What to do in NOLA that isn't a tourist destination?
October 24, 2011 11:20 AM   Subscribe

I am considering taking a trip to NOLA in December... however, in looking at hostel listings, I realized that I do not know what is a good location to book a hostel. This is because I am not familiar with the city and I am not certain where the interesting parts are located. I also do not know much about the transit options available for accessing different places. It seems there are some trolley lines, but again, without knowledge of where I want to go, I don't know if they will be helpful or not. I do not care about hitting up every one of the top-ten tourist sites. To be cliche, I am more interested in experiencing the actual New Orleans rather than the tourist version of the city. Suggestions?
posted by terezaakarenin to Travel & Transportation around New Orleans, LA (13 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
St. Charles Ave in the Garden District should be safe.
posted by Blake at 11:41 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

To make blatant broad sweeping assumptions (but not judgments!) about the typical hostel travelers, I'd say you'd probably enjoy anywhere that says they're in the Marigny or Bywater. To generalize, those are the two neighborhoods downriver from the French Quarter, and that's where the most overall hip cool kids hang out.

The streetcars (for reasons too long to go into the locals never ever call them trolleys) don't run out that way but that's fine, this place is flat like pancake and nearly everyone I know has a bicycle. There are plenty of places that rent them, or you can try Craigslist to say "rent me a beat up old cruiser for 30 days?" It's rare that you would ever be traveling to a place more than 3 miles away, so bicycle it is. There is technically some sort of system of buses but no one seems to know how it works, including the RTA itself.

The only hostel that's coming up on a quick search says India House right off of Canal Blvd in Mid-City. That's not a bad place to be, and if someone calls up and says, "Meet me in the Marigny!" you could be there in fifteen or twenty minutes by bike.
posted by komara at 11:56 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Garden, Uptown or warehouse districts. You'll have the easiest access to public transportation in the garden district and uptown. The streetcar isn't making the turn at Riverbend on to Carrollton currently, but you can still take it all the way down St Charles (and end up at Camellia Grill - whoohoo!) Stay away from Gentilly, Hollygrove and the 9th ward. (I work for a construction-based non-profit; we see a lot of shootings.)

You didn't ask, but my current recommendation on awesome food is TruBurger. It's a reason to try for uptown all on its own.

On-pre-view: I always forget about mid-city.
posted by doyouknowwhoIam? at 12:00 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you are interested in checking out a city from a local's perspective, I would highly recommend checking out couchsurfing. Its a great community, and I've had fantastic places to stay while travelling around both Asia and Europe. The people usually are happy to show you around, and are full of great ideas of places to check out that are usually off the beaten path. If the idea of staying with a stranger doesn't appeal to you, consider checking it out anyway. People are quite often not able to host, but welcome requests to meet up and show you around the city.
posted by snowysoul at 12:11 PM on October 24, 2011

Doyouknowwhoiam - Cowbell (further along Oak) blows TruBurger away. Really. We tried all the new burger places one after another lately and Cowbells wins. OMG.
posted by artychoke at 12:16 PM on October 24, 2011

I stayed in the Canal St. Guesthouse while I was there. Loved it.

On the other hand, do a search for Papa Noel discounts.... lots of the local small hotels have very nice rooms at inexpensive rates around Christmastime.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:29 PM on October 24, 2011

I also stayed at India House, and had a good time.
posted by kanemano at 12:45 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a friend who stayed in the St. Vincent Guesthouse on Magazine and Race back in April. It's in the Lower Garden District (a part of uptown). I can’t speak directly to it, but he had no complaints beyond a couple entertaining moments during check-in.

It’s right on the Magazine bus route. There are buses in the city, and they are a fair bit more reliable than they were two or three years ago. The usefulness of RTA's website (linked above) is also greatly improved. Depending on where you are visiting from they may seem a little infrequent, but the Magazine bus is generally on time. New Orleans time anyway. It’s a long route that can give you a good cross section of at least the uptown and downtown parts of the city, from Audubon Park to Canal Street (the edge of the French Quarter). A transfer to the Canal Streetcar can take you into Mid-City or (nearly) to the ferry landing. St. Vincent is also within walking distance of the St. Charles streetcar. The buses and the cars are both $1.25 a trip.

While admittedly not as overtly cool as the Marigny, I will vouch for parts of uptown as at least being somewhat cool because I live there and I’m super cool.

Free free to drop me a line for more specific recommendations, but one final thing: the French Quarter is often lambasted as obnoxiously touristy, and a lot of it is. I only step foot on Bourbon Street when guests demand it. But even after living in the city for years, taking the streetcar down to the quarter and wandering around is still one of my favorite things to do to pass time on a pleasant weekend afternoon. It would be a shame to avoid it for fear of it not being "local" enough. A lot of it is very local, and December will be great weather for exploring.
posted by gordie at 1:32 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

The main public transportation is by streetcar (don't call it a trolley if you want to sound like a local). There are two lines - St. Charles Ave and Canal St. We do have buses - some are okay, some might be kinda sketchy. I've never taken a bus here. The RTA website has all that info. Luckily cabs are cheap here as well.

