Visit the City that Care Forgot and enter the Old World and the New South. Founded in 1718, this city is a half-century older than the United States. Yet, at heart, it’s timeless.
New Orleanians live close to the river and the earth, despite three centuries of sophistication and a wonderfully diverse cultural landscape that runs from swamp to symphony. Here, you’ll find world class music and cuisine, world class museums, internationally recognized artists and artisans, year-round festivals, professional sports, great golfing, fishing, boating, and more. And yet, sometimes, the greatest pleasure is just to be among the diverse crowds, taking in the colorful architecture, wonderful food and easy rhythms of life here. That’s why we call it THE BIG EASY.
Pre-sightseeing, zero in on the Crescent City’s best attractions and current entertainment with two publications of New Orleans’ Convention and Visitors Bureau: New Orleans Official Visitors Guide, and, Self-Guided French Quarter Walking Tour. These and many more city guides are available at the NOCVB Visitor Center at 2020 St. Charles Avenue, and the French Quarter location at 529 St. Ann Street, phone: 1-800,503-NOLA (6652). While you’re there, get some of the other free tour material and guides. You can also download via the internet at www.neworleanscvb.com: “New Orleans at a Glance” or “Crescent City Lingo,” or “Cheap Thrills,” “Delectable Tidbits,” and “Getting Around.”
The Regional Transit Authority makes available VisiTour passes, one of the city’s great bargains, for riding streetcars and busses at bargain prices. A VisiTour for one day costs $5, or $12 for three days, for unlimited rides on the historic streetcars and city busses. For information on how to obtain the pass, go to the web:www.norta.com and link on to Unlimited Ride Passes.
The very best resource for both an overview of the city’s multi-faceted character is the Preservation Resource Center (PRC) at 923 Tchoupitoulas in the Central Business District, 504-581-7032, online at www.prcno.org. Their brochure, “Historic Neighborhoods of New Orleans” provides a large, colorful map and great, concise information about each of the city’s sixteen notational historic districts.
START WITH BREAKFAST ALFRESCO
A taste of the city awaits you and your spouse, traveling companions, and classmates at the French Market’s Cafe du Monde. It’s just opposite Jackson Square where the Market place begins. Open 24/7, it’s a good place to linger, to watch the crowds bustle or stumble by, depending on whether they’re just getting up or just going to sleep. The beginets, New Orleans version of doughnuts, are made to order, they’re wonderfully delicious and chock full of powdered sugar (so prepare to dust off any dark blue clothes!). The café au lait is unlike any cup of coffee anywhere. Prefer something grander? Try the incomparable Brennan’s at 417 Royal, a festive gourmet alternative where the chef prepares eggs in an incredible manner. Or, try the daily jazz brunch at the Court of Two Sisters, 613 Royal, a site that dates back to 1728. Enjoy Creole cuisine and the sounds of a strolling jazz trio amid splashing fountains in a beautiful courtyard.
SEE THE CITY
A guided tour via bus, minivan or private car explores some of the city’s sixteen historic neighborhoods and New Orleans’ three-hundred year saga. Get a quick view of the French Quarter, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the Garden District, Audubon Park, Uptown, Bayou St. John, City Park, the Lakefront, and possibly one of our famous cemeteries.
After the overview, go straight for the historic heart of the city, the French Quarter. Despite its name, the dominant architectural styles are Spanish and Creole, because most of the French structures were ravaged by fires in the 18th century. Get acquainted with the Vieux Carre the old-fashioned way, in a mule-drawn carriage driven by a colorful guide. Or, board an air-conditioned guided bus. Or, exercise your curiosity and walk the historic streets on a guided or self-guided walking tour. Bring along the NOCVB’s free tour brochure to discover New Orleans at your own pace.
Begin at Jackson Square and see the imposing statue of ‘Old Hickory’ astride his horse. Go inside and see the Spanish architecture of St. Louis Cathedral. There are two cobble-stone alleys alongside, Pirate’s Alley and Pere Antoine Alley. Walk the walk our ancestors did. Visit the Faulkner House bookstore on Pirate’s Alley where the author wrote his first novel, Soldier’s Pay.
Three of the five national historic landmarks of the Louisiana State Museum surround Jackson Square: The Cabildo, the Presbytere and the 1850 House (a recreated townhouse in the Pontalba Apartment building. In the Presbytere’s Mardi Gras exhibit get vicarious Carnival thrills and see how it feels to ride a float as a masker in a parade.
