A couple of weeks ago I spent an entire week in New Orleans with my parents and little sister for spring break. It was possibly one of the most inspiring trips I have ever taken. Though it is only a one hour flight away from Houston, it’s such a different city with distinct culture, food, architecture, history, and vibes. We honestly felt like we weren’t in the United States anymore!
The people are beyond friendly, which I think comes from a certain struggle that they have all gone through to put their city back together after Hurricane Katrina, but it gives you this warm and genuine feeling to talk to people. Locals are enthusiastic to share their knowledge and tips about the city, tell you about their favorite street performers, and where to get the best mid-day drink (you will definitely be partaking in this). Plus, the weather is PERFECTION in March with almost every day being sunny and 75.
We visited some incredible neighborhoods, did the classic sight seeing, and ate at amazing restaurants. If you are looking to plan a trip, check out my tips for travel, packing, food, and sights!
Sites to See by Neighborhood
The French Quarter
- Jackson Square – This is the main park in the middle of the French Quarter. There are always live musicians, artists, and performers set up all the way around it, so it’s a great place to go if you only have time for one spot. Plus Cafe du Monde is on the western corner!
- Bourbon Street – It’s the most touristy area of New Orleans, and honestly we didn’t spend much time there (my sister is only 13), but they do have some really amazing live music at the bars. It’s worth seeing since it is so unique to the city, plus you can get drinks to-go all along the street!
- Neighborhood Tour – This was something that we did as part of our hop on hop off bus tour (see transportation), but that we found incredibly interesting! Our guide was a local who had so much insight into the city, who lived in what homes, what the history was on all of them, and what to look out for in terms of architecture and culture.
- Audubon Aquarium – One day we had some rain, so we decided to check out the aquarium, and were we glad we did! They had a nice collection of local fish, and the museum did a fantastic job of explaining the bayous and even how oil and gas companies work with the environmental teams. The movie on how hurricanes impact the swamps is a MUST. I cried a lot, but also learned a lot.
- Mississippi River Walk – On a day that you just want to get away from the craziness, taking a po-boy down to the Mississippi River and watching the boats and barges go by is really entertaining.
- Mass at St. Louis Cathedral – Smack dab in the middle of Jackson Square this is a gorgeous Catholic cathedral. You don’t have to attend a mass, but if you are catholic I highly recommend it. It should come as no surprise since New Orleans is so musically talented, but the mass had the most incredible choir I have heard in a long time!]
The Garden District
- Magazine Street – If you head to the Garden District, it will be hard to miss Magazine Street since it’s where all of the great shopping and restaurants are in the area! We went to some incredible shops while we were there for clothing, artwork, antiques, kitchen goods – you name it! A few of my ultimate faves were The Market, Century Girl, and Zele.
- Garden Home Tour – Again, this was something we did as part of our hop on hop off bus tour (see transportation). The neighborhood is one of the most beautiful in NOLA with huge Southern homes, live oak trees lining the streets, and you’ll even stumble upon some old cemeteries and Commander’s Palace (one of the most famous restaurants in the city).
Sites to See – Day Trips
Even if you don’t have a car in New Orleans, it is very easy to take day trips (or small visits) to various locations from there. Here are some of the places we went and loved:
- Swamp Tour – If there is one thing that was my favorite from this trip, I have to say it was the swamp tour! I had thought we would just drive around and look for alligators, but I learned so much about them and really learned about how Louisiana laws keep people from ever being attacked by them (not like they do in FL – don’t feed them, people!). I honestly don’t feel as afraid of alligators as I once was because I understand them so much better. I even got to hold a baby! We organized our tour to pick us up from the hotel so we didn’t have to drive.
- Plantation Tours – So this is an activity that I really wish I had gotten to partake in, but I left a day earlier than my family did. They went to visit Oak Alley and Laura Plantation, and it looked like they learned quite a bit about the history of the area.
Where to Eat and Drink
When it comes to restaurants, there are too many amazing places to be able to hit them all in a week. If you go for Cajun or Creole food, it is really filling, and we found ourselves having a light breakfast in the hotel room (we bought fruit and pastries from the local grocery store – try Rouses if you’re in the French Quarter!), eating one bigger meal and then taking sandwiches to the park or the riverfront for the other meal. For a few special meals, here are a few of the really great restaurants that we tried and absolutely loved.
- The Gumbo Shop – (French Quarter) The name says it all! This place serves up great gumbo with awesome service.
- Oceania Grill – (French Quarter) We were recommended this spot by the locals and we totally know why. Seriously amazing cajun food! A must try are the 100% gator bites. It was a fun experience and they were totally delicious!
- Magnolia Sugar and Spice Praline Kitchen – (French Quarter) We did our fair share of praline sampling, but these were our faves! Creamy and buttery in flavor, these were so much more than just a pure sugar mixture with some pecans thrown in.
