Tour Guide: New Orleans

If I could live anywhere else in the world it would not be Paris, Hawaii or some other wonderful, warm city other than Boston it would, honest to God, be the great city of New Orleans.

Full disclosure: I had never been to New Orleans before I went there as a volunteer a year after Hurricane Katrina got her ugly paws all over the city, but I fell in love despite (or maybe because of) the way that the city was getting itself back together. That first trip came at a very difficult time in my own life and it literally changed everything for me; I have since been back for two service trips and am awaiting the next time I can get down there. Whenever anyone tells me they are going for a visit I literally burst at the seams with all of the things I want them to see, eat and drink. It has been a few years since I have been, but this is my own little guide to the Big Easy.
Note: I have not  yet traveled there with a kiddo, so this does not take that into consideration; I promise to update once we have taken Madeleine.

EAT
If I had to spend the rest of my life only eating food from one city, this would be it. They have po' boys, jambalaya, etouffee, every sort of seafood imaginable and all that Cajun seasoning. And don't even get me started on the beignets at Cafe du Monde. Heaven, I tell you. I have had the pleasure of eating a home cooked meal made by one of the folks whose homes we were working on, which is a lot like what some of their chefs in restaurants are doing- a big  home cooked meal that just happens to be outside their home. Eating is a big deal to these wonderful people, and they give you every reason in the world to slow down and enjoy what they have to offer.
I like Tujague's for a good, traditional Creole meal, and Acme Oyster House for a whole lot of great seafood and raw selections. I also loved Cochon for all things pork and recommend a dinner there before heading to the Howlin' Wolf for a show, which you will want to do no matter who is playing that night, guaranteed.
You pretty much cannot go wrong for eating in New Orleans as long as you follow the Stefanie rule of thumb for being a tourist and avoid anywhere with 1) pictures on the menu 2) that is a national chain or 3) that is trying too hard. I had the best muffaletta I ever at a little grocer near the French Market that I would have never thought of, but I saw a lot of locals going in and out, and those seem to be the people you can trust a lot more than those silly people at Zagat. So I guess I have another rule, 4) follow the locals!
Dinner at Tujague's.

Someone else's dinner I probably stole half of.

Cafe du Monde beignets and coffee with chicory.

At the Acme Oyster House.
DRINK
There is a legend about a girl, who. at the end of an eight hour day gutting houses (literally the hardest physical labor one can ever experience) and a quick shower rounded up her very own parade down to Tropical Isle to get one of their famous Hand Grenades. Some even say that the girl could  put down more than one and was still standing at the end of the night. Depends on who you ask and their definition of standing, but let me just say that you need to go, for me, er, the girl.
Being that I am a tourist when in New Orleans, I do recommend walking down Bourbon Street because it is definitely unlike any shit show you have ever seen. I am from Reno and was impressed by the level of amateurs and bad ideas going on. But go get a Hand Grenade, have a Huge Ass Beer to Go, and keep on walking until you get down to Frenchmen Street, which is where you really want to spend your night anyways. Unless you really do want to end up on Cops: New Orleans, which is pretty much the best season ever.
There is also the lovely Pat O'Briens in the French Quarter where you can have a famous hurricane next to the prettiest outdoor fountain - it literally feels like Disneyland back there, if Mickey and friends actually put bourbon in their mint juleps. I also really love Pirates Alley Cafe and Absinthe Bar next to the St. Louis Cathedral because I am a nerd and love pirates and there has always been good music playing when I have been there. And if you are in the mood to eat, drink, play pool and get a load of laundry done, go over to Igor's. The Cajun burger is guaranteed to sober you up, if you so need it.
Also, drink all the Abita beer you can, especially Andygator since you still can't get it outside of the south that I know of.
My two loves.
Grainy photo, grainy night in 2007.
I was JOKING. This was only my first (second).

