We typically travel with our kids but, occasionally, the opportunity comes up for a night away without them. A conference gave us a full 36 hours away to be together–just the two of us. No worrying about packing for 5, where everyone will sleep, or having to plan what to do to make sure everyone is engaged! We had two nights and one full day to discover the city of New Orleans.
One could easily spend 3 or 4 days in the city, setting up day tours of the city and some of the large historic plantations outside it, and even to the bayou (Lousiana’s swamps). We wanted to fit in as much as we could in those 10 hours of sunlight and 7 hours of business hours. We love New Orleans, but it had been years and I wanted to refresh my memory of some things I’ve done and also see some new things. Another great American city I recommend visiting with great history, culture and food is a trip to San Antonio.
What to do One Day in New Orleans
With time of the essence, we were up at the dawn’s early light, literally. Our hotel, The Roosevelt, was located across Canal Street from the French Quarter, and the French Quarter is where we started. We hit the street just as the sun was rising. Our early morning stroll was a great time for photos with its nearly empty streets.
We dodged around remnants of late night revelers, passed by bars that were still open with blaring music to draw patrons, but having no luck at all. A couple of belligerent party-goers stumbled past us but this was New Orleans, after all. Bourbon Street, the street of never-ending, tourist-only party, and cheap, not so tasty alcohol, is a main thoroughfare and attraction for some in New Orleans.
Beignets at Café Du Monde
Our early morning stroll through the French Quarter had one purpose. We were on our way to get beignets, deep-fried, square pieces of dough, smothered with powdered sugar. With the alcohol smells of Bourbon street behind us, we made our way through the historic streets of New Orleans’s French Quarter, to the famous Café Du Monde. We passed by the old St Louis Church and Plac d’Armes also known as Jackson Square, and figured we would head back for a visit a bit later.
Passing through the square, we crossed the street towards the Mississippi River and entered the famous Café Du Monde for beignets and café au lait. Because we arrived so early, there was no line. Most mornings arriving anytime past 8:00AM, you will find a long line and a bit of a wait. Chances of getting a table inside are not easy after a certain time.
However, it was 7:00AM on a weekday, no lines, and we were able to sit inside. When we ordered, we were not specific, and our waitress sent two beignet orders, one for each of us, instead of splitting an order. It was way too much. Our order came with three large, warm, beignets each heavily coated with powdered sugar. We washed it down with our café au lait, coffee with steamed milk, and a hint of chicory, a New Orleans twist. In New Orleans, they add chicory to their coffee to give it a slight woody and nutty taste.
St Louis Cathedral
We strolled back towards Jackson Square and entered St Louis Cathedral. Originally built by the French for the King Louis IX in early 1700’s it was later rebuilt under the Spanish in late 1700’s only to burn down in the famous New Orleans fire. Later it was rebuilt again in 1850. The historic cathedral is an interesting visit, but can be done rather quickly unless of course you have opted to do a tour of it. After the visit we did a quick stroll through the Place d’Armes before heading off through the quarter.
Old Ursuline Convent
Walking through the great architecture of the French Quarter, we visited the Old Ursuline Covenant on a whim. We wanted to do a tour of an old mansion across the street, but it wasn’t starting for an hour and the covenant happened to be right next door. The building is a perfect example of surviving French architecture in the Mississippi River Valley.
It is one of the only buildings that survived the fire of New Orleans from the late 1788. The wrought iron railing on the stairwell is original, as are many of the wood ceiling beams, floors and stairwell support itself. A large clock, shipped over from France in the late 1700’s, still works and keeps time accurately. Although no formal tour is offered, a guide is present who eagerly shares his knowledge of the building and the nuns who dwelled in it.
This well-preserved and restored historic home is across the street from the covenant. Originally built in 1826, it once hosted the famous Confederate General P.G.T Beaurgard and was bought in the 1948 by the author, Frances Parkinson Keyes. Keyes was committed to its preservation and presentation to the culture.
With its unique raised center hall, Neoclassical architecture, and opulent fittings, it’s a house of interest. As much as the house itself fascinated us, the tour is a bit perfunctory and you will likely find your time could be better spent doing something else.
Walking Tour of Garden District
I’d previously fallen in love with Garden District, a neighborhood brimming with massive historic homes with well-manicured gardens. We booked a Grand Garden District tour to revisit my favorite neighborhood and learn more about it. The tour starts with some visits to the outside of the older homes dating back to the 1820’s- 1840’s.
The architecture of these homes, built of wood, is a great example of Greek revival with the large columns and entryways. We continued, seeing houses built in the later in the 1800’s that boasted intricate ironwork.
The entire tour was two hours, although some of the sidewalks were uneven, it is not a strenuous tour at all. There is a break in the middle for bathroom or to grab a drink. Bring water, especially in the summer months, as New Orleans is hot.
The National WWII Museum
While I am not a military history buff, I’ve found this museum to be one of the best to which I have ever been. It held my attention the entire time—on this visit and my last. The museum is focused entirely on the battles, people, and home front of the Second World War. The exhibits recreate the look of the actual places where battles were fought. You may find yourself in the jungles of the South Pacific, on the beaches of Normandy, or navigating the forests of the German countryside during cold winters.
