If you’re researching a trip to New Orleans, Louisiana, you’ll notice that most must-see lists include Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest and Bourbon Street. I’ve enjoyed all of these popular choices and more as a NOLA resident of two years, but it’s hard to convince visitors to stray away from the French Quarter to explore the rest of New Orleans.
Let me be clear: the undeniably unique Quarter shouldn’t be missed, but you can drink a hurricane at Pat O’Brien and dunk a mouth-watering beignet into a café au lait at Café du Monde before venturing out to see more of the city. Here are seven memorable must-dos that my NOLA friends and family suggest for visitors seeking a truly local experience:
Hansen’s Sno-Bliz. (Pictured left) Think snow cones, only more fluffy, sugary and delicious. With a wide variety of unique flavors, the historic Hansen’s is one of the most famous “sno-ball” stands in the city. There’s usually a long line of customers so if you don’t have time to wait, you can visit my personal favorite Plum Street Snoballs, which is off the beaten path and offers plenty of flavors. (When they ask if you want to add condensed milk, say yes. You won’t regret it.)
Bacchanal Wine. Let me entice you: a wine cellar, cheese plates, outdoor seating, live music and string lights. This cozy yet vibrant hotspot is a local favorite that visitors may never stumble upon accidentally. After a quick cab ride from the Quarter, you can enjoy dinner, a glass/bottle of wine and local musicians on an intimate backyard stage.
Crescent Park. (Pictured right) This park has been all the rage among locals as it offers something for everyone, including scenic views of downtown, flower gardens, a dog park, walking/bike paths and art markets. You can also venture into the charming residential neighborhood nearby to grab brunch at Elizabeth’s Restaurant or dinner at Bacchanal!
Up-and-Coming Hoods. Walk or drive through the Treme, Bywater or Marigny. These trending neighborhoods mix African-American and Creole cultures with new restaurants and cafes for lounging and dining. Wave hello to local porch-sitters and, if you’re lucky, a random dance or Second Line will erupt in the streets.
The Soul Rebels. (Pictured left) NOLA famously lives and breathes live music but if you only have time for one show, check out The Soul Rebels. The band tours nationwide but makes it home every Thursday to gig at Le Bon Temps Roulé. You can also catch them at other nightlife hotspots like Tipitina’s, Blue Nile and D.B.A., just to name a few.
Kayak the Bayou. This waterway is the reason NOLA exists so it shouldn’t be missed. Take a historical tour of Bayou St. John or rent a kayak and paddle away. Not into kayaking? The surrounding Mid-City neighborhood is perfect for picnicking on crawfish and po’boys along the bayou banks and enjoying adult beverages at the beer gardens.
The Old Coffee Pot. (Pictured right) This restaurant is filled with genuine New Orleans food and characters. While located near Bourbon Street, it somehow manages to dodge a huge tourist crowd. And despite multiple fires, hurricanes and ownership changes, many of the waitstaff have stayed for 40+ years. (My dad recently recognized his server from his NOLA visit in the ’70s!) For a special treat, all service will stop mid-meal while one of the staff members belts out an old-time spiritual.
Hungry for more? Here are a few honorable mentions.
Bars/Restaurants: Visit Café Atchafalaya, The Joint, R-Bar, Red Door Dive Bar, Café Negril, Betsy’s Pancake House or Jacques-Imo’s.
Activities/Festivals: Attend Po-Boy Fest or Hogs for a Cause, or relax and admire NOLA’s scenic views from a riverboat or streetcar.