Cat or DBA. Be sure to explore Frenchmen Art Market (I sold my jewelry and other goodies there on many, many nights, though I’ve taken a break for now.) For late night drunken eats, check out Dat Dog. My personal fave? The crawfish dog topped with crawfish etoufee. Oh yeah!
Wondering who’s playing where? Pick up a free Gambit, our weekly news magazine, at most any bar or coffee shop, and check out the current live entertainment and music listings in the back.
What to do – Saturday:
Wake up bright and early (you didn’t have too much to drink last night, did you?) to make the most of your day. Even though it’s the tourist cliché, café au lait with chicory and beignets (tasty doughnut-like treats coated with powdered sugar) from Café Du Monde are a great way to start your day. Next, head on over to Jackson Square and tour the Living With Hurricanes exhibit at the Louisiana State Museum’s Presbytere.
If wildlife is more your thing or if you’re traveling with kids, walk up the riverfront, through Woldenberg Park, to the Aquarium of the Americas. The exhibits here are world-class and have been a personal favorite of mine since childhood. You can also do a package deal, as the nearby Insectarium is also run by the Audubon Institute. The butterfly room here is spectacular. (Bonus: if you’re feeling spendy and want a once-in-a-lifetime experience, book the special tour where you get to meet the penguins! I surprised David with this last Christmas and it was AMAZING!)
By now, you’re bound to be hungry for lunch. For cheap, tasty eats, check out Felipe’s Taqueria at 301 N. Peters Street. (It’s super easy for group dining – it’s Tex-Mex, but you can build your own burrito or entree, Subway-style at the counter.) I also recommend the Eggs Benedict Po-Boy at Stanley in Jackson Square.
After lunch, do a little French Quarter shopping. You can check out the Shops at Canal Place for big mainstream retailers like Saks and Anthropologie or the recently revamped Outlet Collection at Riverwalk, or explore the many independent boutiques the Vieux Carre has to offer. For antiques and art, hit Royal Street. For clothing, shoes and accessories, explore Chartres Street, then wander down to lower Decatur Street, near Esplanade Avenue for lots of quirky, out of the ordinary finds. For a complete guide, check out GoNOLA’s French Quarter Shopping Guide, which I helped compile.
For dinner, check out one of my favorite restaurants in town: a West African joint called Bennachin (1212 Royal Street). It’s BYOB, so head across the street to Verti Marte, where you can choose from a large selection of wine and liquor. Get the black-eyed pea fritters as an appetizer, and my personal favorite entrée: the chicken or fish dish served with sautéed spinach, coconut rice and fried plantains. Nom nom.
What to do – Sunday:
If you’re staying in the Quarter, my neighborhood, Mid-city, is only a short streetcar ride away. Take the Canal Street streetcar (be sure to take the Cemeteries line) and get off just past the major intersection at Carrollton Avenue, near Hennesseey Street. Taking a left on Hennesseey, wall 3 blocks over to Banks Street and make a right. You’ll find yourself at Biscuits & Buns on Banks, which is a yummy brunch joint worth the trip.
After brunch, walk it off and head over to City Park. Take a tour of the New Orleans Museum of Art or explore their beautiful sculpture garden. Many of our famous above-ground cemeteries are also located in this neighborhood. The Cemeteries line of the Canal Street streetcar will drop you off near some of them, and there are others on Esplanade Avenue near the entrance to City Park. This neighborhood also includes Bayou St. John, a bucolic waterway which snakes its way through the middle of the city. Near Bayou St. John is Parkway Bakery & Tavern (538 Hagan Avenue), famous for their delicious po-boys. (President Obama has eaten there during his visits to the Crescent City.)
Mid-City is a neighborhood that not all tourists make their way to, but it is my favorite part of town, both for its scenery and the friendliness of the locals. After the fast-paced buzz of the French Quarter and downtown, it’s a nice retreat.
Now, on to some more of my favorite NOLA spots:
New Orleans Shopping Faves
Fifi Mahony’s – This is one of my favorite stores in New Orleans. Amazing wigs and makeup selection, not to mention a fabulous staff. Things get crazy there around Mardi Gras and Halloween, but they usually have extended hours during this time of year and it’s definitely worth a visit.
Trashy Diva – This has been my favorite store for years. I followed them online since nearly the beginning and shopped there when it was vintage-only. I also worked there for many years. Owner Candice designs gorgeous 1930s & 40s inspired dresses, blouses and skirts. They also have a killer selection of jewelry, shoes and accessories, not to mention lingerie stores which stock the biggest selection of real, steel-boned corsets in the Southeast.
