Editor’s note—you can read my original guide to New Orleans HERE!
Putting together this post made me want to get back to New Orleans ASAP—and I am super excited to share my second trip to the Big Easy with you today.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may remember that I went to New Orleans back in August 2016 with four girlfriends from college. I’m not exaggerating when I say that might have been one of the best trips, if not the best trip, I’ve ever been on. My friend Emma picked out some amazing restaurants for us to try and we were in town long enough that nothing felt rushed—we could leisurely stroll new-to-us neighborhoods or post up at a bar for some hurricanes for a few hours, while still managing to check everything off our NOLA to-do list. Because I had such a fun trip to the Big Easy last time, I was really trying to keep my expectations in check for this trip and appreciate it as its own adventure.
I’m happy to report that I had the best time, and even walked away liking New Orleans as a city more than I did last time! For one, this trip was at the end of March, and not the middle of August, so the weather was much more cooperative—it was sunny and 75, with no humidity or rain. We really lucked out! For another, I went in knowing what New Orleans was like and could appreciate it for its own architecture, culture, food scene, and atmosphere. Last time, I naively thought that New Orleans would be more like Charleston—I think largely because you often see the colorful houses of both in marketing materials!—and was a little disappointed when it wasn’t. This time, I knew more about New Orleans’ Spanish, French, and creole roots and made a better effort to learn more about its storied past while I was in town, which made me appreciate the city even more.
For those of you that don’t know, I went on this trip with my sister, Jennifer, my best friend, Hilary, and her sister, Erica. We were in town for five days, and four nights—Saturday morning to a Wednesday night—and it felt like the perfect amount of time to take the city in and decompress from life at home. That being said, I don’t think we could have spent anymore time in the Big Easy—it’s an exhausting place, especially when you’re having as much fun as we did!
WHERE WE STAYED /
Like several past trips I’ve taken, we booked this trip to New Orleans through Expedia. Since we were all flying to and from the same airports, it made the most sense to bundle our airfare and hotel. We knew we wanted to stay within a short walk of the French Quarter, but didn’t want to stay on Bourbon Street since we wanted to have the chance at sleeping. We also thought a room with two queen beds would be better than a room with two double beds since we’d be spending four nights in town—and if you have a sister, you know the cover wars are all too real.
We ultimately settled on The Saint Hotel, which is part of the Marriott Autograph Collection. Our four-night stay and round-trip, direct airfare was under $500 a person, which is a great deal considering most direct flights from DC to MSY are around $400. The hotel was located right on Canal Street, which is the upriver boundary of the French Quarter. The location was great—the only time we took Ubers was to/from the airport and to the Garden District. We were able to walk everywhere else, which saved us a lot of money and gave us a great excuse to explore. There’s also a Walgreens right across the street which was helpful for buying breakfast foods, snacks, and wine to help cut some eating out costs.
While the hotel and our rooms were super clean and well maintained, I don’t know if we’d stay there again. For one, there was only one mirror in our entire hotel and it was in the bathroom. At one point, we were literally trying to use the television screen as a mirror to curl our hair! The room was also on the smaller side, which didn’t matter much since we were really only in the hotel room to sleep and get ready, but it did get cramped with all of our stuff—#overpackersunite. There were also some random quirks that ate up space, like the desk chair that wouldn’t even fit under the desk—we eventually moved it to the closet.
I think the thing we all thought was the most weird was that this hotel was so themed. The tagline was “play naughty, sleep saintly,” and the lobby was filled with devil and angel chairs, cherubs, and sheer white clothes draping from the ceiling everywhere. The rooms were relatively normal, but the hallways were extremely dark with weird blue mood lighting. The elevators played the movie, The Saint, on repeat 24/7. It just wasn’t our taste and the decor was very overstimulating after awhile. But, like I said—it was super clean and in an unbeatable location, and at the end of the day, that was why we booked the hotel.
WHERE TO EAT /
If you’re planning a trip to New Orleans, make sure you go hungry! The food is incredible and there are so many restaurants dotting the French Quarter that there’s no shortage of options. Here’s a breakdown of the places we ate that I’d recommend:
Alberto’s Wine & Cheese Bistro—located in the French Market (more on that below!), Alberto’s is a cute wine and cheese stand that also sells speciality sandwiches and salads. I opted for the caprese sandwich and it was delicious—everything was so fresh! There isn’t a ton of space to sit at the storefront bar, but there is ample seating throughout the French Market, so we grabbed our sandwiches and found a table nearby. A head’s up that the cheese plate takes 15-20 minutes for them to assemble, so definitely don’t wait until the hanger sets in. They also offer a lot of gluten free options if that’s something your group is looking for.
