Whether you’ve got one, two or three days in the Crescent City, this is our version of the ultimate tour. No post-visit shoulder shrugging over missing the good stuff. Right here, right now, here is the definitive New Orleans:
Begin with Information
Before diving in, pick a professional tour brochure. Your lodging should have some, or you can visit with us at the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, at 2020 St. Charles Avenue, or from our French Quarter location at 529 St. Ann Street. (Phone: 504-566-5011)
Start with a Creole Breakfast
Reach right into the heart of New Orleans tradition and breakfast with cafe au lait and beignets, just opposite Jackson Square at the French Market’s Café du Monde, open 24/7. Give yourself time to linger because that’s the New Orleans way. For over 50 years, breakfast at Brennan’s has been a festive, gourmet way to begin any visit to the Crescent City. Or, try the Court of Two Sisters at 613 Royal with its glorious court-yard and a daily jazz brunch.
Take a City Tour
A professionally guided city tour is always recommended to see ‘The Big Easy.” Sort out the many historic neighborhoods like the Vieux Carre, the Central Business and the Warehouse Arts Districts, the Garden District and Uptown, home of Greek Revival and Victorian mansions, of Tulane and
Loyola Universities, the Audubon Park and Zoo. Tour by bus, van, private car, horse-powered carriage, or a bike built for one or two.
After the grand tour, lunch. Keep in mind that we treat food with reverence and panache here, so plan ahead. Lunch (like breakfast and dinner) is an important time of the day. Lunch menus can be a matter of legend. A few ideas: board a riverboat for a lunch cruise; see and feel the power of the Mississippi while sampling some Creole or Cajun specialties. Or, grab a muffuletta at the very aromatic Progress or Central Grocery (923-925 Decatur, across from the French Market). Picnic with your muffuletta by the river or in Jackson Square. Try the tantalizing gumbo at the Gumbo Shop, 630 St. Peter Street, with its antique but casual ambiance and pleasant courtyard, not to mention the gumbo itself. Visit The Acme Oyster Bar or Felix’s for freshly shucked oysters and a variety of seafood. Both are on Iberville, about a block apart.
Or, try the Riverwalk which houses some fine restaurants and cafes, with a great view of the river, and explore three levels of shopping, ending at the scenic Spanish Plaza fountain.
The French Quarter…
There are so many ways to see the world famous French Quarter, including mule-drawn carriage and various guided and self-guided tours. NOMCVB’s free brochure includes a self-guided French Quarter walking tour. See l8th and 19th-century New Orleans at your own pace.
By foot or carriage, Jackson Square has long been the heart of the city, flanked by the Pontalba Apartments, the Cabildo, St. Louis Cathedral and the Presbytere. Wander through the cobble-stoned ambiance of Pirate’s Alley, and stop by the Faulkner House bookstore to see where the author penned his first novel, A Soldier’s Pay.Explore the markets: French, Flea and Farmer’s – all in one long and colorful arcade along the River, and shop for great local New Orleans and Louisiana products, and tons of jewelry, voodoo dolls, carnival masks, arts, crafts and tchotchkes for gifts to bring back home.
Walk down Chartres and see the historic Old Ursuline Convent at 1116 Chartres. The Archdiocese of New Orleans has created a fascinating museum inside the Convent which once housed the nuns who made the original voyage over to the new settlement. The Convent is the oldest existing structure in the entire Mississippi Valley. Don’t miss visiting the very historic Louisiana State Museum consisting of the Cabildo and the Presbytere. They flank the Cathedral and are prime attractions for locals and tourists alike. The Cabildo was the original Government House for the French and Spanish officials and it is where the Louisiana Purchase papers were signed. The Presbytere was originally the residence for the Cathedral clergy. Both buildings are remarkable in museum content containing thousands of artifacts and art works that tell fascinating tales of New Orleans’ colorful and diverse heritage over the course of three centuries.
The Dinner Bell Ringeth
Keeping in mind that dining is truly an art form in New Orleans, it is now time to prepare for dinner. If you’re going to splurge food-wise, dinner is the time. Choose from such grand establishments as Arnaud’s, Antoine’s, Galatoire’s, Brennan’s in the Quarter, or the Palace. Bella Luna stands out for its spectacular view of the river. For a grand dinner finale, try a Café Brulot.
MUSIC, MUSIC, MUSIC
Inscribe two de rigueur experiences on your after-dinner entertainment agenda: Preservation Hall for Jazz and Pat O’Brien’s for the courtyard and “hurricane” experience. Both are located side-by-side in the 700 block of St. Peter. Into the night, jazz and blues clubs abound. Evening winds shake the leaves to the rhythm blowing through the streets. Bourbon Street swings all night and into the wee hours. In the Faubourg Marigny, Frenchmen Street is music central and two venues set the standards. Catch Ellis Marsalis on Fridays and Charmaine Neville on Mondays at Snug Harbor, a jazz club extraordinaire, at 626 Frenchmen. Dance to a Latin beat, underground hiphop or jazz at Café Brasil, 2100 Chartres.
