As the foremost bimonthly left-wing print periodical in Louisiana, Current Affairs feels a duty to evangelize for our city and state. Being based in New Orleans, we are often asked for recommendations about what to do in the city. I have some opinions about that! In fact, I even devised a list. So, if you’re coming here and need some ideas for things to see and do, Current Affairs has you covered. (Our Administrative Maven, Cate Root, helped me with some of these. I am especially clueless about food and drink as a vegetarian non-drinker, and she did all of the sections on cocktails and late-night dining.)
- Mardi Gras World – I love this place, you can see how they build the parade floats for Mardi Gras festivities. They have a free shuttle that picks up in the French Quarter if you call them. It’s cheesy, but in the most delightful possible way, and the floats are genuinely impressive.
- French Quarter Bookshops – There are about half a dozen great used bookstores scattered around. The best two are Dauphine Street Books and Arcadian Books, both of which are tiny but totally crammed with books to the point where you can barely move around (be careful not to tread on the cat). If you actually want to find anything, talk to the owners, since they know everything. If you want to pick up a book on Louisiana or New Orleans history, Arcadian has a great selection. (Oh, and if you want to tour literary history sites, Faulkner House Books is in a building William Faulkner once lived in, though as a bookstore it’s not nearly as fun.)
- Preservation Hall – if you want to see a quick authentic traditional jazz. show, this place is great. They have four shows a night, and they’re about 30 min each. It’s some of the best music in the city, played without amplifiers by incredibly talented people. Make sure you get there early (like at least 20 minutes before, 30 is better) to line up, because there are like five seats in there.
- Frenchmen Street is the best place to hear music in the evening. My favorite bars are the Spotted Cat and the Blue Nile. The Three Muses cafe is a wonderful place to have dinner and listen to music, very cosy. Make a reservation though. Also: the WWOZ LiveWire music calendar is the definitive guide to all the live shows happening in the city.
- If you’re here on a weekend, make sure to go to a second line. Here’s the calendar. This is the beating heart of black New Orleans culture. You just walk through the city with the band, dancing, drinking, and having a good time, but it’s the best. I would go every weekend if I could.
- Backstreet Cultural Museum – It’s basically just a guy’s house, but he collects incredible Mardi Gras Indian costumes. This place is off the beaten path and very special, the Mardi Gras Indians are such a peculiar and unique piece of local culture. It’s kind of unbelievable that this tradition exists, but it does. There’s another guy with a similar museum in his house in the 9th ward, the House of Dance and Feathers, but this is a little far away so you’ll need to get a taxi (or Lyft or whatever), and make sure to call ahead because it’s literally just him. But the Backstreet Museum is pretty similar; afterwards you can get coffee here and walk around the charming Treme neighborhood. (I also recommend watching the show Treme before you come here, and reading the local paper’s “Treme Explained” series which documents all the local inside references, but that might be complete overkill.)
- If you want to eat at a fancy restaurant go here or here or here.
- If you want to eat at a slightly less fancy restaurant go here.
- These are also really good local restaurant recommendations.
- More restaurants, via Cate: “Bayona, Peche, Compere Lapin, La Petite Grocery, Luke, Seaworthy, Coquette, DTB, Emeril’s, Dooky Chase (Civil Rights Historical Landmark and DELICIOUS). And some more less fancy ones: Casamento’s, Guy’s Po-Boys, High Hat Cafe, Liuzza’s By the Track, Neyow’s Creole Cafe, Pizza Delicious, Domilise’s Po-Boys, Bevi Seafood, MoPho, Pho Tau Bay.”
- If you’re here on a Tuesday, go see the Rebirth Brass Band live at the Maple Leaf.
- If you’re here on a Wednesday, go see the Treme Brass Band at the Candlelight Lounge. (Check the LiveWire calendar to make sure this is on, though, it isn’t always.)
- Go see Kermit Ruffins at Bullets Sports Bar, or wherever he happens to be playing.
- If you want dessert, go here. If you want coffee, go here (if you also want food) or here (if you literally just want coffee). These aren’t particularly authentic local places, but they’re all decent. Coffee shop with the best vibe is probably the Who Dat.
- If you want pie, go here.
- If you want to try a po-boy sandwich, go here.
- If you want some jambalaya, go here.
- If you want to try another famous local sandwich called the Muffaletta, go here or here.
- If you want vegan food go here or here (Meals from the Heart has Impossible Burgers, though they don’t advertise them). Do not, however, go here even though it has “green” in the name, because all you will get is overpriced salad.
- If you want to go to a bar where the bartender has skills at mixing things, go here. Cate’s recommendations for best drinks in New Orleans: Sazerac Bar, French 75 Bar, Latitude 29.
- If you want to go to a dive bar, go here. This place is also apparently good.
- If you want to sneak into a creepy abandoned amusement park, go here.
- If you want to take a cheap but high-quality walking tour, use these guys. Also: one of the most fun things I’ve done is a bicycle tour with Confederacy of Cruisers. I took the Creole tour, which I absolutely loved. But I’m sure the Cocktails tour and the Culinary tour are also incredibly fun and much yummier. This is such a cool way to spend an afternoon. It’s $50 a person, but I’d say it’s well worth it. The free walking tours are fun too though if you want something shorter and cheaper.
