New Orleans Is a vibrant city, full of history, personality and modern creativity.
Founded in 1718 by the French, ruled by the Spanish from 1763 to 1803, it was then bought by the United States for 15 million dollars as part of the Louisiana Purchase. New Orleans population is made up of decedents of the French, African, American, Creole French and Creoles of color as well as more recent settlers like the Vietnamese who make up almost 30% of the population in New Orleans East. Together they create a culture filled with experiences and foods you can only find in New Orleans.
If you’re looking for the ultimate food experience see our New Orleans Food Tour.
Where to stay
- Downtown Hotels – The hotels downtown seem at first to be reasonably priced off-season…until you realize that they charge an additional $40-50 per day to park. They also require you to leave your car keys with them, which we weren’t very comfortable with. As road trippers we keep a lot of extra stuff in our vehicle that we want to have access to.
- Historic Uptown Double Shotgun (airbnb) – We chose instead to stay at an AirBnB that was termed by them to be “a rare find”. It was in a nice, quiet residential area and very reasonably priced. The beautiful vaulted ceilings and old world charm made it feel like quite a special place to stay.
Where to eat
Let’s face it – one of the reasons you come to New Orleans is for the food. Here’s where we ate;
- Cafe Beignet – Beignets are the official doughnut of Louisiana. Cafe Beignet serves theirs fresh, hot, and cooked to order. With their crispy outside, soft, sweet center and powdered sugar bed they were messy, hot, doughy and delicious! Cafe Beignet also offer breakfast, coffees, sandwiches and a number of other dishes that New Orleans is known for.
- Oceana Grill – Housed in a 212 year old building, Oceana specializes in Creole and Louisiana cuisine. They claim to serve the best crab cakes and gumbo in the French Quarter. They also offer poboys, seafood and a variety of creole inspired pastas. The wonderful Host took us under his wing, made food recommendations and took us out back to see their unique historic open air courtyard.
- Mr. Ed’s Oyster Bar & Fish House – Mr. Ed’s specializes in grilled, fried, & raw oysters and also serves fresh seafood and traditional dishes. We shared their Seafood Gumbo and Chargrilled Oysters. The oysters very pricey but unique and very good.
- Dong Phuong Bakery and Restaurant – Founded in 1982, Dong Phuong Bakery is a James Beard Award-winning Vietnamese bakery in the heart of New Orleans East offering traditional baked goods, banh mi, and seasonal staples such as mooncakes and king cakes. The restaurant next door offers delicious smelling traditional Vietnamese dishes. We ordered a Crawfish Pie (a spicy, herb filled crawfish filling with a sweet, buttery pie crust), a BBQ Pork Bun/Pate Chaud (pulled pork with a sweet BBQ sauce in a dense croissant like pie shell) and a Mixed Vegetable Bahn Mi (a veggies on a roll with delicious spicy, sweet brown sauce). So good we made sure to eat there a second time before we left town.
- Cherry Espresso Bar – This coffee shop was just a short walk from our AirBnB. We got some excellent coffee (roasted in house) and a slice of praline King Cake (a cinnamon roll/pastry wrapped around layers of pecans and brown sugar, topped with icing and Mardi Gras colored sugar crystals) that may just be one of the best desserts I’ve ever eaten.
- The Chicory House – The Chicory House is in the Garden District. They serve Chicory Coffee, a drink with quite a history in New Orleans, and serve freshly baked breads, granola bowls, breakfast items and unique, hand crafted sandwiches and salads. They describe their food as elevated and comforting. We stopped in for a chicory coffee and a gingerbread biscotti.
- Pizza Domenica – Pizza Domenica makes their pizza in a custom oven from Italy. They offer gourmet pizzas, a selection of antipasti, salad, desserts, and craft drinks. We ordered a Margarita Pizza with mushrooms. It was fresh, light, authentic and delicious. Next time we visit New Orleans I’m heading straight to this restaurant.
- Loretta’s Authentic Pralines – Loretta was the first African American woman to successfully own and operate her own praline company in New Orleans. Next time we visit I’m definitely getting one of her praline beignets. Pure sugary indulgence.
- The Ayu Bakehouse -They have an open window from the street into the kitchen inspired by the area’s street performers. Ayu “pays homage to local flavors through the lens of a baker.” You can tell this artisan bakery takes pride in the quality and creativity of their food.
Things to do
- The French Quarter – The French Quarter is the oldest neighborhood in the city of New Orleans. Most of the buildings were constructed either in the late 18th century, during the city’s period of Spanish rule, or during the first half of the 19th century, after U.S. purchase. These historic buildings now house bars, restaurants, shops and clubs and the cobblestone streets serve as a stage for talented buskers.
- The New Orleans Museum of Art – The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden is in the New Orleans City Park next to the New Orleans Museum of Art. More than 90 sculptures decorate the peaceful setting, ranging from cool to a little weird. Admission is free.
- The Garden District – Lined with larger-than-life mansions, impressive gardens and colorful cottages, there’s a story behind every home in New Orleans. This is a great place to walk around, admire the architecture and imagine the lives of current and past tenants. Apparently John Goodman owns a home in the Garden District, Eli hand Peyton Manning grew up there and Anne Rice, author of Interview with the Vampire, still lives there in the Brevard mansion. Stop in at one of coffee shops or historic restaurants.
- The Mardi Gras Fountain by Lake Ponchartrain – The fountain wasn’t working when we visited but it was fun to see the plaques all around it displaying the crests of Carnivale Krewes. (A krewe, pronounced “crew”, is a social organization that puts on a parade or ball for the Carnival season).
- The Fisherman’s Castle – This 942 square foot white castle was built on Irish Bayou in anticipation of the 1984 World’s Fair. Styled after a 14th-century chateau, It was strong enough to survive hurricanes Katrina, Isaac and Ida (although it did require some repairs following Katrina). Currently unoccupied, it was a fun, roadside stop and really stood out from the houses around it.
- The Ridge Trail, Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge – (2/3 mile boardwalk loop). This path goes through one of the few forested areas in the refuge. Only about 5% of the refuge consists of naturally elevated areas dry enough to support forest. The rest of the it consists of freshwater and brackish marshes. This area was heavily damaged by hurricane Katrina. Efforts are being made to restore the natural habitat by planting native trees and culling invasive species. It was very interesting to learn about the history of the area, Katrina’s impact and how they were working to restore it.
- The Tree of Life, Audubon Park – A huge, awe inspiring tree. Definitely worth walking up to and really experiencing the size and majesty.
- Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve – Merrero, LA., Palmetto Boardwalk Trail (0.2 miles out and back). The park offers guided walks from park rangers who have tons of information to share about the preserve. It was too cold when we went to see alligators but it was a nice, peaceful walk through nature.