New Orleans…. you’re one of my favorite cities in the United States, and it’s not just because you ask me if I want my cocktails to go. You’re vibrant, full of life and music. You’re delicious, your food the very embodiment the word Creole. And you’re just plain quirky and don’t take yourself too seriously.
Seriously, you’re my spirit city.
Tennessee Williams once said: “America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.”
As a card-carrying bicoastal New York/San Francisco snob, I’m happy to welcome New Orleans into our (dubious) company.
If you’re thinking about taking a trip to New Orleans, stop thinking. Just book it. Then come back here and read all about what makes a New Orleans getaway such a fantastic idea.
Explore the Garden District
The Garden District is probably my favorite part of New Orleans. The historic charm of the houses, the way the leafy canopy of trees protects you from the not-cute Louisiana sun, funky details everywhere…
Magazine Street is the main thoroughfare of the Garden District; you can also take the St. Charles cablecar pretty much the whole length of the Garden District.
There are tons of funky boutiques up and down Magazine Street, which was perfect for me as the geniuses at Greyhound somehow managed to lose my suitcase with nearly everything I owned in it. There are tons of bars and restaurants amongst the shops as well.
A few favorites: Defend NOLA for clothes and odds & ends, District Donuts for… do I even need to say it?, and Lilly’s Vietnamese for some of the best bún I’ve eaten outside of Ha Noi. Add these all to ideas for your New Orleans getaway.
Take a culinary tour of the city
To understand the patterns of migration that have marked New Orleans and made it so unique, it’s best – and most delicious – to do so via a culinary tour. Take a tour with Doctor Gumbo if at all possible. Dylan, the guide, is hilarious and manages to weave together food, politics, and history in an engaging way — while making sure delicious eats are never far away to maintain your attention.
Some of the things we ate on the tour: pork cracklings, boudin balls, sweet potato beignets, po’boys, muffuletta sandwiches, hot sauces, pralines, beef brisket (also often called “debris”) and naturally, gumbo.
Some photos in case I didn’t already convince you with that sexy litany of words…
Have a cocktail (or two, or three…)
Forgo the enormous slushies in to-go cups on Bourbon Street and save what’s left of your liver for some classic cocktails. New Orleans quite literally invented America’s cocktail scene. Among its greatest contributions: the Sazerac, the Vieux Carré, Ramos Gin Fizz (my personal favorite), and the Hurricane.
Go on a self-guided cocktail tour, being sure to sample the above-mentioned cocktails and others. Alternately, opt for a guided cocktail tour to make your New Orleans getaway slightly more educational.
I didn’t have time to go on a proper cocktail tour, but these two seemed the best: Drink & Learn for a more historically accurate cocktail tour by someone who quite literally wrote the book on New Orleans’ cocktail history; Confederacy of Cruisers for a more fun spin (pardon the pun) with their drinking meets cycling tour.
Enjoy the music
New Orleans is one of the best spots in the entire country for jazz music, so don’t miss visiting Frenchman’s Street where the music scene is off the hook — definitely a must-visit on any New Orleans getaway.
If you’re not looking to stray past the French Quarter, the Royal Sonesta Jazz Playhouse is also a great venue and it couldn’t be more conveniently located right on Bourbon Street.
I saw Nayo Jones perform and she was simply fantastic, with a voice that even Etta James would shed a tear for. And the cocktails are top notch — definitely a must-visit spot.
I also loved the free shows at the Ace Hotel — there was a fantastic cellist, Helen Gillet, who played some beautifully haunting music. I believe she performs most Wednesdays, so check their schedule and see if she’s on — you won’t regret it.
Explore the offbeat
There’s likely no more offbeat city in the U.S. than New Orleans.
From voodoo to horror stories, there’s something for everyone who has an interest in the offbeat and slightly dark.
For one, New Orleans’ cemeteries are a major tourist attraction. They’re mostly above ground thanks to chronic flooding issues, making the mausoleums an insane sight to be seen. Nic Cage even has a pyramid here for if he ever dies… wtf?
There are also countless ghost tours where you can learn about the city’s haunted history if you want to inject your New Orleans getaway with a little spookiness.
Where to Stay in New Orleans
No mattter your budget, New Orleans has a lot to offer. In my eyes it’s probably the most budget-friendly American city for young travelers. In my experience, hostels in the U.S. are typically either outrageously expensive or crappy – if they even exist at all.
Thankfully, The Quisby – a brand new boutique hostel in the heart of the Garden District – bucks that trend and is perfect for a budget-friendly New Orleans getaway.
It has an in-house bar serving surprisingly upscale cocktails, a delicious free breakfast including all the biscuits, ham, cheese, and coffee you can eat and drink, and a cool lounge area. The Quisby is without a doubt the best hostel I’ve stayed at in the entire U.S.
It’s also priced fairly for an upscale hostel, with a bed in a dorm costing about $27-3o per night. But the best part — the reception staff is outstanding and will give you so many awesome suggestions, even offering you a little booklet cheat sheet of all their favorite places in NOLA.
If you’re not into hostels (I feel you — I’m normally not either, which is why I had a private room!) I recommend the Ace Hotel, the Royal Sonesta, or International House.
Note: Thank you to The Quisby for hosting me and to the New Orleans CVB for their assistance in organizing the food tour with Doctor Gumbo. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links, meaning I may make a small commission if you use one of my links to make a purchase – at no extra cost to you.
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