- Make sure you take the St. Charles Avenue streetcar. Stay on it till nearly the end, it’s kind of unimpressive until it gets well beyond the highway, but as it takes you uptown you go through a lovely long stretch of old 19th century mansions. Only $1.25 each way! Oh, and get off and walk around the Garden District.
- Brunch places: Cafe Amelie, Horns, and Surreys (Surreys is unassuming but a local favorite; the bananas foster french toast is the best).
- Steamboat Natchez – I haven’t taken it, but I’ve always wanted to. It plays obnoxious steam-organ music three times daily.
- Cabildo/ Presbytere – museums
about the history of New Orleans, located in Jackson Square. The Presbytere is slightly more interesting, it has a lot about Hurricane Katrina and Mardi Gras. Definitely worth seeing.
- Walk down Royal Street – it’s full of interesting old antique shops and art galleries. Walk the length from Canal to Esplanade. Magazine Street also has lots of great little stores and cafes, but they’re more spread out so be prepared to walk a long way.
- Pharmacy Museum – apparently interesting and cool, though I haven’t tried it
- A store that sells nothing but hot sauce – I don’t know your views on hot sauce, but if for some reason you need to buy like 50 different kinds of it, well, this is the place.
- The World War II Museum – This is actually a stunningly well-done museum and you can spend a whole day in it. It’s also a stunningly biased museum that basically conflates “World War II” with “America kicking ass on D-Day and in the Pacific.”
- Ogden Museum of Southern Art – If you want to see Southern Art, well, here it is.
- Old U.S. Mint – On the main floor you can see old coin-minting equipment, which is sort of cool. But the main thing to come for is upstairs, where they have Fats Domino’s piano and Louis Armstrong’s first cornet from when he was a little kid at an orphanage called the New Orleans Home For Colored Waifs. It takes about 10 seconds to see, but it’s a true piece of history and it’s free.
- The Audubon Zoo is actually a really nice zoo, and I am a zoo skeptic. There is also a downtown Aquarium, and they sell joint passes.
- A store that sells nothing but Christmas display items. Need a hunter Santa? We know just the place.
- City Park is my favorite park in the world, though I am biased. It’s bigger than Central Park in NYC. I mean, only go here if you want to spend time in a park (or see an art museum or sculpture garden or botanical gardens), but if you want a park, this one is the best.
- Esplanade Avenue is just a beautiful street for a bike ride. Renting a bike and going down Esplanade to City Park or down Prytania Street through the Garden District can be really fun.
- If you want to try the favorite local frozen treat called a snoball, Hansen’s is the place. They seem like sno-cones, but do not be fooled: They are slightly different.
- For gelato, go to Angelo Brocato and nowhere else.
- The Beauregard-Keyes House – If you have a strong desire to see the preserved inside of a 19th-century house, this is the one to see.
- Cafe Du Monde – beignets and coffee, 24/7. You have to try a beignet at some point while you’re here, I think it’s mandatory. They’re underwhelming, but as a visitor you have no choice.
- Second Line Antiques – fun antique shop in the FQ. Honestly most of the antique stores here are overpriced. This one is actually not. I doubt you’re here looking for antiques, but it’s a good one for poking around in.
- Toulouse Royale – If you want to bring back some cheap souvenirs for people, the French Quarter is full of stores selling tacky crap. This store actually has slightly better quality and more tasteful products. If you do want to get some postcards or a keychain or something for those you love, this will be better than most alternatives. Plus Grandpa Elliott sometimes plays outside!
- Old Ursuline Convent – fascinating old building supposedly haunted by ghosts of dead nuns. They have tours.
- If you are in the Treme, you may come across a man wearing two washboards. This is Windex Pete. You might think he would be called Washboard Pete, on account of the washboards, but while I have heard some people accidentally call him this, his name is Windex Pete. Windex Pete has two washboards so he can teach people how to play. I recommend purchasing a lesson from him. He taught me how to play Stand By Me. I was awful at it.
- Voodoo Authentica – if you truly must go to a voodoo shop, this one is better than the others. Whatever you do, avoid the one on Bourbon Street.
- Bourbon Street – I guess you have to see it at some point. But it’s gross and, to me, just has hardly any redeeming features, other than the fact that it keeps all the douchebags in one place. If you want to drink, nearly every other part of the city has way better bars. The best bar on Bourbon Street is Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, which is historic (oldest bar in America, I think? Or something like that.) It’s tasteful and cosy and a lot less touristy than other nearby places.
- Bacchanal Wine – If you want to sit in a nice outdoor courtyard, listening to jazz and drinking wine, this is your place.
- Bywater/Marigny: These are fun neighborhoods to walk around, if you get tired of the FQ and want to just go for a walk.
- Aunt Sally’s Praline Shop – Best pralines in Nola apparently, generous with the free samples.
- Vampire Boutique – Apparently quite interesting, haven’t been myself.
