Pros: Plenty of attractions, great dining, interesting culture, rich history, no transportation needed.
New Orleans can be a fun destination to let your hair down. The city has recovered substantially from Hurricane Katrina. As one of the initial responders following the hurricane, it was great to go back and visit the city now that the people have returned. There is nothing as disappointing as visiting a city like New Orleans and leaving before you ever get a chance to taste the local flavors. My recent trip to New Orleans provided me an opportunity to fully explore the city, especially the rich culinary tradition of New Orleans.
New Orleans is politically divided into Wards. For visitors, navigation is more about neighborhoods. Public transportation is readily available in the form of buses, streetcars and taxi cabs, with inexpensive options to get just about anywhere in town without a car. During my most recent visit, I stayed at the JW Marriott on Canal Street, which was close to the action, but much quieter than the Royal Sonesta where I have stayed in the past. The city is divided into the popular French Quarter, Central Business District, Uptown, Downriver, Mid-City, Lakeside and Algiers.
The French Quarter is the area most commonly associated with New Orleans. This area is home to the famous Bourbon Street. My favorite venues for quality music in the French Quarter include Maison Bourbon (which features live Jazz) and Funky Pirate (which features live Blues…try to catch Big Al if you can). At the far end of Bourbon Street, you can catch a piece of history with the popular LaFitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar. I generally try to avoid the cover band clubs, but enjoyed a few performances at Live. I also attended a private function at Krazy Korner Club that ended up being a good time. You can also pick up a cold frozen daiquiri at Jesters, which has a few locations along Bourbon Street. They generally charge around ten dollars, but they are not skimpy on the liquor.
The French Quarter has many popular restaurants, to include some highly recommended oyster joints, which I avoided due to the long lines and my own aversion to seafood. Food along Bourbon Street is expensive, so it may be worthwhile to venture out for a meal. There are a couple of chains in and around Bourbon, such as Pat O’Briens and House of Blues. If you are looking for entertainment with your meal, Café Beignet has a decent menu and among the best entertainment, featuring Steamboat Willie most evenings. Nearest to Bourbon Street would be an inexpensive menu with great throwback atmosphere at Camellia Grill just a few blocks off Bourbon. A short walk beyond Bourbon Street will bring you to the eclectic fusion menu of Three Muses, one of the best restaurants in New Orleans. For the best in Beignets, skip Café Beignet and head over to Decatur Street for Café DuMonde.
The French Quarter is also where you will find a host of tourist shops to provide information on local tours. Tours can be scheduled and purchased throughout the neighborhood for a variety of excursions. They include Swamp Tours, City Tours, Walking Tours and more. The French Market is located along Decatur Street offers a wide variety of shopping opportunities. There are also a number of artist galleries to be found if you venture out to the side streets beyond Bourbon. Many street artists can also be found around Jackson Square with their artwork on display along the wrought iron fence. If you are looking to learn more about the history of the French Quarter, you can stop in one of the many tourist shops to schedule a walking tour. They have a variety of tours, the most popular being the Ghost Tours. If you have done enough walking, you can grab a horse and buggy tour on Decatur Street in front of Jackson Square.
The Central Business District is located adjacent to the French Quarter. This area houses a casino, the Riverwalk Mall, Convention Center and a host of other attractions. There is a Café DuMonde located in the Mall, along with several highly rated restaurants. The museums are also located in this area. They include the National D-Day Museum, the Children’s Museum, the Contemporary Arts Center and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. More art galleries can be found in this area which includes the Arts District. If you are interested in a riverboat ride, you can schedule a ride on the ferry or purchase a dinner cruise.
The Downriver Area has less to offer, but includes one restaurant I would highly recommend. Located northeast of the French Quarter, this area includes the Lower Ninth Ward, which was decimated during Hurricane Katrina. This is one of the areas that have experienced the slowest rebuilding progress. The City Tour takes visitors down to the Lower Ninth and provides information about Hurricane Katrina. Some of the houses still bear the marks of search teams nearly a decade later. I rented a car from Enterprise for less than fifty dollars per day and explored the Lower Ninth on my own. There is a small memorial park with billboards that depict the area as it looked In2005 along with information about the green building project currently rebuilding the Lower Ninth Ward. The Downriver area includes the Seventh Ward, where you will find the best barbecue in New Orleans. Don’t miss The Joint.
Uptown includes the University District and Carrollton. This includes the historic Garden District with its mansions. For $1.25, you can jump on the St. Charles streetcar which runs through the Garden District ending at Carrollton Street. This area is known for antique stores, studios and art galleries. My wife and I visited a book store a couple blocks south of St. Charles Street where we found an incredible taco truck. The area includes the Audubon Zoo, Loyola University and Tulane University.
Mid-City is located northwest of the French Quarter. This area includes Treme, Esplanade Ridge and Central City. This area technically includes some of the hotels that cater to the French Quarter. One of these hotels, the Roosevelt, houses one of my favorite New Orleans restaurants. Domenica. For excellent Italian food, this one is not to be missed. You can take the City Park streetcar out to City Park for $1.25 each direction. This are also houses the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Botanical Garden and Cemeteries which offer historic tours. I found an interesting hamburger joint off of Canal Street in this District called Juicy Lucy. It is worth visiting. Across the Carollton from Juicy Lucy is the famous landmark ice cream shop called Angelo Brocato.
Lakeside is north of downtown along Lake Ponchatrain. Here, you will find marinas, forts and an extended park that runs along the lake.
If you want to venture out of New Orleans, the Swamp Tours take you to nearby LaPlace, Lousiana. The Swamp Tour is a short ride of thirty minutes. Most of the tours last around two hours and run around forty to fifty dollars with transportation included. There are also many nearby communities where you can find ample shopping and less expensive restaurants than those found in the heart of New Orleans. New Orleans is an exciting city that never seems to sleep. With a bit of planning, you can squeeze plenty of quality dining in with your entertainment and late night parties. It is a great place to blow off steam. Five stars.