- Cafe du Monde – (French Quarter) We tried other beignets, but these are just simply the best. Service is great and the atmosphere is intoxicating. The line is always long so expect to wait unless you go on a weeknight during dinner and you can probably find a free table.
- Green Goddess – (French Quarter) To mix it up from the heavy cajun food, grab a great salad on the patio. Really amazing flavor combos and tons of veggie options.
- Antoine’s Restaurant Annex – (French Quarter) Antoine’s has been open for over 175 years, so you know it has to be good! We went to their little side bakery to try out baked Alaska for the first time and it was INCREDIBLE.
- The Rum House – (Magazine Street) This was a recommendation from my friend Olivia and we loved it! The laid back atmosphere really makes you feel like you’re on vacation. The drinks and the great food don’t hurt either. Again, great salads too. Am I obsessed with salad? No. But the balance between heavy and light food is REAL.
- Meril – (Buisness District) This is one of Emeril’s many restaurants in the city of New Orleans. It’s less fancy than some of the others, so we decided to try it on the last day of our vacation, and it was really a treat. We shared tons of small, flavorful plates and some of the best cocktails I’ve ever had. I also loved the atmosphere – overall a winning combination!
- Other classic food items you need to try include po-boys and muffalettas!
- Napoleon House – This incredibly old building serves up a modern take on a Pimms cup. If you’re looking for a nice, secluded courtyard then this is a great spot!
- Mojo – A simple little coffee shop on Magazine Street with very solid drinks.
- The Carousel Bar – If you can get a seat! We stayed at the Hotel Monteleone where this bar is located and it was completely packed every single day at every hour you can imagine! It is adorable, so at least worth seeing.
- Get drinks to-go… anywhere! – That’s right, in New Orleans you can take a drink out on the street from a bar or restaurant! It’s a lot of fun to carry your drinks around and shop or listen to local music being played, so make sure you try it out.
How to Get Around
In New Orleans, my family and I all flew in to the airport and took taxi’s to our hotel in the French Quarter. From there, it was very easy to get around the French Quarter and the Business District by walking. For the first part of the trip we also got three day passes for a hop on hop off bus that took us around to all of the major sites and neighborhoods. This cost $49 but included the neighborhood tours of the French Quarter and the Garden District, as well as a guided tour throughout the bus ride.
What to Pack
I’d like to start by saying that one of the nicest times to visit New Orleans is in the Spring! Every day was in the 70s or 80s with sun, and the nights cooled down just a touch. Here are some tips on things to pack for your trip:
- Umbrella and Rain Jacket. On our week in New Orleans it only rained twice, but when it rains it RAINS. An umbrella and a light rain coat are highly encouraged.
- Casual, lightweight clothes. Overall, New Orleans is a very casual place. You will be out in the hot sun and high humidity and you won’t want to be sweating profusely all day long.
- Hat and sunglasses. To go along with the last point, the sun is intense! It will help to have a hat with a brim and your sunglasses to avoid overheating.
- Comfortable walking shoes. On average, we walked over 10,000 steps a day without even trying. Made it guilt free to have all those beignets and cocktails!
- One nice outfit. As casual as most of the city is, there are some famous restaurants that do not allow shorts, sneakers, and require a collared shirt. If you wish to dine at any of these places, make sure to check for a dress code before you get there (and make reservations too!).
- My mom was told that carrying around a fancy camera made you a target for stealing, but I saw tons of people walking around with them. As New Orleans is a city like any other, make sure to be safe with your belongings, don’t hang your purse on the back of your chair, etc.
Things you might not know
Looking for some not so well known facts about New Orleans and Louisiana culture? Did you know that:
- New Orleans was once divided along Canal street between the Americans and the French? The French Quarter was the French side and the Business District was the American side.
- People painted their porch ceilings blue to keep wasps away? Apparently wasps think it is the sky and that they can’t land there!
- Free standing platforms coming off of a building are called balconies, while supported structures are called galleries? There is a difference! Look around and there are many examples of both in NOLA.
- Most of the streets in the French Quarter have their street names written in tiles on the ground? Just adding to the quirky beauty of the city.
- Alligators are color blind and can’t taste? This is why they love golf balls and marshmallows (as we found out), because they contrast with the dark water. They also can’t chew very well, so they can’t eat anything larger than their mouth.
- The bayou land is built by the silt and soil carried down the Mississippi river? Also, the more land there is to cover, the smaller a hurricane will get.
- Street performers are out EVERY night? Just take a walk around the French Quarter and you will see some incredible musicians with all different styles.
If you have ANY questions about New Orleans or my trip in general, please ask! NOLA was such a colorful and unique city, and I just have such a respect and understanding for it that I never did before.