the not actually definitive, oft-contested, always in flux, created by a newbie, fueled by her own ego:
PEOPLE'S GUIDE TO NEW ORLEANS.
So you are going to new Orleans & you don't know what to do, because you want to do everything, and you can't tell what is worth your time and what isn't.
I understand. And I hope this can help. After a few months of piecing together an unwieldy Google Doc of recommendations for friends and family (and myself), I figured I should graduate to something a little more permanent. Because nothing ever died on the internet. This living list was inspired by the city that I have only recently moved to, but have loved for what feels like forever.
If it helps you, I am glad. If I am missing things, tell me. If you don't like it, I don't care.
Welcome to New Orleans.
inside of the city
In my humble opinion, there are two parts to New Orleans in the eyes of a visitor or an activity seeker: things to do inside of the French Quarter and things to do outside of it. That over-simplified categorization would probably piss a lot of people off, which I kind of like.
inside of the city and inside of the quarter
First thing is first: do a classic New Orleans bar crawl. I am not including Bourbon St. on this list because it's its own thing. Just walk Bourbon if it calls to you (and it will). For a more refined, nose-in-the-air bar crawl, try these:
Start at the Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel and get their namesake, a Sazerac. If you are in New Orleans around Christmastime, the Roosevelt is unbelievably gorgeous and decorated to the nines. Take a million Instagram photos, make a million friends jealous.
Next, stop by the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone and order a Vieux Carre. The bar spins slowly, people love it, it's a thing. Pro-tip: this hotel has great bathrooms. Just walk in with your head held high, and if anyone asks for your room number, say 666. Works every time.
After you ride the carousel, travel to the French 75 bar and get their namesake, a French 75. Champagne drinks, caviar dreams.
Next, head over to the Napoleon House and order a Pimm’s Cup. Did you know that this building was built as a safe haven for a one Napoleon Bonaparte, but he never actually made it there? What a loaf. He died shortly (get it) before coming to New Orleans. Drink to his name, drink for his unquenchable thirst for power.
Now you should be feeling it. Head to the edge of Bourbon to Pat O'Brien's for their famous Hurricane. If you aren't drunk at this point on your bar crawl, you will be after this. Also, this place shares a name with my late grandmother and she once danced on the bar. So.
Finally, end your crawl at Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar, which the oldest building functioning as a bar in America, and order the Purple Drink. Good luck, and good night.
When you are sober again (or not), tour the French Quarter's Pharmacy Museum. It's only $5 for adults and full of creepy, freaky, sicky things. AKA, my favorite kinds of things.
See a jazz show at Preservation Hall. General public tickets are $15, and shows start at 8PM. First come first serve, so you'll have to line up.
Go see even more jazz on Frenchman St. Find a bar without a cover, and indulge. I personally like The BMC and the top floor of 30/90, which is just a dance party and not much jazz TBH. While on Frenchman, visit the Palace Market - an outdoor art market right on the street. Jewelry, art, and gifts for your mom abound.
When walking around the quarter during the day, check out some of the more famous sights: the Statue of Andrew Jackson, the St. Louis Cathedral, all of the galleries and ritzy antique stores on Royal St. Finally, grab food at the French Market. Walk along the river on the newly constructed Moonwalk, and if someone says they like your shoes and asks where you got them, simply answer "on my feet" and keep moving.
If you need a break from the heat, try the Audubon Aquarium or the Butterfly Garden, both right off of Canal.
Besides the crawl listed above, my other favorite bars in the quarter are as follows: Erin Rose, Bar Tonique, Black Penny, Tiki Tolteca, The Dungeon, and Molly’s. Soon to be added to this list: an entire section on where to drink in New Orleans (answer: everywhere).
inside of the city, but outside of the french quarter
Visit the National WW2 Museum. It'll take all day, so pick a really hot day, or a really rainy one. So basically... August. Right next door is the Ogden Art Museum. On Thursdays, the Ogden has a series of events called Ogden After Hours. It's cool, it's hip, it's good people watching. The Ogden is also free for Nola residents on Thursdays.
Go see the Singing Oak in City Park.
When it is hot (so, May through October), go hang out at either the Country Club or the Drifter pools. The Country Club costs $15 and is less douchey than the Drifter, which is $10. But the drifter has boobs, so consider accordingly. Last option? Get into one of the hotel pools, like the Alto on the Ace Hotel rooftop or the Hyatt's conference-hotel giant pool. You could really bougie it up by getting a treatment at the Spa at Windsor Court, which provides you with free access to their pool. Unfortunately, most hotels have a purchase limit. To be honest, Nola needs more public pools (for adults).
