My first trip to New Orleans was full of the expected, classic tourist attractions. Husband was photographing location shots for a client, so his assignment was to capture easily recognizable images of The Big Easy. While our days were full of Bourbon Street, pretty iron balconies and po-boys, New Orleans turned out to be a graceful yet mysterious lady, revealing her charm once you got to know her.
I repeatedly say that travelers should get off the beaten path and avoid tourist traps at all costs. However, some how, New Orleans has the tourist thing right for the most part.
Preservation Hall – Visitors should not leave New Orleans without seeing a 30 minute show of traditional Dixieland jazz at Preservation Hall. We met a family from England that had come to New Orleans just to see a performance. It’s that good. Being that legendary, you will need to wait in line for the $12 ticket if you want a seat. There are six benches that hold 20 people in the hall, and everyone else stands (it holds about 50-60 people). So it pays to wait outside about an hour before the show to guarantee a great seat.
Fritzel’s – If you want the traditional New Orleans sound, you can find it at the tiny but crowded Fritzel’s on Bourbon Street. There’s no cover charge but the music is solid and they play all the old favorites.
Sing Sing – Walking up and down Bourbon Street, we were continually attracted by the sound coming out of Sing Sing. It wasn’t another jazz bar, but a blues bar. The night we went in to listen to music, a nice older gentlemen sitting in the back showed me where the “alternative” ladies restroom was as a lined formed at the regular restroom. About 10 minutes later the band leader announced a name I can’t remember, and there was my restroom angel on stage. He proceed to belt out a Muddy Waters tune that made me think the blues master had come back from the dead. His voice slid into song after song, and when he was done, the band leader thanked the 73 year old for sharing his voice. For the rest of the night, the guests they invited on stage sang old style blues, and the patrons danced. Don’t miss this place.
For a casual day away from the French Quarter, visit the Garden District for lunch and a view of old mansions of the deep south. Lafayette Cemetery, the most elegant of all the NOLA cemeteries, is located here. Just catch the St. Charles Street trolley and step off at Washington Avenue.
If you are looking for a brush with the locals, check out the Bywater neighborhood. It’s a hike from the French Quarter but gives you a good perspective of the varying neighborhoods of New Orleans. Art and coffee shops pepper the streets. If you need an iced latte and a sandwich, stop at Sound Cafe at 2700 Chartres Street, which is between the Bywater and Marigny Districts. If you need a place to rest you feet, Mimi’s in the Marigny is full of locals and an excellent break on your way to the Bywater District. Located at 2601 Royal Street, they serve a nice selection of beers and cold tapas in the afternoon.
The Ruby Slipper was recommended by two random people before we set foot in NOLA. Walkable from the French Quarter at 200 Magazine Street, we hit the spot for breakfast. The menu combinations were impressive, and husband declares he experienced the best French toast of his life.
I tried red beans and rice at several establishments, and Evelyn’s Place was the best. Located at 139 Chartres, you have to ignore the serious level of dust attached to all of the wall ornamentation while you’re eating. But the banter between the owner and his daughter, along with the local chatter is classic, perhaps more New York than New Orleans. The rice and beans are a must if you like saucy entrees. Skip the bad grocery store French bread served with it. Not worth the calories.
Cafe Du Monde is the famous coffee stand next to the French Market. Order a coffee and an order of beignets. It’s one of the most touristy things to do in town, but it’s worth it. Just have cash. Cafe Du Monde does not accept credit cards.
Need a cheaper alternative? Rouses Market at St. Philip and Decauter is perfect for picnic food and cheap beer to take to Jackson Square.
As I mentioned earlier, the Lafayette Cemetery #1 is a must see. The unadventurous might want to avoid Lafayette Cemetery #2, which is near Lafayette in the Garden District, but a few blocks in the opposite direction. Husband and I ventured there during the day, and while we felt safe, the neighborhood isn’t the best. You will not feel like you missed anything by skipping this spot.
While the trolley will take you to a cluster of cemeteries located near City Park, they start to feel the same. If you’re not a history or cemetery buff, skip the trolley cemetery route and visit St. Louis Cemetery #1, located just blocks from the French Quarter near the Iberville housing project (which means probably best to avoid at night). St. Louis Cemetery #1 is the oldest Catholic cemetery in New Orleans. Located at 3421 Esplanade Avenue, it opened in 1789. Legend has written that Marie Laveau, the “Voodoo Queen,” is buried in the Glapion family crypt, although there is no proof of the fact. Yet, the grave is marked with souvenirs and triple X’s visitors have marked after leaving coins for good luck. The most interesting statistic to me is that over 100,000 people have been laid to rest in #1, and it’s just one city block today.
What left the greatest impression on me were the people of New Orleans. Of all the places I have visited, New Orleans comes in right after Ireland. Tourism is their mainstay, but instead of being neutral toward visitors, the people I met were warm and interested in your life. Most won’t approach you. You have to ask a question or make a comment. But then you’re in, and the conversations can last seconds or hours if everyone has the time. New Orleans is just nice from top to bottom.
What to know before you go
- Trolley rides are $1.25. If you plan to ride the trolley frequently over the course of one day, ask for a day pass for $3.00.
- Trolley transportation will take you to City Park, several cemeteries, Audubon Park and Zoo, the Garden District and the Fairgrounds, among others. If you don’t plan to see more than the French Quarter and some of these sites, you can easily forego renting a car.
- New Orleans has an open container policy, so you can walk down the street with an adult beverage in hand anywhere in the city. Yes, you will look like a hobo, but so does everyone else.