Visiting the Big Easy
December 19, 2007 6:47 AM   Subscribe

Recommendations for things to see and do for two people who've never been to New Orleans?

Bonehead and I will be travelling to New Orleans on January 17th, and staying until the 22nd. Neither of us have ever been to NOLA before. We really want to make the most of our visit, because it's so short. On the agenda so far are Preservation Hall, the first Krewe parade of the Mardi Gras Season (Saturday, Jan 19th), and possibly a daytrip out of town. Both bonehead and I love jazz, food and architecture.

What must-see/must-do and/or out-of-the-way attractions in New Orleans can the Hive mind recommend?

And on a related note, any NOLA mefites out there want to meet up with us on that weekend? (Cross posted to MetaTalk)
posted by LN to Travel & Transportation around New Orleans, LA (27 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
The second-best thing I did in New Orleans was just wander around the French Quarter and absorb the sights, sounds and smells without any specific plan.

The best thing I did was go to Cafe du Monde for chicory coffee and beignets.

Also, I love George Rodrigue, and stopped by his gallery/studio. Wish I could afford his work!
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:02 AM on December 19, 2007

Also meant to add: get there early if you want to actually get IN at Preservation Hall, otherwise you may end up standing out in the alley, peeking in. :-/
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:03 AM on December 19, 2007

It's touristy, and some native NOLA MeFites might disagree with me here, but I've always enjoyed hitting up Acme Oyster Bar for lunch when I've been down there. Seconding Cafe du Monde as well.

As far as architecture, yeah, wandering around the Quarter should do it for you. Make sure you go through Jackson Square.

If you're looking for a really nice dinner, Bayona (in the Quarter) totally blew my mind.
posted by evisceratordeath at 7:13 AM on December 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm not from New Orleans, and have only been there once. But the two things stood out as making the trip wonderful -

1) Just wandering around the French Quarter, all of it, and popping in to anything that looked interesting. It's an incredible place. Just walking around and seeing it.

2) The food. Lots of food. And while certainly touristy, I personally would not miss the Acme Oyster House and a Muffuletta from Central Grocery. Both made me just grin with delight.
posted by Ragma at 7:33 AM on December 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

More info previously.
posted by nineRED at 7:37 AM on December 19, 2007

Be sure to hit the neighborhood restaurants, bars, and night clubs which the tourists tend to avoid.

Liuzza's Restaurant for divine po-boys and goblets of beer; The Bulldog pub on Magazine Street (and you can get boiled seafood from a restaurant across the street) -- in fact, there's quite a bit of excellent coffee, eating, and shopping in that area of Magazine Street. Go to Franky & Johnny's Restaurant for a Bloody Mary and a fried soft-shell crab po-boy. The Maple Leaf is a great club to see a funky brass band perform.

For oysters, it's got to be Drago's Restaurant in Fat City. Some of the best oysters in the city. For burgers, find a Bud's Broiler.

Have fun and throw some money around -- the businesses will appreciate it.
posted by the matching mole at 7:39 AM on December 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

One of the best times I had while doing work down in New Orleans post-Katrina, was a night at the Mid-City Lanes Zydeco Rock n'Bowl. I didn't even get around to any actual bowling (although the people I was with did get a game in), just dancing.

Also, get a po'boy with debris at Mother's.
posted by stefnet at 7:43 AM on December 19, 2007

If you're serious about eating in the Big Easy, then you can't miss Antoine's. It's pricey, but it's so worth it . . . at least if you like soft-shelled crab that literally melts in your mouth, and the perfect sazerac. That was the best thing I'd done in a long, long time.

And the Napoleon House is pretty brilliant too. Maybe the 2d best sazerac in town, after Antoine's.

Like dancing? Hit Ray's Boom Boom Room on Frenchman St.!

