As someone who grew up in Florida and experienced about as much warm weather as one can take, I’ve grown to pretty much despise being in heat and humidity, with two exceptions. One: If I am at the beach or pool with a cold beverage in my hand. Two: If I’m in New Orleans. The first time I thought about visiting New Orleans, I was 21 and planning one of my first-ever trips with Jake. I didn’t know what to expect except for maybe some preconceived notions about Bourbon Street. Now I’ve been to Nola a couple more times, it’s become one of my favorite cities in the world (and I try to avoid Bourbon Street if I can). I’m not an expert (full disclosure: we’ve only visited three times), but I love it all the same.
So, what’s my favorite part? Food. So much food. Food so good that I am willing to endure any level of acid reflux or heartburn. Food so good I will walk 5 miles in the heat and then eat outside in the sun just to experience it. But honestly, the more time I spend in New Orleans, the more I realize that as good as the food is (it’s very good), it’s the atmosphere of the city that I love. I also love that it really is it’s own thing.
It doesn’t really feel like the deep south. It doesn’t really feel reminiscent of any major American cities, either. People say it feels European, and I could see that, but that doesn’t really fit completely, either. In a weird way, it has a certain energy that reminds me of Philly… charm and grit and good food and art all mixed together, but I’d be lying if I said they’re that similar. New Orleans is just… its own thing. It’s a little weird, and you can’t quite put your finger on it, but I feel oddly at home there every time I visit. Anyway, I love it there. You should go. Here are some things I love to do while I’m in town. Please be aware that 80% of the suggestions are food and drink related, because that’s 80% of my travel interests in any given location. I am who I am.
Before I say anything else, I’m going to put a reminder here as New Orleans has been hit particularly hard by the Delta Variant that I also mention at the end of this post: If you want to visit New Orleans right now and you’re not willing to get vaccinated if you’re able to/adhere to the city’s COVID safety guidelines and rules/treat everyone who lives and works there with the respect they deserve (that includes tipping generously!), DO NOT GO.
OK. Now let’s get into it.
- Turkey + The Wolf // I love so many things about Turkey + The Wolf, but if you want to know what they’re all about… follow them on Instagram. You will get why I love to eat there/spend money there almost instantly. People rave about their collared green melt, which I’ve never actually had, but every other item I’ve tried has been delicious. Plus, the menu seems to change pretty often which is fun. Right now, T & TW is doing outdoor dining only, so I would suggest choosing the coolest time of the day to stop by and/or not walking five miles before showing up for lunch. Truthfully, though, even if you do end up sweating profusely through your entire meal (been there), it’s worth it. I would eat that fried bologna sandwich while sweating profusely in 90 degree heat all over again anytime.
- Bacchanal (pictured above) // I could sing the praises of Bacchanal until the day I die, which is saying a lot as someone who’s only been there twice. On our most recent trip, Jake and I waited an hour in line (it was a really nice, cool night in August, so there was a longer-than-usual line) and ended up canceling our dinner reservation so we could spend all night here, listening to live music, drinking wine, and eating a charcuterie plate the size of a tire. It was one of my favorite nights ever. I guess you would say Bacchanal is more of a wine bar/store and music venue than restaurant, but the food is solid and if you’re looking for a low key night, come here on a Friday or Saturday and order a bottle of wine or three and some food. Better than any fancy dinner. Trust me.
- The Elysian Bar // Jake and I first discovered this bar/restaurant because it’s connected to the hotel we were staying at (Hotel Peter & Paul, more on that below). Elysian is the type of place where the decor is so good and so thoughtful that you kind of expect the food and drinks to fall a bit short. After all, it doesn’t need to be that good when a place is so pretty, right? Wrong. Both the cocktails and the food here are excellent. The decor only makes everything better. Just… so good. Make sure you check out each and every dining room and area (including the church!) if you stop by here.
- Molly’s Rise & Shine // If you’re looking for a low-key way to spend a day in New Orleans, my suggestion is to walk up and down Magazine Street until you are sweating profusely and/or ready for a nap. Somewhere along that walk, you’ll pass Molly’s Rise & Shine (hey, you could even start your walk there) and if you are smart, you will order the breakfast burrito (Jake also has excellent things to say about their Grand Slam, but I digress). The burrito there is… unmatched. Incredible. Dare I say, even life-changing? It’s just so damn good. I also got a T-shirt here which features an illustration of a breakfast sandwich on a hike (it has legs and everything), so clearly it’s a lot of fun.
- Levee Baking Co. // Another place just off of Magazine Street where you are now obligated to stop is Levee Baking Co., the interior of which feels like stepping into the most aesthetically-pleasing kitchen you’ve ever seen on Instagram. It’s just lovely. We ordered a ton of pastries when we visited, but my favorite was the sausage roll and the spiced buttermilk muffin. Just… so good. Chef’s kiss. Order online the night or morning before you stop by to ensure you can get all the goodies you want.