Check out the New Orleans Museum of Art & the Sculpture Garden in City Park. Pro tip: grab beignets at Morning Call (which is open 24 hours) and stroll through City Park, and then hit up NOMA for a sweet, sweet blast of air conditioning.
Find a kooky movie, play, or show to see at the Zeitgeist Theater. Also check out the Prytania Theater or The Broad for more mainstream viewings. Eat all of the popcorn.
See where all of the Mardi Gras floats are made at Mardi Gras World! According to my parents, the tour is absolutely worth it. Use your college ID and get in for $17.
Go play at the Music Box Village, an interactive art installation open to the public on the weekends.
Get on the St. Charles Streetcar and ride it all the way uptown, stopping to see the ritzy houses and taking a break to walk the beautiful track at Audubon Park.
outside of the city
If you are going to leave the city, start with the basics. Take a motherfuckin' swamp tour. There is, I dunno, a million companies that do this. But my favorite is Airboat Adventures. They will even pick you up and drop you back off in the Quarter. You'll see gators. You'll see birds. Your guide will most likely have a surprise letter X in his name. You'll become part of the swamp.
Tour a plantation - about an hour drive from downtown New Orleans. The Whitney Plantation is the only one that focuses on the slave perspective - so it gets my first vote. Oak Alley Plantation is right down the road and literally picturesque. Both cost money to get into, but I believe the tours are free once you are on the property.
Drive over the bridge and visit the quaint little town of Abita Springs and take a super weird, super cool walk through the Abita Mystery House. It only costs $3.00 to get into, but I always spend more money at the gift shop because it is full of insanely kooky shit. Be aware that visiting this area on a Sunday means that most places will be closed. Because small town.
Drive to Fontainebleau State Park in Mandeville and hang out on the water. The park costs a few dollars to enter, and remember to bring $5.00 cash with you to pay for the bridge across back to Nola.
What we've all been waiting for: the food.
If you come to New Orleans and you don't plan to gain at least 15 pounds, just don't come. We take eating super effing seriously here. There's a lot of butter. A lot of sugar. A lot of fat. A lot of everything. Buckle up. This section is gonna get freaky.
first thing's first: eat breakfast
Brand new on the scene for breakfast is Molly’s Rise and Shine on Magazine St. Brought to you by the same chef/freaky genius behind Turkey and the Wolf, Molly’s is a strong contender for best way to bounce back after a long night of partying. Get everything on the menu.
One of my favorites for breakfast is Toast (the Gentilly location). Only problem? It's everyone else's favorite too. If you get off the wait list, get the aebleskivers. Their omelets are huge.
If you are in the uptown area, check out Surrey's or Slim Goodies. Both are freshie, hippy, diner-style food. Decent, but nothing to cry over if you miss out. Clinically proven to cure hangovers. Slim’s is cash only.
Go to the Country Club on Saturday morning for drag brunch. Make a reservation a year in advance. Get there early and then go bake at the pool. Another drag brunch option is Trinity.
In the Bywater, try Satsuma or Elizabeth’s. If you go to Satsuma, you won't feel like shit after. It's decently healthy and has lunch options as well. If you go to Elizabeth's, prepare for a wait. Get the candied bacon and a Bloody Mary.
Willa Jean is allegedly where Beyonce comes to eat breakfast when she is in Nola. I have yet to see her there. Next door to Willa J's is Maypop, and their Dim Sum style brunch is splendid. I personally vote Maypop over WJ.
Atchafalaya is my vote for consistently delicious creole-style breakfast food, often served alongside live jazz. What more could you want? Reservations accepted here as well.
If you just want a bacon, egg, and cheese bagel, try Stein’s. The owner is a meanie, and a love. Another great breakfast sandwich hidden way uptown can be found at Favori Deli. It’s called the Steak and Egg Po-Boy, and I am going to marry it one day.
Pro-tip if you are as into breakfast sandwiches as I am - read this great article on where to find some good ones.
lunch, or a midday snack
If you desire a liquid lunch, try Finn McCool's in mid-city. They have really delicious bar food, specifically, fries. Go here specifically after the Endymion parade during Mardi Gras for maximum overcrowding and feelings of pure panic.
If you want a burger, go to Company Burger. In my humble opinion, though this is technically a chain, this is the best burger in the city. The sweet potato fries are also amazing.
My vote for best sandwich goes to four places: Cochon Butcher for their BLT, Stein's for The Rachel, Turkey & the Wolf for the fried bologna, and Welty's for whatever their daily special is. Please note: this list of sandwich recommendations does not include po-boys, which have their own entire section. Because I'm a fat.
Similarly, if you need a banh mi, try Duong Phong Bakery (it's a hike), or Le’s Baguette Banh Mih Cafe. At Le’s get the lemongrass banh mih. <3
If you need a huge selection because you are too picky to make up your mind, try the St. Roch Market or it's cousin, the Auction House Market. Both are full of white people, but both have a ton of stuff to choose from. I like the Haitian food at the St. Roch market, because plantains.
