New Orleans

As a travel writer, I feel like the last blogger to see Bourbon Street. Seriously, a trip to New Orleans “The Big Easy” never seemed easy. Finally this “most unique city in the US”, famed for French Creole cuisine and jazzy parades down historic city streets, made our travel bucket list. Crescent City is everything I imagined, crazy, colorful, boisterous, bustling, spicy and tasty, hot, humid, and happening. NOLA is a meld of hedonism and history, naughty but also haughty. You’ve got Bourbon Street partiers blocks away from sophisticated antebellum garden neighborhoods and posh New Orleans hotels, and there’s so much history and haunt to this LA city. Now, I understand the fascination with Louisiana’s hot spot, NOLA is a must.

How to enjoy 3-days in New Orleans:

Cruise Canal Street to start, the beautiful iron lattice balconies and bright streetcars are postcard-perfect.  After checking in to the luxurious Windsor Court Hotel, the posh place to stay in New Orleans, we walked a few blocks into the famed French Quarter craving some Cajun cuisine.

At the legendary Napolean House for lunch – we witnessed the patina of the centuries’ old walls, dating back to 1797. Still, the food is reputed among the best in town. Same family has been operating the charming Napolean for over a century! Our shared giant Muffaleta sandwich – bartender’s recommendation – was warm, big and tasty!  I wondered how many they’ve served at Napolean’s over the decades?

New Orleans is such a walkable city, so we strolled the neighborhoods, admiring the colorful architecture from Greek Revival and Italianate gallery homes with balconies inspired by French and Spanish lace, to West Indies cottages – built by African slaves. I’m incredulous that chic Royal Street’s fancy antique and jewelry shops, and upscale eateries, are just a block from the debauchery of Bourbon Street (which can smell like a potpourri of two-day-old keg party, but it’s fun and festive with the right mindset for live music). Bourbon Street is named for the ruling family of France in 1718, a hub for bootlegging, parties, parades and debauchery ever since!

Soon we reached the heart of New Orleans – Jackson Square. There’s General – President Andrew Jackson grandly perched on his horse, overlooking the Mississippi River, framed by the fairytale St Louis Cathedral. This towering Basilica dates to 1718 – the oldest operating Catholic church in the country, its truly grand inside and out. We walked down to the Mississippi waterfront where the Steamboat Natchez docks, noting the embankments to prevent future flooding (remember Katrina? Folks here will never forget). Astonishing that just 20 years ago, NOLA was devastated by Katrina’s storm breach, and now it stands proud and perseverant again (reparations were nearly $200 billion).

An iced chicory coffee at Café du Monde was the perfect pick-me-up as NOLA’s afternoon heat and humidity were climbing. Cutely dressed servers delivered trays loaded with decadent powder sugar-covered Beignets to café tables at this original 1862 French Market location with its green-stripe awnings. Tip: There are many Café Du Monde throughout the city now, hit the original.

Sipping at the Sazerac House was our next indulgence, where New Orleans’ cocktail gained fame in the 1850s. Sazerac’s beautiful distillery and tasting room is home to the 3rd largest distillery and liquor company. Our tour and tasting offered fortified swigs along with pearls of whiskey-infused wisdom. Back in the day, coffee houses served cocktails with “bitters” which were created by a pharmacist to cure “what ails you.” Speakeasies popped up in NOLA during the 18th amendment, NOLA locals were not bog fans of prohibition. Today’s Sazerac owns 450 liquor labels, from prestigious Sazerac Rye and Eagle Rare whiskey, Myers Rum, Buffalo Trace Bourbon, to mass-produced Fireball and Dr McGillicudy’s. Tip: Don’t miss Sazerac’s intoxicating tour in their inviting space on Canal Street.

Vue Orleans awaited along the Riverwalk, adjacent to the Four Seasons Hotel. At this immersive museum, we learned of young orphan Louis Amrstrong’s first trumpet he bought at a pawn shop for $5, among other fascinating tales of this spirited soulful city. Riding the animated elevator to the 34th floor, we quickly reached the Observation deck and 360 views of the entire city, with the mighty Mississippi below. After strolling NOLA’s neighborhoods, I could better orient myself after this towering view. Tip: skip the cocktail-inclusive package and just do the tour, since there are so many other great cocktail spots in New Orleans. Shoppers, you will find the Outlet Collection at Riverwalk here, Caesar Palace Casino for gamblers, and the nearby pleasant pedestrian Fulton Street too.

Dinner that night was classic Creole, in the French Quarter at Tujaques – a NOLA institution since 1856. A Table D’Hote menu at this French-inspired neighborhood restaurant included indulgences of 5 courses, Shrimp Remoulade on a Fried Green Tomato, Oysters with bacon and vermouth, maple duck with dirty rice, Bourbon bread pudding, all delish in this romantic setting.

Live jazz was calling from Frenchmen Street  – music headquarters we were told – at Pres Jazz Hall or Spotted Cat, but really – you can’t go wrong. And with NOLA’s original “to go cup” (way ahead of Savannah and Key West) you can stroll with your cocktail from one club to the next. Tip: Just don’t be part of New Orleans’ trashy trend, and trash your cup on the streets, help clean up this otherwise pretty city. Wow, did we sleep well after just day one of fun exploring this exciting NOLA, with another big day ahead.