- Sylvain // Sylvain is another place we’ve been to a couple times and it is really, really lovely. Just a great atmosphere. But also, truly exceptional cornbread with spicy, melty butter. Need I say more? I think not.
- Parkway Bakery & Tavern // This place makes the list because at some point in New Orleans, you may be tempted to go to some random spot on Bourbon Street to get a po boy. Do not do this. Come here instead. If you’re really into messy, over-the-top food, the James Brown features BBQ beef and fried shrimp. It is ridiculous and good and ridiculously good. They also have a ton of outdoor seating, which is great (the bar is also pretty cool, though).
- Peche // The first time Jake and I went to Peche was on our first trip to the city. We were 21 and we went here twice during our three-day trip, primarily for the delicious crispy Brussels sprouts. Seven years later, and I’m happy to say they are still serving the same great brussels sprouts and lots of other delicious food, too. If you are looking for a solid restaurant that’s more on the traditional side of things, Peche (and Cochon and Herbsaint, which are all owned by the same dude) is a good option. This is the kind of place you can bring just about everyone (foodies, picky eaters, parents, etc.) and everyone will feel comfortable and satisfied.
- Bar Marilou (pictured above) // This is just a drop dead gorgeous bar. There is no other way to say it. If you’re staying at Maison de la Luz, you enter the bar through a really cool speakeasy area. If you’re not, you enter through a magical corridor covered in greenery and twinkle lights. The decor of the bar and its selection of interesting, beautiful cocktails is like nothing else you’ve ever seen. Just stunning!
- Bacchanal // See above for full description of Bacchanal, but in terms of drinks… if you love wine, GO HERE. There are also cocktails and (I think?) beer, though, so no matter what you’re into, you should be good. Just make sure you go on a night with live music!
- French Truck Coffee // If you follow me on Instagram, you already know how much I love this place. If I could start every day with a French Truck iced coffee with half-and-half, or their New Orleans iced coffee… I would be extremely happy. It is just an incredibly pleasant place with truly exceptional pebbled ice. They have a few locations, but I loved the one on Magazine Street (this is the one closer to the WWII museum; there are two on Magazine). More than one day I grabbed an iced coffee here and worked for a bit (indoor and outdoor seating are great!) before continuing to walk up and down Magazine and check out the architecture, shops, and other cool spots.
- The Elysian Bar // In addition to serving food, Elysian Bar is, well, a bar. And a damn good one at that. The entire space (outdoor and indoor) is gorgeous and the drinks are top notch.
- Seaworthy // If you’re looking for a beautiful, laidback spot to drink wine and eat delicious oysters that isn’t overrun with tourists, go to Seaworthy. I loved the vibe in here and they had some decent happy hour deals (including on oysters!) as well.
- Arnaud’s French 75 // This one was a bit more on the touristy side, I guess, but it was more classic New Orleans if you ask me. Plus, I discovered that I actually like French 75s. Get a seat at the bar here for a great experience. The bartenders wear white tuxedos! It’s fun.
- Peychaud’s // This was by far one of my favorite cocktail experiences of our most recent stay in New Orleans. If you are a sucker for a cocktail that looks like a work of art and is delicious, too… Peychaud’s is for you. The back patio here is also really gorgeous.
- Sazerac Bar // Jake and I went here on our first trip to Nola, though something tells me we might appreciate it more now that we’re a bit older. It has a very cool 1940s vibe and like Arnaud’s, the bartenders wear white tuxedos. There’s also an old bullet hole that is still in the wall of the room. It’s a classic New Orleans bar that’s a little on the swankier, quieter side of things.
These are the two favorite places we’ve stayed at in the city! They’re both BEAUTIFUL and a little quirky, which is exactly how I like hotels most of the time.
- Hotel Peter & Paul // I booked a room here on a complete whim two years ago. It turned out to be one of the most fun hotel experiences. First of all: The hotel is an old school/church, and it is just stunningly gorgeous… but also a little spooky. But in a… cute way? It’s hard to explain, but the decor is impeccable and the details are incredible. Service was also great. Only negative is that it was a little far from some things (had to Uber most of the time, though we did walk to the French Quarter from here once and it was fine), aside from Bacchanal and Elysian Bar (next door to hotel).
- Maison de la Luz (pictured above) // This was the hotel we stayed at most recently, and it was also a great experience. It’s owned by the Ace Hotel (which is next door), so you have access to the pool and gym there, which is great. We checked out the pool area and loved it. This hotel is also home to Bar Marilou, which is beautiful/delicious. Plus, the decor in EVERY space in the hotel is out of this world. The room was comfortable, quiet, and spacious and had every amenity we needed. The location was probably the best part, though, we could walk almost everywhere from here except for Elysian and Bacchanal.