The problem with New Orleans is that it's very "checkerboardy" - you can have a nice street three blocks from the ghetto. Very frustrating when trying to find somewhere to live or stay! Google Street View is helpful because you can look at a street and make a quick judgement call. Uptown and Garden District are the safest areas, and most of MidCity is okay. Stay away from Central City, 9th Ward, New Orleans East, Gentilly. Lakeview is safe but it's very ticky-tacky-bland and probably doesn't have any hostels.

I don't know any hostels specifically however, I don't think we have a ton. EmpressCallypigos stayed in one during Mardi Gras a few years ago, I am sure she will chime in on this thread soon.

I do recommend spending some time in the French Quarter because it's a really interesting area, but parts are also very touristy. Magazine Street and Oak Street are neat, and Freret Street is up-and-coming. I am not super-familiar with what is going on in the Marigny and Bywater these days but they are pretty hipster.
posted by radioamy at 1:46 PM on October 24, 2011

I've stayed in the India House in the past; I dug it.

The Marquette House where I stayed more recently (see radioamy's comment above) was well located, and also a place I stayed in once before, but pretty grubby-looking.

As for public transportation -- the buses and streetcars seemed pretty good, and the fact that you are NOT going to be there during Mardi Gras means that they will not inexplicably cancel on you the way they did to me which left me stranded at the art museum one afternoon and i ended up having to try hailing a cab because they'd shut the damn streetcar down dammit so you should be able to get around well.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:06 PM on October 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

When I visited NOLA I stayed in two different hostels, and the one that had the better location was clearly India House. (I would have only stayed at India House, but I opted for a private room and during the week I stayed, it was not fully available so I had to split my time with another hostel out of the way.) There's a very nice vibe and good friendly people, and it's super close (like, across the street) to a streetcar stop. The streetcar can take you to the main city block (French Quarter), and also the other way closer to the parks and museums.

The staff at India House are also really informative and helpful to any transit questions you may have, and will have resources of the cheaper bike rental places if you want to go that route, as well.
posted by xtine at 5:00 PM on October 24, 2011

I'm another person who stayed at India House and found it pleasant and clean, and although the neighborhood isn't as densely interesting as some other parts of town, the proximity to the streetcar line and buses means it's easy to get yourself to and from the rest of the city.

Parts of the French Quarter are touristy, but I can't second enough all the suggestions to just go down there (and in the Marigny/Bywater) and wander around - that's the older part of the city built on the natural levee along the river, and it's full of really interesting old buildings and just as many locals as tourists. The weather in December should be cool enough that you can actually be outside at midday for more than a half-hour at a time. If you're at all interested in hearing live music, the WWOZ calendar lists all the shows that are happening around town, or you can just walk along Frenchmen St. (in the Marigny) in the evening and see if anything sounds interesting. The Hi-Ho Lounge on St. Claude has bluegrass jams on Monday nights, with $1 red beans & rice.

I lived there for two summers in a row and am happy to talk at length about my favorite bookstores, places to wander, neighborhood bars and eating establishments if you want to drop me a mefi mail.
posted by josyphine at 6:21 PM on October 24, 2011

Best answer: Frenchmen St. has great live music, often cheap or free. It does seem to be getting ever more touristy, though. Not Bourbon St. touristy, but more classy-touristy.

The Hi-Ho is awesome, and there's also Siberia and the All-Ways Lounge within a block or two (and Kajun's, which has karaoke every night, if you're into that). You probably want to take a cab down there, as the St. Claude bus is notoriously unreliable. The Saturn Bar (a bit further down St. Claude) is also cool, but it's only open when they have a show, so research before going--the Saturn is in kind of a sketchy area.

The French Quarter is really neat, despite the touristy-ness. I recommend checking out St. Louis Cathedral and the LA state museum next door. (And one total tourist thing you definitely should do: cafe au lait and beignets at Cafe Du Monde on Decatur.) I live in the Bywater, and it's sort of hipster in places, but not outrageously so. It's a nice place to wander around, maybe more in the daytime (there isn't a lot going on at night, usually--just some mellow local bars).
The free ferry from Canal St. to Algiers Point is worth taking (and, y'know, free). Algiers Point is kind of neat--it's very quiet and residential, with great houses. There's also a longer free ferry ride to Gretna.
I haven't been yet, but I'm told the African American History Museum in Treme is great, and it's not especially well known. I know it has Mardi Gras Indian suits, which are definitely worth seeing.
Also, the cemeteries! They're really amazing. There's a big cluster of them at the end of Canal Street, and a streetcar will take you directly there along Canal.
And bring a coat. It's regularly in the 40s in December and January. Not Maine cold or anything, but chillier than you'd think.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 6:59 AM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

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