Visit New Orleans like a Local
Spring is the best time to visit
By Marguerite Cleveland
Discover 300 years of history, culture and food on a visit to New Orleans—one of the oldest cities in the United States. When people think of New Orleans, thoughts turn to Mardi Gras and the crazy party that is Bourbon Street, but there is so much more to this city than the French Quarter, and I am going to share tips on visiting like a local. It may surprise you to know that many of the iconic tourist destinations are also favorites of local Louisianans.
Where to Stay
If you have your heart set on the French Quarter by all means stay there, but you will pay a lot more with many hotels having parking fees of up to $50 a night. I like to stay in Metairie, which is a short drive from the New Orleans airport and about a 10-minute drive to the French Quarter. It is New Orleans’ first suburb and has many family friendly hotels. The Courtyard Marriott Metairie has a very friendly staff that makes you feel at home. The nice thing about this area is that it is quiet at night, and it is very easy to schedule an Uber if you wish to go out in the French Quarter.
Things You Must See and Do
Louisianans were foodies before it was a thing. A whole day can revolve around food and drink from beignets and café au lait in the morning, po’boys or a muffuletta for lunch, a gourmet meal at one of the iconic restaurants and a flaming hurricane or other cocktail to finish off the night. You might even be able to fit in a bit of sightseeing in between. Here are the must sees and eats.
1. Beignets and Coffee in the French Quarter. There are other places to enjoy this treat, but the Café Du Monde in the French Quarter is the original. Established in 1862, this local treasure is open 24 hours a day. My family always plans a visit whenever we are in town, and on my last visit, I ran into my cousin. What makes this place so special? It never changes. The menu has consistently stayed the same serving only beignets—a light, puffy square French doughnut lavishly dredged in powdered sugar—and various beverages. The café’ au lait is coffee and chicory with hot milk and complements the sweetness of the beignets. Insider Tip: The café is insanely popular with crowds queued up down the street waiting for a table. You seat yourself and it is cash only. For the best experience, get up early. You will be able to easily find parking and a table no later than 7am. The French Quarter can smell a little ripe in the morning after the partying crowd has turned in, but the delicious smell of beignets cooking cleanses the air.
2. The French Quarter. The Café Du Monde is located in the French Market, which is filled with shops perfect for souvenirs. Make sure to pick up some Aunt Sally’s Pralines. Slightly down the street from the French Market is Jackson Square, and it is the No. 1 destination for visitors to New Orleans. This lovely landscaped square with a prominent statue of Andrew Jackson, Hero of the Battle of New Orleans, serves as an open-air artist colony. For more than 50 years, artists have presented their work on the wrought iron fence surrounding the square. Watch for the local street performers and listen to some great jazz right on the sidewalks. You can spend a whole day in this area. Make sure to visit the St. Louis Cathedral as well as the Cabildo and Presbytère state museums. Once you are done exploring, hop on one of the carriages that line up in front of the square and take a tour of the French Quarter. What is unique about these carriage tours are they are pulled by mules that are more adapted to the extreme temperatures of the city.
3. Have a Sandwich. New Orleans has raised the lowly sandwich into a whole new level of deliciousness. Some vocab you need to know: A po’boy is what a sandwich is called and the favorites are shrimp, oyster or roast beef. You will be asked if you want it dressed. This means with lettuce, tomato and mayo or plain. A muffuletta is made on a whole round loaf of bread hollowed out and filled with deli-fresh sliced meats and cheeses and Italian olive salad. For muffulettas you need to go to Central Grocery, where this hearty sandwich was invented in 1906 by Salvatore Lupo. For a good po’boy ask the locals; there are shacks and bars around the city that specialize in po’boys, and usually the least appealing looking of places have the best po’boys. On my recent visit, a local recommended Bear’s Poboys at Gennaro’s, which is located right next to the interstate and collocated with a bar. On a busy Saturday, it was a constant rush of people dining in or picking up huge bags of po’boys to go. Bear’s specializes in slow-roasted beef po’boys, but we tried the shrimp and the oyster versions. They were so good. Ours were served dressed on a type of roll I’ve only had in Louisiana. It is soft but super sturdy and holds up to the sauces without falling apart.
4. City Park. This 1,300-acre green space is one of the oldest parks in the United States, drawing millions of people each year to visit. There are trails surrounded by oak trees dripping with Spanish moss and many themed gardens to include two sculpture gardens and the New Orleans Botanical Garden. This is the site of the New Orleans Museum of Art, Storyland (which is a themed playground with 25 giant sculptures from your favorite fairy tales), an amusement park with a historic carousel and an 18-hole golf course and a mini golf course. There really is something for everyone, and the grounds are just stunning. Insider Tip: There is a 24-hour café called Morning Call that has been in the park for more than 142 years.
5. Eat at an Iconic Restaurant. Antoine’s and the Commander’s Palace are the Grand Dames of New Orleans dining. According to Teyonda Hamilton, a long-time New Orleans resident and assistant manager at the Metairie Courtyard Marriott who is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to the city, “The iconic restaurants really live up to the hype. Like most New Orleans’ families, we cook, and so when we go out to eat it needs to be not like what we cook at home. My family goes to Antoine’s or the Commander’s Palace for special occasions,” she said. Both restaurants have been around for over 100 years. Famed chefs Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme are alumni of the Commander’s Palace. Antoine’s is the oldest restaurant in the country and still run by members of the original family. This is where Oysters Rockefeller was created, and the recipe is a closely guarded secret.
6. Frenchmen Street. Located just east of the French Quarter, this is where the locals go to enjoy a night on the town and is the heart of live music in New Orleans. Enjoy lower prices than Bourbon Street on drinks and food as well as just about any type of live music. There are over 20 bars, restaurants and other venues all within a two-block area. You can experience live music seven days a week all year long. Each has its own unique experience such as the dive Igor’s Checkpoint Charlie, which is a bar, a restaurant and a laundromat.
The food, the people, the history and the culture of New Orleans all come together to create an unforgettable experience. Whether you plan a weekend getaway or an extended vacation, you will never run out of things to see, do and eat. If you love the cuisine, pick up a copy of “River Roads Recipes” cookbook, with its great collection of Louisiana food that has stood the test of time and makes a useful souvenir. For more information on the city, make sure to visit the official New Orleans tourism site at NewOrleans.com.
Where to Stay
Courtyard Marriott Metairie - Marriott.com
Where to Eat
Antoine’s - Antoines.com
The Commander’s Palace - CommandersPalace.com
Bear’s Poboys - BearsPoboys.com
Café Du Monde - CafeDuMonde.com
Thing to Do
The French Market - FrenchMarket.org
The French Quarter - FrenchQuarter.com
St, Louis Cathedral - StLouisCathedral.org
New Orleans City Park - NewOrleansCityPark.com
Frenchmen Street - FrenchmenStreetLive.com