Big Easy Insider: A Local Shares the Best of New Orleans
Big Easy Insider: A Local Shares the Best of New Orleans - Experience the French Quarter's Charm and History
No trip to New Orleans is complete without exploring the historic French Quarter. This vibrant neighborhood oozes old-world charm with its cobblestone streets, cast-iron balconies, and 18th century architecture. Wandering through the Quarter feels like you've stepped back in time.
One of my favorite things to do is admire the stunning architecture as I stroll down Royal Street. Many of these buildings date back to the late 1700s when New Orleans was under Spanish rule. Be sure to pop into the picturesque courtyards to glimpse hidden fountains and lush greenery. The French Quarter is also home to St. Louis Cathedral, one of the city's most recognizable landmarks. This imposing church was built in the late 1700s in a Baroque style. Don't miss the opportunity to step inside and admire the stained glass and striking murals.
For a deep dive into the Quarter's history, I recommend taking a guided walking tour. Local experts will regale you with stories of life in 18th century New Orleans as you stop at key sites like Jackson Square and Pirate's Alley. Some tours even end with a traditional Hurricane cocktail at one of the Quarter's iconic watering holes.
Speaking of watering holes, no trip to the French Quarter is complete without visiting some of its most legendary bars. Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar on Bourbon Street occupies a former blacksmith shop and tavern built in the 1700s. With its weathered stone walls and flickering candlelight, it remains a timeless spot for a drink. Then there's Pat O'Brien's, home of the vibrant red Hurricane cocktail. Sip yours in the beautiful tiled courtyard filled with blooming flowers and burbling fountains.
For some spirited nightlife, check out Preservation Hall, an unassuming building that hosts intimate jazz concerts in a room unchanged since the 1960s. Here you can hear skilled musicians keeping New Orleans jazz history alive. Grab a drink, take a seat on a wooden bench and let the nostalgic music transport you to the early days of this uniquely American art form.
No visit to the Quarter would be complete without indulging in some delicious Creole cuisine. My favorite spots include Arnaud's, housed in a 19th century Creole mansion and famous for its shrimp remoulade. Then there's the historic Galatoire's with its old-school tuxedo-clad waiters and decadent shrimp and crabmeat sardou. Don't skimp on dessert - try the bread pudding soaked in whiskey sauce.
What else is in this post?
- Big Easy Insider: A Local Shares the Best of New Orleans - Experience the French Quarter's Charm and History
- Big Easy Insider: A Local Shares the Best of New Orleans - Indulge in Cajun and Creole Cuisine
- Big Easy Insider: A Local Shares the Best of New Orleans - Wander Through the Garden District's Magnificent Homes
- Big Easy Insider: A Local Shares the Best of New Orleans - Enjoy Live Music on Frenchmen Street
- Big Easy Insider: A Local Shares the Best of New Orleans - Relax in City Park and Audubon Park
- Big Easy Insider: A Local Shares the Best of New Orleans - Visit the National WWII Museum and Learn Local History
- Big Easy Insider: A Local Shares the Best of New Orleans - Take a Swamp Tour and See Local Wildlife
- Big Easy Insider: A Local Shares the Best of New Orleans - Explore Art Galleries and Museums in the Warehouse District
Big Easy Insider: A Local Shares the Best of New Orleans - Indulge in Cajun and Creole Cuisine
New Orleans is a food lover's paradise, especially if you're eager to dive into the city's famous Cajun and Creole cuisines. As a port city, New Orleans has long been influenced by French, Spanish, African, and Caribbean flavors. This melting pot of cultures led to the development of two distinct local cuisines – Cajun and Creole.
Cajun cuisine originated from the Acadian French who settled in Louisiana. It relies heavily on locally-sourced ingredients like rice, seafood, pork, and poultry. Signature Cajun dishes include gumbo, jambalaya, andouille sausage, and crawfish etouffee. For an authentic Cajun feast, head to Cochon Butcher. This laidback eatery serves up crispy fried chicken, smoky brisket, andmouthwatering sandwiches stuffed with pork belly and greens. The rustic interior lined with wine barrels makes it feel like dining in a Southern country kitchen.
Creole cuisine emerged in New Orleans as flavors from Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean blended together. It has a cosmopolitan flair thanks to influences like butter, cream, and tomatoes. The result is rich, complex dishes like shrimp creole, crawfish pie, and trout meunière. My favorite spot to experience authentic Creole flavors is Commander's Palace in the Garden District. This upscale restaurant has been a pillar of haute Creole cuisine since 1880. Dress to impress and come ready to indulge in turtle soup, pecan-crusted gulf fish, and bread pudding soufflé. The dining room dazzles with gleaming chandeliers and fresh flowers at every table.