LISTEN
Speaking of music, it seems pretty obvious but I will say that you will find some of the best music that you have ever heard being played inside bars, on sidewalks and at house parties. Music is everywhere and it is really, truly some of the very best music in the world (I am listening to my New Orleans Pandora station at this exact moment). My recommendation is back on Frenchmen Street at the Apple Barrel or the Spotted Cat Music Club, I would also make sure to catch a show at Howlin' Wolf and, if you have a chance. the Preservation Hall Jazz band in their home, the Preservation Hall. If you happen to see that Rebirth Brass Band is playing any night that you are in New Orleans do not even think twice and just go. Trust me.
Just an amazing brass band on Frenchman Street, doing their thing.

BUY
Some of my favorite treasures from New Orleans came from the French Quarter Market, which is a fun, open-air market right on the Mississippi River. They have everything from gator heads to paintings by local artists and everything in between including music and a farmer's market. There are also a ton of great local stores, coffee shops and places to eat on Magazine Street, including the Defend New Orleans Store where you can buy one of these awesome shirts.

Also, if you are in the market for a new tattoo, I highly recommend the guys at Electric Ladyland Tattoo, who were kind enough to do a bunch of fleur de lis tattoos on my volunteer crew one night.
From my 2007 volunteer relief trip! Love these people!
You should also stop my Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo; I have one of their dolls that I am sure helped me get over an ex while he suffered through some pin-like back pain :)

GO
There is so, so much to see in New Orleans and my measly three trips has not even scratched the surface of all there is, but here are some places that I have been and loved. Louis Armstrong Park is an awesome tribute to Satchmo and, of course, has lots of concerts and other outdoor fun.
Cemeteries in New Orleans are unlike anything you will see in America as they are based more on the French design and have ornate above-ground vaults. There are lots of cemetery tours, which I have not done, but just waking a walk around and seeing the beautiful tributes to the city's dead is pretty amazing. Of course, there are lots of famous people buried down there too, especially in the three St. Louis Cemeteries.
The last time I was there I went on a bike tour with the Ninth Ward Rebirth Bike Tours that started near Frenchmen Street and went through the city to the Lower Ninth Ward where we got po' boys and visited the House of Dance and Feathers. It was absolutely amazing and a wonderful way to see some really important parts of New Orleans. If you do nothing else but eat and drink and this I would say you had a successful trip!
From my first trip,  8 months after the storm.
A stop on our bike tour in 2008.
I have also been to the New Orleans Museum of Art for a post-Katrina exhibit that was beautiful. The museum was still recovering when I was there but it is an awesome building and they seem to have a lot of great collections at any given time.
Most of the other sites you will see while walking around the restaurants and bars that I have recommended including Jackson Square. the Garden District and the Riverwalk. It must be the Northerner in me, but there is something captivating about how immense the Mississippi is and imagining all those old riverboats coming down the water is pretty neat when you are standing on the banks of it.
Finally, if you have access to a car and want to get out of the city, head to Abita Springs to visit the Abita Tasting Room, lunch at the Brew Pub and drive across the longest causeway I have ever seen.
Welcome!
I could literally go on even more about all this great city has to offer, but I think this is officially the longest post EVER. Before I end, though, I have to give you my highest recommendation for something to do in New Orleans, and that is to volunteer. There is still so much work to be done and there is no better way to understand the resiliency and culture of New Orleans than by giving some of your time to their continued efforts to come back from Katrina better than ever. I have done all of my trips through Hands On New Orleans and suggest that you check them out and get in on a project, even just for a couple of hours. If you aren't planning a trip or don't have enough time to help out, throw them a few bucks, and tell them that girl with the Hand Grenade love from Boston sent you.
Our first volunteer relief trip together!

My second trip after a long day of volunteering.
RECOMMENDED PRE-TRIP READING AND VIEWING
When the Levees Broke and If God Is Willing and da' Creek Don't Rise
One Dead In Attic
The Great Deluge



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