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New Orleans is home to Jazz and countless walks of shame. The City starts as an in-your-face, over-stimulated stranger and ends as a fun, festive block party where everyone has a blast and is then embarrassed to see their neighbors at the supermarket. 

New Orleans can be as big and brash as you want it. A lost weekend filled with silliness and hangovers, a foodies paradise with meal after meal of sumptuous delights, or a music lovers heaven with great music emanating from every crack and crevice. Or, it can be all of the above depending on the day. In other words, a perfect place for my birthday celebration vacation with friends.

The French Quarter is small in size but was bursting at the seams with people and noise.

Bourbon Street

Bourbon Street gets all of the attention, but after an hour of watching extremely drunk people stumbling around, getting sick, or urinating on the street, it’s time to move on.

It’s legal to drink on the streets in New Orleans (although there is a no glass policy). And Bourbon Street is the perfect opportunity to test that rule with extreme drinking of “the world’s biggest beer,” fishbowls filled with mixed drinks, or liter-sized froze grain alcohol concoctions (which may or may not lead to temporary blindness). 

Frenchman’s Street

A better (and more grownup) choice is Frenchman’s Street, a lively spot with enough great restaurants and music venues to keep everyone happy. We visited during the French Quarter festival so the City was busy and we waited a long time to eat. But the wait was worth it, and we feasted on Italian-Cajan fusion at  Antonio’s.

Tip: The waiting list system seemed completely random. Check back at precisely the right time and you might be awarded a table.

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA USA – MAY 1, 2014: Unidentified street performers playing jazz style music in the French Quarter district in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Music

While waiting for a table follow your ears to music that sounds fun. In most bars and on most street corners, you’ll find music of every quality and genre. In a 20 minute walk, you might see two classic violinists playing a unique and lively version of a Pearl Jam song, a full band playing a soulful original, a brass ensemble playing full-on Dixieland, or a single guitarist singing ballots from three different decades. 

Art is everywhere in New Orleans, from live street theater and gorgeous murals to creative hustlers out to make a buck. Something is always happening on the streets of New Orleans; We saw magicians, dancers, painters, and dozens of living “statues” painted in silver and gold.

Festivals

New Orleans is well known for its festivals. The French Quarter Festival was in full swing during our visit, and it certainly added to the chaos. Festivals happen throughout the year, and the New Orleans Tourist Bureau offers a complete list at its website.

Shopping

The streets of New Orleans are lined with funky stores full of unusual or handmade items. Frenchman’s market is also a treasure trove of specialty items and artists selling their wares. Everything thing from leather capes and crazy hats to vampire inspired jewelry you won’t find anywhere else.

New Orleans – A New Orleans Balcony in the French Quarter

Tours

Thanks to books by like “Interview with a Vampire,” by Anne Rice, New Orleans has a reputation for the supernatural and macabre. Tours based on the City’s spooky history, ghosts, and vampires are everywhere. We followed Lord Chaz and Crew through the dark to hear (mildly) terrifying stories of mayhem while we walked through the historic streets around the French Quarter.

Anyone interested in the history of New Orleans or learning about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina should take a City tour. Our tour guide talked a lot about Hurricane Katrina and its long-term effect on the City. We rode through the 9th Ward which suffered the most significant damage (according to our guide, only 20% of residents from that Ward returned home after the storm). Many houses are rotting away with the remains of spray-painted National Guard symbols to indicate if houses were empty or if bodies were found inside.

It was certainly eye-opening and I’m glad we saw it first hand, but I was conflicted. I think it’s essential for the rest of the country to remember the damage and destruction caused by Katrina. On the other hand, residents must be really sick of tourists gawking at their misfortune. But seeing the high water marks on highway overpasses where people took refuge for days was shocking and reminds us we need to do better.  We also learned about why the City actually flooded (it wasn’t just because of the levees) and what’s been done to prevent problems in the future.

Other tours: Garden District Tours, Food Tours, Cooking Classes, Spirits Tours, Walking Tours

Voodoo

According to people we spoke to during our trip, Voodoo has gotten a bad rap because Hollywood movies show it as an evil, black magic kind of thing. According to one store owner, Voodoo is all about the light and using it for evil is a big no-no.

The most famous Voodoo Queen is Marie Laveau, and thousands of people visit her grave every year. New Orleans also hosts a Voodoo museum and several stores devoted to this practice for visitors interested in learning more.

Lafayette cemetery in New Orleans with historic Grave Stones

Cemeteries

Visiting graveyards in New Orleans is popular with tourists. All graves are above ground because of the groundwater levels. The moist hot summer adds to the degradation of the stone, giving many graveyards a creepy, otherworldly feeling, which certainly adds to the appeal for some people.

Conclusion

New Orleans makes a great girlfriend getaway or fun celebration vacation with like-minded friends. The City is much more than just drinking and history lovers, foodies, music lovers, fans of interesting neighborhoods and art will all enjoy their time in the Big Easy.

Colorful old house in the Marigny neighborhood in the city of New Orleans, Louisiana.

Where We Stayed

We stayed in the Marigny neighborhood. A funky, artistic community of brightly painted houses with inviting front porches and exquisite architectural details. Close enough to walk to Frenchman’s Street, this neighborhood was a great place to kick-off a day in the City.

Where We Ate

We had some great meals (and a few not so great meals, but that was our fault because good food is everywhere).

Frenchman Street Market is full of food vendors with plenty of delicious food options and tables on the street to enjoy while soaking up the sun and people watching.

We had a fabulous breakfast at Ruby Slipper with endless mimosa cocktails for $15. Try the shrimp and grits. You can thank me later.

Several locals recommended dinner at Adolf’s a delightful Italian/Creole restaurant. The restaurant is up a steep staircase above a bar and not much to look with mismatched furniture and tables crowded together in the tiny dining room. While the food combination sounds strange at first, it works. Famous for their “Ocean Sauce” the menu offers a wide range of options. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations so you need to put your name on a list and keep checking with the host. Hopefully, you’ll score a table at this great spot.

Other details:

Downtown is about 30 minutes from the airports.

The bathrooms are disgusting—all of them. Bring hand sanitizer.

Almost all of the waitstaff I came across were surly and unpleasant. I suppose serving drunk fools all the time must get tiresome.