March 2018: As summer approaches and people start making travel plans, I thought I'd re-share this post for anyone planning a NOLA trip. Remember, this is the year N'Awlins celebrates its 300th anniversary!
It's official. The Big Easy has beat out my hometown, The Big Apple, as my favorite city in America. I adore New Orleans' warmth, exuberance, and fascinating culture. But even though the Crescent City is magical, it's important to remember that it's still an actual city, replete with all the pluses and minuses of a major metropolis. Here are ten do's and don'ts that will help you laissez les bon temps rouler - let the good times roll.
DO: Eat at off hours. During normal meal times, you may find an hour-long wait at the most casual French Quarter restaurant. So go earlier or later. We went to Mother's, one of my favorite haunts, at 4:45 one day simply because we were starving at that time. We got right in. Ten minutes later, there was a line down the block. This is especially true if the Saints are in town. Those fans like to eat and party!
DO: Visit quirky museums and watering holes. You certainly want to go to The Presbytere, with its wonderful exhibits and beautiful location next to St. Louis Cathedral. But the city's quirky museums are absolutely worth a visit, like the funky New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum and the also-funky New Orleans Historical Pharmacie Museum. For a memorable Vieux Carre afternoon, follow a museum visit with a little libation at one of the city's historic bars like the Napoleon House or Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, the oldest bar in the Quarter.
DO: Take the time to stroll along the Moonwalk and watch vessels glide down the Mighty Mississippi. I've always loved relaxing on the wooden stairs that abut the river at the foot of Jackson Square. Nothing soothes me like listening to the Mississippi lap at my feet with occasional ship's horn in the distance. Adjacent to the Moonwalk, you'll find both Washington Artillery Park - a raised plaza that offers a great view of Jackson Square - and in the other direction, Woldenberg Riverfront Park. Enjoy a lovely walk with river vistas in one direction and the Quarter in the other. Sidebar: Moonwalk is named for the city's legendary mayor, Moon Landrieu, who spurred the walk's development in the 70s. His son Mitch is the current mayor of New Orleans.
DO: Take a streetcar ride up St. Charles Avenue. The St. Charles Avenue streetcar offers a beautiful, old-timey ride that passes through the city's gracious Garden District and the mansions of Uptown. (Built later than the Garden district, this area is also known as the Silk Stocking Ward.)You’ll tootle by Loyola University and my alma mater, Tulane University. (Roll, Wave!) Both are across the street from Audubon Park. You can stay on the streetcar to the Riverbend neighborhood and stop for lunch at Camellia Grill, whose waffles, burgers, and pecan pie are legendary. But make sure you get on the right streetcar, or you could end up going in the wrong direction.
DO: Watch where you step on Bourbon Street. Everything you've heard about Bourbon Street is true. There's nothing like walking past a strip club barker with your sixteen year-old just as the man yells out jovially, "It's Titty Time!" (Hope I didn't offend anyone, but had to share!) All party roads eventually lead to Bourbon Street, and the unpleasant result of too many Dacquiris or Hurricanes can be icky puddles of you-know-what on the ground. So keep one eye on the crazy and one eye on the ground.
AND NOW SOME IMPORTANT DON'TS:
DON’T: Wander off the beaten path at night. New Orleans - especially the French Quarter- may feel like an adult Disneyland, but it's not.There's crime, like in any major city, so protect yourself by making your wallet as inaccessible as possible and doing your nighttime exploring in a group. I was told by natives that it’s best not to stray past Dauphine Street in the late evening. Where's Dauphine, you ask? I couldn't tell you north, south, east or west in NOLA if you put a gun to my head - which unfortunately has happened to some visitors. I can tell you that it's away from the river. Sidebar: you'll frequently hear these kind of directions in the city. "How do I get to Decatur Street?" "Walk two blocks toward the river." "Where's Rampart Street?" "It's six blocks away from the river." The Mississippi serves as a de facto compass for NOLA.
DON’T: be surprised when your hotel bill shoots up at checkout. Holy moly, we were! The city tacks a lot of taxes onto your room rate. By the time they were figured into our bill, our nightly rate increased by 20%. It didn't break the bank, but it did up-end our budget a bit. So either check before you make a reservation or assume there will be an increase and prepare for it. And if you dodge it, let me know where you stayed.
DON’T: lose track of your liquor consumption. In a city where people walk around wearing sixty-four ounce fish bowls full of liquor around their necks - I kid you not - this is very easy to do.
New Orleans is open-carry when it comes to booze. As long as it's in a plastic container of some kind, you're good to go, which is why you see people stumbling drunk at 8 a.m. Pace yourself, people. If you don't, there's a good chance you’ll be the one barfing up what others are trying to step over.
DON’T: be shocked by the number of homeless people with dogs. Especially on Decatur Street near the French Market, where you'll see them in practically every doorway. I nearly went broke handing out dollar bills, along with warnings that the money was to be used for the animals. I saw homeless men and women who cherished their pets, and vagrants who seemed to use them as a tool to garner sympathy dollars from rubes like me. I will say that the dogs seemed well-fed. But it still upset me, which is why I'm including this warning in my list.
DON’T: be afraid to be a tourist. Go ahead, hit those restaurants you’ve heard about for years. Places like Antoine’s, Brennan's, Galatoires, et al, have been around for decades and even centuries not because they’re tourist traps but because the locals still frequent them. Here's an example. My family was at Brennan's having a drink before dinner during a recent visit when I was surprised by an old college pal who happened to be there with her daughter. She told me that Antoine's would be closed the next night for a private debutante party. (Being a deb is a huge deal in NOLA.) To take advantage of Antoine's Happy Hour at their Hermes Bar, we flipped around our evening plans.
These are just a few suggestions on how to have a great time in The Big Easy from moi. Readers, if you have any do's and don'ts about visiting New Orleans, I'd love to hear them!