In southeast Louisiana you will find New Orleans, one of America’s favorite vacation destinations because of its distinctive form of architecture, festivals, variety of cultures, heritage, world class dining, museums and a wide variety of attractions. Some consider it to be America’s most un-American city, and trust me – that’s a compliment! The five star restaurant scene, featuring renowned chefs such as Emeril Lagasse, could easily be considered one of the cities biggest draws, with cajun and creole cuisine as one of the cities favorite traditions. The crescent City, or as many of the locals like to call it, N’Awlins, has a reputation for drawing the older crowd but it is actually a great destination for all ages. From the zoo and aquarium to the excitement of the Mardi Gras, to the St. Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square, this place is a dream come come true for the child in all of us.
The unique Southern architecture is one of my favorite elements of the Big Easy. The ironwork is what really sets it apart, adding a romantic and ritzy, yet nostalgic and historical feel to the city. N’awlins is also the birthplace of jazz, Delta blues, and zydeco music. There’s also a genteel southern character to the place, both in the upscale downtown Garden District and in the outlying plantation areas. This city has pretty much made a complete recovery from the devastating Katrina, which struck back in August 2005. Known to be the most expensive flood in US History, Katrina damaged more than 850,000 homes and killed over 1,400 innocent lives. Not to mention the damage it did to popular landmarks and attractions. New Orleans is located 5½ hours from Houston (350 miles), right over 2 hours from Mobile, AL (140 miles), 6 hours from Memphis (395 miles) and right over 5 hours outside of Birmingham (340 miles).
Top 10 Attractions
1. Bourbon Street is the center of the party and nightlife scene in New Orleans. The nearly mile long strip of bars, clubs and restaurants attracts millions of visitors each year and I can’t really recommend bringing your kids here late at night (unless you want to see people urinating on the streets, strip teases, drunken idiots, the list goes on and on). Famous drinks such as Pat O’Briens Hurricanes, and the Hand Grenade are staples here. The open container laws permit consumption in the streets, so get loose while taking in the sights. Whether it’s Mardi Gras season or a regular mid summer week, the porch balconies are always filled with people looking to throw beads down to people below (watch your head!). Dance, sing and smile at bars like The Old Absinthe House and The Cat’s Meow. Consider visiting the nearby Voodoo Museum to get acquainted with the history and culture of voodoo here in the heart of the French Quarter. General admission to the Voodoo Museum is $7, $3.50 for children, and $5.50 for seniors.
Tip: Don’t let any random guy on the street try to come up to you and give you advice! This one guy randomly started helping us for a few minutes and then at the end started begging for money and it really made us uncomfortable!
2. The French Quarter or Vieux Carré is the oldest district in New Orleans and center for the city’s nightlife. This cultural center is full of bars, clubs, music venues, art galleries and live street performances. The streets of the French Quarter are sure to charm with intricate cast iron balconies and elegant architectural structures, so take your time to explore the sights.
3. Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World – For those who won’t be coming during Mardi Gras, this is an absolute must-see for a behind the scenes look at the warehouses where the parade floats are conceived and constructed. Get a tour guide and gain valuable insight into the technology and artistry behind floats like the King Kong and Bacchasaurus. This museum, along with the Voodoo museum, are both featured in my list of the 27 Coolest Museums In America. Admission is $19.95 for adults and $12.95 for children.
4. Audubon Aquarium of The Americas – This aquarium has made a nice recovery from the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina. It features African Blackfooted penguins, exotic birds such as parakeets, sea otters, white crocodiles and even a hurricane simulator. Discover a Caribbean reef with a walk-through tunnel and a 400,000-gallon tank with sharks and tarpon. Kids get hands-on experience with sea creatures in a touch pool at the Animal Grossology exhibit. Their Amazon exhibit provides a humid, climate-controlled greenhouse that is a prominent feature of the riverfront and includes macaws, piranhas, an anaconda, freshwater stingrays, and other specimens from the area basin. It’s ranked at #10 on our list of the 25 Best Aquariums In America. General admission is $22.50 for adults and $16 for children.
