I know there are a million sites to look at for places to visit in New Orleans. NOLA has a charm, a fairy tale, haunted, distinctly unique Southern hospitality meets quasi-Parisian flair meets drunken fool and a Creole Voodoo Queen. What you ask am I talking about? Well, check out some of these places on your first trip to New Orleans to get a handle on the history and the depth of their culture.
First, just orient yourself with the city on a map. It sits on Lake Ponchatrain and Lake Borgne,and also is bordered by the Mississippi River as it flows into the sounds that start the Gulf of Mexico. When you get there you’ll be better oriented if you keep some of these boundry areas in mind.
I know many of you don’t want to “look like a tourist” and are afraid you stick out like a sore thumb. Well, guess what, you do. Unless you really are from a place, or visit it frequently, you really truly are better off just doing some main tourist things to get a lay of the land in any new city. NOLA is no exception. I think that using the Hop On Hop Off Sightseeing bus is an excellent way to take in the major sights of any city in a short period of time. From our days of traveling, many of our major trips start with the Hop On Hop Off. Once you see what the main sights are offering you can choose to dig deeper at any of their recommended stops or you can just move on and ask the locals for their favorite haunts.
The most famous neighborhood is the French Quarter.
It is an absolute must for any first timer. Some folks who visit NOLA for the first time never really leave this area. This is after all the center of all the drinking and debauchery most people find New Orleans famous for. The French Quarter is where the old Spanish architecture with the hanging baskets of ferns are best viewed. The French Quarter is where all the action in the streets happens. Anyone can have a parade in NOLA, just be sure to get a permit.
When you’re in the Quarter, there are some famous places that are must-see, must-eat, must-do’s in the travelers life.
- Take a photo at Jackson Square – This is one of the most famous views in New Orleans.
- Just up the street from Jackson Square you can visit the French Market where folks of all kinds are selling their wares, food, voodoo dolls, hats, leather goods, you name it and I’m sure someone has it for sale at there. Ask about the historical significance of the original French Market in NOLA.
- Rest your feet after all that walking and have a cup of the famous chickoree coffee and benjiet at the Cafe Du Monde.
- Hit Coops Place for some authentic Cajun Creole Cuisine.
- Check out Preservation Hall and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band for a real sampling of Creole influenced jazz music. I remember seeing this group for the first time with my Mom back in 1995 or 1996 in the hall before the Flood. Since then, I’ve been past the building, but support the group whole heartedly. Jake & I saw the Preservation Hall Jazz Group’s touring show for A Creole Christmas performing at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Their saxophone/vocalist hails originally from Detroit, Charlie Gabriel and his family has stong musical and jazz ties here in Detroit. (All I can say is lucky us, that means they come to my city frequently!)
- Listen to the street musicians up and down Burbon and Royal Streets. A variety of styles of music can be heard throughout the city. It’s like every musical ghost has taken up residency in someones body
- Check out the concert series at Louis Armstrong Park. (When we were last there were performances on Thursday evenings.)
- Drink a Hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s and sing along at the top of your lungs to the guys in the piano bar.
- Visit a famous above ground cemetery like the St. Louis Cemetary #1, #2 or #3. There are guides for hire in the city and online with the appropriate permits to get you in and also show you around. (This is still on my to do list for NOLA.)
- Take a Haunted History Tour of the French Quarter, there are family friendly tours and ones for people who like bars and want to drink their way around town.
But there are some other neighborhoods that are also worth considering while you are in NOLA.
First and foremost for me is the Garden District and Magazine Street. This is really where you get a feel for the locals. This area has huge mansions, gardens to die for, also small shotgun shacks with traditional NOLA paint jobs in the Lower Garden District had Jake and I just drooling. As far as how to get there, just hop on a Street Car and ejoy the leisurely paced friendly relaxing ride along St. Charles Ave. Hop off a Napoleon, Jefferson or the Audobon Park. There is so much to see and do in this area.
Walk toward the River to hit Magazine Street with all their great restaurants and quirky shopping. Or go the opposite direction and check out the mansions of famous NOLA residents like vampire author, Ann Rice.
On the edge of the Lower Garden District near the freeway, is a sweet little brewery in an old refurbished warehouse. They have chairs from 6th grade classrooms and old wire spools for tables. Every night they have a different food truck in the parking lot and loads of great brews on tap.