I am fortunate enough to have grown up in a uniquely cultural part of the country. Perhaps, that is where my fascination with other cultures comes from. When you grown up in a place that has its own language, food, way of life, sense of humor, very celebrated holidays, etc., it is impossible to not expect that from other cities as well.
The more I travel, the more I appreciate my heritage; and, the more I see the international stamp on New Orleans. Parts of the city remind me of Lisbon, Madrid, Havanna, and even Paris. No other city in the US can boast that type of influence. Plus, the food is amazing, the people are funny, and the hospitality is like no other.
I have a deep, deep love for this city. It is rooted in my ancestral history and childhood memories. More than that, there is a local heartbeat to the city that is truly something. I thought I would share a few a my favorite things to do in NOLA along with a few tourist recommendations for a day in this Southern city.
ST. LOUIS CEMETERY
Tour the oldest extant cemetery in the city St. Louis Cemetery, home of New Orleans famed Voodoo Queen, Marie Leveau's tomb (its covered with blood drawn crosses). Tip: Go early in the morning and bring an umbrella for covering from rain and/or the sun's heat! It gets hot ya'll. The Lafayette Cemetery is free, but I think the St. Louis is worth the paid-for tour guide.
+ COOL AND COMFY CEMETERY VIBES
This is definitely the most touristy part of the city, but still, I can't not mention it. Typical things to see here: Jackson Square, the St. Louis Cathedral, the French Market, vintage shopping on Royal, Pat O’Brien’s Dualing Pianos, NOLA Pharmacy Museum of Voodoo potions, a parade/festival, Krewe Sunglasses, street performers, and beignets at Cafe du Monde. To be honest, I don't find the Quarter to have the best food. It is tourist food. There is NOLA which is good, but I think the city has much more to offer outside of the quarter where the locals dine.
There are quite a few art museums in New Orleans. The Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Contemporary Arts Center, and the WW II Museum are all a few blocks of each other apart. And, more importantly, they all have air conditioning. If you need a break from the heat and the hustle and bustle of the French Quarter, then head to one of these museums!
+ CUT-OUT MESH DRESS
ACE HOTEL COMPLEX
The Ace Hotel complex is a great mid-day stop for a bite to eat or a drink at Josephine Estelle, or a cup of coffee at Stumptown Coffee. I say complex because there are a few eateries, a coffee shop, and a rooftop. It is a great "break spot" from touring around the quarter. The rooftop boasts great views of the city along with a pool and deck if you are in the mood for some lounging.
GALLERY HOP IN THE ARTS DISTRICT
The Warehouse District is one of my favorite areas of the city. There are tons of great shops and eateries like Cochon Butcher or Peche. And, there are at least 16 galleries in the Arts/Warehouse District, a.k.a. “the Soho of the South” so its a great place to hop around and find a more unique souvenir.
+ STRAPPY HIGH HEELED SANDALS
CHILL OUT IN THE GARDEN DISTRICT
The Garden District is another favorite neighborhood of mine. Magazine street in particular is lined with great shopping and eating. It is only a few blocks over from St. Charles and worth the stroll. While in this area, stop by a brewery in the Lower Garden District like the Courtyard Brewery or Tchoup Yard for a taste of the local brews. If you are into a different kind of brew, then High Volt Coffee is the way to go. It is the best coffee/pastries in the city.
DREAM HOME SHOPPING ON St. CHARLES AVE.
I highly recommend taking a trolley down St. Charles. You can stop at any point and do a self-guided tour of the stunning Southern homes such as this pink-hued house where Mark Twain and Edgar Dugas partied when in New Orleans. Afterward, take a break from the fried food and grab a bite to eat at Pizza Domenica. Or, if you take St. Charles all the way into Uptown, check out Satsuma Cafe for a healthy food option!
TAKE A SWAMP TOUR
I have done this twice with friends from NYC and LA and both times it was a hit. Riding in an airboat alone is a fun experience, but you also get to see the swamp and feed marshmallows to wild alligators. Oh, and they let you hold a pet alligator if you want. I did not want. But still, all in all, this is a great time on the water! Tip: bring a baseball hat and some bottled water!
There are lots of local neighborhoods outside of the tourist traps that are worth visiting like the Marigny or Freret. On the edge of Marigny is the St. Roch Market which is a great place to try different NOLA foods or The Ruby Slipper for breakfast. You can also go kayaking down Bayou St. John, have a picnic in City Park, or chill by the pool at the Country Club or eat at Elizabeth's in Bywater. Definitely, pick up a poor-boy at Parkway Bakery, fried chicken at Willie-Maes, and/or a snowball at Hansens. All of these areas of the city are mostly locals and a great option to experience the heartbeat of NOLA.
End your day with music. Music is not hard to come by in the city. Even just walking around the French Quarter you will encounter tons of street performers. There are also a lot of famous venues like the Spotted Cat on Frenchman Street. This is where the locals go for good music. Tourists go to Bourbon street. Locals go to Frenchman.
If you are on Bourbon, then check out Musical Legends Park (photo on the left). It is a great place to hear live jazz, sip on a drink, or even eat a beignet. And, for just a moment, you forget that you are on Bourbon Street.