My fiancé, Chris, and I love to travel to places we’ve never been, Bali and Borneo among our most adventurous so far and Belize up next. We visited Seattle earlier this year, which was fantastic with its Pike Place Market, Space Needle, Chihuly Garden and Glass, beautifully sullen weather and food – oh the food! Another requirement of our travels is outstanding food, a major deciding factor in our trip to New Orleans last week. We had the time of our lives. In fact, it might be the best trip I’ve ever taken – up there with Bali. New Orleans and Bali? I know, but I loved it. So much so that this is how I feel about being back home:
I now drink my coffee out of this in one hand and lament that there is not a beignet in the other. I fell in love with Louisiana hard.
Now, I cheated a little because I actually have been to New Orleans before, but I was eight and with my mom and sister to check out Tulane University for her (she ended up going with LSU). Chris and I call Halloween our anniversary until we get a more official one next April, and what better place to celebrate than New Orleans? Cemeteries full of history, gorgeous Garden District homes, music on Frenchmen Street, the experience that is Bourbon Street – it would take me an eternity to share all the places we went, things we did and delicious things we ate, so here’s my list of favorites instead. Here are the Things You Absolutely Can’t Miss in New Orleans.
Stay at the Hotel Monteleone
Since 1886, the Hotel Monteleone has oozed old-world elegance. If you fear aging, uncomfortable accommodations, fear not because the Monteleone does not sacrifice comfort or style for preservation. It does both incredibly well. Head to the 16th floor to take in the rooftop pool and spectacular views of the city below.
214 Royal St.
Grab a seat at the Carousel Bar and order a French 007
Named one of the top 20 bars in the world by Vogue Living, the Carousel Bar offers 25 seats around a whimsical, circus-clad revolving bar. Hop on and sip something classy while you enjoy the stellar people-watching. If you like a French 75, try the French 007 with Grey Goose La Poire, Pama Pomegranate liqueur and sparkling wine.
214 Royal St.
See the spot where Disney got inspiration for the Pirates of the Caribbean
If you want to see Louisiana beyond New Orleans, do as the tourists do and go on a swamp tour. I suggest choosing one that goes to Honey Island Swamp as the odds are good your guide will stop unexpectedly and suddenly you’ll see you’re sitting at the start of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. All that will be missing is the old man in his rocking chair.
Swamp tours operating throughout New Orleans
Order the chocolate peanut butter pie at Cochon
Then ship it to San Diego, California, directly to me. Don’t forget a fork. Cochon has a butcher shop that is just as good if not better than the restaurant, so maybe you order an alligator sausage and peanut butter pie and have yourself the best dinner ever. Just a suggestion.
Ignore the people who tell you to avoid Cafe Du Monde
Some people might tell you it’s a tourist trap and that you’ll wait your life away in line for an utterly average beignet, but those people are utterly wrong. A local we sat next to on the plane clued us in that Cafe Du Monde makes the very best beignets in town and has since 1862.
See the Grammy Award-winning Rebirth Brass Band perform at Maple Leaf Bar
This only happens on Tuesday nights, and it’s pure musical magic. The drinks are cheap, the music is great, and there’s a beautiful courtyard out back for when you need some air, which you might because Rebirth packs this place.
Order a Hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s, preferably when there’s a Saints game on
Hurricanes were born at Pat O’Brien’s on Bourbon Street, and many a college co-ed have Pat to thank for that (and curse the next morning). If you think Pat’s is the small indoor bar you first walk into, keep walking. Pat’s is massive and offers a large outdoor patio with one side for eating and drinking and another strictly for drinking. Wear your black and gold and join some of the most awesomely crazed football fans in the world in cheering on their home team. Who dat!
718 St. Peter
Go on a walking tour of the Garden District and St. Louis Cemetery
Keep an eye out for the Curious Case of Benjamin Button home (2707 Coliseum St.), the homes of Sandra Bullock (2627 Coliseum St.) and Anne Rice (1239 First St.), the Joseph Carroll House where Mark Twain partied (1315 First St.), and Commander’s Palace restaurant (1403 Washington Ave.), which is just as good now as it was when it first opened in 1883. In the cemetery, don’t miss “Voodoo Queen” Marie Laveau’s tomb and the tomb that (fictionally) belonged to the vampire Lestat of Interview with a Vampire.
Get your gifts at Fleurty Girl
You could buy everyone pralines, or you could go to Fleurty Girl, which sells fantastic New Orleans-inspired T-shirts, home goods, accessories and more. My new favorite coffee cup came from here. Tennesee Williams lived in the building Fleurty Girl occupies when he wrote A Streetcar Named Desire.
632 St. Peter
Spend a moment in the Saint Louis Cathedral
It’s not enough to take photos from the outside for Instagram, which is indeed stunning. Go inside, take in the artwork above and all around you, find a docent to share interesting history with you, take a seat in a pew, and say a prayer if you’re so inclined.
Order the chargrilled oysters at Royal House
Let me be clear about something: I hate oysters, and they started it. That trip we took to Seattle? We took the ferry to Bainbridge Island for dinner, where I decided to shoot my first oyster and proceeded to choke on it. It was embarrassing to say the least. Chargrilled oysters go down much easier (in my amateur opinion) but more importantly, they’re mind-bogglingly delicious.
441 Royal St.
Stop anywhere you see a street musician
Piano in the middle of the road? Classical clarinet on the corner? Full band featuring an accordion and a washboard? No matter where you turn, you can’t nor do you want to escape the beautiful music in this city. Keep an eye out for the violin and guitar duo – the violin-playing character on the HBO series Treme is based on Tanya of Tanya & Dorise, who can often be found performing on the corners of the French Quarter. Click here to watch them play one of my favorite songs, Eleanor Rigby.
Satisfy your po’boy craving at Parasol’s Bar
You’ll want to order the pork or shrimp, but do not – I repeat do not – miss the roast beef. No-frills and delicious, it’s the Yelp favorite for good reason. Just trust.
2533 Constance St.
As wonderful as New Orleans is to see, you can’t and shouldn’t forget what happened here. On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina brought rain and winds between 100 and 140 miles an hour that caused nearly 2,000 deaths, hundreds of thousands of displacements and $100 billion in damage. If I had known nothing about it, I wouldn’t have noticed anything out of the ordinary. The French Quarter is as magical as ever, and many have rebuilt and recovered, but leave the city and you’ll see the devastation remains; for some, the physical and emotional damage will never leave. New Orleans thrives on tourism so I hope you’ll go and help it to continue to be special for all of us, especially those who call it home.