We really mean it when we say: Les Bon Temps Rouler ....Let The Good Times Roll!
The party started when the French pulled the cork on the first bottle of wine in 1718. And we're still celebrating. New Orleans rocks 24/7, so here's the lowdown on getting the most out of every minute.
Check for festivals, which are frequent and always involve lots of good food and rocking entertainment, whether that's the central point or not-e.g. Swamp Fest at the Zoo always has multiple bands and a great spread.
Log on to our web site for upcoming events: www.neworleanscvb.com. Download helpful articles such as "New Orleans at a Glance: A General Introduction." or "Getting Around," "Cheap Thrills," "Free and nearly Free Activities in New Orleans", and "Three Days of Music and Dance in New Orleans." Or contact NOMCB Visitors Center at 2020 St. Charles Avenue, or the French Quarter location at 529 St. Ann street (phone 800-503-NOLA). Both locations carry copies of the
NEW ORLEANS OFFICIAL VISITORS GUIDE. There you can also pick up OFF BEAT MUSIC MAGAZINE and GAMBIT, New Orleans' weekly alternative paper, for complete entertainment schedules. GAMBIT's web site: www.bestofneworleans.com describes and locates the city's bars, restaurants, sites of interest and current events.
Get a preview before you arrive and tune into listener-supported local radio station WWOZ (90.7 FM) via the Internet. The New Orleans sound is a mix of blues, jazz, Cajun, soul, Zydeco, funk, Caribbean and gospel.
Breaking the Fast Slowly.....
First tip; the current meal is the most important one of the day. Second tip: traditions here are worth following, usually because they're a) delicious, or b) fun. And, often both, like the tradition of coffee & beignets at CAFÉ DU MONDE, open 24/7, in the French Market. Sit back, enjoy the coffee and the hot, crispy beignets while you watch the crowds pass by.
If you simply must have a smorgasbord of flavored coffees to make life bearable, there are a positive slew of local cafes with a staggering array of java, baked goodies and more substantial fare.
The fastest and easiest way (we are The Big Easy) to get the lay of the land is to take a city tour. Action is spread out over the city's 16 historic neighborhoods, so why limit yourself to the French Quarter? There are guided tours by bus, mule-drawn carriage or bike. Take your pick. Or, do it yourself with the NEW ORLEANS SELF-GUIDED FRENCH QUARTER WALKING TOUR, available at the Visitors Centers, with good maps and lots of data.
Stop by the PRESERVATION RESOURCE CENTER at 923 Tchoupitoulas St., in the Central Business District, for a hands-on shortcut to getting oriented in the city. The friendly folks there have a great, colorful map of the city's historic neighborhoods with concise explanations of architectural styles. And, there are scale model houses; lift the lids and see what's behind the façade.
In the Central Business District and the Arts District (also in the CBD), surfer wannabes hang out at Lucy's Retired Surfer Bar, 701 Tchoupitoulas St., duuude. Drinks bear blatant caveats with names like Shark Attack. The place is so beachy, you're gonna swear there's sand in your socks. In the French Quarter, parrotheads flock to MARGARITAVILLE, 1104 Decatur St. The booze in the blender washes down the gator bites and fried frog legs. And cheeseburgers, of course. Where else can you find world-class music acts, tacky land sharks suspended from the ceiling and cult worshippers in wild island shirts? Or grab a muffuletta at the CENTRAL GROCERY, 923 Decatur, along with some Abita beer or a Barq's root beer and some Zap's crawtator chips. Picnic in Jackson Square, or WOLDENBERG PARK, site of the city's Springtime French Quarter Fest. And check out the street performers. On the other hand, the gourmand in you will want a quintessential food beloved by all Orleanians: GUMBO. Get a bowl of the great stuff at the GUMBO SHOP, 630 St. Peter St. If there's a culinary heaven, this garners four stars for the gumbo varieties, the array of local specials and a lovely courtyard ambiance.
Spend the afternoon exploring the French Quarter. Start with action in the markets...French, Farmers & Flea, all found in one long arcade along the river. Try a snowball for dessert. There are great local New Orleans and Louisiana products, along with tons of jewelry, voodoo dolls, carnival masks, arts and crafts for gifts. Decatur Street is crammed with shops to explore as are just about every one of the Vieux Carre sites: 98 blocks, 98 parties.
In 300 years, no one has ever called New Orleans history boring. The LOUISIANA STATE MUSEUM runs five French Quarter sites: CABILDO, PRESBYTERE, 1850 HOUSE (all on Jackson Square), MADAME JOHN'S LEGACY at 632 Dumaine, and the OLD U.S. MINT at 400 Esplanade Avenue. Together, they paint a fascinating picture of the city's heritage. The Old Mint houses extensive jazz memorabilia, and at the Presbytere's Mardi Gras exhibit see the world from the perspective of a krewe member on a float.