Cap off the night with a Pimm’s Cub or cognac at Napoleon House, 500 Chartres, a landmark of old New Orleans where rumor tells us the man himself once secretly visited. Before turning in, stroll along the river that seems to vibrate with the sound of riverboat horns and the scent of sweet olive. The City that Care Forgot is a place of dreams and magic remembered.
Mapping It Out
Among the myriad brochures and maps of the city, three are especially helpful: The NOMCVB’s brochure, New Orleans Self-guided French Quarter Walking Tour is available in the Bureau’s Visitor Center in the French Quarter at 529 St. Ann Street and 2020 St. Charles Ave. in the Garden District. The Preservation Resource Center’s Historic Neighborhoods of New Orleans’ 17 national historic districts on a large, colorful map, is available at PRC, 923 Tchoupitoulas, in the Central Business District. Phone: 504-581-7032, and online athttp://www.prno.org/. The Visitor Guide to New Orleans makes everything a cinch to locate. The brochure’s colorful cartoon map depicts most sites of interest in the French Quarter, Central Business District and Warehouse Arts Districts, Garden District, Uptown and along Esplanade Ridge.
The Brunch Bunch
If it’s Sunday, go for the Gospel – brunch, that is. The Praline Connection at 901 South Peters Street in the Central Business District, serves up Creole soul food supreme, such as softshell crawfish and alligator sausage, with an array of great local musical talent. The House of Blues at 225 Decatur, with imported and local entertainers, whips up an eclectic spread with a few New Orleans brunch goodies like the divine white chocolate bread pudding. Uptown eateries dish out great fare with or without tunes. Commander’s Palace, 1403 Washington Avenue, in the Garden District, does brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. Reservations are suggested. If you’re farther uptown, visit the neighborhood Bluebird Café at 3625 Prytania Street, where you can custom construct your own omelets or try Camellia Grill at 626 South Carrollton Avenue in the Riverbend, another Crescent City institution known for pecan waffles. Remember to linger, it’s the way of the Big Easy.
Fill in the Gaps From Yesterday
Have your portrait sketched or painted by one of the several artists in Jackson Square; visit the historic houses you missed on Royal Street. Shop for collectibles or head uptown for a change of pace. Carriage and guided walking tours of the beautiful Garden District are available. Or simply go at your own pace with a self-guided tour and map. Hop the streetcar at St. Charles Avenue and Common (one block from Canal, the beginning of a 13-mile route) and explore the Lower Garden District. On the way you will pass the city’s historic Gallier Hall on your right in the 600 block of St. Charles. Next watch for Lee Circle and note the direction in which the builders have the old General facing!
At 3811 St. Charles, watch for The Columns Hotel for a look of the decadent South and a great place for libations on the porch. It was the setting for the movie Pretty Baby.
The Garden District
At Louisiana Avenue, the Garden District tour begins. In Lafayette Cemetery, see how Orleanians spend the afterlife in sculpted monuments six feet over instead of under. When you’ve gotten the scoop on the myriad tales behind the Greek Revival, Victorian and occasional Creole facades, board the streetcar and check out other St. Charles Avenue landmarks, like the Academy of the Sacred Heart, The Orleans Club – a bastion of uptown maidens – the Milton Latter memorial Library, once the home to a jazz-age movie star; and interesting specimens like the architectural confection known as “the wedding cake house” at 5800 St. Charles Ave. Just across from Tulane and Loyola Universities, Audubon Park is worth a stroll through moss hung oaks.
Ride the streetcar to the Carrollton area’s Riverbend, where the river and the streetcar make a sharp turn into uptown’s commercial enclave.
Lunchtime…and time to tour the Riverbend area, a gathering of restaurants, cafes and pubs for every age and price range. Cooter Brown’s at 509 South Carrollton, by the levee, looks like a dive (ok, it is a dive), but the huge beer selection is a definite attraction. There are hundreds of worldwide and local micro-brewed favorites and will have brew lovers foaming at the mouth. There’s also a good seafood menu.
Heading Back Downtown
It’s just a short hike from the Riverbend back to the Audubon Zoo, renowned for its inhabitants, for a wonderful Sea Lion pool, its Cajun swampland (with gators), and the white tigers, to name but a few. You can catch the streetcar for a ride back St. Charles Avenue, or if you’ve walked through the Golf Course, you’re at Magazine Street, where you can board the city transit bus and journey through an odyssey of funky, hip shops and art galleries into the Central and Arts/Business Districts.