The Historic New Orleans Collection at 533 Royal Street is a group of 18th and 19th century buildings where thousands of artifacts and art works tell fascinating tales of New Orleans’ colorful and diverse heritage and its gumbo of cultures.
Opposite Jackson Square, discover the markets: French, Farmer’s and Flea, allocated in one long arcade along the river. Originally a Choctaw Indian trading post, the French Market became the site of colorful produce in the 19th century that included green sugar cane, live red crawfish and blue crabs. Today, merchants still hawk wares like local New Orleans and Louisiana produce along with a tremendous array of jewelry, voodoo dolls, carnival masks, clothing, arts and crafts. Better than a haul by the Pirate Jean Lafitte, it’s a trove of great souvenir and gift shopping for the kids and grandkids.
Across the street from the Market check out Central Grocery at 923 Decatur and enjoy the original muffuletta, the most unique of sandwiches. It’s a meal for two in the guise of a sandwich. Get a cold Abita root beer and take both over to the Square for a picnic, or the levee of Woldenberg Park. Or, make like Mark Twain for lunch aboard the Steamboat Natchez while cruising the Mississippi. Or, head for the quintessential food of New Orleans – gumbo! The Gumbo Shop at 630 St. Peter offers this culinary delight inside a lovely courtyard ambiance and at affordable prices. The streets of the Vieux Carre are crammed with superb dining establishments and cafes that specialize in every imaginable kind of cuisine. Linger in a courtyard or on a balcony overlooking colorful streets, or the river.
After lunch, discover more of the scores of other French Quarter sites. Be sure to visit Madame John's Legacy at 632 Dumaine Street, a magnificent example of original Creole architecture. A ‘must see’ is the Old Ursuline Convent at 1116 Chartres, the oldest existing building in the entire Louisiana territory. Built in 1745, it is thirty years older than the United States and was built for the nuns as their home after sailing to the new colony at the request of Louis XIV to care for the children of settlers and soldiers. The Archdiocese has created a fascinating history of the Church and the City inside its historic walls. The 19th century left the Crescent City rich in classics of Greek Revival and Creole styles. Among them: The Beauregard Keyes House at 1113 Chartres and Gallier House, 1118 Royal. They all keep the past alive, some relive it. The Hermann-Grima House at 820 St. Louis offers historic cooking demonstrations. The Old US Mint at 400 Esplanade Avenue is the only one ever to mint both Union and Confederate money and now houses an extensive audio-visual jazz collection.
Visit Faubourg Marigny, immediately adjacent to the French Quarter, and take a tour of the nearby St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 where rest the remains of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau.
DINNER BELLS ARE RINGING
Dining remains an art form in New Orleans, and if you’re going to splurge anywhere on food, let it be here. Among the grande dames of Creole cuisine are Antoine's, Arnaud's, Brennan's, Broussard's and Galatoire's and, in the Garden District, Commanders Palace awaits. What’s your pleasure? Gumbo? Turtle Soup? Oysters cooked in the most incredible of ways? Trout meuniere or almondine? Crawfish etouffee? For desert, the wonderful bananas Foster, or bread pudding with a whiskey sauce. And, for the grand finale, set the night and your taste on fire with a Cafe Brulot.
MUSIC, MAESTRO PLEASE
How about a little night music? You can listen to local jazz greats while you dine at the Palm Court Jazz Cafe, at 1204 Decatur. The place is dark with high ceilings, tile floors and exposed brick walls. And wait until the always unscheduled musicians drop in for impromptu jams, followed by good food.
In the Faubourg Marigny, pianist and Marsalis patriarch Ellis often appears at Snug Harbor, 626 Frenchmen Street, as does Charmaine Neville. Musicians drop in for blow-your-hair-back jams. Great bar & ambiance.
Another alternative for the evening: a jazz dinner cruise along the river. Watch the city light up while you drift along currents of the romantic Mississippi, under the spell of the wine, the music, and the heady perfumes of night in New Orleans.
Inscribe two de rigeur experiences on your after-dinner entertainment agenda: At Preservation Hall, hear an evening of jazz legends. Then amble next door to Pat O' Brien's for the courtyard and hurricane experience, located side by side at 716-718 St. Peter. If you’re up for a little adventure, take a nighttime stroll along Bourbon Street (named for the French royals, not the liquor.) If Bourbon Street at night is not your cup of Pimms, take a quiet stroll along the river, or find a lovely courtyard or balcony and stay put.
Those up for real carousing can find jazz, blues, Latin music and rock in clubs all over the city – throughout the French Quarter and the adjacent Faubourg Marigny (especially Frenchman Street), along St. Charles Ave., Mid-City and Uptown.
