New Orleans travel tips, developed as fans of NOLA’s food, jazz and people

My husband and I haven’t missed a Jazz Fest since Katrina and we lived in New Orleans for three months in 2011, so we often get requests from friends about what to do. I’ve compiled an ever-expanding list to share when someone asks.

These are my NOLA tips — I welcome your additions, questions or objections:

John Tebeau and Colleen Newvine Tebeau on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Easter 2011.

John Tebeau and Colleen Newvine Tebeau on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Easter 2011.

In general, New Orleans is more a state of mind than a place. People move slower, they’re less concerned with what you do than where you ate last night, music and art are everywhere and there’s such appreciation for creativity … so don’t worry as much about your to-do list as about experiencing how it feels to be there.

Do an obligatory walk down Bourbon Street one night, maybe on your way to something more your speed. It’s a younger, drunker, rowdier crowd than I want to be part of, but it’s worth seeing a never-ending street party.

Much of the best music we’ve seen has been unplanned. If you stroll down Royal Street during the day, for example, a fantastic band typically plays on the street in front of Rouses grocery store. That’s sort of what New Orleans is about: serendipity.

Bikes are a great way to get around New Orleans -- it's flat as a pancake and traffic's not bad. Rent bikes and buy or bring lights and a bell.

Bikes are a great way to get around New Orleans — it’s flat as a pancake and traffic’s not bad. Rent bikes and buy or bring lights and a bell.

That said, as a traditional jazz fan, I suggest Irvin Mayfield’s for a civilized happy hour, Fritzel’s on Bourbon Street for a little later in the evening, and Spotted Cat and/or dba on Frenchmen Street at the end of the night.

Wednesday night, go to Preservation Hall on St. Peter just off Bourbon. It might be hot. There’s no AC. There are very few seats and they don’t sell drinks, so wear comfy shoes and get the obligatory hurricane to go from Pat O’Briens next door. But Preservation Hall Jazz Band is typically in town Wednesdays and the hall is unlike anything else I’ve experienced. It’s like a temple to trad jazz.

John is a sazerac fan and he really loved them at Old Absinthe House and at Napoleon House, both in the Quarter. The Sazerac Bar is beautiful and just a short walk from the Quarter in the Central Business District.

Have a drink at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop on the far end of Bourbon Street and sit on the sidewalk if you can. (You’ll find that with no open container laws, you can just get a drink and stroll wherever you want with it.)

St. Claude is to New Orleans as Bushwick is to Brooklyn. It’s the younger, edgier entertainment district. The All-Ways or the Hi-Ho can launch an evening there, or maybe you’ll end your night at Spellcaster.

Coop’s has crazy-good Cajun-inspired pasta and is among the best fried chicken in town. There generally a line, but the bar next door, Molly’s, has friendly bartenders and delicious frozen Irish coffee, so you can get a drink in a go cup and treat the line as your happy hour.  Service can be a little gruff at Coop’s but they deal with drunks, tourists and drunk tourists all day so I don’t take it personally.

Related: Molly’s has good free wifi and several outlets, so if you must do a little work, it’s a pretty great remote office.

If you go to New Orleans during crawfish season, take of local tradition and eat some boiled crawfish -- they're a lot of work for not much meat, so I tend to focus on the corn and potatoes, which soak up all the spices in the boiling water.This painting is by my husband, John Tebeau.

If you go to New Orleans during crawfish season, take advantage of local tradition and eat some boiled crawfish — they’re a lot of work for not much meat, so I tend to focus on the corn and potatoes, which soak up all the spices in the boiling water.
This painting is by my husband, John Tebeau.

Of the well-known restaurants in walking distance of the Quarter, I would do lunch at K-Paul’s (they do a cheap self-service lunch that I liked better than dinner) and  dinner at Emeril’s (because I don’t care how cliche bam became, the guy still knows his chow). Galatoire’s is an institution, jackets required, excellent people watching and says the new chef is improving the food, though that’s almost secondary to the scene.

John’s favorite roast beef po boy is at a divey bar called Parasol’s in the Irish Channel, adjacent to the Garden District. You could take the St. Charles street car for an afternoon ride and hop off for a meal. Also, the firecracker shrimp po boy at Parasol’s is so delicious.

People will tell you to go to Cafe du Monde for cafe au lait. It’s iconic and open 24 hours so it can be worth doing. I think Cafe Beignet on Royal Street is better. Besides good coffee and beignets, which are heavily powdered doughnuts, it has a side door that opens to the police department … a short cut for cops to get doughnuts? C’mon. That’s beautiful.

Take the St. Charles street car to see the big old houses where the wealthy folks live, then if you haven’t seen the devastation and reconstruction in the Ninth Ward, get a cab or a tour through the Brad Pitt houses (formal name is Make it Right) and the Musicians Village Habitat for Humanity neighborhood.

If you get ambitious, taking a swamp tour might be touristy but it’s an interesting insight into a totally different way of life and ecosystem. You’ll lose much of the day, with the bus ride out and back, but if you have the time, it’s a nice reminder that there’s more to Louisiana than Bourbon Street.

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7 replies

  1. Also: spend some time on Freret Street (and have a bite at either Freret St. Po Boy & Donuts, The High Hat, or outside at Dat Dog), go to Buffa’s on Esplanade on Thursday for Tom McDermott and Aurora Nealand, and lunch on a weekday at Liuzza’s by the Track (and a BBQ shrimp po-boy!).

  2. Wow, you are a wealth of information and a lucky lady as well…have fun!!

  3. I’m loving this thread on Twitter, with locals sharing their thoughts on the best of NOLA for Super Bowl visitors:

    My fabulous friends gave their input on Facebook:
    * As a vegetarian… Surrey’s Cafe and Juice bar does a fantastic breakfast/brunch. Carmo did a good lunch, Dante’s Kitchen had a few great dinner options. I fell in love with Trashy Diva’s dresses. Barataria park for a swamp hike!
    * Katie’s in MidCity…not only have they been featured on Diners, Drive in & Dives but will be on CBS Sunday morning today or next week. For music you can’t have a list w/o Tipitina’s & Rock n Bowl (they created the concept!). Don’t forget places like Parkway Bakery for po-boys.
    * There was some debate about bagels in NOLA, with one pal saying “Should add Artz Bagelz to the uptown list too. The Treme sandwich is killer.” and another following “For NY bagels in NOLA, just go to Stein’s on Magazine at Jackson – Artz is yummy too, but Stein’s is more New York-y.”
    * Our favorite fancy dinners come from Pelican Club (in the quarter) and Restaurant Des Familles out in Crown Point. Juan’s Flying Burrito has great vegetarian options, but they’re certainly not considered Cajun or creole…. They’re just a good burrito joint with kick-ass margaritas. Tracey’s on Magazine at Third for PO-boys, although Parkway is pretty damn good too. If you hit the racetrack, don’t forget Liuzza’s – best BBQ shrimp since Uglesich’s closed, and they do traditional spaghetti with red gravy too.
    * Adolpho’s on Frenchmen St- above the Apple Barrel- the food is to die for (cash only) and breakfast at the Cake Cafe in the Marigny- check the Mint- they have a lot of free daytime performances in conjunction with the National Jazz Historical Society (name) behind the French Market

  4. Well said, milady. Well said. I’d also recommend biking all the way out to the Country Club in the Bywater, stripping down to whatever, and lolling about in the sun all afternoon with a cucumber-tini or what have you.


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