And 2ding the oysters at Drago's, and the muffaleta at Central Grocery. Simply fracking awesome . . .
posted by deejay jaydee at 7:58 AM on December 19, 2007

I haven't been to N.O. for several years, and I haven't checked that everything has re-opened post-Katrina, but in my experience dining musts include:

- brunches at Commander's Palace in the Garden District (take the St Charles streetcar and then walk a few blocks) and The Palace right on Canal St,
- lunch at Ugelsich's (in a shabby neighborhood between the Garden District and Canal St business district, totally worth walking a few blocks for) or Mother's in the Central Business District,
- greasy dinery dinner at Camillia Grill (out near the end of the St Charles streecar line, where it take a sharp left turn),
- great fancier dinners at Brightsen's and Jaques Imo's (again way the St Charles line past the Garden District and Tulane). We had no luck at the Emeril-based establishments, so be forwarned about those,
- the muffaletas at Central Grocery are huge and delicious, and if you can get one and find a bench in Jackson Square to sit on while eating them, that's pretty much ideal.

On our list to try for whenever we go again are Antoine's, Herbsaint, and Paristyle. For us, Cafe du Monde was a little hectic and impersonal to have been a great experience, but it's one of those places everyone talks about so it's worth checking out I guess.

A quick glance at the lists here show that Uglesich's seems to to be gone. That's really a shame. It was great. Luckily, there are a lot of other great places to eat in N.O.
posted by aught at 8:11 AM on December 19, 2007

Galatoire's is pretty amazing, but he'll have to wear a jacket.
posted by shwynn2 at 8:14 AM on December 19, 2007

The streetcar should be up and running all the way by the time you're in town - it's so much fun!

Take a tour of Mardi Gras World on the Westbank (you can take a ferry to it from downtown). It's where all the floats are designed and built.
posted by radioamy at 8:55 AM on December 19, 2007

Oh and since I'm a local and you mentioned parades, let me give you some quick advice:

- The further Uptown you watch the parades from, the more family-friendly and less rowdy it is. Better chance of finding a bathroom too.
- Don't pee in public, do drugs in public, or talk back to a cop. However, drinking in public is encouraged (nix the glass bottles though).
- It's usually cold, and the ground gets pretty gross. Bring comfortable, warm clothes and old sneakers.
posted by radioamy at 8:58 AM on December 19, 2007

For your daytrip, I recommend a plantation tour, such as Oak Alley (Interview with a Vampire was filmed there, if you're an Anne Rice buff.) If you're at all inclined to the goth/alternative/leather look, Gargoyle Shoes & Clothing is a must-stop.
posted by desjardins at 8:58 AM on December 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

Get a backpack, fill it with booze, water bottles, smokes, plastic cups, snacks etc. before you go downtown. This will save you a lot of misery and money.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:37 AM on December 19, 2007

January 17th, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the Soul Rebels, and Rebirth Brass Band are all playing at Tipitinas. Start with that. Go from there, if you can wake up the next morning. Or get to sleep the next morning.
posted by gordie at 9:45 AM on December 19, 2007

And don't overplan this one. That isn't how New Orleans works.
posted by gordie at 9:50 AM on December 19, 2007

All excellent suggestions, and I'll second aught's thought to go to Commander's Palace for Sunday brunch (proper dress required and make a reservation now.) It's somewhat pricey but a truly fantastic meal. Also, when I was there (last March) a jazz band went from room to room and played some outstanding music - with the musicians spreading around the room and playing at individual tables, and even giving my girlfriend a small little serenade. Make sure and try the Creme Brulee!
posted by Rewind at 10:06 AM on December 19, 2007

Response by poster: So many great answers so far, thanks everyone!

Oh, and radioamy, bonehead and I are Canadian, and we've just dug out from 16 inches of snow, so 74 degree weather is practially summer to us!
posted by LN at 10:16 AM on December 19, 2007

Croissant d'Or Patisserie on Ursaline is still in the French Quarter, but off the beaten path. You must go for breakfast. They have great pastries, tarts, croissants, quiches and gourmet coffees. You know it's good, cuz there's usually a line of locals out the door.

Seconding Liuzza's. Their gumbo has been voted best in the city in the past and the oyster po boy with garlic sauce is not to be missed.
posted by wsg at 11:05 AM on December 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'll second SuperSquirrel. Although I knew the reputation for good music on every corner, I was still surprised that it is actually true!

Walking around the French Quarter to hear the music is an unforgettable experience. You'll hear something from the street that catches your ear, and make your way in for a few minutes or for an hour. If you get tired of one place, or the music isn't to your liking, there are plenty of other choices a block or two away.