Join the Brunch Bunch
If it’s Sunday, praise the Lord and pass the biscuits at The Praline Connection, 542 Frenchmen St. The Connection serves up divine Creole soul food with an array of great local talent. The House of Blues at 225 Decatur St., imports national acts and stages popular locals while it whips up an eclectic spread with a few New Orleans goodies like their divine white chocolate bread pudding. Plus they do a great Gospel Brunch! Uptown eateries dish out great fare, with or without tunes. Commander's Palace, 1403 Washington Avenue in the lovely Garden District, does jazz brunch Saturdays and Sundays. And, linger. It’s the way of the Big Easy.
TOURING THE PLANTATIONS
They say the South stops 50 miles north of New Orleans because that’s how far the city’s Creole and European heritage extends. But New Orleans and Louisiana were inextricably linked to the Old South; plantation life began in the early 18th century, and the State’s rich cotton and sugar crops were produced on about 1,600 plantations statewide. Spend the day in antebellum glory. A handful of restored plantations lie within 75 miles of the city. Some are private homes, like L’Hermitage, where the tour bus stops at the façade. But Houmas House, Oak Alley, Madewood and nearby Ormandand Destrehan Plantation all offer guided tours of splendor in the past.
For those who crave immersion in history, Madewood, Oak Alley and Ormand are bed & breakfasts with restaurants.
If you’re not up for an extended tour, Destrehan Plantation is only eight miles from New Orleans along scenic River Road. It’s not a plantation, but Longue Vue Home and Gardens, a 20th century classic Revival house, draws crowds to its sumptuous architecture, luxurious art and antiques collection and a lush garden. It’s located on Metairie Road, across from the western edge of Metairie Cemetery.
Within the city limits, take a look back at 18thcentury plantation life at Pitot Houst on lovely Bayou St. John, at 1440 Moss St. The interiors were used in the movie Interview with a Vampire.
A TRUE GARDEN SPOT
Not far from Pitot House sits the New Orleans Botanical Garden in City Park, blooming year round in the Big Easy’s mild climate. Here are found a superb collection of sub-tropical and tropical plants, rooted in the WPA of the Great Depression. You’ll see over 2,000 varieties of plants from all over the world, theme gardens and a conservatory.
MUST BE AN “R” MONTH?
Picking a place to dine is tough only because you’ve got to make choices. Oyster lovers in the French Quarter often head for Acmeor Felix's, both in the 700 block of Iberville Street. Together, they add up to over 150 years of shelling out fresh raw oysters and a variety of seafood. Part of the fun is watching them open the shells, making the sauce yourself and washing them down with a cold brew. Afterwards, or instead, how about a quite dinner? Dozens of cafes and restaurants whip up superb food in Old World ambiance. Eat on a balcony overlooking the Quarter streets and watch the passing parade of nightlife, or find a balcony on the Mississippi for a panoramic view of the river. You can even do it for surprisingly reasonable prices. Have a scenic dinner and get our just desserts. Like bread pudding with whiskey sauce or flaming Café Brulot.
Crammed with historic ambiance and sporting a classic courtyard, Napoleon House at 500 Chartres was prepared for a visit from the man himself. But it seems he was too busy losing to the English. Now, locals and visitors come for the classical music, casual cuisine and late night drinks, like the house specialty, the Pimms Cup. Just as full of ghosts, but without annoying electricity, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop at 941 Bourbon is a fun candlelit refuge for an after-dinner cognac.
A PICTURESQUE VIEUX CARRE
This morning, fill in some of the gaps from yesterday – have your portrait sketched or painted at Jackson Square, visit the historic houses you missed, shop Royal and other French quarter streets for wonderful antiques, collectibles and unusual souvenirs for the youngsters at home. Pick up something at a voodoo store or a mask shop. On the upscale side, the Jax Brewery, Canal Place and the Outlet Collections at Riverwalk together offer a shopping and food extravaganza. Between purchases, take a break on the river at the scenic fountain in Spanish Plaza, adjacent to the Riverwalk. Thinking about how to take a taste of New Orleans home with you? Tip: learn to cook Cajun and Creole yourself at The New Orleans School of Cooking, 524 St. Louis Street, offering open classes of two or three hours every day. It’s fun, costs about $20-$25 per person, and you get recipes and samples. Take the lunchtime course and the meal is covered.
