Succulent foods, boozy drinks, notable accents, ankle-rolling cobblestone streets, voodoo culture, and the best music you’ll experience, literally playing everywhere – signs that you know you’re in New Orleans.
New Orleans is the kind of place where indulgence isn’t even skimming the surface of what you’re bound to experience. Between the culture, food, music, dark and interesting history, Southern Hospitality, and that everyone mixes languages as much as I do, it’s easily my favorite city in the USA.
My mom agreed so much that she’s officially made the move to make NOLA her residence. That’s right, I can now consider New Orleans “home,” at least by association to my mommy. After my fourth time strolling the Crescent City streets, I’ve been able to put together a list of my all-time *favorite things to do in Nola.
*Caution, some may be touristy, but worth the experience none-the-less.
You can’t come to the French Quarter without tasting a bit of the French creole culture that’s been around since 1862; beignets. Enjoy a café au lait with a hint of chicory (a root used in the coffee here to enhance flavor and body), and powdered French style donuts, or beignets to cut the coffee’s bittersweet taste. The best part is that Cafe Du Monde it’s open 24 hours, and is extremely cheap – cash only though!
Coop’s Place (21+)
This was a random local restaurant I found out about after searching “cheap and great local food in the French Quarter,” and what I got was exactly that. Despite walking in around 3PM in the afternoon, it was like I was entering a hole in the wall gem of a bar, serving the best looking ‘Nawlins food I’d seen in the French Quarter. The part that really made my mouth water were the cheap prices for both traditional foods, and drink. It’s laid back, and local, which earned it a top spot in my favorite places for a quick bite and drink.
Splurge on Dinner at Balise
Before I die, I want to experience a meal of this caliber – that’s how delicious the food was at Balise. This restaurant is located in a neighborhood that’s worth a look, the CBD, or Central Business District. You’ll escape the hustle and bustle of the city streets to enter into this culinary heaven. A treat worth splurging for.
Dat Dog on Frenchmen
Yes, you may be paying $8 for a hot dog, but holy crap, it’s worth it. Whether you need a drunken snack, or are just in the mood for a vegetarian Italian sausage hot dog, this place is dat damn good. Ahhhh, my mouth is watering just thinking about the glory of their hot dogs.
Suck the Head of a Crawfish
I’ll admit it, I’ve never actually done this one, because I’d end up looking like Jay-Z with swollen lips and hives all over my body, thanks to my shellfish allergy. Regardless of my personal reasons of why I can’t try crawfish, I still enjoy watching people who can eat it struggle to suck the brains of a crustacean. I’ll take their word that it’s a delicious, and necessary experience.
Indulge in a Po-Boy
Another local favorite is a Po’ Boy sandwich, which has a history of being the food of the “poor man” with scrappy ingredients. Of course, as tourism became a lucrative way for the city to make money, you can find yourself paying like $12 for a sandwich that was once the only lifeline of working class citizens. Some Po’ Boys are better than others, but you should experience one for yourself if you’re in town.
Eat Gator Bites or Gator Sausage
Yes, gator as in alligator. And yes, I enjoy it, and you probably will too if you’re a meat eater who likes chicken. Like most bizarre meats, people will tell you it tastes like chicken to get you to eat it, but gator bites can easily be confused with popcorn chicken. Try it, and feel a little more New Orleanian.
Eat a Praline, or a pound of them
I wouldn’t have even considered buying pralines if the shop I walked into didn’t smell like the Willy Wonka Factory – aka my heaven. If you have a sweet tooth, you’ll enjoy an afternoon pick-me-up experience by munching on a praline. With so many different flavors, you’ll be able to find just your taste. You’ll probably do as I did, and walk out a pound heavier either from eating all the samples, or because you simply couldn’t resist and bought a pound box.
Treating yourself to Jacques-Imos
Now we’re getting away from the French Quarter, and into where the locals lurk at all hours of the day; Oak Street. It was a Tuesday night, and my mom, New Orlean’s newest local, heard that eating dinner at this place, followed by a live music performance at Maple Leaf Bar right next door was a crowd favorite. Around 9PM, we were seated, and scarfed down the most delicious cornbread, alligator quiche, and creme brûlée for dessert. They play no games in their culinary swag here, and claim to have real ‘Nawlins cooking – I agree.
Rebirth Brass Band at Maple Leaf Bar
Tuesday nights with a $20 cover, but it’s so worth it. Music starts at 11PM but get there early.
Right after din din, we walked about five steps down the street to a pretty massive bar, where we we witnessed one of the most talented brass bands in Nola. Groovy can’t even describe what we felt through our bones. On the right hand corner of the bar was a local artist, Frenchy, who’s regularly commissioned to paint a masterpiece while the band plays. He’s chuckin’ and jivin’ along with the crowd while painting his heart out. This is absolutely a sight to see.
Entrance fee – $20, includes a guided tour (special slave history tour on Fridays – totally worth it)
About an hour and fifteen minutes outside of the city and you’ll be able to walk through a piece of history that’s worth a tribute – a slave plantation. As a person of color with clear slave ancestry, it’s almost chilling to walk through such a beautiful property, knowing that I would’ve most definitely been a slave on the grounds back in the day. Flash forward, and I’m sipping a Mint Julep while snapping pics of the magnificent oak trees that lead guests (including myself) to the big house. You can’t not appreciate freedom coming to a place like this.
Ride the Streetcar down the Mississippi River
See that iconic and adorable looking street car going up and down the Mississippi River? You can ride it for $1.25. While locals use it as real means of transportation, you can still hop on for a few stops, going from one end of the French Quarter to the next just for the experience.
Art Market on Frenchmen
You’ll grab a drink, and stumble into several artist’s creations all while bar hopping on a weekend evening. Bring your wallets, I bet you can’t leave without picking up something as random as a ring that was once a fork, or a masterpiece made out of old bath towels – appreciate all this Nola talent people!
I was skimming through Groupon to find the best tours for the spooky history that Nola’s known for. I came across Black Rose Tours, and bought a voucher without expecting much. A+ for this tour company and the information they spit during the 2.5 hour walking tour. There were only four people in our group, and the tour guides not only knew the history, but dressed in full cos-play for the occasion. It’s a shame to come all the way to New Orleans, and not understand the history surrounding your every step.
I found this place accidentally, while strolling down one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city: Marigny. At first, you’ll wander into these large gates, feeling like you’re not supposed to be trespassing. Once you enter though, you’ll be welcomed by the most peaceful garden you’ve yet to experience, completely for free. Cheap plants, interesting souvenirs, and a lily pond that will make you question a career in gardening.
Experience the best music on Frenchmen Street
If you’re not trying to roam around Bourbon street, avoiding drunken tourists, and rowdy bars, but still want to enjoy a night out, get your booty over to Frenchmen street. While it’s increasingly more crowded, it’s still a melting pot for music, art, locals, and tourists. My favorite part about Frenchmen street is that you don’t even need to go into a bar to have a good time, the music is pouring onto the streets, and actually on the street corners. From brass bands, to rappers who put the stars of hip hop to shame, you need to witness this magic with your own eyes and ears.
Got any more New Orleans recommendations? Comment them below!