Unfortunately, Louisiana has been a star in the news of the last 6 or 7 years. Battered by natural disasters (Hurricane Katrina) and man-made catastrophes (Deepwater Horizon), the state has been forced to deal with more devastating events than any other state in recent memory. Even through all of these recent tragedies, Louisiana’s heart remains intact. Now is as good a time as ever to visit the cultural and fun capital of Louisiana, New Orleans. Go for a weekend, or several days if you have time, and immerse yourself in zydeco, seafood and beautiful architecture. Be sure to save room for some excellent food while in town; some of the best food in the world can be found in New Orleans.
New Orleans’ most famous attraction overall is the French Quarter, where most of the crowds can be found. Stay in the heart of the Quarter if you dare, but be forewarned that the streets below are full of revelers all night and sleep won’t necessarily be peaceful. For a more quiet experience, stay on the far fringes of the French Quarter, near the waterfront, or in the beautiful Garden District.
Begin at least one of your mornings in New Orleans with a trip to the famous Café du Monde. Located on Decatur Street almost directly across from the beautiful Jackson Square, this New Orleans landmark serves up hot and fresh beignets, milk and coffee all morning. Avoid lines by going at off-times (Monday through Thursday mornings) and don’t wear black unless you want everyone to see the powdered sugar that didn’t make it in to your mouth!
Spend at least a little time on the riverfront and even go on a paddlewheel boat if you haven’t done so before. During the hot summer months, a cruise down the river can be a welcomed relief from the heat.
Continue your culinary experience by eating at least one meal at Drago’s, which is the home of the charbroiled oyster. Located in the bottom of the Hilton on Poydras St., the grill at Drago’s pumps out as many as 900 dozen charbroiled oysters a day! Other well-known and delicious oyster bars in the area include Desire Oyster Bar (Bourbon St.) and the Acme Oyster House (Iberville St.), which is rumored to have the longest Oyster Bar lines in New Orleans.
No trip to New Orleans is complete without some time at Harrah’s Casino. Gamblers and non-gamblers alike crowd the penny and nickel slots, while table players can enjoy the high-stakes games in their own area. Gastronomes should call the casino ahead to see if any good culinary deals are available for the length of their stay.
For a drink at nearly any time of day, don’t miss Pat O’Briens. Their signature drink is, of course, the Hurricane; for something different and unique, ask for the Milk Punch. While there are a multitude of bars along Bourbon Street, Pat O’Briens offers a more refined atmosphere than most. For the best seating at the bar, get there before noon!
The Garden District is the perfect place to spend a long, Southern type of afternoon. There are a multitude of tours of the area available, but if you self-guide, you’ll be able to spend as much time meandering through the tree-lined streets. Some of the South’s largest, oldest and most beautiful Plantation-style homes are in this area and shouldn’t be missed. Commander’s Palace Restaurant is in the area, but recently, it has been hit-and-miss with service and value.
Other nice dinner restaurants include: Galatoire’s, Brennan’s and the Palace Café, all of which serve New Orleans’ famous Bananas Foster.
Don’t forget to stroll up and down Canal Street, one of New Orleans’ main drags, for a summation-style tour of the city. You’ll see plenty of gift shops with everything from New Orleans’ famous pralines to voodoo dolls.
If you have the time (and desire), a multitude of tours of the area are offered. Those who are unfamiliar with the terrain might enjoy some time in the nearby swamps, ghost-hunters would die to take the cemetery tours, and purists might want to begin their visit with a walking tour of the city.
Check the city calendar ahead of your trip. Even though Mardi Gras is New Orleans’ biggest festival, many other smaller but equally interesting festivals are held throughout the year.
Café du Monde: http://www.cafedumonde.com/
Drago’s Seafood Restaurant: http://www.dragosrestaurant.com/
Desire Oyster Bar: http://www.neworleansonline.com/directory/location.php?locationID=142
Acme Oyster Bar: http://www.acmeoyster.com/
Pat O’Briens: http://www.patobriens.com/patobriens/
Garden District: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garden_District,_New_Orleans