For a more casual take on Creole food, locals flock to Mother's Restaurant on Poydras Street. This cozy cafe opened in 1938 and still draws huge crowds with its savory debris po' boys and hearty jambalaya. Don't miss their famous Ferdi Special with roast beef, ham, and sliced debris served over fresh debris gravy and creamed spinach.
Seafood lovers shouldn't miss the chance to indulge in New Orleans' famous chargrilled oysters. These plump oysters are lightly charred then topped with garlic butter, herbs, and parmesan cheese. For the best in the city, head to Acme Oyster House or Felix's Oyster Bar. The chargrilled oysters and laidback ambiance keep locals coming back again and again.
You also can't visit New Orleans without trying a muffuletta sandwich. This satisfying sandwich stacks deli meats like ham, salami, and mortadella between two round loaves of sesame bread. The magic happens when everything gets topped with a zesty olive salad brimming with marinated olives, pickled veggies, herbs, and olive oil. Central Grocery claims to have invented the muffuletta in 1906. Nibble on a half sandwich and take the rest to go so you can savor the flavors later.
Big Easy Insider: A Local Shares the Best of New Orleans - Wander Through the Garden District's Magnificent Homes
One of New Orleans' most elegant neighborhoods, the Garden District charms visitors with its tree-lined streets, blooming gardens, and extraordinary 19th-century architecture. As you meander along the quiet streets, it's easy to imagine bygone eras of Southern belles, gentlemen callers, and lively parties spilling from grandiose mansions.
The origins of the Garden District stretch back to the early 1800s when wealthy Americans began building extravagant Greek Revival, Italianate, and Victorian homes. Back then, much of New Orleans consisted of the crowded French Quarter. The open land uptown provided an appealing escape for the city's elite. Grand architectural statements signified the owners' status, with many estates even designed by prominent architects. Wrought-iron fences, elaborate columns, and sprawling front porches added visual intrigue.
Today, the Garden District retains this genteel ambiance. Stately homes still flaunt pristine grounds and ornate accents. Wandering past the well-preserved historic homes feels akin to walking through an open-air museum. It's easy to daydream about sipping juleps on the veranda or hosting a grand fete.
One home not to miss is the stately Pontchartrain Hotel on St. Charles Avenue. This 19th-century mansion mixes Italianate and Greek Revival details amid lush gardens. Its grand columns and wraparound porches exude quintessential Southern charm. For an antebellum atmosphere, don't miss the Musson-Bell House. This 1857 home boasts an imposing columned portico and side balconies with lacy ironwork.
Literature lovers will relish seeing author Anne Rice's former home. This sprawling Garden District estate served as inspiration for characters and settings in Rice's famous vampire novels. Spanish moss drips from soaring oaks to enhance the brooding, gothic vibe.
Architecture buffs will appreciate touring the meticulously preserved raised center hall cottage-style homes on Prytania Street. Photographers flock here to capture the homes' pristine colonnaded porches and vibrant exterior paint colors.
Big Easy Insider: A Local Shares the Best of New Orleans - Enjoy Live Music on Frenchmen Street
Frenchmen Street has become one of the Big Easy's hottest destinations for live music. While Bourbon Street packs in the tourists, Frenchmen Street offers a more authentic vibe harkening back to New Orleans' roots as the birthplace of jazz. Locals and music lovers flock here nightly for the vibrant scene overflowing with gifted musicians. Wandering from one club to the next feels surreal, as world-class jazz, blues, funk and brass bands pleasure your ears at every turn.
For many, catching a show at The Spotted Cat is a Frenchmen Street rite of passage. The cozy corner club barely fits 100 patrons between its mismatched couches, vintage tables and tiny stage. But great things come in small packages. The Spotted Cat books excellent traditional jazz bands seven nights a week. Arrive early to squeeze inside then let the sweet sounds transport you to the early days of New Orleans jazz. For a more raucous experience, snag a balcony view of the band and order a Sazerac cocktail.
Another venerable venue is Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro. Its lively cosmos and Creole cuisine provide a classic New Orleans backdrop for top local talent. Shows in the intimate music room feel like a private performance just for you. Reserve a table near the stage for an immersive experience. Then head upstairs to the balcony bar to catch a breezy set if you need a change of scenery.
Those craving blues should head to The Fritzels European Jazz Club. Inside its bare bones second-floor space, bands crank out electric blues and funk jams as patrons swig beers and bop their heads. Parts feel endearingly divey, while the free-flowing booze and rollicking bands exude good times. Meet some fellow revelers out on the balcony or post up close to the stage.
For a local favorite with major street cred, don't miss d.b.a. This quintessential neighborhood bar slings craft beers and whiskey cocktails alongside nightly live acts. Its outdoor deck makes for prime people watching. Inside, screens stream vintage flicks as bands jam on the compact stage. Expect high-energy rock, funk and brass.