5. The Audubon Zoo is located in Uptown New Orleans and it is a great place for families and little kids who get sick of visiting all the museums! 2,000 animals, the zoo is open year round, from Tuesday through Sunday (seven days a week during the summer). See Komodo Dragons, let the kids cool off in a small scale water park complete with an alligator water slide. The “Dinosaur Adventure” exhibit is a must see with giant animated replicas of the Prehistoric’s finest patrolling the scene. Admission is $17.50 for adults and $12 for children.
Tip: I actually didn’t get to go because they do not let guests stay in after their posted closing time. We got there 20 minutes before their closing time, thinking they would still let us stay in the zoo for another 30 minutes or so… but come to find out that they were going to let us pay regular price to spend 20 minutes in the zoo and then we would be hunted down and kicked out! We had to walk away… and it has been four years since that happened and I have not returned. But from what I’ve heard, it truly is among the best zoos in the nation.
6. Edgar Degas House Pre-Impressionist Tour is a great way to see an historic house in New Orleans. Once home to French Impressionist Egdar Degas, this grand house will charm with a collection of Degas’ reproductions that can be viewed by reservation. With convenient location just blocks from the French Quarter, this beautiful home is worth the visit. The tour is $29 per person.
7. The Garden District in New Orleans is a famous center for posh homes and ritzy manors. This National Historic Landmark district dates back to the 19th Century, when these historic mansions ruled the block. The wealth of this district can easily be spotted and sights include Lafayette Cemetery with immigrants from over 25 countries buried below.
8. New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park is a great place to get acquainted with New Orleans culture. Just outside the French Quarter, this park is dedicated to the evolution of jazz in America. With sights like Preservence Hall and Louis Armstrong Park—a 4 acre recreation area complete with concert venue, this place will entertain! Learn about jazz through the years and just sit back and relax for a show.
9. New Orleans City Park this 1300 acre outdoor park makes for a relaxing escape from the crowds in the city. Explore a world of plants within the Botanical Garden, enjoy the wide range of athletic fields and courts and tee-off at the City Park golf course. There is also a world excitement for children including Carousel Gardens Amusement Park and the characters of Storyland.
10. Preservation Hall is the perfect place to experience good ol’ New Orleans jazz. Come see the live music that made this southern city famous. This historic music venue is home to traditional jazz cats in the famous French Quarter.
11. New Orleans Ghost Tour – See the Haunted Mansion on Royal Street, where the victims of criminal Delphine LaLaurie are said to still scream and cry at night. If it’s a rainy evening, listen closely for the sound of Pere Dagobert, the French monk whose singing is said to haunt New Orleans rain. Their tour guides have been on the SciFi Channels’ Ghosthunters, the Food Channel, Travel Channel’s Haunted Travels and a number of others. It can be found at 723 St Peter Street, New Orleans, LA. It’s featured in our list of the 13 Bone-Chilling Haunted Tours in the US. The tour runs at 3:00 pm from Dec 26 thru July 31 and Oct 1 thru Nov 30; and also 6:00 pm and 8:00 pm nightly year round.
*Sadly, I can’t recommend any theme parks to you. Their Six Flags closed back in 2005, thanks to Hurricane Katrina. Since then, it has become a haven for trespassers and a few movies were actually shot here in 2011-2012.
What time of year should I come? The spring and fall obviously have the most temperate, enjoyable weather making either the best time to visit. A wide range of festivals take place, from themes unique to this city to party’s for major US holidays. The 4th of July celebrations are spectacular, and the New Years Eve celebrations are over the top. Come for Christmas and you’re really in for a treat.
What exactly is “Mardi Gras”?