Other historic properties also preserve 18th and l9th century New Orleans. The Old Ursuline Convent at 1116 Chartres, is the oldest existing structure in the Mississippi Valley. Built in 1745, it's 25 years older than the United States, but 25 years younger than the City of New Orleans. Two unusual museums are sure to get the adrenaline going. THE PHARMACY MUSEUM preserves a 19th century trove of apothecary artifacts, voodoo powders, live leeches and deliciously icky stuff. It's located at 514 Chartres.
The MUSEE CONTI WAX MUSEUM at 917 Conti, features frenzied voodoo dancers come to life along with a few ghosts and some chilling history. Afterwards, drown your horrors with in-house micro-brewed suds from the CRESCENT CITY BREWhouse at 527 Decatur (or at any of a dozen or more watering holes).
Finding something to drink in the French Quarter ain't difficult.
Another possibility this afternoon, walk upriver (or take the riverfront streetcar) to BLAINE KERN'S MARDI GRAS WORLD. It's just beyond the Morial Convention Center and it's the place to see how Mr. Kern and his craftsmen create the fabulous floats of the Mardi Gras, and the props that adorn each float.
Picking a place to eat in New Orleans is difficult only because you've got to narrow down a myriad of possibilities. To make choosing easier, consider a progressive dinner: appetizers at one place, dinner at another, dessert somewhere else.
THE ACME and FELIX'S are two outstanding oyster bars, both in the700 block of Iberville in the Quarter. Together the two add up to 146 years of shucking out fresh, raw, salty oysters along with a variety of Louisiana seafood. Part of the fun is watching them open the shells, making the sauce yourself, then washing ‘em down with a cold brew.
Afterwards, if you've got a date or spouse who's up for romance, dozens of cafes and restaurants dish out Old World ambiance with spectacular cuisine...Eat on a balcony over the French Quarter streets and watch the passing parade of nightlife, or find a spot on the Mississippi with a panoramic view of the river. You can even do it without blowing your budget. After a scenic dinner, get your just desserts. Finish the meal with bread pudding and rum sauce, and flaming café brulot at any of scores of restaurants with Creole specialties.
For a little after-dinner partying consider PAT O'BRIEN'S, at 718 ST. Peter. Five bars, great piano music and huge hurricanes served around a fire fountain in the patio. Next door is PRESERVATION HALL, legendary for music performed by jazz legends. The price is very low (they pass the hat). The karaoke mike at the CAT'S MEOW, 701 Bourbon, is a fun spot for a nightcap, or if you dig retro, animal prints and ‘60s anti-chic, shimmy over to the SH IM SHAM at 615 Toulouse. Check out the tiki lounge upstairs. Open till 6am. Popular with the Boho set is CAFÉ BRASIL at 2100 Chartres in the Fabourg Marigny, attracting big crowds when a hot local group like the Iguanas plays. You might have to elbow your way in, but the music pours out through the open doors. Couples dance to reggae and jazz, whatever is the sound of the moment.
Over in the CBD, a hotbed for alternative rock as well as R&B and jazz is THE HOWLIN' WOLF, 828 South Peters Street, staging locals like Better than Ezra in a warehouse ambiance. Live music lasts here into the not-so-wee hours. End the night (or start the day) at DÉJÀ VU, 400 Dauphine, where the omelets are super-sized.
Talk about a super breakfast? BRENNAN'S at 417 Royal has made the morning meal a truly festive
occasion. They do wonderful things with an egg here. And just down two blocks at 613 Royal is
THE COURT OF TWO SISTERS, with a glorious courtyard and daily jazz brunch.
Let someone else do the work today. Take a tour. Here are a couple of possibilities: Take the 3-hour BLACK HERITAGE TOUR, covering among other places FABOURG TREME, jazz, the famous Mardi Gras Indians, voodoo, CONGO SQUARE where slaves once performed tribal dances. Or, take a haunted history tour, spirit voodoo, ghost or an ANNE RICE witch and vampire tour. New Orleans is said to be the most haunted city in America. Test the claim. Get scared.
Hop a streetcar. For $1.25 you can ride on board a National Historic Landmark on the St. Charles Avenue car, the world's oldest continuously operating street railway. The route passes through the Garden District along the ritzy avenue, past MTV's Real World BELFORT MANSIION and architectural rarities like the ‘Wedding Cake House' at 5809 St. Charles (private residence). Self-guided tours of St. Charles Ave. and the Garden District are available online.
Stay on the Streetcar to the sharp curve called Riverbend, yet another enclave of good restaurants and watering holes. Did someone say lunch? At the extremely popular CAMELLIA GRILL at 626 South Carrollton, pecan waffles aren't just for breakfast, and the cheeseburgers are paradise. COOTER BROWN's AT 509 South Carrollton looks like a dive, but the 400-plus beers on the menu will have brew lovers foaming at the mouth. There's great seafood here.