When hunger strikes, eat like a local at The Three Muses. This Frenchmen Street gem pairs its eclectic New Orleans menu with live music nightly. Sip an Abita craft beer and nosh on smoked shrimp beignets or blackened catfish while the bands play. Its cozy yet energetic vibe creates an ideal spot for music and conversation.
If you save time for just one Frenchmen Street spot, make it The Maison.Since opening in 1992, it remains the epicenter of Frenchmen Street revelry. Expect potentHurricane cocktails, nightly brass bands and good times spilling onto the street. Arrive early to stake your place at the big U-shaped bar, or post up on the balcony for aerial views of the madness below. Weave your way through the crowd to watch dancers shaking it on the checkered dance floor as the band lights up the stage. Let the spirit of the Big Easy carry you away.
Big Easy Insider: A Local Shares the Best of New Orleans - Relax in City Park and Audubon Park
With its lively nightlife, boisterous festivals, and nonstop revelry, New Orleans certainly knows how to show visitors a good time. But this vibrant city also offers plenty of peaceful spots to relax and recharge. City Park and Audubon Park provide an urban escape where you can bask in nature's beauty and soak up the slow pace of the bayou.
Spanning 1,300 acres, City Park stands as one of the nation's largest and most picturesque urban parks. As you meander along its sprawling lagoons and gardens, the hustle and bustle of the city melt away. Take an idyllic boat tour to glide across glassy waters dotted with mossy cypress trees draped in Spanish moss. Hop off to feed the turtles or wander garden paths where vibrant azaleas and camellias bloom. The park's magnificent Live Oak trees astound with their sprawling 140-foot canopies. Picnic beneath their shady boughs and admire these stunning natural wonders.
At the park's acclaimed New Orleans Botanical Garden, immerse yourself in the plant life of the Louisiana swamp and Gulf South regions. Wander through fragrant rose gardens, lush Japanese gardens, and tranquil lagoons. Don't miss the Madam John's Legacy house museum to experience 19th century life on a Louisiana plantation. Art lovers delight in the New Orleans Museum of Art and its stellar permanent collection of over 40,000 objects spanning the centuries.
Meanwhile, Audubon Park charms with its sprawling oak alleys, bubbling fountains, and pristine golf course. This relaxing uptown oasis spans 342 acres along the Mississippi River. Rise early to walk its scenic 3.2 mile loop. Gaze up in awe at the soaring oaks dripping with Spanish moss as the birds serenade you. Break for coffee and beignets at the park's Creole cottage-style clubhouse.
At the park's butterfly garden, watch hundreds of local winged beauties flutter freely amid nectar flowers and lush greenery. Pause to smell the roses in the formal rose garden. Let your stress melt away as you nap in a hammock or spread a blanket beneath the stately oaks.
Kids thrill at Storyland, a whimsical park featuring over two dozen storybook scenes brought to life. They can climb Jack's giant beanstalk, explore Humpty Dumpty's wall, or sail off with Peter Pan. Families also flock to the huge Audubon Zoo next door. Get eye to eye with exotic creatures like orangutans, giraffes, elephants and gorillas in naturalistic habitats. Hop on the Swamp Train for a guided ride through the zoo's Louisiana wetlands replica.
Big Easy Insider: A Local Shares the Best of New Orleans - Visit the National WWII Museum and Learn Local History
For history buffs, no visit to New Orleans is complete without spending time at the National WWII Museum. As America's official museum dedicated to the Second World War, this expansive complex brings the monumental global conflict to life through immersive exhibits and artifacts. Beyond chronicling major battles, the museum provides intimate glimpses into the wartime lives of soldiers and civilians.
New Orleans proves the ideal location for interpreting WWII's profound impact on both the European and Pacific theaters. The museum campus sits just yards from the Mississippi River, where so many troops embarked for war. Its expansive collection includes over 500,000 precious items donated by veterans and their families. From flight jackets to personal letters, these objects add poignant context about the war's human toll.
Visiting the museum allows you to embark on your own interactive journey through the war. Exhibits incorporate archival film footage, oral testimonies, vibrant displays, and even robust sensory effects. In the Road to Berlin exhibit, rumbling tank noises, flashing lights, and billowing smoke recreate the fury of battle. Throughout the museum, fascinating artifacts bring history alive. Peer through periscopes, try on military uniforms, and explore life-sized recreations of battle zones and military camps.
Don't miss the museum's Compelling Stories Gallery for rotating exhibits that zoom in on personal accounts of WWII. For example, Letters from My Grandfather shares one family's multi-generational effort to preserve wartime letters. Other exhibits have spotlighted the role of war dogs, personal photos from the front, propaganda posters, and Japanese-American internment. These moving narratives help visitors better grasp how WWII irrevocably shaped generations worldwide.
