After two trips to 'The Big Easy', I have to say this is one of my favorite places for good music, good food and a lot of history
Two visits to a city like New Orleans definitely does not give one enough time to see all that there is to see, or eat at all of the amazing restaurants. But I saw and did a lot during those two weekends that I want to share with you. On both trips I stayed at the Omni Royal Orleans at the intersection of St. Louis and Royal streets. This was a great location because you were a few blocks away from the lights, noise and smells of Bourbon Street, and within walking distance of great shops and Jackson Square. Plus they have a nice rooftop pool with a bar and an area with a great view of the city. The first time I went was for my birthday in mid-October and the second was for Voodoo Fest to see Mumford & Sons on Halloween weekend, and also happened to be when I had a broken foot. For the record I would not recommend going to a muddy festival in a boot. All that being said, both trips were fun and memorable so here's a summary of the activities I loved and what I'd be okay not doing again, plus my top restaurants I've been to thus far are further below. One last point, if you're using an ride sharing app to get around, go with Lyft. The drivers are much more friendly than Uber and we heard some great stories on our rides.
This tour took place during my first trip, and was probably the highlight of the trip. I never knew you could pack so much history and trivia into a two-hour guided tour. Booked through French Quarter Phantoms, you meet at the Voodoo Lounge on the corner of North Rampart and Orleans. They walk you over to the St. Louis #1 cemetery which has a pretty rich history.
It's the burial place of the voodoo priestess Marie Laveau
The 1969 movie Easy Rider was filmed here, and because all of the debauchery that took place in the cemetery turned out to be real (including the whole dropping acid thing), filming has mostly been banned there by the Catholic Church
There is a reason they stopped burying bodies underground and now use the tombs, but I won't go into those details here
Nicholas Cage has a tomb there for future use
I'd do this tour again just to pick up more of the history, but next time I'd wear more comfortable shoes and dress for the weather. Also, make sure to tip your tour guide!
Voodoo Music and Arts Festival
My first music festival and also the place where I learned that people who go to music festivals really have an aversion to wearing pants. I braved the elements with a broken foot in a boot, and the elements included mud. Not a good combination. But after enough drinks I couldn't have cared less. We got the equivalent of VIP 3-day passes, which included express entry, a dedicated viewing area, nicer bathrooms, and an area with food trucks and premium bar options.
After we got situated in the viewing area for the Altar Stage we really didn't leave because we had a great spot and most of the acts we wanted to see were playing there: Third Eye Blind, The Revivalists, and Mumford. I went from my senior year of high school with "How's It Gonna Be" all the way to new tracks from the Delta album, including "If I Say" accompanied by a string ensemble. It was an incredible day and night of great music, good food, Moscow Mules, and new friends. However, all those good feelings were abruptly confronted with the daunting task of figuring out how to exit the festival without falling in the mud, which was happening all around us. After walking (er, slipping) our way out of the park we then had to walk far enough to get away from the crowds and try to get a Lyft, which took forever. When we finally ended up back at the hotel I was so happy to have a hot shower, room service, and a bed. Needless to say we did not make it to day 2 or 3 of the festival.
If I were to go back to this particular festival I would do a few things differently. First, unless you're a hard core festival lover, forego the 3-day pass. Get a single day pass for the day with the best lineup and on the other days get dressed up and go to a nice dinner. Second, don't go if you're in a boot. I don't even want to know what was on that boot when we got back to the hotel but having to wash that damn thing in the bathtub was not ideal. Third, study the map and plan your exit strategy. We had no idea how to get out and may have walked in a few circles. Or just drink enough where you get to a point that you don't care anymore. Overall though, that one day was pretty amazing and I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world!
This is a favorite spot of mine for just walking around, especially on the weekends. There are restaurants where you can grab a Bloody Mary, so many street artists with incredible pieces, street performers with great music, fun shops to pop in, horse-drawn buggies, and so many other things. My suggestions? Find French Quarter Wilkie for a caricature and check out his paintings. My first trip he had one of the most amazing Star Wars paintings I've ever seen. It was a huge Boba Fett piece that was almost as tall of me and full of so much vibrant color. I still regret not buying that piece. Then go to Café Du Monde for some beignets and a café au lait, just try to avoid wearing black because of the powdered sugar that gets everywhere, and make sure to bring some cash for the jazz ensemble that plays and sings while you wait in line and also while you're eating.
For all of my shoppers out there, if you like a good boutique with cute clothes, accessories, shoes, and home accents, check out Lucy Rose. Located between the Omni and Jackson Square on Chartres Street (there is also a location on Magazine Street). I've found some of my favorite pieces here and their dressing room is behind the store in this adorable enclosed courtyard type area with a gorgeous brick wall that has greenery growing on it. Definitely the perfect spot for some Instagram snaps. Plus the last time I was there they had some great greeting cards from another store on Magazine Street called Lionheart Prints. My favorite? "Happy Birthday You're Old AF". Now on to the best part of New Orleans, the food.
MY FAVORITE RESTAURANTS
Pêche Seafood Grill
A friend told me about this place before my second trip. After reading the reviews and seeing how many places this restaurant showed up in as one of New Orleans' best, I made a reservation for the first night. I highly recommend making a reservation if you end up going here, it was packed! The food is ridiculous with sauces and broths that have incredible depth of flavor and complexity. We started with appetizers of Crab Jalapeno Cappellini and Catfish with Pickled Greens and Chili Broth. Mixing the two dishes into one bite made them even better, if that was possible. My entree was Grilled Chicken with Creamed Greens and I ended up trying some of the Brabant Potatoes, too. The chicken was perfect and I've been trying to recreate the potatoes since I got home. We finished with the Salted Caramel Cake for dessert. I would eat here again in a heartbeat. Next time I might even try some of the seafood, which I don't eat a lot of!
This restaurant was suggested by one of the associates at Lucy Rose on my first trip to the city. Located within walking distance of the Omni on the corner of Chartres and Conti. All of the products are sourced locally in this restaurant and cocktail bar. The menu is a nice blend of traditional New Orleans cuisine with some new twists. I was drawn to this place because I saw a fall vegetable risotto on the menu. However, when we arrived it was no longer available on the menu, and being a part time vegetarian there was a lot for me to choose from. So I told the server about my food restrictions and they altered one of the dishes I liked to fit my needs. It was grilled brussels sprouts, artichoke hearts, tomatoes, arugula and walnuts served atop a walnut and arugula pesto. I'm still trying to make the pesto at home to no avail. But I'd like to try this restaurant again and get one of the actual menu items. If the dish they created on the fly was this good, I can only imagine what the dishes they planned out taste like.
After bailing on the second day of Voodoo we were looking for somewhere to have dinner. This restaurant in Uptown New Orleans kept coming up in search after search. It's a quaint eatery named after the owners' daughter, and features fresh, seasonal and local ingredients when possible. Getting out of the Lyft at night it was hard to tell that where we were was the right place, which adds to the restaurant's charm. Dinner started with a bottle of 2015 “Machete” Orin Swift Napa Valley and an appetizer of mushroom, roasted garlic and goat cheese ravioli with roasted shrimp, oven dried tomatoes and basil pesto cream. I don't eat shrimp but the ravioli was amazing. For my entree I got the pan roasted and porcini dusted chicken breast over gnocchi, roasted mushroom, cauliflower and spinach thyme reduction. Thyme is one of my favorite herbs to put in a reduction so that choice was pretty obvious. Once again the chicken was cooked perfectly and the wine paired with it nicely. We finished with the créme brulee for dessert.