New Orleans Weekend Guide
Embrace NOLA's Unstoppable Spirit
Celebrate New Orleans' tenacity as this great city continues to rebuild after the devastating losses suffered after Hurricane Katrina. The city didn't succumb to despair and instead continues to focus its energy on the culture, dining, music and history that make it so beloved to travelers. Spend a weekend eating, strolling and imbibing, and you'll find it's hard to resist NOLA's spirited Southern hospitality.
Where to Stay
There's plenty of room to spread out in a luxe suite at Windsor Court Hotel in the business district. Each super-sized suite has a separate living room, bedroom and a small kitchen or wet bar area. Take advantage of all that room and book an en-suite Swedish massage. While most accommodations are suites, there are 56 deluxe rooms that are a spacious 400 square feet with the same lovely amenities. The rooms boast interesting artwork and windows or balconies that look out over the Mississippi River or city skyline.
The ritzy Hotel Monteleone is a historic landmark dating back to 1886 that has been a favorite among the South's literary elite, from William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote to modern icons like Anne Rice, Stephen Ambrose and John Grisham. Despite its historic status, this French Quarter oasis is thoroughly modern with Wi-Fi, a snazzy fitness center and a sprawling Skytop Terrace that includes a cool rooftop pool. Go for a spin in the unusual Carousel Bar, a circus-themed revolving cocktail lounge that has been wooing hotel guests and locals since 1949.
Enjoy some Southern hospitality in an intimate setting at Maison Perrier, a Garden District bed and breakfast. The house is a gorgeous Victorian, but the mansion's history isn't nearly as buttoned-up: It's rumored to have once been a turn-of-the-century gentlemen's club. Rooms, named for these imagined ladies of the night, are romantic with every necessary comfort. The Jasmine is an elegant red room with a Victorian headboard, whirlpool tub and candles galore, while the demure Clair has calming lavender walls and a king-sized iron bed. Charming Dolly is a Provence-inspired cornflower-blue retreat with a fireplace and private balcony.
Where to Eat
New Orleans is a town for foodies with culinary delights around every corner. There are fancy restaurants with white-glove service, casual spots serving the ubiquitous muffuletta sandwiches and cozy cafes, like the iconic Café du Monde, where you can enjoy beignets and watch the world go by the French Quarter.
Chef John Besh is just one of the recognizable faces in New Orleans' culinary scene with 5 restaurants in the city and 1 in nearby Lacombe. Luke, located in the city's business district, is a classic brasserie with a daily breakfast buffet and Southern standards like shrimp and grits or chicken and waffles. In the French Quarter, August is a fancier option with an impressive wine list and French Creole flavors in dishes like pan-roasted sablefish or rabbit cassoulet. Parties can allow the chef to choose the dishes and enjoy a 3-hour feast with the John Besh Degustation menu.
For a truly decadent dinner, splurge at the French Quarter's Stella!, where a few grams of rich and buttery Russian caviar may cost more than your weekend accommodations. The 7-course tasting menu is equally splurge-worthy with a dazzling array of flavors and fresh ingredients in seasonal dishes like Italian summer truffle and king oyster mushroom risotto. Chef Scott Boswell plays with global gastronomy, combining flavors from French, Creole and Asian cooking with modern techniques. The results are dishes like pan-roasted Hawaiian Walu with a hot buttered popcorn crust and a grilled cheese dessert sandwich with candied pecans, powdered pistachio and a Captain Crunch and nutella explosion of flavor.
It's easy to work up a sweat in just a day of window-shopping in often-steamy New Orleans. The folks at Creole Creamery are happy to help you cool down with some unusual ice cream combinations. Sure you'll find the essential flavors on the menu, but we dare you to treat your taste buds to an outrageous scoop of sweet Peanut Butter Banana Malt or Sweet Potato Sassafras Praline. Go savory with a cold scoop of Tomato Basil ice cream or mix your salty and sweet with Salted Caramel or Strawberry Jalapeno Cheesecake. And if you must go with vanilla, at least experiment with an ice cream cone topped with Vanilla-Bourbon with Brown Sugar.
What to See & Do
At the heart of New Orleans, the French Quarter is the city's center of culture, eating and entertaining. You can spend your entire weekend in town wandering around this neighborhood, also known as Vieux Carré or simply the Quarter. Appreciate the architecture with French and Spanish influences that include walled courtyards and wrought-iron balconies. Grab a muffulleta sandwich at Central Grocery (923 Decatur Street), and take a stroll through Jackson Square. Go window-shopping in the boutiques and galleries along Chartres and Royal Streets. If the French Quarter is the city's cultural hub, Bourbon Street is the drinking epicenter with rows of bars and carousing in the street.
You've likely seen images of the devastation in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, but Tours by Isabelle helps visitors understand the storm's true impact. The company's Katrina Tour sets off from the French Quarter, one of the city's few neighborhoods that was spared Katrina's wrath, and takes visitors on a 4-hour trip through the parts of the city that were hardest hit. These include the Ninth Ward, the London Avenue Canal Breach, the levee break at the 17th Street Canal and St. Bernard Parish. While the tour reveals the depth of the storm's wreckage, it also offers glimpses of hope as volunteers work to rebuild the most damaged parts of the city.
Embrace New Orleans' spooky side on a stroll through the city's storied cemeteries. The city's high water table makes for soggy ground and easy flooding, so all burial sites must be above ground. Rows of tombs and statues create visually striking miniature cities of the dead that conjure up local folklore, voodoo history and literary characters from Anne Rice novels. While alluring, many of these burial grounds are found in the city's edgier neighborhoods, so it's best to explore these spots on an organized group tour. As an added bonus, you'll learn more about the history and legends from an expert. Historic New Orleans Tours hosts a Cemetery Voodoo Tour through St. Louis Cemetery Number 1. The city's oldest cemetery dates back to 1789 and is the final resting place for the Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau and the backdrop for scenes in the cult classic "Easy Rider."
For many, the first thing that comes to mind for cocktails in the French Quarter is a boozy bar crawl with bottomless hurricanes and bawdy displays for beads. The Bombay Club sits neatly in the French Quarter, but cocktails at this elegant joint couldn't be more different. Talented bartenders prepare over 115 martinis by carefully hand-stirring top-shelf ingredients to create classic cosmopolitans and other concoctions like the Cajun King martini with Absolut Peppar, Citron, some dry vermouth and spicy olives. Patrons belly up to the polished wooden bar for single-barrel bourbons, a fine single-malt Scotch or a snifter of cognac.
The romantic Victorian Lounge at the Columns Hotel does romance the old-fashioned way with antique décor, a colorful stained-glass chandelier and a cozy fireplace. There's a proper porch where you can canoodle and enjoy some people-watching as the streetcars roll through the beautiful Garden District. When you're ready to head inside for the music, appreciate this timeless classic with a cool mint julep at the mahogany bar.
New Orleans is known for its thriving music scene, and even the state's worst national disasters couldn't stifle the jazz that spills out into the streets and alleys. Snug Harbor, located near the French Quarter in Fauborg Marigney, has an intimate music room with 2 shows each night. They include a range of styles including blues, jazz and R&B with big-band orchestras and single musicians on trombone, guitar or piano. All tickets are general admission so you can choose a ground-floor seat in front of the stage or opt for mezzanine seating looking down on the stage.
Travel Channel Insider's Tip
The French Quarter may be the only neighborhood in the area that is easy to navigate as the streets are laid out in a straightforward grid. For the rest of your exploring, invest in a good map and leave your car behind: Hit the streets in comfy walking shoes, take a ride on a trolley or rely on cabs to navigate the narrow, and sometimes confusing, maze of city streets.