We have all heard of “The Crescent City”. It’s “The Big Easy”. The land of bayous, gumbo, and jazz. Simply said, it’s New Orleans, Louisiana. This is a city surrounded in mystery, culture, and grandeur. I have physically walked those cobblestone streets only once, but in my imagination I have been there far more times. I, too, have enjoyed the sensual sounds of Dixieland on a late night stroll. I, too, have ventured among the crowded halls of Cafe du Monde and devoured a powdery beignet . I, too, have braved Bourbon Street and “earned” myself some beads (it is as easy as screaming, “Hey! Over here!” surprisingly).
Are you considering making a trip? Do you have questions about where to eat? What sites to see? I cannot give you the “Official-Certified-5 Star-NOLA-Resident Tour/Expert Guide” summary, but I can tell you what I have personally seen and experienced on my short stay there. I can tell you exactly where I stayed, ate, ventured.
Keep on reading until the end and you’ll see my Top 5 Favorite Things About New Orleans.
→ WHERE DID WE STAY?
Feast your eyes on “The Gentry House“. How about you shut down the idea that you need to stay in a fancy hotel on Royal Street? Why don’t you rest your head on a pillow at this quaint bed and breakfast instead? Nestled between Rampart St. and Burgandy St., The Gentry House is a sight!
My favorite part? The courtyard! The only time I saw one of the owners was when he was tending to his garden. And what a great job he does! The fountain and wrought iron furnishings really add to the antiquated feel of the place. The house is 150+ years old with, I’m sure, lots of history. Makes me wonder who else had chosen to make their stay there within the last century.
True to their statement of “Come stay with us and live like a local!”, The Gentry House is a home away from home. It was like having our own apartment in New Orleans: it had a living room, bedroom, and kitchen with a fridge stocked with fruits, drink, and various breakfast options. My most favorite option were fresh, warm croissants – delivered daily and left on our door. We read about these in the reviews and were very excited to try them. They did not disappoint! I was surprised to find that there were different options: regular, chocolate-filled, and eclairs. I had the regular croissant and I was overwhelmed with it’s buttery goodness. On our last day, the group was ready to leave before we ran into Mr. Brian donning a bag of those delicious croissants. He insisted we prolong checking out and enjoy the baked goods before heading off. We HAD to stay and have a bite before turning in the keys, of course! It was worth it too.
Overall, it was a comfortable stay. It wasn’t a 5 Star hotel, you mostly pick up after yourself, but it was an experience I thoroughly enjoyed. It has great reviews on tripadvisor, as well. I would definitely book with them again.
Warning: From the moment we got there, we were told to stay away from Rampart St. come night time. Don’t park your car there and do not stumble upon those streets alone. But don’t worry, be courteous, mind yourself, and keep your wits about you always. Never be afraid of travelling. There is danger just stepping outside your own house everyday. Remember to have streets smarts.
→WHERE DID WE EAT?
Eat New Orleans
In my personal opinion, the most important part of a trip (besides a roof over your head) is how you fill your belly. What does the area have to offer when it comes to cuisine? As you can probably tell, I am not looking for anything fancy. I am always willing to try ‘hole-the-wall’/’mom-and-pop’ type restaurants and have been happier for it.
The first place we tried for dinner was “Eat New Orleans” located right on the corner of Dumaine St. Sliding into the little door with my cohorts wasn’t an easy task because we were all fighting each other to get a seat by the window (I like to people watch). From the outside, looking in, the restaurant gives off an air of humble trendiness. It beckons outsiders to try their cooking. Their name says it all we were there to EAT, NOLA style.
It seemed like a lot of the patrons were regulars, as the waiter seemed to be extremely all-knowing about their orders. The crowd was a little older, which is probably why we got eyeballed when we came in with our “grenades” and valor having survived Bourbon St. I try not to reek “tourist”, but I don’t think we fooled anyone that night.
Check out their menu! I highlighted what my dinner party tried.
I couldn’t decide between the “Crawfish Boil Stew” and the “Chicken and Dumplings” for dinner. The temperature that night in January was probably in the 50s, so it was on the chilly side. When I revealed my uncertainty with a food choice, the waiter pronounced that it was a “chicken and dumplings kind of night”. So I got chicken and dumplings. I don’t think I need to say more.