Watch for the Contemporary Arts Center at 900 Camp, and the New Orleans School of Glassworks & Printmaking at 727 Magazine, offering free and very entertaining glassblowing and printmaking demonstrations. An American treasure is the grand National D-Day Museum at 945 Magazine. It’s perfect for the whole family, especially history buffs and anyone who had a son, daughter or spouse that served our nation in the great war. The memories will prove overwhelming.
May we suggest casual dining this evening? Try dinner en famille. Since l856 TUJAGUE’s at 823 Decatur has been serving family style meals.
Or head uptown to Pascal’s Manale at 1838 Napoleon Avenue for raw oysters, barbecued shrimp, and Italian cuisine. Neighborhood bars and restaurants represent the flavor of the landscape. La Crepe Nanou at 1410 Robert St., at Prytania, is a casually chic purveyor of Gallic cuisine like escargots, moules marinieres and cotelettes d’agneau. The clientele is well-heeled and friendly, just like the neighborhood. Parasol’s at 2533 Constance Street is in the Irish Channel. Not much to look at but delightful to the palate with great po-boys (a French fried potato sandwich??). Or reel in some fresh seafood at another legendary neighborhood hangout that eschews effete touches like fresh paint: Franky & Johnny’s at 321 Arabella.
Down for something funky, bluesy or Cajun and Zydeco? Put a couple of Crescent City originals on your to-do list. See if Rock-N-Bowl is up your alley, where you can bowl or swing to rhythm and blues. Tipitina’s is home base for the beloved Neville Brothers and a slew of other local stars and has long been one of the city’s favorite dance floors. Lots of possibilities exist for a late-night drink. Try the Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop at 941 Bourbon, an 18th century candlelit cavern where the piano music is live, the lights are dim and the ambiance is easy.
Take A Plantation Tour
They say the South stops 50 miles north of New Orleans because that’s how far the city’s European and Creole heritage extends. But New Orleans and Louisiana were inextricably linked to the Old South; plantation life began in the early 18th century, and Louisiana’s rich cotton and sugar crops were produced on about 1,600 plantations statewide. Spend a morning revisiting antebellum glory. A handful of restored plantations lie within 75 miles of the city. Some, like L’Hermitage, are private homes and the tour stops at the façade. But Houmas House, Madewood, Oak Alley, San Francisco and nearby Ormand and Destrehan all offer guided tours of splendor in the past. For those who crave immersion in history: Madewood, Oak Alley and Ormand are B&Bs with dining rooms. If you’re not up for an extended tour, Destrehan Plantation is only eight miles from New Orleans, along scenic River Road. For the physically able, rent a bike and ride the path atop the levee. Within the city limits, take a look back at 18th century plantation life at Pitot house, 1440 Moss Street, on Bayou St. John. The interiors were used in the movie Interview with a Vampire. Though never a plantation, Longue Vue House & Gardens on Metairie Road is a 20th century Classic Revival house, drawing crowds to its sumptuous architecture, luxurious art, antiques and lush gardens.
You could squander your last hours in a frantic rush to see what you missed. But how much fun is that? Instead, how about savoring the New Orleans experience? Hang out on the river, revisit the French Market and pick up the beignet refrigerator magnet, voodoo dolls and jazz prints you waffled over. Even better, find a shady courtyard and soak up some rum in a red drink, or one final “hurricane” at Pat’s. Stroll through a few galleries across Canal Street in the Central Business District. Still got an itch to explore? Take a bus ride or a guided tour along tree-lined Esplanade Avenue, which runs from the river to City Park and Bayou St. John. Lots to see on Esplanade: old mansions, City Park’s dueling oaks, Pitot House and the Fair Grounds.
One Last Evening
Splurge, or conserve. Go uptown or stay one more night in the French Quarter. Dress up, feast big time at the Windsor Court’s Grill Room. Or hang out with the parrot heads at Margaritaville on
Decatur. Where else can you see a land shark suspended from the ceiling, or the multi-colored furniture? Here’s what matters: listening to the music and the riverboat horns, getting lost in the lights along the Mississippi, drinking in the intoxicating scent of sweet olive and gardenias, drifting on slow currents in a state of easy grace.
It’s the Spirit of New Orleans
We love to share the good times in New Orleans. We know how lucky we are to be in this land, to be of it. Just a few years ago we proved our love and our resiliency when we overcame Katrina. Let us show you that love. Come on down and pass a good time!
This material may be reproduced for editorial purposes of promoting New Orleans. Please attribute stories toNew Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau. 2020 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70130 504-566-5019. http://www.neworleanscvb.com/. Revised 2009.