- Pirate’s Alley – Occasionally still a pirate or two in it.
- Armstrong Park: It’s worth coming here to see Congo Square, just because Congo Square is so historic. Not much to actually see in the park other than that and the statue of Big Chief Tootie Montana, though.
- Cemeteries: Honestly I have no recommendations on cemeteries. There are a bunch of them. People say “don’t walk around them alone.” I have no idea how true that is. If you want to see one of the cemeteries, I’d recommend just picking one with good TripAdvisor reviews.
- Place where they make all the old gas lamps
- Historic New Orleans collection – Lots of interesting old artifacts from the city.
- Whitney Plantation – A lot of people do “plantation tours” while they’re here. Some are kind of disturbing, because they’re steeped in Lost Cause mythology and romanticization of the Old South. The Whitney Plantation is the country’s first slavery museum, and the whole thing is dedicated to exploring the slavery aspect. It’s way the hell out of town, but I’m sure there is transport available through the tour companies.
- Latitude 29 (3-6 Daily)
- Domenica (2-5 Daily, half price pizzas, wine by the glass, well drinks & beer)
- Fulton Alley (5-7 Mon-Thur, 11a-7p Fri; $6 drinks and half price apps)
- Kingfish (3:30-6 Daily, more food than drink happy hour)
- Luke (3-6 Daily, half off beer/wine/specialty cocktails plus 75-cent oysters)
- Cane & Table (3-6 Daily)
- Tonique (noon-5 weekdays, $5 classic cocktails, plus the daily special)
- Tableau (3-7 daily, half off beer/wine on tap, $5 cocktails, small plates $6)
- SoBou (3-6 daily, select bites & sips priced $3-$6)
- Sazerac Bar
- Carousel Bar
- Cane & Table
- Napoleon House for Pimms Cups
- French 75 Bar
- Latitude 29
- Killer Po-Boys inside Erin Rose (midnight) V
- Clover Grill (24/7)
- Coops (til 1 or 2 a.m.)
- Port of Call (midnight Sun-Thurs, 1 a.m. Fri-Sat)
- Sylvain (11 p.m. Mon-Thurs, midnight Fri-Sat, 10 p.m. Sun)
- Verti Marte (24/7)
- Mimi’s in the Marigny (2 a.m. Sun-Thu, 4 a.m. Sat-Sun) V
- Buffa’s (varies, should be at least midnight)
- Siberia (midnight) V
- Three Muses (10 p.m. Wed-Thurs, Sun, midnight Fri-Sat)
- Dat Dog (midnight Sun-Wed, 1 a.m. Thurs, 3 a.m. Fri-Sat)
- Junction (2 a.m., call to verify)
- Everyone here is incredibly friendly. They will talk to you! This is not England: It is not weird to go up to a stranger and engage them in conversation.
- Do not say “New Or-LEENS.” It’s “New OR-lins.” Locals wince at the former, even though tourists say it constantly. (This is, interestingly enough, because it’s the pronunciation used in songs about the city, just because it rhymes well with things, as in Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans.) Oh, and it’s not the Big Easy, it’s the Crescent City.
- If you walk down Bourbon Street you will probably end up being given Mardi Gras beads. Do not wear them. They are a big colorful sign that says “Please mug me, I am a wasted frat bro from Minnesota.”
Also, if you walk through the French Quarter some guy may come up to you and say “Bet I know where you got your shoes.” Do not make eye contact with him, just walk away. (It is a con, and not a very good one, though one that has been done the same way for about 50 years.)
- Bring cash, ATM fees are crazy and some places are still cash-only.
- Where to stay? Airbnb has big ethics problems (it’s gobbling up neighborhoods), if you use it I recommend trying to get one where you actually stay with a local resident. You can also check fairhotel.org to find a unionized hotel with fair labor practices.
- Look alive. New Orleans drivers are notoriously negligent (and sometimes drunk!). Do not walk down the middle of the street of the French Quarter, where you could be hit by a car or bike!
- GETTING AROUND: The streetcars are an extremely inefficient form of transit. The buses aren’t much better. The Blue Bikes, on the other hand, are ubiquitous and not too expensive. (If you do ride a bike, be very careful, a lot of times people don’t stop when they’re supposed to, and don’t get your front tire caught in a streetcar track, it will give you a nasty spill!) Other than that, it’s Lyfts and cabs. (Use United Cab if you use a taxi.)
- From Cate: You will see people smoking pot on the street. Don’t be a narc.
- Public transit sucks. You will be doing a lot of walking. Bring comfy shoes.
- Tip street musicians well. People think New Orleans is a great city for musicians. It’s a terrible city for musicians: Most of the bars with live bands don’t have cover charges, and the musicians are almost entirely dependent on tips, but because people kind of just assume music is part of the fabric of the city, they don’t actually tip that well. A lot of musicians struggle here and so if you can help them out, do it. Also, tip “performatively”: Make sure others in the crowd see that you’re tipping so they’ll feel encouraged to do the same.
- Same goes for other kinds of street performers, including this dog.