New Orleans is nicknamed “The Big Easy” for a reason. It’s easy to fly in for a weekend, or in my case three nights, to experience a low-stress getaway filled with outrageously-delicious food, history, cool people and fun things to do whether you’re with friends, family or solo. Here’s a taste of what’s possible.
Where to Stay: International House Hotel
Those looking for a well-located New Orleans boutique hotel that embraces the city’s charm and traditions should consider International House Hotel. The French Quarter is only two blocks away which means that most sightseeing and eating can be done on foot. (Though you’ll certainly want to have hand-crafted cocktails by the “Spirit Handler,” inside the hotel’s Loa bar. “Loa” are Voodoo spirits after all!) Check the calendar to see if your stay overlaps one of their seven annual ritual events including Carnival and St. Joseph’s Day, among others. The 117 guest rooms, suites, and penthouses suit family, business, and leisure travelers equally well.
Things to Do in New Orleans
Mardi Gras World
Get an up-close look at the extraordinary thought and skill that goes into planning a Mardi Gras float at Mardi Gras World, the largest facility of its type in the world. The intricate float building process takes an entire year. Guest can get seriously close to the props and floats, and even watch the artists at work on new and repurposed props. Plan to stay at least for an hour and a half, and to join a tour during this time.
National WWII Museum
People come to New Orleans just to visit The National WWII Museum and I can definitely see why. U.S. Congress designated it America’s official WWII Museum. You can spend an entire day here immersing in history. Do not miss Beyond All Boundaries, produced by Tom Hanks, a 4-D cinematic experience that takes you through the war from start to finish. I recommend it at the beginning of your visit, if possible, as it’s a good refresher as to how WWII changed the world and at what cost.
The museum is housed in four buildings that showcase various WWII themes through interactive experiences and even restored aircraft.
What I liked most about the National WWII Museum is while critical decisions made by world leaders are highlighted, so are the efforts everyday people which is largely what makes a visit such a moving experience. When the kids start studying WWII, put this on your family to-do list. Study the museum itineraries on the website beforehand so that you don’t miss anything.
The odds are that you’ll pass through Jackson Square on the way to scoring a famous Cafe du Monde beignet or while shopping in the French Quarter. You’ll see the statue of Andrew Jackson and the St. Louis Cathedral and know you’re in the right spot. During the day, artists gather around the square to create and sell artwork and handicrafts. Others play live music and busk. The atmosphere is bright, cherry and very New Orleans.
For quick bites to eat and souvenirs, head to the French Market. It’s a combination of a farmer’s market, craft market and flea market complete with really delicious food vendors selling dishes ranging from fresh oysters to jambalaya. The festive open-air market starts at Cafe du Monde and extends several blocks.
New Orleans’ most famous and historic neighborhood is full of fabulous restaurants and shops. It’s where many of the sights in this article are located but worth its own mention. Explore the French Quarter via ghost tours, food tours, voodoo tours, carriage rides or on your own while admiring the gorgeous architecture along the way (perhaps with a “go cup” in-hand).
Audubon Nature Institute Museums and Parks
The Audubon Nature Institute is a nonprofit that maintains ten museums and parks focused on education and conservation. Three that are not-to-miss, especially when visiting New Orleans with kids, include the highly rated Audubon Zoo, regarded as one of the top five in the nation. Much of it dates from early in the 20th century. It’s located in uptown but the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, and the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas are easily reached by foot from the French Quarter (note that all are usually closed on Mondays).
Doctor Gumbo Food History Tour
I highly recommend booking a food history tour with Doctor Gumbo at the beginning of your stay. It will introduce (or reintroduce) some popular New Orleans foods and give you a deeper appreciation for what you’ll eat during a New Orleans vacation. Plus, it’s super fun.
Where to Eat in New Orleans
The culinary scene has never been better and the good news is that you’re likely to stumble upon the best New Orleans foods while sightseeing.
Cafe du Monde
The most famous place to enjoy a beignet is Cafe du Monde. While there are several outlets around town, the most historic is the Decatur Street location, conveniently located near the French Market and Jackson Square. They’ve been serving Louisiana’s state donut since 1862.
If you spy a table on the patio, snag it. It’s seat-yourself, cash-only and the servers are quick. I’m telling you, there is nothing like one of these beignets. They’re absolutely delicious and so are the cafe au laits (half coffee with chicory and half hot milk).
The legendary Brennan’s is one of the restaurants you absolutely must visit. Breakfast here is incredibly popular. Order a Cajun Bloody Mary (with pickled okra), one of the famous baked apples, and Eggs Hussarde (a Brennan’s original) with coffee soaked Canadian Bacon. Be sure to save room for Bananas Foster—the dish was invented here in the 1950s. Decor is beautiful and reservations are definitely suggested.
Palace Cafe is also a Brennan Family restaurant and serves Bananas Foster. Or, in my case, serves Bananas Foster Waffles (!!!) for breakfast. It’s a lovely Creole cafe with views of the streetcars on Canal Street, sidewalk seating, live music at happy hour, and more.
Go to Bourbon House for what is regarded as the best milk punch in the city (trust me, it’s worth every calorie), delicious Louisiana oysters, and a barbecue shrimp po’boy. Its name stems from the restaurant’s large bourbon collection and location on Bourbon Street.
It’s worth heading to uptown for contemporary Creole at DTB (which stands for “Down the Bayou”). I can see why this relatively-new restaurant is a favorite for putting modern spins on classic dishes. You can’t go wrong with the 48-Hour Short Ribs paired with grits. I also tried the Fall Spice Cake paired with buttered popcorn ice cream. The menu is seasonal.
Good to Know
Uber works incredibly well in New Orleans so it’s possible to go carless and enjoy a “go cup” or two.
While, of course, you can focus a trip around late nights, hurricanes and Bourbon Street (which I have done back in the day), you don’t have to. It’s a family-friendly town with lots to do with kids. Girlfriend getaways focused on good company, food, and shopping work well, too. It’s a city that can suit a variety of travel styles and I can’t wait to return.
What are your favorite things to do in New Orleans?
*I visited New Orleans in partnership with the New Orleans CVB but all opinions are certainly my own.