30 Things To Do In New Orleans While In Town For French Quarter Festival
by STAFF on MARCH 26, 2013
in ARTS & CULTURE, COCKTAIL CULTURE, EVENTS, FAMILY FRIENDLY, FOOD, MUSIC, SHOPPING, TRAVEL
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It’s that time again – the time to consume as much New Orleans food, music and culture that’s humanly possible, all within the national historic landmark known as the French Quarter. One of the world’s most iconic neighborhoods will be filled with friends and strangers from near and far to absorb New Orleans concentrated into four days of more fun than anyone should ever be allowed to have – and yet, they will. Because we pile it on in New Orleans. Get ready to be one of those lucky attendees at the 2013 French Quarter Festival on April 11-14.
To celebrate the French Quarter Festival’s 30th anniversary, we give you 30 things you should find and do while you’re here, other than eat the food and see the music at the fest, of course. Behold, our top 30 activities in New Orleans right now, some old and some new, in no particular order.
The Panorama Jazz Band playing at the Spotted Cat (Photo by Sally Tunmer)
1. Live music on Frenchmen Street – There are more musical legends playing in one night on a few blocks of Frenchmen Street than there are in one year in some towns. Stop by the Spotted Cat, the Apple Barrel, d.b.a., the Blue Nile and Maison for some of the best jazz, blues, rock and hip hop you can find in New Orleans, or anywhere for that matter.
2. Visit Congo Square in Armstrong Park – I don’t know that much more explanation is needed for going to Congo Square other than to witness the birthplace of American music, but if you still need convincing, it’s located in the beautifully revitalized Armstrong Park with gorgeous landscaping and weekly Sunday drum circles.
3. Take a tour – With the endless options of wonderful things to see and do in New Orleans, making a game plan can be a little daunting. New Orleans tours make it easy on you, allowing you to see different parts of the city you may not have known from the eyes of a local. Our personal favorites? There is a plethora of different types of tours to choose from, but we are partial to the Cocktail Tour and the Confederacy of Cruisers.
Lining up for the Empanada Infitada food truck! (Photo by Sally Tunmer)
4. Grab a “meal-on-wheels” from a food truck – NOLA is known for its amazing cuisine, and sometimes, when you’re lucky, that cuisine comes right to you – or, at least to a bar, which in a lot of ways is kind of the same. There have been a whole slew of New Orleans food trucks popping up around the city, and the best way to find them is by their twitter handles or on Facebook. My personal favorites are the Seoul Man tacos from Taceaux Loceaux (@TLNola), “The Gary” (goat cheese, grape jelly and bacon on a croissant) from Frencheeze (@frencheezetruck), the SaSquash from Empanada Infitada (@EmpanadaIntifad) and the falafel sandwich from The Fat Falafel (@FatFalafel).
5. Explore one of our unique cemeteries – If you’ve ever questioned the uniqueness of NOLA, you’ve probably never been on a cemetery tour. Our cemeteries are unique for a number of a reasons, the first is that most of our dead are buried above ground and the second is that our cemeteries are also extremely popular tourist destinations and many are heavily trafficked every day. You can take a guided cemetery tour or pop in yourself and stroll around. My favorites are Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 and St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 and No. 3.
6. See a brass band – Whenever I suggest “seeing a brass band” to out-of-town guests, I get a skeptical look or two. That’s because they’ve never heard Rebirth. Or the Soul Rebels. Or Kermit Ruffins. One evening at Maple Leaf will be enough to not only change their minds, but have them scouting for more.
7. Have breakfast – One of the best breakfasts around is beignets and café au lait, but New Orleans breakfast has so much more to offer. Once you’ve hit up Café Du Monde, get out and explore the neighborhoods of New Orleans AND start your day with a great breakfast! There are tons of great choices, from Elizabeth’s and Satsuma in Bywater, Surrey’s in the Lower Garden District, Camellia Grill and Refuel in the Riverbend (on the St. Charles streetcar line) and many, many more!
The St. Charles streetcar (Photo by Susan Whelan)
8. Take the streetcar – In New Orleans, life goes at a slightly slower pace. Nowhere is this more evident than on the streetcar. Step back in time and take a ride across town! Choose either green (St. Charles Avenue), which will take you Uptown through the beautiful Garden District, or red (Canal Street) which will lead you to some of our unique cemeteries or City Park. Sit back and enjoy the ride!
