New Orleans is one of my favorite American cities, but not for the reasons you might think. Known far and wide as a party city, there is so much more to the city and it is for those reasons that I love it. Although my first experience to the Crescent City when I was only 22 years old was definitely full of bars and cafes, my more recent experience there was an adult version – no less fun, but very different. With that in mind I thought I’d offer some words of advice for those who want to visit and explore this beautiful Southern city and to get to know it on a much more intimate level.
Leave the French Quarter
I love the French Quarter. I think it has a lot to offer and many of those iconic New Orleans experiences we all love can only be found there. I’m not saying that the Quarter should be avoided, far from it; no I’m saying though that you have to plan some time to explore other neighborhoods as well. New Orleans is a very old city by American standards and as such, has the scars of history marked all around. It’s your job to discover them, so be sure to visit a neighborhood close to the French Quarter, the Faubourg Marigny. Once a rough and tumble part of town, it’s now come back into its own again and today you’ll find hispters instead of drug dealers and art galleries instead of houses of ill-repute. It’s a colorful and exciting part of town and should not be missed. For something completely different but no less interesting, include some time exploring the leafy streets of the high-end Garden District. It seems that the Garden District has always be the IT place to live, and walking along those boulevards with the smells of magnolia blossoms and jasmine in the air tells you right away that this is not your average neighborhood. More than just big mansions from antebellum days, it’s a quirky neighborhood with its own unique personality. To see some of this proclivity towards the strange, stop by Lafayette Cemetery No.1 with its famous aboveground mausoleums and tombs. It’s a little spooky, but beautiful in its own right. It’s also my favorite part of town; I could get lost in the stories of the Garden District for hours and be a very happy traveler.
Eat all the food
New Orleans is a food town; always has been and always will be. As a port city, New Orleans has always enjoyed a constant influx of new people from around the world, each of who brought their own individual food customs with them. The result is a tasty mix of traditions and tastes that nowadays can only be called classically New Orleans. For some comfort food, find the nearest Creole restaurant and try a little bit of everything. Drawing upon the city’s proximity to the Gulf, it’s infused with seafood but with a twist; utilizing spice mixtures that are more commonly found in Africa and not the American south. There’s a fine dining culture in town too, and some of the world’s oldest and most famous restaurants call the streets of New Orleans home. Galatoire’s, Brennan’s and Commander’s Palace are just a few and dishes like Bananas Foster, Oysters Rockefeller and even the cocktail itself were all invented in New Orleans. But food is constantly changing, and that’s definitely the case in New Orleans. After Katrina hundreds of new restaurants have opened, once again changing the face of the food culture in town. One of my favorite newish restaurants is Cochon Restaurant, located in the Warehouse District, which features pork influenced, modern Cajun fare that may not be diet-friendly, but which is some of the best food in town.
Listen for the music
Walk through the French Quarter at any time of day and you will notice something – the music. It’s everywhere, pouring out of lounges but also, and more commonly, emanating from street musicians plying their craft. Music and New Orleans have a close bond, and many iconic American music styles started on those same streets. Every night there’s an opportunity to hear something, somewhere. From live jazz to rockabilly to styles that have no real definition, but are no less interesting. This is a city that enjoys to jam, to explore their emotions with the beat of the bass and a vocalist who can turn heads. It’s also, I think, a key part of the New Orleans experience so make sure to stop and appreciate those street musicians, but also visit some clubs at night to hear the next big thing to hit the music scene.
Keep an open mind
I made the mistake before my last visit to New Orleans to being close-minded. I had been there before and thought I knew what to expect – a party culture. But I was wrong and seeing that quickly, I immediately changed my mindset and tried to see the city with new eyes. The results were amazing, I allowed myself to be wowed and I was. I enjoyed some touristy activities like a visit to Mardi Gras World, but I equally enjoyed poking around the colorful shops that dot the French Quarter. I talked with locals and visitors alike and tried to divine what is it exactly that seems to captivate so many people around the world. I think more than anything it is the intangible that makes New Orleans so very special. There is an ethereal spirit that encircles the city, the New Orleans spirit, and it’s this combination of gusto and determination that has made it succeed over the years, from times of war to the horrors of Katrina itself. The city has always come back though, and has always emerged as a better and stronger version of its old self.
Have you been to New Orleans? What do you love most about the city?