“There’s a lot of places I like, but I like New Orleans better.” - Bob Dylan
New Orleans is by far one of the most colourful and eclectic cities I’ve ever been to. Dance parties, live music, king cake, daiquiris, fried food, craft beer, colourful homes, rich history, southern hospitality and yes. Beads on beads on beads!!!
Need I say more? I truly believe that New Orleans is like no other city in America, definitely in my top hit list for creativity and good vibes.
Undoubtedly, there are a lot of fun cities across the globe. I for one am a sucker for the creativity, hustle, glamour and adventure that comes with city travel. Chicago, Seoul, Amsterdam, Melbourne and Toronto (to name a few) are some of my personal faves. Give me some vibrant restaurants, lively bars, throw in a few funky shops to browse, anywhere with a touch of atmosphere and I’m ready for the next adventure.
What I loved most about New Orleans was that at any point of the day you could find something that would captivate your senses. Whether that be a funky street painted in graffiti art, some mouthwatering Louisiana styled food to try, or the live music that sparks a dance party around every corner. And I mean around EVERY corner.
From the exposed brick and bright windows in our downtown condo, to the funky coffee shops and rooftop bars along Carondelet Street, the colourful and elegant homes in the Garden District and the music throughout Bourbon, Oak and Frenchman street; New Orleans is a city that’s in full senses overload at all times of day.
As I sip my espresso in Toronto’s frigid winter and reminisce on the memories of this warm, whirlwind of a trip, I’m very close to buying a plane ticket back!
I was in New Orleans with a group of 5 girls. For us, it was a mini vacation with the main goal being… have fun. Pretty easy travel goal eh? ;)
We had 4 days to conquer NOLA, with one of those days being completely dedicated to Mardi Gras festivities. We went the week before Mardi Gras in early February, so there were the beginnings of festivities and parades happening but the city wasn’t in FULL celebration mode, just yet. When planning your trip, I would recommend giving yourself 5 days to see the whole city. Leaving you enough time to thoroughly explore the different neighbourhoods, take in some history, enjoy the night life and give yourself time to try ALL the food. Eating will take up a couple days on its own!
Here are some of my recommendations on where to explore when it comes to the best eats, drinks and shops as you delightfully make your way through New Orleans!
Collective art markets, vintage clothing shops, beauty boutiques, cafes and independently owned shops line the stretch that makes up Magazine Street. On our fourth day in NOLA, we spent the afternoon and into the early evening shopping; trying on colourful, sparkly, and vibrant dresses, pampering ourselves with homemade face products, digging through bins of vintage clothing and enjoying some sweet southern treats and coffee before making our way back to our condo to get ready for our final night out. We chose to spend our final evening at the Hot Tin Rooftop a bar within the Pontchartrain Hotel. I for one am a sucker for good views, and with the Hot Tin’s variety of seating options inside and out on their patio, this was the best spot to sip southern cocktails and take in New Orlean’s views, one last time.
Frenchman street is for music lovers, market goers and admirers of the arts. The first time I stepped foot in the Frenchman Street area, I was captivated by the live music that spread out around every corner of the neighbourhood, there were pop up markets to take a gander, street art and bar after bar that welcomed you in with the sound of trumpets, bass guitars, smooth vocals and some mighty drum beats. I would recommend you make your way to Frenchman street around sunset, take a walk through the markets and enjoy some music on the street before doing a bit of lively bar hopping as the night goes on!
New Orleans offers no shortage of new food to try and though there is something for everyone, sometimes a larger group of friends doesn’t always agree on where to eat. St. Roch Market was the solution to that problem. Upon entering the colonial styled white building, there were a variety of stands offering international cuisine for every taste bud. Food stands offering Phillipino, Japanese, Jamaican, Italian and Vietnamese cuisine (to name a few), all with a flavourful southern twist. It was the perfect spot to nibble after a full day of Mardi Gras festivities.