9. See a comedy show at The New Movement – Over the past year since The New Movement opened in the Marigny, the comedy scene in New Orleans has exploded. The little comedy theater with big talent hosts improv, sketch and standup shows every Thursday – Sunday. A night at The New Movement makes for a refreshingly different New Orleans outing.
10. Go dancing – You know what goes great with New Orleans music? Dancing to it. We enjoy a lot of both here, whether it’s swing dancing which you can do at the French Quarter Festival both with the NOLA Jitterbugs and NOLA Zydeco, or shaking your groove thang with DJ Soul Sister at Mimi’s on Saturday nights, or just dancing in the street when the mood strikes.
A New Orleans Ramos Gin Fizz – delicious! (Photo by Susan Whelan)
11. Have a classic cocktail – New Orleans isn’t just hand grenades and daiquiris! New Orleans is the birthplace of several cocktails, including the Sazerac, known to be America’s oldest cocktail, and the Ramos gin fizz. The best place to experience these cocktails is in a classic cocktail bar such as Sazerac Bar, Carousel Bar, or French 75. Cheers!
12. Eat your way down Freret Street – The options for dining on Freret Street are so limitless, that sometimes I think the best of approach is to just do a “meal crawl” – drinks here, appetizers there, dinner part one at this place, dinner part two at that place… you get the picture. Company Burger has one of the best burgers in New Orleans, while al fresco hot dogs and loaded cheese fries are the specialty at Dat Dog. Amazing Neapolitan-style pizza is not to be missed at Ancora and Wayfare is my new fave for some seriously delicious sandwiches. With sushi, fried catfish, Mexican, Philly Cheesesteaks and craft cocktails all also available along the way, you’ll want to be sure to come with an appetite – and maybe someone who is better at decision making than I am.
13. Take the (free!) Algiers Ferry – If you have some time to kill, hop on the Algiers Ferry. It’s free and will provide you with one of the best views of New Orleans. It’s especially romantic during sunset. Once you’re in Algiers, head over to Old Point Bar and grab a drink or the Crown & Anchor (great beer list!) which is also pet friendly.
14. Shop on Magazine Street – Welcome to your six-mile long shopper’s paradise! Magazine Street is home to both local boutiques, like Aiden Gill and Blue Frog Chocolates, and popular brands, like Buffalo Exchange and Nadeau Furniture. My recommendation: Check out the Funky Monkey resale shop in the Irish Channel, then sip a draft beer on the Bulldog patio.
15. Have a Pimm’s Cup at Napoleon House – This is definitely something to check off the New Orleans to-do list. The historic Napoleon House in the French Quarter, originally contracted for Napoleon himself, serves one delicious Pimm’s Cup in a beautiful New Orleans atmosphere. Enjoy yours either in the tropical back courtyard or the rustic bar room.
A delicious New Orleans fried shrimp po-boy (Photo by Susan Whelan)
16. Eat a po-boy – Many cities have their own signature sandwich – hoagie, grinder, cheesesteak – New Orleans’ version is the po-boy. You will want to try as many versions of this as possible: fried shrimp, fried oyster, roast beef, debris, fried green tomato with shrimp remoulade – the choices are endless! New Orleanians will argue about which kind of po-boy is best and where to get it. Venture out to one of New Orleans’ iconic po-boy shops such as Parkway or Domilise’s and you won’t be disappointed.
17. Get a walking drink down Bourbon Street – It’s one of the most ubiquitous suggestions for what to do when visiting New Orleans, and with good reason. It doesn’t matter if it’s a real local’s experience you’re seeking or it’s the top tourist attractions you’re after, it’s worth it to grab a go cup and walk down Bourbon Street to see the spectacle of unbridled excess.
18. Go to a market – The French Market is a great place to spend an afternoon walking outside and browsing the various vendors’ goods. If you’re more of a night owl, check out the Frenchmen Street Art Market for entirely locally made gifts and goods.
