New Orleans Travel Guide: Beyond Bourbon Street
It was almost as if the stars were cosmically aligning just in time for Halloween to get me to New Orleans. After having more than one conversation about wanting to visit the city, a DM from my friend Megan popped up on Instagram the very same week asking if I’d want to meet her in New Orleans. And what’s the point of being able to work from anywhere if I don’t take advantage of it right?
With some wrangling of airline miles and hotel coordinating, I booked a flight to the historically rich and colorful city of New Orleans for a few days of wandering, eating and learning about its spooky history. I must also note: I took the same flight into New Orleans as Mandy Moore (!!!) and Emily Schumer and basically had the same weekend, but hours apart. See what I meant about stars aligning?
Before I jump into the nitty gritty of what to see, eat and do, I wanted to share a few things I observed in the city that made me love it even more. First: This is a proud city. After about a million and one Lyft rides, Megan and I both encountered so many people who proudly shared that they were lifelong New Orleans dwellers. I love listening to people talk about how much they love their city because it helps me fall in love with it a little more too. And second: it’s incredible to see the mark that Hurricane Katrina left on this city to this day; there are still rescue marks on houses and areas where you can tell they were hit especially hard. It really made me feel overwhelmingly sad for the people of Puerto Rico all over again. It was pretty powerful to observe all of this among the brightly colored houses.
Given that our trip fell in October, it’s generally regarded as a good time for exploring the city without too high of temperatures or too much rain. I’d say we encountered different weather everyday, so it was a little tricky to predict what to wear. Humid and rainy one day, sunny and windy the next, and sunny and warm the day after that. Regardless of the up and down, it still felt like a great time to visit - I’d just pack a wide variety of things to wear to be safe.
Okay, now onto sharing an itinerary with you beyond Bourbon street and Mardi Gras - there’s so much more to the city than that! Here’s some of the highlights and recommendations from my trip to New Orleans. As always, if you ever have any specific questions or want more recommendations, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or a DM on Instagram.
Where to stay:
So apparently there is an amazing music festival called Voodoo Fest that happens every October in New Orleans and my stay happened to coincide with the festival. Not a big deal, except lots of airbnbs and hotels being extra booked, so it took two hotels to make it all work. But it totally worked out fine and if anything, I love getting to see different neighborhoods I might not have seen otherwise.
A recently renovated motel, The Drifter has all of the retro, hipster vibes you’d expect in a motel aimed at Millennials. There’s a disco ball by the pool, nightly activities in a pink carpeted parking lot, a tropical coffee and cocktail bar lounge area and rooms with Aesop products and Kinfolk-style magazines on the nightstand. The location is mid-city, but a ten minute Lyft ride will get you to many hot-spots in New Orleans. It’s a budget-friendly option that over-delivers on amenities and customer service, so if you don’t mind taking Lyfts into the more “happening areas” of New Orleans, this is a great option that’s pretty cute.
The second hotel we stayed at was this boutique hotel overlooks Lafayette Square on St. Charles Avenue Streetcar Line and is in the CDB or Central Business district. It’s walking distance from the French Quarter and is generally a prime location for finding great brunch spots, colorful murals and modern coffee shops.
Places to Wander/ things to do
With swampy grounds and lots of greenery, Audubon Park is a gorgeous way to get acquainted with New Orlean’s nature. Here you’ll find the Tree of Life (or the Étienne de Boray Oak), named after the city’s first Mayor which is a huge, knobby oak tree that’s hundreds of years old. Prime for climbing, this sweeping tree is just one thing to admire in the park which also contains a zoo and rows and rows of mossy trees. Pro-tip: Grab a coffee and croissant at Le Boulangerie a few blocks down the street and wander through the park for a practically perfect morning.
Ah, the French Quarter. This is often what people picture when they think of New Orleans - at least I definitely did. It’s home to the famous Bourbon street and is quite rowdy during Mardi Gras (though I’d say it seems to be fairly rowdy year round). But it’s also rich with history and built on a bank that left it untouched by recent year’s hurricanes. There’s a mix of French and Spanish architecture along the streets as well as buildings with haunted histories in-between modern shops. Visit the Voodoo museum for a self-guided tour, shop at Krewe (they offer free frose to enjoy in the back patio) or one of the local gift shops sprinkled throughout the streets. Locals kept recommending us to grab a Hurricane (the kind that’s made with real spices, not food coloring) at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar so take note if you’re in the mood for a drink while you wander around. There’s also plenty of live music in the streets to enjoy, so it’s basically all wonderful.