It is a huge party with purple (symbolizing justice), green (for faith), and gold (for power) masks, banners, and other decorations that can be spotted all across town. Consider planning your trip around the day before Ash Wednesday, the day of Mardi Gras. The carnival celebrations are known and celebrated across the nation. Dating back to the 1700s, January sixth (Twelfth Night) and Ash Wednesday has become celebrated with lavish balls. “Krewes”, private citizen groups, are responsible for bringing parades with 14 or more colorful floats and costumes to the city. Some of the floats are still made of traditional papier-mâché. These take place 10 days before Mardi Gras while the oldest and most famous parades can be experienced on Mardi Gras Tuesday. If you’re fortunate enough to have planned your trip on Mardi Gras, be sure to get a bite of Kings Cake, which I remember having back when I visited Mexico. This special, traditional treat that contains a small plastic figure of a baby, which represents baby Jesus. They actually choose a prominent New Orleans citizen to be the King of Mardi Gras. Throws are souvenir doubloons (coins), beads and dolls that are thrown from the floats to the crowds, which makes an interesting souvenir, especially for tourists. Not going to be there for the festivities of Mardi Gras. Not to worry, the history of this celebration is on permanent display at the Presbytere. You can actually see many of the parades year-round at the place they are constructed, Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World (as mentioned above).
See the tombs of Lafayette cemetery. Famous New Orleans include Louis Armstrong, Andrew Jackson, Mahalia Jackson, Edgar Degas, and Anne Rice. Turn up the jazz and go Cajun and start planning your next trip to New Orleans!
From an awe inspiring carriage ride through the French Quarter to a stroll along Bourbon Street, you have got plenty of incredible options! Lets start by dividing the city up into five areas, Garden District & Uptown, Mid-City, Warehouse & Central Businesses Districts, the historic ambiance of the French Quarter, Marigny, &Treme. For $1.25 you can board the historic St. Charles Avenue Streetcar to go on a tour of gorgeous mansions while be transported at the same time. Fare is reasonable, especially compared to the price of a taxi.
The five star restaurant scene could easily be considered one of the cities biggest draws. Internationally renowned chefs have helped keep the dining comparable to what you’d find in New York and San Fransisco. If you like to eat well, you’ve found the right place!
Café Du Monde – This may sound a little cliche to anyone who knows the slightest bit about ‘Nawlins, but really, you can’t visit without stopping here! Located right across the street from Jackson Square. World renowned for their legendary beignets (donuts) and coffee. If you are going at a crowded time of year- consider getting up very early one morning to get here around 7am, because the café is open 24 hours. While it is a large café, it’s very popular, we tried to come a 9am two days and a row, the week after Christmas, and found the line to be way past the front door. I’m going to be honest, this place is overrated, but I still recommend you make the trip over. What surprised us most was finding out that the only two things on the menu were coffee and beignets! That makes this place very affordable, for every budget, so be sure to leave it tops on your list. BTW- the help is very mediocre, unprofessional. They appeared to be foreigners or locals (all looked the same). But we saw people who had come before us get served 15 minutes after we did- it’s a zoo in there so be assertive!
Emeril’s New Orleans – Opened in 1990 by Chef Emeril Lagasse, this restaurant serves Emeril’s signature style of “New New Orleans” cuisine, featuring the best local and regional seasonal ingredients. It’s located in a renovated pharmacy warehouse on Tchoupitoulas Street in the heart of the city’s Warehouse District, featuring rustic exposed brick and glass walls flanking one side of the main dining room, with plaster-lathe wood forming a wine wall on the other. I recently asked Emeril about his favorite restaurant in the US and he said, out of all 13 of his restaurants, this one is his all-time favorite!
NOLA Restaurant – Another of Emeril’s New Orleans restaurants, it’s located in a renovated warehouse with a bright yellow stucco facade, large French door windows, and second floor balcony, offering a more casual and funky atmosphere in the heart of the French Quarter. The menu showcases rustic Louisiana and Southern cooking featuring local and regional ingredients and a few unexpected ethnic twists.