Cafe du Monde
Have you ever seen Disney’s Princess and the Frog (2009)? Do you remember her “man-catching beignets”? Even though it was only a cartoon, this delicacy just looked way too tempting to not have in real life! I wanted to try some immediately! And what better place to have your first, powdery beignet than the famous Cafe du Monde ?
There are two locations in New Orleans, but we visited the original one near Jackson Square. Beware! This place is INCREDIBLY popular! Pretty much anytime of the day – being open 24 hours. So much so that the line was around the block! Surprisingly, it was only a 15-20 minute wait. My friend Manat was kind enough to wrestle some older ladies for a spot in line… She was very territorial about our table! (kidding)
The set-up was like a big parish hall. An open space with dozens and dozens of small, round tables. It’s pretty cramped in there, but the smell of coffee and baked goods were a sumptuous distraction. Tip: If you go around back, past where the to-go lines are, you can see the employees cutting and deep frying the dough! They have it down to a science. The guy I saw didn’t even have to turn around – he just tossed those buggers right in. Watch out for splashing oil!
If you’re looking for good southern cooking, look no further than Willie Mae’s Scotch House down St. Ann Street. If you didn’t know where or what this place was, you could easily drive right past it! The only way you would know it’s purpose is by seeing the sign outside and trying to push past the growing crowd lining up. It’s located in the middle of a (truthfully) grungy neighborhood and, just like the name entails, is inside of a tiny little house! It adds to the charm of “home cooked” meals and feels like you’re eating with the owner’s huge (and widely diverse) family of tourists. According to an article on nola.com, the original location is left in shambles from the destructive Hurricane Katrina. But don’t expect to come here for dinner because they close their doors at…wait for it…5 pm. It was the boys’ idea to eat here and I am glad they made this decision! I come from a land, though also in the south, whose best example of fried chicken is KFC. So…you can tell that anything could beat that! Take a gander at these:
I have never had fried-anything melt in my mouth the way these did! I don’t know what the batter was made out of, but I do know that it came from heaven. I paired them with some green beans, but there are so many other options to get. Do butter beans, mashed potatoes, mac & cheese, sweet potatoes, or beans catch your attention? It should because they are great matches for the “America’s Best Fried Chicken”.
I will warn you that the wait was pretty long. It is not a huge facility, so there aren’t that many tables to work with. The service took a bit longer than we would have liked too, but it was around 3 pm, so I am sure they were preparing to close up. Regardless of these things, the food was marvelous! Best fried chicken I have ever had (don’t tell my Dad). I would recommend Willie Mae’s to anyone in the mood for some great southern, home-cooked meals.
→WHAT SITES WOULD WE RECOMMEND?
Drive along Lake Pontchartrain
No, this isn’t Lake “Pocahontas” (if you’re like me, that’s what you thought it said too). It is actually pronounced “pawn-sha-trun” (fancy, I know) and is known as the body of water that hosts the world’s longest bridge of its kind. Ready to ditch the typical “I spy” road trip gaming options of “tree, tree, stick, green highway sign”? How about imagining you are driving through water? Obviously the bridge is not sitting tire-deep! But, if you use your imagination as often as I do, it may totally seem that way. You are driving parallel to opposite traffic and the bridge seems like it is never going to end! That might sound terrible (and a bit scary – Twilight Zone: The Never Ending Bridge!?), but it is actually quite exciting. The Causeway Bridge was approximately 40 miles of anticipation for me. Once you reach the ending point, you can see the skyline of New Orleans getting more and more prominent. It was honestly breathtaking!
Go to Google Maps and use the street view. You won’t regret it.
Warning: Don’t drive on it during a storm. The water levels get extremely high and rocky – it’s not worth the terror, in my opinion!