Beyond the indoor galleries, the museum campus incorporates several other immersive sites. The US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center features massive bombers suspended overhead, lending perspective on aviation's wartime impact. Outdoors, clamber inside the realistic Combat Trains exhibit to envision the cramped quarters where troops traveled to war.
Film buffs will relish watching Hollywood classics like Casablanca and Flags of Our Fathers in the museum's state-of-the-art Solomon Victory Theater. Talks by authors and historians provide additional ways to engage with the WWII legacy. From school groups to seniors, the museum offers an unforgettable way for all ages to reflect on the war's profound impact.
Big Easy Insider: A Local Shares the Best of New Orleans - Take a Swamp Tour and See Local Wildlife
Beyond the city's raucous celebrations and dazzling architecture, New Orleans' environs teem with bayous, wetlands, and diverse wildlife begging to be explored. Venture into the Louisiana swamps on an area tour to connect with the region's lush natural splendor and native creatures. Skimming across the waterways in a fanboat or pirogue allows you to immerse yourself in environments far from the tourist track.
A top way to revel in the local wildlife is by embarking on a boat tour with a knowledgeable guide. They'll whisk you into nearly-inaccessible corners of the swamp teeming with alligators, snakes, turtles, herons, and more. As your boat glides through the cypress-draped bayous, keep your eyes peeled to spot sunning gators and swooping egrets. With luck you may glimpse rare native inhabitants like mink, otter, bobcat and even black bear.
Many tours incorporate walks along bayou boardwalks and paths. Meandering these trails leads to close encounters with everything from lazing alligators to fluttering butterflies. Don't forget your camera to capture these creatures in their natural habitat. Local guides enrich the experience by sharing insightful ecology commentary and identifying elusive species. They'll also reveal the critical role the mighty Mississippi River and its delta wetlands play in supporting this diverse ecosystem.
For an especially immersive adventure, opt for a small-group kayak tour. Paddling yourself through the mysterious waterways heightens your senses. While your guide steers you into remote areas motorboats can't reach, you'll practically become one with nature. Every dip of your paddle and bend of the bayou reveals new wonders from brilliant birds to scuttling critters. Since touring by kayak disturbs the environment far less, sightings of reclusive species become more likely.
Wildlife enthusiasts shouldn't miss exploring the nearby Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve's swampy wilderness. Here over 20,000 acres of wetlands and waterways brim with native flora and fauna. While paddling heed your guide's advice and remain vigilant. The swamps' gators, water moccasins, and other dangers add just a tinge of exhilaration.
Big Easy Insider: A Local Shares the Best of New Orleans - Explore Art Galleries and Museums in the Warehouse District
Beyond the raucous revelry of Bourbon Street, New Orleans exudes a vibrant arts scene waiting to be discovered. The Warehouse District provides a hub for world-class museums, galleries, and performing arts venues. For art aficionados and culture vultures, an afternoon spent gallery-hopping in the Warehouse District proves integral to appreciating the creative spirit of the Big Easy.
New Orleans' Warehouse District earned its name from the cotton, coffee, and produce businesses that dominated the area in the late 19th century. While warehouses lined the streets, vibrant immigrant communities resided nearby. This mingling of commerce and culture sparked the creative energy that still pulses through the neighborhood.
Today, lovingly restored brick warehouses house the district's trove of museums and galleries. Many sit just steps apart, making it easy to crisscross the neighborhood admiring artwork by local, national, and international talents. The ambiance exudes urban bohemian flair, with many spaces centered around reimagined warehouses with exposed beams and brickwork. Their airy galleries and tranquil sculpture gardens feel worlds away from cacophonous Bourbon Street.
Art buffs rank the prestigious Ogden Museum of Southern Art as one of the district's premier cultural draws. Devoted entirely to the art of the American South, the Ogden's collection spans 15 states over two centuries. Visitors delight in the diverse mix of paintings, sculptures, photography, and folk art. Works range from Impressionist landscapes to postmodern installations incorporating imagery like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The Ogden’s mission to broaden perceptions of Southern art shines through.
Those eager to support local artists will love strolling the art markets at Palmer Park. Here artists convene to display and sell their work ranging from paintings to jewelry to ceramics. Wandering the booths allows a glimpse into the grassroots arts scene. Chat with the creators about their processes and inspirations as you admire their latest creations.
For imaginative contemporary art, the Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans always impresses. Nurturing innovative regional talent remains central to their mission. Be sure to ask about the artist talks and openings hosted here to mingle with creators.
Photography buffs flock to the The New Orleans Photo Alliance gallery. Their rotating exhibits shine the spotlight on the city's photography community. Don't miss their annual Photograph The New Orleans Photo Festival to view works from all over the world.
Between galleries, slip into the Saenger Theatre to admire its breathtaking Italian Renaissance-style interior. This National Historic Landmark transports you to the Roaring Twenties with its chandeliers, gilded detailing, and grand pipe organ. Catching a show here proves magical.