Indulgence isn’t even skimming the surface of what you’re bound to experience in New Orleans. Between the mixed cultures, decadent foods, music you can’t not dance to, chilling history, and that everyone mixes languages as much as I do, it’s easily my favorite city in the USA.
My mom agreed so much that she officially made the move to make NOLA her residence. That’s right, I can now consider New Orleans “home,” at least by association to my mommy. After my fourth time strolling the Crescent City streets, (and rolling my ankles), I’ve put together a list of my all-time *favorite things to do in Nola.
*Caution, some may be touristy, but worth the experience none-the-less.
You can’t come to the French Quarter without tasting a bit of the French Creole culture that’s been around since 1862; beignets. Enjoy a café au lait with a hint of chicory (a root used in the coffee here to enhance flavor and body), and powdered French style donuts, or beignets, to cut the coffee’s bittersweet taste. The best part is that Cafe Du Monde it’s open 24 hours, perfect pit stop after those drunken evenings on Bourbon street. Added bonus: it’s extremely cheap – cash only though!
Coop’s Place (21+)
I love how when you type into Google, “best cheap local eats in the French Quarter,” you get what you’re looking for. Coops Place was exactly that, a cheap and local goodie in the middle of tourist central. Despite walking in around 3PM in the afternoon, it was like I was entering a hole in the wall gem of a bar, serving the best looking ‘Nawlins food I’d seen in the French Quarter. The part that really made my mouth water were the cheap prices for both traditional foods, and booze-filled drinks.
Splurge on Dinner at Balise
Before I die, I want to experience a meal of this caliber – that’s how delicious the food was at Balise. You’ll escape the hustle and bustle of the city streets to enter into this culinary heaven that’s sure to give your taste buds the five star treatment. A treat worth splurging for.
Dat Dog on Frenchmen
Yes, you may be paying $8 for a hot dog, but holy crap, it’s absolutely worth it. Whether you need a drunken snack to cut through that third Hurricane you just chugged, or are in the mood for a vegetarian Italian sausage hot dog, this place is dat damn good. Ahhhh, my mouth is watering just thinking about the glory.
Suck the Head of a Crawfish
I’ll admit it, I’ve never actually done this one, because I’d end up looking like Jay-Z with swollen lips and hives all over my body, thanks to my shellfish allergy. Regardless of my personal reasons of why I can’t try crawfish, I still enjoy watching people who can eat it struggle to suck the brains of a crustacean. I’ll take their word that it’s a delicious, and necessary experience.
Indulge in a Po-Boy
Another local favorite is a Po’ Boy sandwich, which has a history of being the food of the “poor man” with scrappy ingredients. Of course, as tourism became a lucrative way for the city to make money, you can find yourself paying like $12 for a sandwich that was once the only lifeline of working class citizens. Some Po’ Boys are better than others, but you should experience one for yourself if you’re in town.
Eat Gator Bites or Gator Sausage
Yes, gator as in alligator. And yes, I enjoy it. Eating alligator is probably not easy to swallow, but like most bizarre meats, people will tell you it tastes like chicken to get you to eat it. Try it, and I promise you’ll feel a little more New Orleanian, or feel like you need a Rolaid.
Eat a Praline, or a pound of them
I wouldn’t have even considered buying pralines if the shop I walked into didn’t smell like the Willy Wonka Factory – aka my heaven. If you have a sweet tooth, you’ll enjoy an afternoon pick-me-up experience by munching on a praline. JUST SO MUCH INDULGENCE! You’ll probably do as I did, and walk out a pound heavier either from eating all the samples, or because you simply couldn’t resist and bought a pound box.
Treating yourself to Jacques-Imos
Now we’re getting away from the French Quarter, and into where the locals lurk at all hours of the day and night; Oak Street. It was a Tuesday night, and my mom, New Orlean’s newest local, heard that eating dinner at this place, followed by a live music performance at Maple Leaf Bar right next door was a crowd favorite. Around 9PM, we were seated, and scarfed down the most delicious cornbread, alligator quiche, and creme brûlée for dessert. They play no games with their culinary skills here, and claim to have real ‘Nawlins cooking – I agree.
Rebirth Brass Band at Maple Leaf Bar
Tuesday nights with a $20 cover, but it’s so worth it. Music starts at 11PM but get there early.
Right after din din, we walked about five steps down the street to a pretty massive bar, where we were introduced to the sounds of one of the most celebrated brass bands in Nola. Groovy can’t even describe what we felt through our bones. On the right hand corner of the bar was a local artist, Frenchy, who’s regularly commissioned to paint a masterpiece while the band plays. He’s chuckin’ and jivin’ along with the crowd, all while painting his heart out. This is absolutely a sight to see.
Entrance fee – $20, includes a guided tour (special slave history tour on Fridays – totally worth it)
About an hour and fifteen minutes outside of the city and you’ll be able to walk through a chilling piece of history that’s worth a tribute – a slave plantation. As a person of color with clear slave ancestry, the juxtaposition of touring such a beautiful property, all while knowing that I would’ve definitely been a slave on the grounds back in the day, isn’t exactly the easiest concept to swallow. Flash forward, and I’m sipping a Mint Julep while snapping pics of the magnificent oak trees that lead guests (including myself) to the big house. You can’t not appreciate freedom coming to a place like this.
Ride the Streetcar down the Mississippi River
See that iconic and adorable looking street car going up and down the Mississippi River? You can ride it for $1.25. While locals use it as real means of transportation, you can still hop on for a few stops, going from one end of the French Quarter to the next, just for the experience.
Art Market on Frenchmen
You’ll grab a drink, and stumble into several artist’s creations all while bar hopping on a weekend evening. Bring your wallets, I bet you can’t leave without picking up something as random as a ring that was once a fork, or a masterpiece made out of old bath towels – appreciate all this Nola talent people!
I was skimming through Groupon to find the best tours for the spooky history that Nola’s known for. I came across Black Rose Tours, and bought a voucher without expecting much. A+ for this tour company and the information they spit during the 2.5 hour walking tour. There were only four people in our group, and the tour guides not only knew the history, but dressed in full cos-play for the occasion. It’s a shame to come all the way to New Orleans, and not understand the history surrounding your every step.
I found this place accidentally, while strolling down one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city: Marigny. At first, you’ll wander into these large gates, feeling like you’re trespassing. Once you enter though, you’ll be welcomed by the most peaceful garden you’ve yet to experience, completely for free. Cheap plants, random knick knacks that you don’t need, but want, and a lily pond that will make you question a career in gardening.
Experience the best music on Frenchmen Street
If you’re not trying roam amongst the drunken tourists in rowdy bars on Bourbon street, get your booty over to Frenchmen street. While it’s increasingly more crowded, it’s still a melting pot for music, art, locals, and tourists. My favorite part about Frenchmen street is that you don’t even need to go into a bar to have a good time, the music pours out onto the streets, and you’ll find yourself partying on the street corner following the Tremé brass band.
Got any more New Orleans recommendations? Comment them below!