Fortified with fine food and foamy beverages, take the Streetcar back to the Audubon Park entrance, just across from Tulane and Loyola Universities. A six-block walk through the park takes you to Magazine Street and the entrance to the world class Audubon Zoo. It's well worth a visit for the amazing swamp exhibit (yes, white alligators), an old-fashioned seal pool and a Jaguar Jungle). Here you can hop aboard the public bus, the Magazine, and ride an eclectic six miles of chic shops, antique stores and more good places to drink and dine. Plan on buying a VisiTour Pass from the Regional Transit Authority. $5 lets you ride the Streetcars and buses all day.
Many a self-proclaimed beer connoisseur frequents THE BUILDING at 3236 Magazine Street, home of foam. Patrons rent out interactive video games to play on live TV while sipping fine brews. And nearby are more eateries and watering holes, from shabby to chic.
THE BALCONY BAR & GRILL, at 3103 Magazine St., attracts the young, hip crowd to its huge balcony and beer garden. Open into the wee hours: patrons come late and leave early.
THE ORIGINAL HOUSE OF BLUES at 225 Decatur Street books a stunning lineup of big names, local talent and cult favorites. The food includes a few New Orleans standards, the
ambiance is studied but crammed with genuine New Orleans art, and the bar is great. See soul, funk, rock, blues, world, country and acts like Bag of Donuts, Dr. John, Better Than Ezra, Eric Clapton and Judas Priest. Reservations advised. The Music Hall of House of Blues offers late night dance parties, salsa, swing or Cajun, usually revving up around midnight. Live performances in the Crescent City aren't limited to music. Theatre is alive and well in New Orleans, and one of the country's oldest community theaters is just across from Jackson Square, LE PETIT THEATRE DU VIEUX CARRE, and regularly presents outstanding theatre in Old World ambiance.
To cap off the evening, try the R BAR at 1431 Royal, and claiming authentic cool and 50s trappings, frequented by laid-back locals who appreciate the stellar beer menu, pool table and current juke box . There's even a Bed and Breakfast upstairs, if you haven't the strength to make it back to your hotel.
If it's Sunday, go for the gospel brunch at the Praline Connection, 907 South Peters, in the CBD, serving up local talent and Creole soul food. THE HOUSE OF BLUES also has a Sunday brunch at 225 Decatur.
Hopefully, you're not totally beat from a hectic two days. Seems there's never enough time in New Orleans and always more left to do. On this, your last day, here are all kinds of great options to consider:
A PLANTATION TOUR, spending the day revisiting antebellum times. A handful of restored plantations are within 60 miles of the city. We think you will be captivated by the beauty of HOUMAS HOUSE, OAK ALKLEY, SAN FRANCISCO, MADEWOOD, and nearby the city are ORMOND and DESTREHAN. All of these lovelies offer guided tours of splendor in the past.
A SWAMP TOUR will prove to be very entertaining. Fast airboats will speed you through some of nature's most fascinating land. One tour is free and close by. THE BARATARIA PRESERVE in Jean Lafitte National Park, where there's no charge except for the one you get out of eight miles of
boardwalk and 20 miles of water-ways set amid 20,000 acres of swamp, marsh and old-growth cypress. The nice rangers at the park conduct a free daily tour. Check the web: www.rps.gov/jela, or call 504-589-2330, ext. 10, for schedule and directions.
Surface at the very cool riverfront AQUARIUM OF THE AMERICAS, an underwater adventure that ranks among the top five in the U.S. There are over a million gallons of water with habitats of the Caribbean Sea, the Amazon Rainforest, the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico, holding thousands of species. Pet a shark, walk the undersea tunnel. It's a winner!
SHOP THE QUARTER, especially Royal Street, Bourbon and the narrow French Quarter streets with wares ranging from the beautiful to the bizarre. World famed artist RODRIGUE (The Blue Dog guy) has a studio on Royal, just behind the St. Louis Cathedral. Visit once again the Riverwalk, or shop the Jax Brewery. The Spanish Plaza at the foot of Canal Street with its refreshing fountain will give you a moment of sweet pause. Walk onto the Canal Street Ferry for a round-trip across the "Big Muddy."
Perhaps this might be the time to do the NATIONAL D-DAY MUSEUM, or a visit to the very nearby OGDEN MUSEUM OF SOUTHERN ART, or THE CONTEMPORARY ARTS CENTER...all three are within a block of each other.
If you're ready to make the most of your last night, spend it like a native. Dress up a bit, casual, ties not required, and head for the Garden District. Remember you can get there by the buck-and-a-quarter streetcar. Have a pre-dinner drink on the porch of the Columns Hotel at 3811 St. Charles Ave., the essence of decadent southern splendor. For dinner, make reservations for Commander's Palace. On your way back to the hotel, listen for the sounds of the river...breathe in the sweet scents of our city and feel the soft river breezes running like dark currents through the Vieux Carre.
The magic here runs deep. When you leave, the spell goes with you.
The City that Care Forgot is a place you will always remember.
This material may be reproduced for editorial purposes of promoting New Orleans. Please attribute stories to New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau. 2020 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70130 504-566-5019. www.neworleanscvb.com. Revised 2009.