Of the two, Hotel Peter & Paul felt a little more unique (and more affordable!), but don’t get me wrong… Maison de la Luz still feels nothing like a typical hotel experience. It’s definitely a boutique vibe (stunning decor, unbelievable bar, thoughtful details), just in a bigger, more traditional space than P&P. I loved them both and would stay at either again in a heartbeat. My goal for our next New Orleans trip is to stay at Hotel St. Vincent, which looks incredible as well.
Admittedly, we haven’t experienced as much live music in New Orleans as I’ve wanted to — or, at least, we haven’t experienced live music at a wide variety of locations, anyway. This is mostly because when we find a spot we like and we enjoy the music, we stay there all night and then go back again the next time we’re in town. My goal in the future is to check out more venues, but here are the few we’ve stopped by and loved.
- The Spotted Cat // Located on Frenchman’s Street, the Spotted Cat is one of the most fun spots in New Orleans (other than all the restaurants). The bands are good, the drinks are good, and it’s just a fun time all around.
- Bacchanal // Wow, would you look at that! Bacchanal again. Really, though, this place has it all.
- Preservation Hall // This was one of the more “touristy” things we’ve done in New Orleans, but it is such a wonderful memory for me and I think it’s worth a stop on anyone’s first New Orleans trip.
Here are some things that I think might be helpful to know when visiting.
- COVID: I got a lot of questions about New Orleans /COVID precautions when we visited, which makes sense because the city was dealing with a massive uptick in cases while we were there and in the weeks before. We were a little nervous, but we’re both fully vaccinated and have no problem following mask rules and dining outside whenever possible. We ultimately decided that the trip was something we could do safely and respectfully. Thanks to the slightly cooler weather, we were able to eat/drink outside about 75% of the time or so. I was also very impressed with the mask wearing throughout the city — people followed the rules better than in Philadelphia, to be honest. Luckily, since visiting, New Orleans is instituting a negative COVID test/vaccination requirement for virtually all indoor activities, including bars/restaurants. I LOVE THIS, and am SO glad that the city is doing it. Again: If you want to visit New Orleans right now and you’re not willing to adhere to those COVID safety guidelines/get vaccinated if you’re able to/treat everyone who lives and works there with the respect they deserve (that includes tipping generously!), DO NOT GO. That is all.
- Yes, it is hot. We’ve only visited in August and September and we’ve been lucky enough to have one extremely hot trip and two more mild ones (having said that, all three were very hot lol). It’s just how it is. The humidity is brutal and (mostly) unrelenting. Lean into it. Dress accordingly. Bring handkerchiefs to dab away sweat (I’m serious, this was a game-changer for me when walking around a lot). I thought more than once on our most recent trip that I would have really appreciated one of those nerdy neck fan things, to be honest.
- Suggestion, again: Walk up and down Magazine Street! Start at French Truck coffee and just see where your feet take you. I did this for a few hours while listening to a Preservation Hall Band playlist and it was very much a vibe. It’s also just a good way to see a slice of the city that’s particularly beautiful. There are some cool restaurants, shops, and houses throughout this walk, too.
- The main attraction in the city (other than Bourbon Street) is probably the World War II Museum. If you’re into history, I’m sure you’d love this. Jake and I visited during our first trip and had a good time. Honestly, even if history isn’t your thing, I’d suggest scheduling it if for no other reason than to have a chance to chill out in air conditioning for a few hours and do something other than eat.
- If you’re really curious, Bourbon Street is worth seeing, maybe, just to say you did it… but it is not worth spending any amount of time there. Especially at night. If you’re going to go, it’s slightly more pleasant to go on an early Saturday afternoon (though, still, always very smelly) to look around and check things out. We stopped in briefly at Cafe Beignet on Bourbon (the original Cafe Beignet location is on Royal Street, and I’d suggest going there over Cafe du Monde for beignets, FYI) on a Saturday morning to grab some to-go mimosas (an excellent choice) and they had some live music which was fun.
- … may I suggest, instead of Bourbon, going to Frenchman’s Street for a fun nighttime experience? It’s less crowded, less crazy, and still filled with people and bars and TONS of live music. It’s also cleaner. You still have the energy, people, (and also a good amount of tourists, of course) of Bourbon, but it’s just… better. Stop at the Spotted Cat and/or visit the tintype photo booth (parked outside of Spotted Cat, across from DBA) that Jake and I go to every time we visit.
On My List For Next Time
I can’t say for certain whether any of the below restaurants/attractions are good, but they’re on my list for my next trip based on Instagram posts and reviews I’ve seen! I figured maybe you’d want to check them out too.
- Food: Mister Mao’s
- Food: Gianna
- Visit: Pharmacy Museum
- Visit: Nicholas Cage’s Weird Pyramid Gravestone (I’m kidding, but also not)
- Stay: Hotel St. Vincent
Alright, I think that’s it! If you end up visiting New Orleans and going to any of these places, let me know! Would love to hear your thoughts.
Thanks for reading!