After traveling across 33+ states and living in 6+ cities, I often get asked where I am originally from. When I say “Picayune, Mississippi” their response is usually “Uhhhhhh…” I always have to follow up with “it’s about 50 miles from New Orleans.” That’s when their eyes light up and they say “I’ve been there!” or “I’d love to go there one day.” I’ve heard some of the best stories from people who have traveled to New Orleans this way. If they haven’t visited before, I often have to explain that Mardi Gras is not year round, everyone does not have a voodoo doll and no, not everything is deep fried with a side of butter.
“First we eat, then we do everything else.” – M.F.K. Fisher
One of the most frequent questions I get asked about New Orleans is what they should do when they’re down. Where should we go? Where should we eat? Is this a safe neighborhood? I will tell you right now I’m not an expert on New Orleans and I have not even scratched the surface of things to do there. I have always loved New Orleans and tried to visit as much as possible growing up near the Big Easy. In New Orleans you can experience so many different cultures and food from multiple festivals year round, late nights at the House of Blues to amazing seafood. For your first trip to New Orleans you cannot miss the French Quarter. You absolutely have to experience Bourbon Street, Jackson Square, the French Market and walking along the Mississippi River.
“There is something about New Orleans that embodies passion; I’ve never seen that before. There’s something tangible about the essence of the city. You can taste and smell it.” – Blake Lively
The parking situation isn’t too bad around the French Quarter and you can easily find street parking or park in one of the public paid lots. Another great idea if you’re staying nearby is to check the streetcar routes and schedule. If you park or start near Woldenberg Park head down Decatur Street towards Jackson Square. You will likely see many street performers such as the silver statue man, acrobats and jazz musicians. Once you get to Jackson Square take some time to walk around and look at all the local artists. They have the most unique art here. We saw one artist that recycled beads from Mardi Gras and used them in her paintings. It was the coolest! St. Louis Cathedral is at the center of the square and I highly recommend going inside. If you are in this area around lunchtime head over to Cafe Maspero. We love getting their Po’ boy’s and muffulettas. Our trip to New Orleans is never complete without Cafe Du Monde and yes, it’s worth standing in that really long line. Continue down Decatur Street and eventually you will end up at the French Market. I love this market because there’s always so many unique things like fresh food, clothing and handmade items. One of the first rings I ever bought my wife was from one of these vendors.
“In America, there might be better gastronomic destinations than New Orleans, but there is no place more uniquely wonderful.” – Anthony Bourdain
After you spend time wandering through the market head back towards Jackson Square because it’s time to add some Bourbon Street to your life. If it’s during the day you’ll hear some sweet jazz music and if it’s at night you’ll hear a lively crowd working on their karaoke. If you’re into drinking cheap beer by the gallon, I’d suggest getting a “Huge Ass Beer” and just walking the street. We often will just get drinks and walk along the sidewalk listening to the music pouring out of the different bars. I’ve heard so many funny stories about New Orleans from our travels and one of my favorites is from a co-worker in Denver. He said the only time he had been to New Orleans he ended up in a bar on Bourbon and had a massive cockroach crawl across his shoulder. I feel like everyone has a different experience in New Orleans and it’s always interesting to see what fun you will find each trip.
“A city is not gauged by its length and width, but by the broadness of its vision and the height of its dreams.” – Herb Caen
New Orleans is one of our favorite cities. All of the food, music and culture makes it feel like home. The city has its up’s and down’s, safe and not so safe areas, but it is booming with places to be explored. This post doesn’t even begin to cover everything New Orleans has to offer, but it’s a good starting point for planning your very first trip. We only touched on one part of the city so there is still so many other places to explore like Magazine Street, The National WWII Museum, Audubon Zoo and New Orleans City Park. Have you been to New Orleans? If you have, what are your must-dos in the city? If you haven’t, what is on your to-do list?