When a vegetable is desired, my two favorite salad places are Welty's for a gigantic salad or St. James Cheese Company. Predictably, all of the St. James salads are full of cheese. Satsuma again comes in handy here. In the CBD, The Store is another decent place to grab and go a sandwich or salad.
If you are in the Garden District, try Nirvana for their $11.50 Indian lunch buffet on weekdays. If you must be healthy, Poke Loa is right across the street from Dat Dog and allows you to build your own poke bowl. Also, when you inevitably go get a hot dog after only being full on poke for 1 hour, get a regular dog with the Chef's Choice. All’s well that ends at Dat Dog.
People will say I am a tourist-y loser, but my recommendation for a downtown, French Quarter classic lunch would be a half muffaletta from Central Grocery - a place that is almost certainly run by the mob. I love it.
Also in the French Quarter, try Cleo’s for Mediterranean food — it is open 24/7.
and finally, a ballin' ass dinner
I'll start with the most crowded: Bacchanal. There's a great wine selection, always some live music playing, and the place generally has a pretty good atmosphere. It has, unfortunately, gotten super popular in recent months. So either go early, or skip it. All the plates are shareable. Make a cheese board. Life your life.
While you are in the area, Red's Chinese on St. Claude is superb. I like either eating on their back patio or getting it to-go, as the inside gets a little hot and loud. Pro tip: if you get the General's Chicken, eat it at the restaurant. It gets soggy quick. Nearby is N7, a super hidden gem featuring French food, good wine, and canned delicacies.
In the Garden District, my favorites for dinner are Lilette, Shaya, Coquette, and La Petite Grocery. All beautiful atmospheres, all above average food. The pita at Shaya won a fucking James Beard award. It's unreal. However, the former owner and namesake of Shaya is a bit of a restaurant industry villain... but don't let him spoil your dinner.
The savory beignets at La Petite are decadent.
If you wanna ball in the French Quarter, head to a classic like Galatoire's or Brennan's. Other favorites of mine include Cane & Table, Sylvain, and Meauxbar. If you go to Sylvain, sit in the outdoor patio. New to the scene in the French Quarter but very casual is Dian Xin. Dim Sum to share, family run, amazing.
Feeling fancy? Try Carrolton Market in Uptown. Sitting at the bar gives you a bird's eye view into one of the most well-run kitchens in the city. It's like Disneyland.
The only place I have eaten sushi in New Orleans is at Sake Cafe in the Garden District. It was decently fresh, but my favorite part was spinning a game wheel when I walked inside and winning free drinks! I'd go back just for that wheel. (Now the wheel is starting to feel like a fever dream. Was it even there?)
If you feel like a drive, head to Mosca's. It is heavy, heavy Italian food, slathered in olive oil (heaven), and also most certainly run by "some kind of powerful family". The NYT has written about it a few times, so go learn your history.
If you want Italian, but don’t want to go as far: try Paladar 511 in the Bywater.
For some classic Creole food, try Jaques-Imo's in Uptown. Specifically, try their savory crawfish cheesecake as it singlehandedly will cure any feelings of depression or anxiety. The interior at JM's is also really eclectic and worth a lookie loo.
Date night? Try Delachaise for wine and French-style apps. They probably aren't going to fill you all the way up, but it’s a cute spot. Plus, they serve food til 12AM.
If you are in the CBD, give Peche a try. Great seafood, oysters, and the smoked trout dip is bomb.
For a couple more casual dinner options, I like Bao & Noodle in the Bywater (BYOB), Bourrée at Boucherie in Uptown (which used to be a food truck), and a few actual food trucks - Taceaux Loceaux and Tacocat. Both are the best tacos in town, hands down.
i wasn't kidding when i said poboys got their own section
The one thing Drake has really gotten right in recent memory (besides devastatingly crybaby good melodies) is filming part of a music video at Gene's Po-Boys. Honesty hour: I have never actually gotten a poboy at Gene's, but I have gotten the best daiquiri in the world, which is called the Wet Wet.
After unloading the moving van when I relocated to New Orleans, the very next thing I did was go to Parasol's and get a firecracker shrimp poboy. We were sick for 24 hours, but it was worth it. So spicy, so buttery, so delicious.
For the more traditional poboy, go to Domalise’s or Parkway. The best one at Parkway is the turkey, full dressed. Don’t @ me.
In the Quarter, a great bar called Erin Rose does poboys. Get the pork belly one. It’s unreal good.
When you are really drunk, get your ass to Verti Marte in the Quarter and just order some kind of poboy. It’ll save your life.