Broussard’s for Jazz Brunch—we grabbed a reservation for Jazz Brunch at Broussard’s on Open Table the night before, and if you want to go, I’d recommend doing the same—this place was packed! We were seated on their beautiful courtyard, and since the doors to the main dining room were open, we could easily hear the jazz band whether they were inside or out. They offer bottomless mimosas for $12, which they refill regularly, and a slew of brunch entree options. The service was on the slower side, so if you’re super hungry when you arrive, I recommend getting an appetizer of some sort as it took over an hour for our entrees. That being said, it means more time to drink mimosas! I loved the atmosphere here, and would definitely go back.
Kingfish—I had eaten at the restaurant on my last trip to New Orleans, and two years later, it stood out as the best meal from my trip. When we didn’t have dinner plans one night, I suggested this gem of a cocktail bar and luckily they had reservations on Open Table! We were lucky enough to be seated at the front of the restaurant, right next to two French doors that were open to the sidewalk, so it was basically like dining al fresco. They have the best gumbo—it was so good, I ended up ordering two of the appetizer-size portions. I’d also recommend their kale salad and street corn.
Tableau—this might have been my favorite meal we ate while in town! We went on Monday morning, but because they do all-week brunch, we were able to score $15 bottomless mimosas—and they even sent us off with one in a to-go cup! We were able to snag a seat on their balcony, which overlooks beautiful Jackson Square. I opted for a caesar salad to start and the eggs governor gayoso for my entree, and both were delicious! The service here was excellent, and we lingered for a few hours because we didn’t want to leave their beautiful space.
Commander’s Palace—this is an establishment in New Orleans, and after I didn’t make it there last time, I knew I wanted to eat at Commander’s Palace this trip. The squad was on board, so I grabbed us reservations online about a month and a half before our trip. I definitely recommend reservations because their lunch and dinner services fill up fast, and walk-ins sometimes are not an option! Commander’s is an upscale restaurant—an FYI there is a dress code—in the Garden District with great service and delicious food—it reminded me a lot of The Olde Pink House in Savannah. We all opted for their 3-course meal, which included a soup or salad, entree, and dessert for about $45, which we thought was a great deal. I had a delicious caesar salad, BBQ gulf shrimp with grits, and the largest crème brûlée I’ve ever seen—it was seriously the size of my plate! (They even put a powdered sugar fleur-de-lis on top.) It was nice to have a splurge meal while in town, and to eat in this storied building was a real treat.
Juan’s Flying Burrito—also located in the Garden District, we ate a late lunch here after walking around to sneak a peek at the neighborhood’s stately homes. Mexican food is my all-time favorite, and Juan’s Flying Burrito restaurant did not disappoint. We split queso, guac, salsa, and chips along with a pitcher of margs to start, and then I opted for the chicken fajitas, which were delicious. Everything here was super affordable, and it was a nice change of pace from all the creole-inspired food we had been eating. It was also super casual—a great spot for a low key meal!
Royal House Oyster Bar—we ate here for our last meal in New Orleans after stumbling into it, and it didn’t disappoint! They had the cutest bar, and the service was great. In hindsight, I wish I had ordered the caprese salad, but I went for their burger. If you love seafood—it’s not always my thing—definitely check this place out because they’re known for their crab legs and oysters!
If you’re looking for more restaurant recommendations, check out this post or this Instagram post, where a lot of people left their favorite spots in the comments!
WHERE TO DRINK /
New Orleans has a reputation—rightfully so—as a party town, so it shouldn’t come as a shock that there’s no shortage of places to drink.
We did hit up Bourbon Street several nights while we were in town. Like on my last trip, we spent the majority of our time in Bourbon Cowboy, which is famous for its rideable mechanical bull and great country music selection, and the Famous Door, which always has a great cover band. Since it was the closest to our hotel, we usually started our nights at Bourbon Cowboy, but learned very quickly that it was one of the more expensive bars on the strip. So once we discovered that Prohibition offered triple drinks for $9 each, as opposed to the $15 doubles Bourbon Cowboy was selling, we’d buy drinks at Prohibition and then walk down to Bourbon Cowboy or Famous Door—a benefit of no open container laws. We had a lot of fun popping in and out of other establishments, but always found ourselves making our way back to those two bars.
If you’re looking for a fun place for a pre-dinner drink or a night cap, we loved Aranud’s French 75 cocktail bar. Located in Arnaud’s, which is a famous, and allegedly haunted, restaurant in the French Quarter, this classy, but relaxed cocktail bar is first-come, first-serve. They’re known for their French 75 cocktail, which is made with courvoisier VS, sugar, lemon juice, and Moet and Chandon champagne. We came here for a glass of rosé after Commander’s Palace, and it was a great way to cap off our evening.