THE MADNESS OF MARDI GRAS
You’ve heard about it. Here’s a chance to see how it happens at Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World. Blaine is considered the leading float builder of the annual Carnival and here, inside a large riverside warehouse, you can watch his team of artists build a float or create one of dozens of props utilized in dressing a Mardi Gras float or a masked ball.
THE ARTS DISTRICT
On the uptown side of Canal Street is the Central Business District and the Warehouse Arts District. A commercial enclave of warehouses has been renovated into a center for the arts in New Orleans and plush residential apartments.
Standouts there are the art galleries, particularly the Contemporary Arts Center at 900 Camp Street (in what was once a drug store warehouse) and the New Orleans School of Glassworks and Printmaking, at 727 Magazine St., which offers free and very entertaining glassblowing demonstrations. In the same vicinity is an American treasure, The National World War II Museum, at 945 Magazine. It preserves the global history and personal memories of World War II in Europe and the Pacific. Visitors of all ages – World War II veterans, their families and historians – will find this to be a fascinating experience.
If you’ve got the time and the energy, continue uptown. The Magazine Street bus ($l.25 per person) takes you on a six mile drive thru an odyssey of funky, hip shops, galleries, restaurants, cafes and bars…all the way to Audubon Park. Stroll for six blocks through the park and catch the St. Charles streetcar back to downtown.
The St. Charles trolley takes you past Tulane and Loyola Universities. Heading back downtown, you will be riding on the world’s oldest continuously operating (except for a two-year period right after Katrina while the cars and tracks were being restored) street railway and a National Historic Landmark. The avenue and the Garden District are chockfull of some of the most beautiful Greek Revival and antebellum homes to be found. Watch for the 5800 block of St. Charles and see the fabulous “wedding cake house,” a private residence. On the right, you’ll see the Milton Latter Memorial Library, once home to a jazz age music star. And in the 4700 block is a fabulous example of Romanesque Revival, built by a cotton magnate at the turn of the 20th century.
THE GARDEN DISTRICT
The Garden District and the Lower Garden Districts got their names from the expansive gardens around the Greek Revival, Italianate, Antebellum and Victorian mansions of Americans who settled there. The Districts, which have been designated as a National Historic Landmark, begin at
Louisiana Avenue on the river side of St. Charles.
Remember that with a VisiTour one-day or three-day pass, all Public transport is included – no scrounging for money every time you board. Although guided walking, carriage and bus tours of the District are available, it’s also nice just to stroll along the tree-lined streets with a do-it yourself guide in hand. Both the Garden District and the Lower are equally accessible via the Magazine Street bus. Highlights include Toby’s Corner at 2140 Prytania Street. Completed in 1838, the oldest home in the District is a raised cottage, typical of West Indies plantation architecture. Across the street at 2343 Prytania is the Jonson House, now a school and a rare example of the fluid and elegant French Beaux Arts style.
Civil War aficionados flock to the Payne House at 1134 First St., the Greek Revival home where Confederate President Jefferson Davis died.
While you’re in the area, see how New Orleanians spend the after-life in sculpted monuments six feet over instead of under. Lafayette Cemetery #1, where the vampire Lestat rested and where Anne Rice plans to spend her eternal rest, is at the corner from Prytania and Washington, just across from Commander’s Palace.
Back on the streetcar, the Columns Hotel is on the left at 3811 St. Charles, with the look of the decadent South and the setting for the movie Pretty Baby. Stop and sip something cool on the hotel’s grand front porch, cooled by a ceiling fan, or in the quiet bar inside. Resume your rail journey. If you spot a towering lacey iron structure and think Eiffel, you’re not hallucinating. When the Eiffel restaurant was dismantled, a section of the tower was reassembled here.
What to do on your last evening? Splurge, conserve or go uptown? Stay put? It doesn’t matter as long as you have fun. Be an Orleanian: do what comes naturally. Dress up for a feast at the Windsor Corut's Grill Room, once Conde Nast’s choice for the world’s best hotel. Or go casual and try dinner at Tujagues's, 823 Decatur Street. Since 1856, they’ve served meals here family style – just one entrée, so call before you commit.
But wherever you spend you spend your last evening, here’s what matters: listening to the music and the riverboat Calliope, getting lost in the lights along the great river, drinking in the exotic scents of the Vieux Carre, of sweet olive and gardenias, drifting on slow currents in a state of easy grace.
New Orleans isn’t about activity: it’s about life. In the slow lane or the fast, you can cruise at your own speed and have the time of your life in the Big Easy.
This material may be reproduced for editorial purposes of promoting New Orleans. Please attribute stories to the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. 2020 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70130 504-566-5019. www.neworleanscvb.com.