Cemetery Tour + Ghost tour
I took two tours while in New Orleans and they were both so worth it! First was the New Orleans Ghost Tour which is a nighttime tour of the French Quarters where you walk along the cobbled streets to listen to stories of New Orlean’s haunted history. Next was the Cemetery tour which was so interesting to learn about tombs and the French vs. American influences on the process of death.
A funky little shop with illustrated cards, unique clothing and lots of colorful accessories. It’s right next to Ace Hotel which, like every one of their locations is a great spot for coffee or a cocktail. I picked up some fun birthday cards with 90’s artwork and admired all the colorful clothes of which I had no room in my suitcase for.
There are so many shops on Magazine street and it’s a go-to spot for shopping. Take a wander down to admire lovely local shops and loads of colorful houses in-between. Besides the French Quarters, I’d recommend this area as a good spot for getting local gifts or souvenirs to bring back to friends. There’s even a couple spooky shops that are definitely commercialized but none-the-less fun to check out the “spooky” potions.
Where to Drink/Eat
This was such a fun stop! Pisco bar is located inside Catahoula Hotel. It’s a gorgeous bar with an even prettier patio to drink and dine alfresco. We enjoyed two delicious cocktails, tofu bao, and pot stickers - delicious vegan eats in a relaxing ambiance. They open at four, which makes it a perfect stop before enjoying a show followed by a late dinner. Plus, the bartenders are extra sweet!
Before visited New Orleans, I didn’t know the difference between Creole and Cajun food. Creole food tends to be a little fancier - “city food” with a heavier French influence. Cajun food tends to be a little more country, a.k.a. a little more local. I splurged on a beautiful dinner at Muriels for my first introduction to Creole food and I loved every minute of it. I enjoyed a red fish topped with crab alongside popcorn rice. Decadent and oh-so-delicious!
My first meal in the city was at this lovely little spot and holy yum! So many delicious Columbian-inspired dishes like arepas and Maiz De La Rueda (pictured below) which is grilled corn on the cob topped with spicy butter, salsa rosado & cotija cheese. Everything was so flavorful and the ambiance was just the right touch of moodiness.
The Ruby Slipper Café
This is a very busy brunch spot - pro-tip: they offer online reservations, do it! But, the line is absolutely an indication of how delicious this spot is. It’s southern brunch fare in an upbeat, casual environment. I opted for the Florentine Omelet with mushroom and goat cheese, a side of biscuits and grits and a Spiced Vanilla Latte. If it wasn’t clear by the description of my meal, come hungry.
Cafe Dumond + Cafe Beignet
Oh beignets. This french donut never seems to disappoint and New Orleans absolutely does it right. I first tried the famous Cafe Dumond for three beignets and a hot coffee. Cafe Dumond is arguably the most famous and busy location for beignets in the city and one bite of a beignet and it’s easy to see why. The second contender I heard was actually better than Cafe Dumond, is Cafe Beignet - and I have to say, I did enjoy it a little more. It was fluffier and less dense than Cafe Dumond so like anything, it’s all relative to your preferences. That being said, anything fried and dipped in powdered sugar is usually delicious. But do enjoy with a hot chocolate or coffee. Dunkalicous.
A friend recommended this spot to me and I LOVED it. Their biscuits are crazy delicious, the decor is modern, bright and airy and they actually know how to make a decent matcha latte. But the biscuits, oh the biscuits. I could have just ordered biscuits and been so happy. I also enjoyed a vegetarian bowl that was a nice change of pace from the heavy Southern cooking we’d enjoyed the rest of the trip.
Bacchanal Fine Wine & Spirits
If you love wine and cheese, this spot in the Bywater is not to be missed! It’s a wine shop where you can either buy a bottle and put it on ice or buy a glass to enjoy outside. One of the best parts is their cheese fridge - you pick a few varieties and they make a generous cheese plate with bread, jams, olives and the works. They’ve got a large patio with a live band which is full of good vibes.
I loved New Orleans and found there was SO much to enjoy in this city. This list was mostly the highlights, but I recommend checking out multiple travel guides before you go to pick a few favorite things to do. Special thanks to The Drifter Hotel & Pisco Bar inside the Catahoula Hotel who kindly offered special accommodations. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.
Lastly, here’s a few last recommendations to check out:
Carousel Bar - the bar is a slow-moving carousel! So fun.
Mural at New Orleans Public Library
Have you ever been to New Orleans? I’d love to hear your experience in the comments!