Magazine Street – There are just too many great shops and restaurants on Magazine Street to name them all individually. The thing about Magazine Street is it’s looongg, and the sections of great shopping are separated by blocks of residential housing and other stuff that might not be super interesting to non-locals (although there are plenty of beautiful buildings in these stretches).
Jackson Avenue to Felicity Street on Magazine Street. This stretch of Magazine Street includes some of my favorite local shops including Trashy Diva, eco-friendly boutique Branch Out, local jewelry artist Gogo Borgerding, Aidan Gill for Men, Jim Russell’s Rare Records, as well as national chains like Free People. Miette & Unique Products (2038 Magazine Street) are also located here. Check out this shop to see the work of many local artists, including my friends Heather Macfarlane and Mark Kirk. They make amazing housewares including lights made from old Mardi Gras beads or detergent bottles.
The area between Washington Avenue & Louisiana Avenue is one of the best areas on Magazine Street for shopping and dining. Check out Belladonna for great day spa services and housewares, Shoe-nami is packed full of fun and affordable shoes, Bootsy’s Funrock’n is full of fun & kitschy gifts and Funky Monkey is a great locally owned used clothing exchange. A little further down you’ve got American Apparel and Buffalo Exchange, but check out Slim Goodie’s next door for greasy diner food perfect for curing hangovers.
If you’ve done all of that and you still haven’t got your fix of Magazine Street shopping, head further uptown and check out the area between Jefferson & Nashville Avenues. There are more great little boutiques as well our Whole Foods Market.
Favorite New Orleans Restaurants
Bennachin – 1212 Royal Street – yummy West African soul food. The service can be sometimes slow, and they don’t have their own liquor license, so I recommend grabbing a bottle of wine from Verti Marte across the street and then settling in. The food is soo worth the wait though.
Juan’s Flying Burrito – 2018 Magazine Street & 4724 S Carrollton Ave – remember how I sent you to Magazine Street for shopping at Trashy Diva & Unique Products? Well there’s one more thing you need to check out on that block for the true NOLA local’s experience. Juan’s is Tex-Mex with some New Orleans flair. Their margaritas will knock you on your ass, but this is good food at really affordable prices. Seriously, I don’t know a local who doesn’t love Juan’s.
Cafe Du Monde – if you’ve never been to New Orleans before, this is a total must. You MUST get cafe au lait & beignets from Cafe Du Monde. Accept no substitutions. If you come in the summer, I highly recommend the frozen cafe au lait.
My favorite sno-ball stand in town (that’s mostly a locals only kind of place) is Plum Street Snowballs, on Plum Street uptown between Carrollton and Broadway. It’s soo good! I love the cream flavors… orchid cream vanilla is my all-time fave! Creole Creamery on Prytania uptown is a great local ice cream shop and Angelo Brocato’s in Mid-city on Carrollton is a great family owned gelato place that’s been in business for over 100 years!
Favorite Things To Do In New Orleans
St. Charles Streetcar – This streetcar (the dark green ones) will take you past all of the historic homes, Tulane & Loyola Universities and Audubon Park. It’s only $1.25 to ride in each direction. As a tourist, please be considerate and try to have your fare ready ahead of time, as many people do use the streetcar as a method of transportation to and from work.
Audubon Zoo and the Aquarium of the Americas – as an animal lover, these are two of my favorite big New Orleans attractions. If you’re coming with kids, I definitely recommend these.
The National WWII Museum – this fabulous museum has some great exhibits about many areas of WWII history. The exhibits on the war in the Pacific are some of my favorites.
My bestie Ashe pointed out that I should let all you crafters and costumers also know about our favorite hometown spot on the Mississippi Gulf Coast: Josette’s. This costume shop in Biloxi is HUGE and they have an amazing selection of outrageous fabrics and trims as well. Just writing about it has me thinking about how I really need to make a trip back home to go shopping for sparkly trims & notions soon.
Getting Around New Orleans
Parts of New Orleans are very walkable and bike-able, but especially if it’s after dark and you’re not familiar with the neighborhood, please don’t chance it. (Same with any big city, really.) Call a cab, rent a car, or check out Uber, which recently started rolling out their services in New Orleans. (New to Uber? First-time riders can use the code JACKPOT for up to $25 off their first trip, through 1/1/2016.)