Even a casual visitor will feel the intensity of the battles and war moving through the exhibits. You need a good two hours for the museum in order to see it in its entirety. Taking time to read more in each exhibit will mean that two hours is really the minimum and you should budget even more time.
Where to Eat
I am obsessed with gumbo, a stew originating in Louisiana consisting of either shellfish or fowl and sausage. It is made with a roux base, the darker the better, a stock, thickener usually file but sometimes okra and a holy trinity of vegetables,; celery, green bell peppers and onion. It is a long process making it and sometimes I find myself dedicating almost an entire day to creating the stew. So when I am in New Orleans, it becomes my mission to eat as much gumbo as possible.
One of our favorites, in New Orleans, Cochon is a restaurant that is focused on all things Cajun, and southern dishes. Their gumbo is an absolute favorite of mine. I could live off their gumbo. It’s just that good, thick with a hint of smoke to it. They locally source their meats, seafood, and vegetables while cooking many of their dishes over wood. My only regret is that I cannot duplicate their gumbo at home. It is hands down the best I have ever had. This is a great place for both lunch and/or dinner. Located in the Central Business District.
A visit to New Orleans is not complete without trying their famous poboy sandwich. The sandwich is served on a crusty outer roll with a soft inside, usually consists of roast beef, deep fried oysters, or deep fried shrimp. You can get it dressed, meaning the fried seafood po’boys are served with lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, and mayonnaise. If ordering a roast beef po’boy, it will most likely come with hot gravy drizzled on top. Most shops will also offer gumbo, jambalaya, sides, bisques, and other fried specialties.
This time around, we ducked into Nola Po’boy, located on Bourbon Street. Given its location, I thought it would be a tourist trap. While it was serviceable, it was—well—a tourist trap. If you want a Po Boy in the Quarter, go to Killer Po Boy (I especially like sitting and drinking a cold Abita while in the Erin Rose bar location) or go to Johnny’s (which is filled with tourists but also locals and makes a mean roast beef po boy).
Another option in the Quarter is to get a mufaletta from its birthplace at Central Grocery (not quite what it used to be but still darn good). Outside of the Quarter, we are fans of Mahony’s. Parkway is iconic but will likely be a special trip.
La Petit Grocer
This restaurant is in the Garden District of New Orleans, housed in what was once a small grocer in the 1800’s. The space is cozy and casual. Since winning a James Beard award, it’s found itself on lots of foodie lists. We went to try the blue crab beignets. Essentially, rolling crabmeat into a deep-fried, savory donut is every bit as rich as you’d imagine it. The gumbo is very good (though Cochon’s is better) and they make a mean burger, juicy and with the best homemade pickles.
Jewel of the South
Make sure you are a bit of an adventurous eater if you try out this place. It’s a tiny eatery in the French Quarter, with small tables in an L-shape. We saw a terrace in the back that would be great in warmer weather. You’ll be surrounded by locals, there for the great cocktails, and some very innovate plates. We looked at the whipped crab fat and bone marrow crème; the emphasis is tail to snout eating. Service is great as is food and cocktails.
The Sazerac Bar
If you are going to enjoy a true cocktail anywhere in New Orleans, then try the original cocktail, the Sazerac in its place of origin, The Sazerac Bar. Walking into The Sazerac Bar is like walking into the 1920’s elegance, with large mirror and painting lining the walls and leather seats and sofas filling the room.
A long, mahogany bar runs from one side of the room to the other, and the bartenders wear formal white tuxedo jackets. We saw several Ramos Gin Fizzes being shaken and poured, with their stiff peaks rising above the glasses’ rims. Rumor is that this is also the best place in the country for that iconic cocktail.
Arnaud’s French 75
We think that New Orleans is the country’s best cocktail town. Nowhere else can you find as many bars and restaurants making them as well as NOLA. Part of that is a fanatical reverence for the cocktail’s history and tradition. One of the places we love for that is the Sazerac. The other is Arnaud’s French 75.
The bar is a new physical space of a very old restaurant, Arnaud’s. The French 75 is a cozy, wood lined space carved out of the Arnaud’s dining hall. A James Beard award winner, it makes beautiful, killer cocktails with house made syrups and bitters. Even better is the bar snacks. As you sit down to you gorgeous cocktails, waiters serve up gougeres, warm from the oven. Then it’s the soufflé potatoes, which are fried and puffed from the heat. It’s a vacation in and of itself…
Where to Stay
New Orleans is dotted with plenty of places to stay throughout the French Quarted and through to the Garden District. We decide to step right outside of the French Quarter and stay in the Roosevelt Hotel. It is a block from the French Quarter and right near the Central Business District.
The old elegance and grandeur of the hotel was the draw for us. We loved the massive ceilings and columns with great details and color. The hotel dates back to the late 1800’s and much of that age and detail can still be found today in much of the hotel lobby. The rooms have been renovated and are spacious and clean. The location is more quiet than staying in the French Quarter, while being convenient to it.
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