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop – This place opened in 1772, which makes it the oldest continuously running bar in the USA. It was actually built as a cover for the owners illegal activities, which is said to be slave trading. This original owner was actually pardoned by President Andrew Jackson for his privateering activities. This bar is actually rumored to be haunted by residents who died in a fire here. It’s one of the only surviving examples of the French Colonial style, making it a National Historic Landmark in 1970.
The House of Blues – House of Blues New Orleans opened in 1994 and is located in the heart of the world–famous French Quarter. The walls of the restaurant and music hall are covered with a 298 pieces of folk art and the venue itself is home to the largest collection of folk art in the country. When visiting the House of Blues New Orleans, look for the crest–shaped plaque hung above the table in the second to the last booth in the restaurant. This was installed in December of 1994 in honor of Blues Legend, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. A portrait of Gatemouth also hangs in “his” booth. In keeping with tradition, the House of Blues New Orleans displays the “Crazy Quilt” and keeps a metal box of mud from the Delta Mississippi underneath its stage.
Brennan’s – New Orleans’s iconic dessert, the banana foster–of bananas flambéed in cinnamon, sugar, banana liqueur and rum–is still best at Brennan’s, the place where it originated 60 years ago. The fiery ceremonial preparation is as famous as the dish itself: Waiters ignite the alcohol-covered bananas table-side and top the gooey result with vanilla ice cream.
Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. – Owned by the people who own Rainforest Cafe. Since 1996, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. has been entertaining guests with a charming down-home style that’s a hit with eaters around the globe. Their menu offers a number of items for the shrimp lover in all of us. Boasting creative seafood dishes inspired straight from the movie Forrest Gump and a fun family atmosphere, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. will have you running to the nearest location you can find! Although that movie came out around 20 years ago, this popular restaurant never fails to delight.
Hard Rock Cafe– While in New Orleans I prefer to eat beignets and oysters but for those of you who are not fond of the traditional fare, the Hard Rock Café is never a bad choice for good ‘ole American food. Since 1987 the Hard Rock has been blending in with the city’s showcase of Music and culture. Inside this New Orleans infused Rock & Roll restaurant, indulge in one of our world-famous Hurricanes while exploring signature pieces of the most extensive collection of rock memorabilia in the world. Whatever your pleasure, there’s a place for it here. Remember, anything goes in the City of N’awlins, and Hard Rock Cafe New Orleans is no exception.
Galatoire’s Restaurant– The Galatoire family has ran Galatoire’s since 1905, as it remains fantastic with the ambiance of a perpetual cocktail party. From the small village of Pardies, France, Jean Galatoire brought recipes and traditions inspired by the familial dining style of his homeland to create the menu and ambiance of the internationally-renowned restaurant.
Arnaud’s Restaurant – It was originally opened in 1918 and currently features 17 dining rooms decked out with mirrored walls, mosaic tiles, and paddle fans. Located steps off of Bourbon Street in the heart of the French Quarter, Arnaud’s offers classic Creole Cuisine and exemplary service in beautifully restored turn of the century dining rooms. Since its inception in 1918, Arnaud’s has remained true to its traditions and courtesies. Offering live Dixieland Jazz in the Jazz Bistro, romantic dinners in the Main Dining Room, cocktails in the award winning French 75 Bar and an assortment of private French Quarter fine dining rooms, Arnaud’s offers the quintessential New Orleans dining experience.
Mother’s Restaurant – Dubbed as being home to the “World’s Best Baked Ham,” it’s been a New Orleans classic since 1938. Get home-style cooking, with dished ranging from the award-winning Jambalaya, to the famous Ferdi Special, to the original debris-laden roast beef.
Margaritaville – Named after Jimmy Buffett’s famous 1977 song, Margaritaville, redefines the meaning of the laid back American lifestyle. Sip on a Pina Colada and chill by the bay, here at this delicious restaurant. Don’t forget to pick up Jimmy Buffet themed merchandise on the way out.