19. Sip wine at Bacchanal – Tucked away on Poland Avenue in the Bywater, Bacchanal is the ultimate local’s secret. There is live music every night, and the kitchen serves both meat and vegetarian options until 11 p.m. Sipping wine in the Bacchanal courtyard is the best way to soak up New Orleans’ renaissance.
20. Eat oysters – There is an oyster bar in the French Quarter with a sign that reads Eat Oysters, Love Longer. Regardless of whether or not that’s true, oysters are one of my favorite treats and a beloved food in New Orleans. April is the perfect time for oysters, especially raw. You can get oysters just about anywhere but my personal favorites include: Casamentos, Felix’s, Pascal’s Manale, and Cooter Brown’s. (Local tip: every Friday at Le Bon Temps you can belly up to the bar and enjoy free oysters!)
One of the beautiful pieces in the Besthoff Sculpture Garden at NOMA (Photo by Sally Tunmer)
21. Sculpture Garden – A must-see, the free Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden offers the chance to take in some fresh air and marvel at the impressive collection of sculptures outside of the New Orleans Museum of Art. Walk over to the cafe and get ice cream cones to enjoy as you stroll.
22. Eat a snoball – Snoballs are back in season, so take full advantage and see for yourself what the fuss is all about! Local favorites include: Plum Street, Hansen’s, and Pandora. Try mixing and matching flavors ranging from satsuma to nectar cream!
23. Grab dinner and drinks down in the Bywater – Located just downriver from the Faubourg Marigny and French Quarter, the Bywater’s restaurant scene is absolutely on fire right now. Personally, I like to start with a drink (the Bywater Bomber is my top pick) and maybe a snack or two at Booty’s Street Food before settling into a meal and some additional craft cocktails over at Maurepas. You really can’t go wrong with any of the spots down there – BBQ from The Joint is out of this world good, and the pies at Pizza Delicious have an almost cult-like following and definitely pass muster with this former New Yorker.
24. Go record shopping – In a town full of music, we have a lot of excellent record stores in New Orleans with a vast local and regional selection, including perhaps the most well known – Louisiana Music Factory which has the biggest selection of Louisiana music of any record store in the world. Our other favorites are Domino Sound, Euclid Records, Skully’z and the Mushroom. Nothing beats browsing for great music, while listening to great music and talking about great music.
25. Explore Oak Street – Yes, you’re here for French Quarter Fest but there is more to NOLA than the French Quarter. One of the latest hot spots in New Orleans is Oak Street – a hip, funky and fun place to be. Highlights include Oak Wine Bar for cocktails and small plates, Blue Cypress Book Store for book browsing (one of my favorites!), Glue thrift shop, Z’otz coffee shop, Maple Leaf Bar (great live music!) and Jacques-Imo’s (fried roast beef po-boy? Yes, please!)
26. Visit one of our many museums – The Warehouse District in New Orleans is full of museums and galleries – from the National World War II Museum to the Contemporary Arts Center to the Museum of the American Cocktail. If you’re in town on a Thursday, make sure to check out “After Hours” at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art for an evening of drinks, art, and local music. The Louisiana State Museum has a wonderful network of exhibits in the French Quarter as well.
27. Eat beignets and drink cafe au lait at Cafe Du Monde – The perfect way to start or end your day, outdoor people watching at Cafe du Monde is easily followed by a walk around Jackson Square. During certain times of the day, groups of street performers will be entertaining nearby. (Note: don’t wear black if you’ll be eating beignets; you’ll thank us later!)
The St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square (Photo by visitnola on Flickr)
28. Take in the bayou on the Cabrini Bridge – A great spot for picnicking, the bayou is an open, calming space. Watch kayakers float by on the water and enjoy experiencing a quieter side of the city.
29. Go to an art gallery – New Orleans is not only home to an outpouring of incredible food and music, but art as well. There are two main art districts worth making a visit to – Julia Street and St. Claude Avenue for contemporary art.
30. Tour the St. Louis Cathedral – While you’re in Jackson Square for French Quarter Festival, take a look inside the gorgeous St. Louis Cathedral, one of the most well known and iconic historical landmarks in New Orleans.
Written by Sally Tunmer, Hartley Casbon, Andy Kutcher, Ann Marshall Thomas, Susan Whelan and Nikki Carter.