New Orleans is a truly unique American city – a mixture of Southern, European, and Caribbean influences. While known the world around for Mardi Gras, its one-of-a-kind cuisine, and Bourbon Street, the town is more layered and complex than that. What follows is an easily digestible menu on what to wear, what to do, and where to go during a weekend in The Big Easy.
- Lightweight layers and breathable fabrics – Yes, unless you want to be drenched in sweat before noon.
- Wearing your most expensive shoes – No. Uneven and potholed streets everywhere means you should bring loafers or lace-ups with rubber/flexible soles. Cole Haans or boat shoes are good to have.
- Cotton Sportcoats – Yes; it doesn’t cool off much at night either during the summer.
- Bowties – Yes – if you’re dressing up, you’ll fit right in.
- Oxford cloth/Button-down collars – Yes. It is the South after all.
- Designer/Extra Slim jeans – No. You’ll come across as a tourist – not to mention the uncomfortableness.
- Brightly Colored Chinos/Jackets – Yes, within moderation. Flamboyant dress is usually respected here more than most places.
- A waterproof jacket – Double yes. It rains a lot – and the saying “when it rains, it pours” is extremely applicable to the city. You’ll never know when a torrential downpour is about to occur, so if the sky looks suspicious, pack a trusted jacket just in case.
- A well-made umbrella – Yes, same as above. Don’t rely on just one method of staying dry.
- Wearing a hidden travel wallet because you’re worried about theft – No. Crime here isn’t as much of an issue as most people think. That being said, keep your wallet slim and within reach at all times – use your head.
The Big Easy means dressing like you’re at ease. So… take it easy.
Travel & Accommodations
- Booking flights ahead of time for major festivals/holidays – Yes. Like any place, New Orleans gets much more expensive to visit the closer you get to major events. However, if you plan ahead or visit during off-peak times, flights are usually very cheap.
- Getting to the airport early – No. Besides leaving after Mardi Grass/Jazzfest, it rarely takes more than an hour to go from checking bags to your gate.
- Cabs – Yes. Besides going from the airport to downtown ($33 flat rate by yourself), cab fares are exceedingly cheap compared to major U.S. cities. Like $10 to go across downtown; $15 – 20 to go across the city, if that.
- Bringing quarters to ride the streetcar uptown/downtown – Yes. It costs $1.25 each way to ride the streetcar down either beautiful St. Charles Avenue or famous Canal Street; both are recommended if you have the time – it’s great for sightseeing but not the most efficient form of transportation.
- Staying at a hotel on Bourbon Street – No. Avoid “historic” locales in the French Quarter since they’re usually noisy, expensive, and not as luxurious as advertised. In order of places to stay on the price/class scale in the city: The Roosevelt, Windsor Court, Loews, The W, The Renaissance.
- Paying with cash – Yes.
- Paying with major credit cards – Yes, but have a backup if you use Amex. Like most everywhere it’s the least accepted card, but a surprising amount of places in New Orleans don’t take Amex.
Don’t sleep on Bourbon street. Stay somewhere else. High End = The Roosevelt.
Food & Drink
- Dive bars – Yes, if you’re in to that sort of thing, but be prepared for gritty locals. Hangout with college kids uptown at F&M’s (get the cheese fries!), buy drinks dirt cheap at Ms. Mae’s (RIP, Ms. Mae), chill with the hipsters and old-school rockers at The Saint (beware the infamous photo booth), toss back shots with pirates at Lafitte’s (the oldest bar in the U.S.), or visit my personal favorite, Snake & Jake’s – open ’til 7 A.M (actual policy: if you get shot there and live, you get free drinks for life).
- Getting a Hurricane on Bourbon Street – No, unless you want the worst sugar-and-grain-alcohol induced hangover of your life.
- Ordering a Sazerac at The Sazerac – Yes. Technically home of the first mixed drink, sit at the walnut bar and drink in not only the cocktails but the old-school grandeur – Huey Long used to come down from his 12th floor suite in The Roosevelt to sit at the very same walnut bar.
- Happy hours – Yes. Go to The Columns for the young southern professional crowd, Lucy’s for the washed-up surfer vibe ( their chips & guac: par excellence ), The Bulldog (complimentary beer glasses on Wednesdays), or The Country Club (which has a pool … a nude pool. You were warned).
- “Classic” New Orleans restaurants – No. Well, I generally try to avoid such places, as I find they’re overrated, unless they’re called Commander’s Palace, Galatoire’s or Antoine’s.
- “New School” New Orleans restaurants – Hell Freakin’ Yes. My personal favorites are: Domenica (traditional Italian with a modern flair), Stella! (ultra-expensive but worth it if you want an exquisitely prepared meal), Herbsaint (Traditional French meets Cajun/Creole), La Petite Grocery (avant-garde cuisine meets traditional southern bistro), and Cochon (Reasonably priced boucherie bad-assness).
- An Oyster Po-Boy from Domilise’s – Only if you’re OK with being in a food coma for the rest of the day. The real deal though.
- The Piano Bar at Pat O’s – No, unless you like waiting in line for an hour in a cramped hallway to get into a room where you have to bribe the musician to play off-key covers of 30-year-old songs. A standby ‘nawlins institution, just not sure if it’s worth the hassle.
- Beignets and coffee at 3 A.M. at Café du Monde – Yes. If it’s your first time in New Orleans, brave the crowd and say you did it.
The Fried Oyster Po-Boy. What, no side of Beignets?
Sights & Sounds
- Taking a stroll in Jackson Square – Yes, just so you can say you did it. Picturesque New Orleans scenery, perfect for a photo opportunity. Get your palm read by the gypsies stationed around the cathedral.
- Going for a run in Audubon Park – Yes, if you can withstand the oppressive humidity during the summer months. Great for sweating more than you knew you were capable of. Otherwise one of the most beautiful parks in the country.
- Using the streetcar as a means of traveling places quickly – No. Slow, unreliable, and very limited in where it can take you. but worth doing it once if you have the luxury of time.
- Visiting the official World War II museum – Yes. Best museum I’ve ever been to and newly renovated. Stop by John Besh’s American Sector afterwards for lunch or get ice cream and soda pop at the vintage food cart located inside the museum.
- Gambling on horse races at the Fairgrounds/Harrah’s – No, especially if you have a gambling problem.
- Going to a Saints game in the Superdome – Yes, if it’s football season! You’d be surprised how easily and cheaply you can get scalped tickets by walking around outside the doors on game day. Went to the season opener vs. the ‘Skins last year for $40. The Saints have one of the craziest and devoted fan bases in professional sports. The nosebleeds are actually some of the best seats in the house.
- Taking a swamp tour – No. Not my cup of tea personally, but some people, especially those looking a family-oriented activity, might find them interesting.
- Hanging out a jazz club on Frenchman Street – Yes. Where the locals go for live music in the city. Like Bourbon Street, except less offensive, more intimate, and more authentic (so really nothing like Bourbon). Snug Harbor, The Blue Nile, and La Maison are all popular jazz clubs where you can hear great music for free most any night.
All’s quiet in the French Quarter. For now.
Aaron Lesher is currently pursuing his Master’s at Tulane University. When not studying for corporate tax exams or working on Bourbon Street, Aaron enjoys sharing his interests in fitness, food, style and music through his blog, which you can read here.
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