Canal Place – This is the cities most upscale shopping mall, featuring stores like Saks Fifth Avenue. Due to my interest in mall architecture, I couldn’t help myself from coming on in to take a look. I was greeted by one of the tallest Christmas trees I had ever seen, right inside, in the central area of the four story mall.
Royal Street – Rumors is a fantastic shop for buyers looking for Mardi Gras paraphernalia, such as beads, masks, costumes, and posters, open year round. St. Anthony’s Garden was a staging ground for duels in the 18th century yet is currently a lovely garden for peace and serenity, at the back of St. Louis Cathedral. Antoine Peychaud’s Pharmacy is currently an antique shop. Pharmacist Antoine Peychaud mixed brandy with his bitters and served the potion in a coquetier as the cocktail was born, right here in this building.
Be sure to book your hotel room way in advance if planning on coming for any of the major celebrations.
Hotel Monteleone makes for a great place to stay within a historic landmark hotel in the famous French Quarter. This luxury hotel offers guests a fabulous rooftop pool, a relaxing day at the spa, and full service fitness center. Enjoy the many restaurants down the street or dine in at Criollo Restaurant & Lounge.
Royal Sonesta Hotel New Orleans is a grand hotel situated at the heart of the French Quarter on the most famous Bourbon Street. With wrought-iron balconies, elegant French doors and classy European style, this hotel is sure to charm! In the summer relax to a poolside massage or enjoy the fitness center all year round.
The Mason Dupuy – Located in the heart of the French Quarter, the Maison Dupuy is nicely situated in the city’s historic Vieux Carré district, offering guests a distinct mixture of history and luxury. It’s been voted in the top 172 hotels in the entire nation — and one of just four Louisiana hotels selected.
Hotel Mazarin is a boutique luxury hotel decorated with elegant courtyard and fountain is located in the French Quarter. Enjoy the fitness center, complimentary breakfast and dining onsite at Patrick’s Bar Vin Wine Bar or 21st Amendment Bar at La Louisiane.
Omni Royal Orleans is an award-wining hotel located at St. Louis and Royal in the French Quarter. Take in the grand deck views of the district below, dive into the pool, and grab dinner at the Rib Room restaurant onsite.
Hotel Le Marais is a great stay conveniently located in the middle of the French Quarter. This boutique hotel is home to modern style, plush beds and upscale amenities like the fitness center, complimentary breakfast and saltwater heated pool.
Le Pavillon Hotel is a historic hotel set in the midst of the French Quarter only blocks from the entertainment and restaurants on Bourbon Street. Enjoy in the luncheon tradition of New Orleans inside the Crystal Room—with seafood gumbo, soups and pasta bar.
Loewe’s New Orleans Hotel is an award-winning luxury hotel with views of the Mississippi and the French Quarter. Taste the Creole cuisine at Cafe Adelaide or sit down for a drink inside The Swizzle Stick Bar. Take advantage of the lap pool and fitness center or relax for a day at the spa.
Winsor Court Hotel is a luxurious stay in New Orleans complete with rooftop pool, full-service spa and fitness center. Enjoy several dining options with a stay at the Winsor from the Grill Room—a 4 Diamond restaurant to the Polo Club Lounge and Cocktail Bar. Relax for some afternoon tea at Le Salon over the melody of live music.
The Roosevelt New Orleans is a grand luxury hotel in New Orleans with rooftop pool, fitness center and Guerlian Spa—complete with full service salon. Chose from the many drink and dining options from the Rooftop Bar to the Sazerac Bar and Domenica an Italian-style restaurant to the Fountain Lounge newly opened this fall.
The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans is a luxury hotel complete with bar set on the edge of the famous French Quarter on Canal Street. Enjoy the world-class spa onsite and dine in at one of two restaurants—the Davenport Lounge and M Bistro home to fine wines and delicious designer dishes.