Day 2 in New Orleans
An early morning bike ride
up quiet Esplanade Ave led us to NOLA’s Greenway – part of New Orleans’ 100-miles of bikeways, on and off-street cycle lanes, up to Lake Pontchartrain. Here on the Lake’s southern shores, we cruised designated bike lanes along the lakefront to the Lighthouse and pretty neighborhoods over bridges and canals, by rebuilt levies. Lake Pontchartrain is huge, 40 by 24 miles wide, and definitely my favorite part of the ride, along with returning through City Park, with a stop at New Orleans Museum of Art Sculpture Garden. We also cycled past the line-up of Eastlake “shotgun houses” so-called because they’re incredibly narrow, modest, cozy, with intricate Queen Anne woodwork. Tip to Bikers: New Orleans is working to be bike-friendly, but still many local motorists are not cautious or respectful of bikers – so beware!

We hopped on a Streetcar and chugged along St Charles’ line “Uptown” to The Garden District to stroll Magazine Street. This more peaceful part of New Orleans resembles Savannah or Charleston with its ancient oak canopied streets, fragrant magnolias and gracious antebellum homes. Magazine is 6-miles in length, paralleling the Mississippi River from Canal Street to Audubon Park. Magasin means shops in French, hence the origin of this 1700s avenue of chic boutiques, antique and jewelry shops, cute cafés and cocktail bars in luxury hotels. Note: I recommend Monomin for cleverly curated ladies’ clothes, shoes, costume jewels and purses.

All aboard the Steamboat Natchez, that evening for a Jazz Dinner Cruise! While seemingly touristy – this was the perfect finale to our NOLA day! Natchez is the last-steam-operated paddle-wheeler on the Mississippi.  After a cheesy cruise ship photo on the gangplank, we went to the top deck, to listen to the lively local band. Departing the dock, we sipped cocktails from the ship bar, watching the river scenery while the cool licks of jazz on sax, flute and trumpet filled the balmy air. The Captain gave a brief but interesting narration about the mighty Mississippi, then it was time for our later dinner seating, a traditional Creole buffet. Hot tip: Board at 6pm to get a great seat on Deck 3 by the jazz band, and book the later dining seating. Then be back up on the upper deck to see the City light up, and enjoy the music as you return to the docks by 9pm in Jackson Square.

Day 3
Next morning, we went swamping
. A 30-minutes coach bus from downtown brought us to the remote countryside, passing Walt Disney’s first proposed theme park site according to our entertaining bus driver. Cajun Encounters Swamp Tours soon had us in our low-riding open-air boat, snaking (more on snakes later) up a swerving jungle of a swampy bayou. During our hour tour, we saw gators, a big snake curled on a tree branch (far too close for my taste), turtles sunning on petrified logs, and feisty little racoon. The wildlife seems not-so-wild as they appear to beg the tour boats for treats, and they’re rewarded, in exchange for photo opps. The funkiest, most fascinating part to me was witnessing “swamp people” in their rustic remote make-shift homes, like a scene from Deliverance – these folks are self-reliant, far from modern society. I was happy to be heading back to The Big Easy and my high-thread-count hotel bed and Spa at Windsor Court Hotel.

We popped into the luxurious white 1886 Hotel Monteleone to find a bar seat at the heralded Carousel. This 1949 vintage rotating Carousel Bar is a delightfully novel place for a “round of drinks”.  Cocktails are on the spendy side, so have “just the one” during your 360 spin, which takes 15 minutes. Haunt tip: Hotel Monteleone is “spirited”, not just with booze, but ghosts, like much of old NOLA.

Despite New Orleans having so many award-winning Creole and Cajun restaurants, we chose to dine at our hotel, Windsor Court’s Grill Room that night and it was among our best meals, accented with a pretty view of the courtyard entry. We enjoyed the pianist wafting from the nearby Polo Lounge as we savored the Chef’s perfectly-prepared Iberico ham (acorn fed Spanish pigs), amazing Lobster thermidor (and we’re from Maine), perfectly prepared Salmon and Wagyu beef, with pairings from their substantial wine “book”. Service was impeccable.

We strutted into the Peacock Room for a nightcap and blues, to hear the beautiful Robin Barnes sing. She’d been highly recommended as the Songbird of New Orleans. Chicly dressed patrons filled this gorgeous room in the Kimpton Hotel Fontenot, to hear her powerful but soft voice, as she sang favorites from yesterday and today. Robin’s side-project – Move Your Brass Fitness – inspires folks to be fit and take control of their health like she has. What an elegant talented inspiration. Robin is also a celebrity New Orleans Food Judge for Crawfish Fest, PoBoy Fest, King Cake Fest, and Jerk Chicken Fest.

Our final morning in New Orleans, we brunched at Brennan’s! This pretty pink establishment on Royal Street is legendary, across from the 1911 Louisiana Supreme Court House. Seated at our elegant linen table overlooking the courtyard, the Maitre’d handed us a breakfast cocktail and wine list –a first for me, and a 3-course breakfast menu– wow! Greg ordered the most beautiful (and he noted “way tasty”) Eggs Benedict Hussarde, while I could not resist Brennan’s original – world-famous Bananas Foster. Our lovely waitress prepared it tableside while narrating how this flaming fun dish came to exist here, being served since 1946! Hot tip: Brennan’s is a must on your NOLA trip, reserve ahead, dress well (yes, a breakfast dress-code) and enjoy the self-playing piano!

New Orleans has so much to do and see, hear, and eat and drink, three days is really not long enough, but perfect too, before you tire of the hustle, bustle and humidity. While I can’t imagine being here for busy Mardi Gras, I say you must Visit New Orleans, host of the LIX Superbowl 2025 in the Superdome.

Hot Tip: Stay at Windsor Court Hotel in “CBD” – Central Business District – its posh and near everything, just a few blocks from the French Quarter! Other luxury New Orleans hotels nearby – Kimpton, Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton, Waldorf Astoria’s Roosevelt, and Hotel Monteleone.

“New Orleans has a real spirit. It’s the most authentic of all American cities.” – Brad Pitt