Food, booze and music is the universal equation for a good time, and the Crescent City mastered it centuries ago. Wedged in by the tail of the mighty Mississippi, the port of call attracts millions each year looking to ride the currents of guilty pleasure that spring from the French Quarter’s vibrant sidewalks. The moveable feast of Mardi Gras trumps in terms of spectacle and debauchery, but finding a weekend not headlined by an excuse to celebrate is next to impossible. It’s an endless stream of festivals — celebrating everything from jazz to po-boys to voodoo — that make N’awlins the perfect destination for a three day excursion. Just plan on arriving with an empty stomach and remember to hydrate. The only way to ruin a weekend in Nola is to ignore your limits.
|Where to Stay
Staying in or near the pedestrian-friendly French Quarter and greater downtown is a must, unless you’re traveling for a specific event outside of the city center (or averse to crowds). There’s no shortage of fine hotels in the area, but The Roosevelt New Orleans is well worth the splurge. It has endured for over a century — including a brush with death during Katrina — and mixes old-school class with modern amenities. With this as a home base, guests don’t have to travel far to experience the city’s highlights. The Roosevelt’s Sazerac Bar is one of the most respected cocktail institutions in town, complete with an African walnut bar and all the mid-century swagger Don Draper can dig. The Blue Room for brunch is of similar stature, once hosting performances by greats like Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. There’s even a rooftop pool oasis to help cool guests who are unprepared for the humidity of Louisiana’s warmer months (and the pool’s heated in the winter). Street noise is less of an issue given the hotel’s location just west of Canal (minus the week of Mardi Gras), but this city is rarely silenced. Prefer being in the thick of things with a posse of friends? Consider snagging a French Quarter apartment on Airbnb.
|Where to Eat
Few cities have such a high opportunity cost for eating. Plan your meals carefully (and make reservations) and prep your metabolism for full breakfasts, lunches and dinner. While places like Galatoire’s and Commander’s Palace are institutions of high-end Creole dining, the work of a new generation of culinary masters is what can’t be missed. Restaurant August is the crown jewel of Chef John Besh’s local food empire, though his Italian standout Domenica — located next door to the Roosevelt Hotel — is equally as impressive. Herbsaint, La Petite Grocery and Pêche Seafood Grill are other top dinner spots. Grab a Muffaletta (the town’s iconic sandwich made of Italian meats and cheese with olive salad) for lunch from the legendary Central Grocery, or follow the lead of locals by grabbing mini versions made at the grocery store chain and deli Rouses. Southern and cajun comfort food from Mother’s on Poydras is a small walk from the Quarter but worth the trip. Sylvain is a trendy yet approachable lunch and dinner option that’s good enough to convince residents to make the trek. The powdered sugar-coated deep-fried dough of Cafe Du Monde requires no introduction and is always a good decision.
|What to Do
Wandering the streets — with frequent breaks for eating and drinking — can easily consume a full day in Nola. Still, there’s plenty to shore up a weekend if street artists and party goers get on your nerves. Walk the narrow paths between the above-ground vaults of Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 a few blocks up from Bourbon for a quick break. Hop a street car or bus to the exceptional National World War II museum to spend a full day or afternoon of epic global struggle education. Back in the French Quarter, browse the antiques and arts shops on Royal to see one-of-a-kind items, or catch a nightly jazz show at Preservation Hall. Springtime visitors should block out time in their itinerary to catch the ever-eclectic New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, a ten-day jamboree that draws both artists and fans from around the globe. When you’re ready for nightlife, skip Bourbon and walk downriver to Frenchman Street to mingle with the city’s hip residents, watch live music and imbibe top-shelf cocktails.
Tired of walking? Catch the St. Charles Avenue streetcar on the corner of Canal and Bourbon (the name technically changes to Carondelet at Canal) to gawk at giant live oaks and the immaculate Victorian homes of the Garden District neighborhood. Step off at any point and mosey towards Magazine Street’s eclectic mix of vintage shops and coffee spots. Got family with you or just looking for something different? Take the John James Audubon Riverboat off the dock of the downtown Audubon Aquarium of the Americas for a river ride to the impressive city zoo. Those with real time to spare should also consider a bus tour or renting a car to explore the River Road Corridor’s impressive plantation homes.