Family weekend at Disney World on a budget
New Orleans diverse and ecclectic culture was born from time and place. Founded by the French in the deep American south and volleyed between both France and Spain, New Orleans is a mashup of its European and Southern roots.
In spite of the varying ownerships over the centuries, the city has become an entity all its own. New Orleans has a world-reknowned food scene, unique events--like their world famous Mardi Gras parade--and a history that involves words like voodoo, magic, and ghosts.
The way to fall in love with New Orleans over a weekend trip is to stay off of Bourbon St. as much as possible. Some people say it’s something you need to see. If you feel that way, stop by, see it, and then promptly get off of it if you’re looking to avoid the roving bachelor and bachelorette parties.
The rest of the French Quarter is quintessentially charming. Large, hanging ferns spill over from balconies lining the streets. Many of the shops and restaurants have been there for over 100 years. Moving outwards from there you’ll find the large, sprawling homes of the Garden District, the funky, trendy scene of the Warehouse District, and the artsy and lesser-visited Bywaters neighborhood.
After checking in to your hotel, head out to the French Quarter for your first dose of New Orleans after sunset. The city comes alive in the dark. The French Quarter’s streets will be packed with tourists bar hopping and out to explore. Start with Lafittes Blacksmith Shop Bar, a tourist stop from the 1700s that is worth visiting. If you get here early enough you may be able to snag one of the little outdoor tables, the perfect spot for people watching.
The food scene in New Orleans is excellent, boasting so much more than Po’ Boys and crawfish--although both are worth sampling in your time here. Check out one of the great restaurants managed by new chefs, Pesce or Cochon are good options for these.
If you end up spending more time out than you had planned and find yourself looking for a late-night food stop, grab a Po’ Boy from Verti-Mart. It’s a 24-hour grocer that looks like nothing from the outside, or inside for that matter, but that is deliciously deceiving.
Start the day with beignets and a cup of chicory roasted coffee at Cafe Du Monde. It’s fame makes it busy around the clock but the line here always moves quickly. It won’t be long before you’re biting into steaming, hot fried donuts covered in powdered sugar. They are open 24 hours, so if you don’t make it in the morning it makes for a great late night stop as well.
Once you’ve dosed yourselves up with a proper New Orleans breakfast, spend some time exploring the historic sites of the French Quarter like Jackson Square, St. Louis Cathedral, or, head out of town to visit one of the famous above ground cemeteries.
Head to Crescent Park for views of the sun setting over the city. A mostly local haunt, the park is a great place to spend a lazy, late afternoon waiting for the night to start.
After you’ve watched the sky turn dark, make sure you’re spruced up for dinner at Commander’s Palace. Commander’s serves classic Southern dishes in an old-school fine-dining setting that is worth going just for the experience, though the food is also great. Men take note - this is jacket required.
Afterwards, keep the fine-dining experience going with a trip to the Maple Leaf after dinner, where jazz greats have been playing since it’s opening in 1974. The club is the longest standing live music operation in New Orleans. In a town with a reputation for producing some of the best music in the world, seeing a live band play here is a must.
If you’re visiting in the Fall, see if the New Orleans Saints are in town. The city loves it’s football team and celebrates them in typical New Orleans fashion. The energy around the superdome is infectious. Make your way to the parking lots and bars around the stadium and soon you’ll likely be invited to a strangers pig roast or at least sharing a beer with many new friends. If you’re able to grab tickets it’s definitely worth going to a game.
Any other time of year take a trip on the street car. It’s the cheapest way to get a tour of the city and makes for a fun ride. If you haven’t gotten a Po’ Boy fix yet, take this opportunity to take the street car out to Parkway Bakery in the Garden District.
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