Over the holidays we had a awesome opportunity to visit one of my favorite cities, New Orleans. Back in February I realized I had enough Southwest points for one round-trip flight from the Bay Area to New Orleans so we quickly booked the other flight. I have been four times before so I have a general idea of what to do there but every time I visit I feel like we are just scratching the surface to what the city has to offer. I thought I’d do a recap of highlights of each day of adventures plus some tips to others thinking of making the trip.
We were smart and booked a very cheap but uncomfortable hotel near SFO for our o’dark early flight. Flying to a destination I always try to book a early flight as it always seems you avoid delays and then you are ready to jump in on the fun. After a quick layover in Vegas we caught a uber to our hotel.
Tip: MSY has a dedicated spot for Uber/Lyft pick ups you must exit the airport walk across a bridge way and you will seen signs. Thought this was a smart thing to have!
We stayed at Hyatt Centric Hotel nestled between the French quarter and canal street. Loved the location, room (with balcony) gym, and restaurant.
Tip: loved the balcony but didn’t love that a few nights we woke up to noise at 4am which sounded like a garbage truck. But we did see a wedding second line out our window on last night so it kinda made up for it.
We spent the afternoon getting the lay of the land of the French Quarter. We made a stop at my husband’s favorite Krystal, which is a southern version of White Castle. From there we wandered around Royal Street and caught a Cajun band called the “Hokum High Rollers” and a fun brass band.
Tip: allow yourself some wandering time on Royal Street not only are their some amazing shops and art galleries there are usually some quality music to enjoy too, make sure you tip!
We decided that night that we would try to catch a show at Preservation Hall. This historic music venue in the French Quarter was established in 1961 to preserve and protect traditional New Orleans jazz music. It also operates at record label and a touring band. The hall operates 7 nights a week and for $15 in cash you can enjoy the greats in jazz in a intimate venue.
Tip: Some evenings they offers concerts up to five times a evening (5pm, 6pm, 8pm, 9pm, and 10pm) the earlier shows tend to be less crowded but you still need to get there at least an hour before the show to get a seat, otherwise you’ll be standing in the back and it can be hot! I recommend grabbing a drink from Pat O’Brien’s next door in a go-cup and then wait in line.
“Preservation Hall. Now that’s where you’ll find all of the greats.” — Louis Armstrong
After the show we settled on one of my favorite places to eat called the Orleans Grapevine Wine Bar and Bistro. The restaurant is owned by the same folks that own the cheesy but fun bar on Bourbon Street called The Tropical Isle. I love sitting on the Patio to have dinner and think that this building has been around since 1809! I had a delicious chicken dish stuffed with goat cheese and was a happy camper.
We started out the day with quick workout in the gym and then walked to our bike tour that started near Frenchman Street. Our tour was through the Confederacy Of Cruisers, which is a local bike tour company. For $89 for a 4 hour tour that winds through different neighborhoods and local restaurants. Some of the areas we visited on the bike were the French Quarter, Bywater, Marigny, and St. Roch. Our tour guide was a local and a long time student of Tulane University. Seeing the city on the bike was magical there is nothing like spinning through historic neighborhoods like where the Streetcar Named Desire was! This tour is not for the faint of stomach and since I don’t eat fish there were a few places I didn’t eat as much but I loved everything we ate. Also everything is served family style.
Our first stop was my personal favorite called Bennachin-which was a African vegetarian restaurant in the quarter. Highlights were the black eyed pea fritters, sautéed spinach, and plantains!
From there we hit up the Cheesy Cajun off of St. Claude Street. I loved the decor here and the employees were super nice. We shared some cheesy curds which were out of this world tasty! We also shared boudin links and cracklins (fried pork rinds). Highlight here for me was the Cheesy Curds!
From there we made a stop at Elizabeth’s in the Bywater, a restaurant with “down-home country decor”. I loved the praline bacon! There was also fried green tomatoes and fried oysters served.
Our last stop (after riding through the area where the Streetcar Named Desire ran) was St. Roch’s Market. This place reminded me of the SF Ferry Building with various stalls with local food vendors. I chose a Tropical Moscow Mule and cupcakes (red velvet, vanilla, and salted caramel). My husband had a frozen cafe au lait (DELICIOUS!!). Seriously, I’m not a coffee drinker and I would have this everyday. We said goodbye to our bikes and tour guide (who was lovely) and walked through the French Market next. The French market is where you can pick up pretty much anything touristy from New Orleans it’s worth a stop through because there is usually a brass band on one side of the street to listen to. We rounded out our day at my favorite praline place called Leah’s in the quarter. Leah’s been selling pralines since 1944 and is still family owned. My favorite is the creamy praline which is soft and slightly chewy. It literally melts in your mouth!
Later that evening we decided to hit up the Roosevelt Hotel to check out their Christmas decor and try out some authentic Nola drinks such as the Ramos Gin Fizz and The Grasshopper. Personally I preferred the Gin Fizz, the other felt like a overall boozy shake.We had a late dinner at Acme Oyster House which worked out well because the line is usually very long. I ended up feasting on some red beans and rice and that was plenty enough food for me!