One afternoon while in town, we wanted to sit down and enjoy a drink. We stumbled upon Salon because we noticed it had balcony seating. They had a great happy hour—drinks were $6—and selected apps were also on special. The service was on the slower side, but the space was really well decorated and we loved people-watching from the second floor.
A highlight of the trip for me was the morning we spent on the Hotel Monteleone’s Carousel Bar. It’s a real working carousel that makes one rotation every 15 minutes. The area the bartenders are in doesn’t move, but the patrons’ seats do. It was such a unique experience! It opens daily at 11am, and because we all wanted to get seats together, we got there around 10:40am and were the first in line. If this is high on your list, I definitely recommend getting there early like we did—otherwise, you might be waiting a while as most people stay on the carousel for multiple drinks and since it’s moving, you can’t really hover and wait for people to leave. We enjoyed mimosas and bloody Mary’s, and eventually added a delicious cheese plate in the mix. The bar moves so slowly that you don’t feel any motion sickness, but you do definitely realize it’s moving—it’s a weird sensation!
We also stopped at several places along the way to get to-go drinks. There is no shortage of these types of establishments, so I’d recommend just popping into the nearest one! The only place I noticed frosé was at Gazebo Cafe in the French Market, but nearly any place will have margaritas, hurricanes, daiquiris, piña coladas—the standard lineup.
WHAT TO DO /
On our first night in town, we took the Boos & Booze New Orleans Streetwalkers Tour, which was so much fun. It was great to do this when we first arrived because our tour guide was able to point out restaurants and bars he recommended that we then had four days to make our way back to. Price of admission included a complimentary cocktail, and the tour lasted around three hours. We learned a lot about the history of the city, as well as some of its most famous ghost stories. A highlight was getting to see the Mardi Gras Museum at Arnaud’s, which is located tucked away on the second floor. It showcases some of the owners’ most beautiful Mardi Gras costumes from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Our guide also catered the tour to the audience he had that night, so if you have any specific questions or topics you want to know more about, definitely speak up!
To further our historical curiosities, we took this self-guided tour of the Garden District, which ended up being so much fun! To get to the Garden District for our “tour,” we took the St. Charles Streetcar Line. It’s a $1.25 to ride—you can pay as you get on—and is a fun way to go farther distances without relying on Uber. The “tour” took about an hour to complete, and Hilary navigated us to all the different points of interest and then read aloud the information. By the end of the “tour,” we had even created fake personas and were cracking ourselves up. In addition to many historical homes and sites, we were able to see Sandra Bullock’s House, as well as the Manning Family Home, on this tour. While we were outside of the latter, we saw Olivia Manning, drive up, and walk into her home—it was a fun “celeb” sighting. There’s a whole slew of self-guided New Orleans walking tours on this website, and I wish we had time to do more!
One of our other favorite pastimes was grabbing a to-go cup and wandering the French Quarter. There are all sorts of street performers to see, and I wish I could pipe in some of the amazing jazz music we heard so you could enjoy it while reading this post. One of our favorite places to walk in the French Quarter was through the French Market, which is a six-block open-air market that offers fresh produce, souvenirs, food, spices, local wares, and more. There’s also a restaurant in the middle that offers fresh oysters—it was extremely popular! Near the start of the French Market is Pepper Palace, which is a must-do if you love hot sauce, queso, or wing sauce. We loved trying all the free samples, and the sales associates were so knowledgeable and helpful.
Since we were in town over a weekend, we also were lucky enough to see several wedding Second Lines, which were SO COOL! Now I just need a reason to get married in New Orleans… ;]
If you have any questions about my experiences in New Orleans, please don’t hesitate to reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ve also shared a ton of recommendations in my first travel guide on NOLA, which I wrote after my August 2016 trip.
I’ve haven’t been to NOLA in a few years and now you have me wanting to book a trip ASAP! It is such a fun city once you know what you’re getting into (like you said- it’s VERY different from other southern, historical cities). SO fun!
Yes! So much fun — and such a unique culture and vibe compared to anywhere I have been to!
I may go to NOLA and just follow this itinerary…is that weird? No? Okay good. And PS you are coming with me!!
Just send me a calendar hold ;]
I’ve never been! I always thought visiting New Orleans would be all about the food! I still think that, especially with all the great places you mentioned. But, now I’m noticing how photogenic all the buildings are too!
Yes! So photogenic — especially in the French Quarter, where most of these photos were taken.
Enjoyed this post Katie. Quite a few places I need to check out next time I’m in the Big Easy.