Just don't be one of the people who gets so drunk they are too busy hurling in the gutter to enjoy the music. There are some strong drinks served there, and the freedom to drink while walking around on the street can encourage more intake than you might notice. So eat and use moderation. (end preaching)
posted by The Deej at 11:09 AM on December 19, 2007

I can't believe no one has suggested brunch at Brennan's! As you can see, much of New Orleans revolves around food and music. If you are into antiques there are a lot of shops on Royal Street in the French Quarter; they are pricey enough that you may enjoy looking more than shopping. There is also the Audubon Zoo and Aquarium of the Americas, although zoos and aquaria are not unique to New Orleans.
posted by TedW at 11:54 AM on December 19, 2007

I highly HIGHLY recommend Jacque-Imos. Fantastic food in a bustling and comfortable setting (try the alligator cheese cake) and it also gets you into a neighborhood outside the Quarter.
posted by donovan at 12:02 PM on December 19, 2007

No one's mentioned Bourbon Street. Yeah, it's touristy and crowded and smelly, but you'll never see anything else like it, and it's a true American icon.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:16 PM on December 19, 2007

I took a class at the New Orleans School of Cooking and really enjoyed it. It's more than a cooking class; it's also a history of Creole/Cajun cooking and of New Orleans. You don't actually cook, but you may be selected to be an assistant, and everyone gets fed during the course of the class.
posted by mogget at 12:22 PM on December 19, 2007

In additon to Jazz, be sure the check out some of the Zydeco. There used to be a band called Zydeco Outrage at the Old Oprea House that was insanely great.

Have a Sazerac at the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone.

Don't plan too much -- after a couple of hours on Bourbon St. you will be drunk, deaf, broke, and grateful.
posted by dzot at 12:34 PM on December 19, 2007

Seconding gordie!
If you're at Tip's on the 17th I might see you there.

The French Quarter/Bourbon St is iconic, of course, but personally I prefer Frenchman St for wandering around. Far fewer tourists (especially of the fratboy variety), and tiny bars with bands to equal any you've heard.

A note on weather: it can be unpredictable. I've only been to NOLA once in January, but that week we had sunny 75-degree days and miserable pouring-rain 40-degree days. So make sure you've got a variety of clothing options and a solid umbrella.
posted by hippugeek at 12:35 PM on December 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

We JUST drove from NOLA this morning. At 6:40am on a Wednesday in December, we were at Cafe du Monde with a handful of locals and almost no one else.

Re food: muffalettas are good, but full of olives. If you don't like olives, you won't like them. The roast beef po'boys at Mother's are fantastic, but the ham is a ham sandwich. Have the redfish somewhere if you like fish - it's delicious and apparently hard to get outside the gulf coast area?

Frenchman St. is good; we had good soul food and Italian-Creole at a hole-in-the-wall there. If you like jazz clubs, you'll be set there as well. We stayed nearby and walked from the edge of Marigny to the other side of the French Quarter a few times. Feet hurt, but it's okay. Our B&B host gave us a good tip: if you have a choice of going away from the river or towards it, go towards the river; the sketchier neighborhoods are farther from it.

Bourbon St smells like Philadelphia. Maybe it's more exciting when you're drunk.

Go look at the cemeteries! The region's cems are unique. We got a nearly solo tour of St Louis #1, which is Sundays only, run by the Save our Cemeteries group and were able to use what we learned there when we popped into Lafeyette #1 up in the Garden District. In broad daylight, on days when the tour guides are around, it's probably safe. We didn't have any problems, at least. They hire a cop to be around St Louis #1 for the Sunday tours, btw.

It was cold. The boy wanted to have brought another sweater; I had two and wore them until today. Everyone there seemed to be freezing.

Out of town, we went to the tour of the Laura plantation, since it was touted as the best. It was quite likely worth it, but you'll probably need a car to do it.

As for time, we had three full days, not counting when we left at 7 this morning. We got done what we wanted to and didn't feel like we'd missed much...except that the Pharmacy museum and the aquarium were both closed Mon and Tues and we did not realize this on Sunday, which would have been our only time to go.

A word about closings: we got back from being out on Monday - when a lot of things in town are closed - at about 9 pm and decided to walk around the French Quarter to find dinner. It turned out to be more difficult than we expected. Eating after 9:30 on a weeknight is surprisingly difficult.
posted by cobaltnine at 6:39 PM on December 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

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