Tip: Tour groups are small and book up so book early! Also a late dinner at Acme works well as lines are extremely long. As long as you are in line before closing you can get in!
After all the eating I thought it would be a great idea to go on a run the next morning. We ran near the water up to Cafe Du Monde to enjoy a traditional cafe au lait and beignets. Both of these were so delicious I had to stop myself from gobbling them down as I wanted to walk back and share the rest with my husband. This is a pretty nice walk from the hotel and
fairly flat for jogging, I wouldn’t recommend trying to jog further in the quarter, it’s too uneven.
Later we made our way to the garden district via the streetcar. This is a great way to see the city and is cheap! ($3 for the whole day). Our first stop was the Lafayette Cemetery #1 which dates back to 1833. Here you can tour and learn the history of residents back to 1718. It’s always fascinating to visit cemeteries in New Orleans because due to being below sea level everyone was buried above ground. We also tried to pop in to Commanders Palace to see if we could go in the bar and order one of there famous soufflés but no such luck, it warm that day and we were all wearing shorts. The restaurant has pretty strict restrictions on clothing. From there we wandered along coliseum street to see some of the gorgeous homes. I downloaded a google map extension so I knew where Sandra Bullock’s, John Goodman’s, and Benjamin Button homes were. We also saw the home that Disney’s haunted mansion is based on. Touring these streets made us pretty hungry so our next stop was District Doughnuts on Magazine Street.
I had been lusting over Districts Instagram for months. Every day they capture their unique selection of doughnuts. My group settled on a sangria doughnut, root beer doughnut and a nice chocolate sprinkled one. Surprisingly everyone loved the sangria! Very unique taste and flavor! District also has pretty unique sliders too so I also enjoyed a tofu one.
From there we decided to hit up as many shops on magazine street. This street is long (6 miles!) and pretty much only has locally owned stores so it’s a great treat. My favorites were Defend New Orleans,Miette, and Discoveries Furniture. Miette has the coolest ceiling and really great gifts to bring home. At Defend New Orleans I bought a short sleeve sweatshirt too and admired the posters that featured quotes from famous musicians. Magazine street has literally anything you could want to shop for!
We ended our day at Sucre which is known for their beautiful glittery king cake! They also have beautiful macarons, gelato, chocolates, and marshmallows. We shared a filled cupcake and took some macarons to go! On our way back to the streetcar we realized we realized we had just walked by Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s home.
That evening we had reservations at Domencia which was voted one of the best Italian restaurants in New Orleans. This is a John Besh restaurant and it didn’t disappoint. We enjoyed pizza, pasta, and this amazing cauliflower appetizer.
Tip: the streetcar gets full and you need exact change! Commander’s Palace has a strict dress code! You can pop in for a drink or soufflé you just need to wear pants! For a fancy sit-down meal you must make reservations a few weeks in advance.
Tip: Magazine Street is 6 miles long! Order a free booklet with maps before you go to scope out where you want to start and end your trek! Being that these are locally owned there is also a lot of turnover so stores you that you love could be there one year and gone the next!
Day 4 was museum day so we first started with The Old Mint in the French Quarter. This museum is free and operated as a US Mint in the 1880s. You can see how coins were produced here and they also have a amazing exhibit on New Orleans Jazz. Highlights for me was Louis Armstrong’s trumpet and his personal recipe for creole red beans and rice.
After the museum we made a beeline to the Central Grocery home of the muffuletta. Certainly you can get this sandwich elsewhere (and a shorter line) but we stuck it out for a about 30 minute wait and shared this delicious sandwich.
It this point we decided that we should commence with some day drinking as we made our way to our next museum stop which was the WW2 Museum off of Magazine. Bourbon Street is totally magical to me during the day; less crowded and less trash everywhere. One of our stops was Pat O’Brien’s which is known for their classic patio and hurricanes. I settled on a mint julep and we sat at the bar and our bartender even provided some creole flavored popcorn! Next I convinced the crew to go to my guilty pleasure bar the original Tropical Isle. They are know for the powerful and secret recipe called a hand grenade. But my personal favorite is the shark attack drink. The key to this drink is to pick a empty spot in the bar to watch the bartender work their magic.
We decide to walk off our drink and walk to the WW2 Museum. This is a huge museum and honestly you could spend a entire day here. We choose to try to walk through all the exhibits which gives a chronological view of the start and end to the war. At some parts you feel like you are actually experiencing the climate the soldiers might have experienced. It was a real treat to see the planes and videos up close. Upon the museum closing we were super hungry and found last minute reservations on yelp for Meril. This is one of the newest Emeril Lagasse’s restaurants and what makes it different from his other eateries is that plates are more on the smaller side. Highlight for me was the pineapple cornbread! On our way back to our hotel we made a stop at the beautiful Ritz Carlton Hotel. They had the hotel decked out for the holidays which included a 390 pound life size gingerbread house. The house was based on the wedding cake house on St. Charles in the garden district. They also have a beautiful light display in the entry way that will take your breath away!
Tip: There are coupons for a few bucks off in the Go Nola travel booklet.
Tip 2.0: The Mint is a free museum and sometimes offers live music!
The next morning we sadly flew home but we are already thinking (and getting hungry) for our next visit!