Finding Marie Laveau’s Tomb in St. Louis Cemetery #1
R.I.P. Rest in peace to these old souls who are “buried” in this alluring New Orleans cemetery. Take the term “buried” lightly because they are actually above ground. The walk to the cemetery was what you would think: it was musty, dark, and smelled a bit like the waste from the buggies that pass by. Rows and rows of tombs encompass your eye frame. Entering the iron-gate protected property was like voluntarily entering into a maze. Would you have the courage to venture into it independently? I suggest you and your friends do what we did. Have you ever heard of the famous Marie Laveau? If you haven’t, you absolutely have to look up her history (she is even introduced as a featured character on the popular TV show American Horror Story). Being dubbed the “Voodoo Queen”, you can imagine what she was known for! St. Louis Cemetery #1
Here is what I wrote about finding her tomb in a letter of mine to a pen pal:
Before we left on Sunday, we visited the old cemetery. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but because of the water levels in New Orleans, they had to “bury” their dead above ground. So there are these huge tombs and mausoleums (spelling) that house people’s loved ones. It’s supposed that the famous voodoo queen Marie Laveau was buried there, so Hayley, Manat, and I split up to see if we could find it. The old cemetery was a big maze! I got lost amidst all the tombs, but I was the one to actually find her grave. You tell because it has a bunch of red X’s all over it and tons of “offerings” (which looked more like junk – old gum wrappers, bus passes, some lady even left her license from New Jersey). The story goes, you can go to her grave and ask for a favor, marking 3 x’s. If she grants your request, then you have to go back to the grave, circle your x, and leave an offering of thanks. Frankly, I think those are lies told by tourist guides … but, whatever, people still do it. I still payed my respects.” -Letter from March 9, 2015
Supposed tomb of Marie Laveau
Bourbon Street…I guess
I feel it is unfortunate to say that when a good number of people think of New Orleans, they immediately picture Mardi Gras, boobs, and drunkenness. This is true on many counts on the rambunctious streets of Bourbon. How can it not be with a name like that? My friends and I ventured out both of our nights there. If it were up to me, I would’ve skipped the party and taken a different turn down a jazzier street. But we all went for the experience. I guess I can say I left there “having partied on Bourbon Street”. I don’t know if that is something to be proud of, to be honest.
It’s funny how the atmosphere changes once night life emerges. The street that was once filled with families and street performers turned into a totally different world. Guys holding signs pronouncing their bars have BIG ASS BEERS. Drag queens luring you in to see their burlesque show (we did see a non-drag queen version that night though). A tour group of old people dressed in devil costumes double-fisting grenades. Grenades are the drink to get there. They are in long cps, filled to the brim with alcohol. Once you get to the bottom, you find a little plastic grenade. I got the frozen kind and it was pretty strong. I like partying as much as the next person, but I don’t ever go out to get ridiculously drunk to the point of belligerence. A lot of people did that out there.
As you can read from my letter, I was not a big fan of the whole thing. I am all for having fun, drinking alcohol, dancing, etc – we did all that. But there is a LIMIT. I do not care if you are on vacation, there is no excuse for belligerent behavior. I was honestly over the scene after the first hour. I had been bumped into, hit on, offered drinks one too many times. One guy came up to me and said he “wanted the d”. Uh, what? Okay, dude.
I say, by all means, venture out on Bourbon Street at night. It was, indeed, an experience. But I can’t tell you that I enjoyed it all too much.
Check out my fun run-in in the bathroom:
The Sounds of the Streets
Every turn you made, there was an artist sharing their skills. I highly suggest taking time out of your day to search for streets musicians. Just follow the musical notes…
→WHAT I WISH I HAD DONE
- Popped more tags: I wish I had gone into more thrift stores. We only visited two, including one that had a studio setting that carried vintage clothing and jewelry all the way from the 20’s. I want to find more treasures! I spent too much time in the touristy shops 😦
- Visited more artsy places: Jackson Square is filled with artists displaying their canvases (and psychic skills) in the morning. But I wish I had looked up museums or some local art galleries! I am sure they were bustling with creativity I missed out on.
- Seen the plantations: Even though they have dark histories, I would love to see the statuesque yards and old houses. They make for the best settings for pictures and I regret not making time to go out there. A good option would be Oak Alley Plantation!
- Gone on an American Horror Story hunt: Our first stop was actually at the Buckner Mansion, where the fictional “Miss Robicheaux’s Academy” was set in American Horror Story: Coven. It was surprisingly not busy at all! There were maybe 3 other people outside the gates snapping fan pictures. Plus, the neighborhood it is in is beautiful!
I just wish I had gone to other places where they filmed. If you look it up online, you can see all of them!
That’s all for now! Did you enjoy my suggestions? Do you have dreams to visit Louisiana as well? Feel free to ask me anything in the comments.