The Garden District is one of the best ways to spend a morning exploring. Take your time admiring charming old mansions while sipping on a locally brewed cappuccino as you stroll the grand sidewalks, dreaming of the day when you too will live in one of these beautiful homes. Each block is filled with bright and charming homes that are carefully painted pastel blues, greens and pinks. As you admire the neighbourhood you can’t help but wonder how you managed to step back in time 200 years. And no, I never once woke up from the dream of being a delightfully charming southern belle in N’awlens. :)
Oak street is a hub for university student and artists alike that are looking for a more off the beaten path part of town to hang out. We spent one evening there after Superbowl Sunday and ended up having a blast! At night, none of the stores were open for us to check out but you could tell that during the day it was a spot to come for used book shops, comic book stores, one of a kind used clothing stores, and a watering hole for coffee addicts. By night, you can hop around to some pretty eclectic dive bars with a great selection of craft beer.
When I travel, I always go to the bartenders for local advice. And every time without fail, they hit the nail on the head. That night I was told to head on over to Maple Leaf Bar. Let me tell you, it was THE best bar I’ve been to in a long time. We had SUCH a blast dancing to some killer funk bands, trying locally crafted beers on tap and meeting some of the most creative folks that have resided in New Orleans for years. This part of town is a must when planning your trip and if you can make it in the day and head back at night, you’ll be glad you did.
Did Someone Say Daiquiris?
A trip to NOLA is not complete without trying a street side daiquiri. I thought my friends were joking when I showed up a day later than them and they would not stop raving about this fast-food styled spot they had gone to for boozy slushes. Sure enough, after the superbowl we headed over to Fat Tuesday, a local daiquiri chain and yes, I was just as impressed as they had been this whole time. Pick your colour, pick your flavouring, add in a bit of local rum and voila! A New Orleans delicacy right before your eyes.
I will note, you can get these daiquiris in any size… Including an XL the size of your head. Proceed with caution when ordering ;)
For Our Foodies
If you like to eat, there’s no question that NOLA is the place to be. Fried food is a staple here, so be prepared to have a few days of taking in heavy southern comfort food. Trust me, it’s worth it!
Willa Jean was a gem we discovered one morning by total chance. We had been wandering around for over half an hour trying to find somewhere to eat, refusing to settle on just any breakfast spot. Our foodie standards were set too high to stop now! Willa Jean offered a bright, open concept feel in its decor and served up bloody marys with just the right amount of salt and spice. The food was some of the richest in flavour we had tried and fuelled us up for the rest of the day, the portions were plentiful.
Another highlight for us was Pesche, a local seafood joint recommended to us by the wonderful folks at the Ace Hotel. Pesche is a local hot spot and we totally understand why. Well put in their website, Pesche is “Inspired by the cooking of South America, Spain, and the Gulf Coast, Chefs Donald Link, Stephen Stryjewski and Ryan Prewitt designed Pêche Seafood Grill. Focused on working with local fishermen and farmers who harvest sustainably, Pêche serves simply prepared contemporary dishes, rustic creations cooked on an open hearth, as well as fresh oysters and Gulf fish.” Now if that hasn’t sold you, trust me when I say it was some of the best service I’ve ever received, Our server was lively, friendly, and so keen to provide us with some amazing local advice about New Orleans. She even invited us out after her shift was done! Now that’s southern charm for you.
The oh so stunning, Ace Hotel was a highlight for drinks, snacks and just hanging out and taking time to take in some good vibes in a chill atmosphere. Unfortuntely the weather wasn’t quite warm enough to make use of the gorgeous rooftop pool, but we did enjoy a cocktail on their rooftop bar and got to admire the picturesque pool lounge that was lit up by the surrounding city lights. For a more cozy atmosphere that’s curated to feel as though you’re in a private bar of the 1920s, head on down to their ground floor lobby bar.
Our final recommendation that you cannot leave New Orleans without trying is, Cafe Du Monde. Coffee and beignets. Fried dough with powdered sugar. Need I say more?