Some of my longtime readers may remember the blog entry that I posted last year about traveling with my best friend. When we were younger, the two of us used to venture everywhere together: Providence, Rhode Island for junior high shopping trips. Charleston, South Carolina for college tours. Las Vegas, Nevada for bachelorette parties and London and Costa Rica for passport stamps. The world was our playground and we were eager to explore; Fast forward several years and we now live 460 miles apart with homes, husbands, and a pretty regimented lifestyle.
Last year, my husband was away on business and I invited Caitlin to come down to Virginia, made an entire itinerary that paid tribute to our conquistador days. We had so much fun uncovering gems in my home state that we thought it would be fun to continue our travel tradition together, choosing destinations that our husbands wouldn’t typically care to see and wandering “our way:” Up with the sun, on the go until 4PM, home for a power nap and Instagram photo uploading until dinner time, bottle of wine before bed.
New Orleans was our desired destination for 2019, and we had no idea this would in fact be yet another trip of a lifetime. I really forgot how much I missed traveling with someone so in tune with my travel style: My best friend and I are committed to finding city jewels, leaving no stone unturned in our path. We thrive off of the hunt for the extraordinary.
You may have been to New Orleans before and have scratched the surface, or you may have the city on your bucket list, have made notes to take photos in front of St. Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square, on Bourbon Street, while eating one of Café Du Monde’s famous beignets. While all of those highlights were definitely on our list as well, we dug a little deeper.
Behold, I now wish to share with you my NOLA top ten after walking over 61,000 steps around my new favorite city.
- Step Foot On Sacred Ground- New Orleans is known for its eerie elements and I highly recommend exploring all of the spooktacular sights. Caitlin and I pre-purchased tickets for a stroll through St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 with French Quarter Phantoms Ghost Tours and it did not disappoint; Although some say that tours are more terrifying at night, I liked that our tour was conducted during the day so that I could see the gravestones and really take in the historical aspects of the site. Justin, our tour guide, was incredible (you need to be on a tour to be able to get into this cemetery) and I learned so much about voodoo origins, special measures that the city had to undergo when burying their dead, and I even got to see where Marie Laveau and Nicholas Cage are and will one day rest. The most interesting part of the tour though, was reading through all of the names on the tombstones. It shed light on how intertwined the culture was in New Orleans- It was easy to identify a French, Spanish, Italian and Haitian presence just by looking at the names.
We also visited the Garden District’s Lafayette Cemetery No. 1: Owned and operated by the city and not a church, it is free and open to the public. It is the 3rd oldest cemetery in New Orleans and has been used for many shows including Double Jeopardy, American Horror Story: Coven, and NCIS New Orleans.
- Take A Walking Tour Through The Garden District– Caitlin and I rode an Uber from the French Quarter to the Garden District on the morning of our return flight home and I am so glad that we squeezed in one final trip: Not knowing what to expect, I typed in “Commanders Palace” as a drop off point and our driver put us right between this cute little Victorian home and Lafayette Cemetery. While en route, I stumbled upon a website that gave suggestions on where to walk in the Garden District, and it honestly was so helpful. I took screenshots of the highlighted descriptions and we walked around for about an hour, taking photos of the interesting homes that we encountered. Without even having documentation, the architecture witnessed here is breathtaking. Some homes are grand while others are modest in stature with majestic details that make them even more stunning than the rest. Wrought iron fences and Spanish inspired balconies etch first and second floor perimeters; homes with exotic hues and vibrant, hanging plants stand proudly beside stately colonials with columns, red doors, and heavy gas lamps along the entranceway. The neighborhood was quiet except for tiny tour group clusters here and there and other solo wanderers, eager to catch the Manning Family or Sandra Bullock going about their day.
- Make An Impression- New Orleans, we thought, was a city of extremes. We knew that it was home to bachelorette parties, milestone birthdays, Mardi Gras and other occasions that allowed for crazy antics. When Caitlin suggested that we wear wigs out one night, then, my cosplay alter ego went mad on Amazon. My suitcase contained four wigs and three masks; the idea was to roll up to Hotel Monteleone and sip drinks at the famed Carousel Bar.We almost chickened out, surrendered to our bed and Netflix, but decided that we paid too much on accessories and came to far to turn back. So we dressed, piled into an Uber, and found our way to the sparkling boozy Carousel on Royal Street.
The bar was packed for a Sunday night and there were no seats available on the revolving sphere but as a couple got up to leave, the woman smiled and said, “we’re giving our spot to these girls.” All night, the outfits were conversation starters. One woman asked if my silver lob was real, told me that I should cut it that way after 40, a couple paid for our tab after asking if they could take one 360 spin in our seats… I am so thankful that we didn’t let our insecurities get the best of us because we truly had a great time.
- Learn About The Real Mardi Gras Traditions– I did not know that the Bourbon Street Mardi Gras parade is just a small subset of the festivities that occur in New Orleans. Caitlin and I visited Mardi Gras World to get an insider’s look at the large floats that pass through more than 40 parades each year. We were able to view and take photos with life-size ornaments and props, watch artisans build Styrofoam figures from the ground up, and even got a slice of King Cake to kick off the tour! At just $19.00 per person, the 90-minute walkthrough was well worth it- I learned so much about the origins of the tradition, the krewes that partake in the parades, and the magic in the making.
- Eat Your Heart Out- I can say with confidence that I ate my way through NOLA and I am not even mad about it. The food here satisfies every taste bud and I feel like we didn’t even make a dent in the list of restaurants that were recommended to us. Some of my favorites include:
- Café Amelie- Best grilled cheese and tomato soup I’ve ever had
- Napoleon House- First pass at some NOLA staples including the Pimm’s Cup, muffuletta (I had three of these during my four day stay but this was undoubtedly the best), grilled alligator sausage and a side of jambalaya
- Tableau- Caitlin and I were looking for one nice meal out and we had to make a reservation to sit in the main dining hall here. The food and the ambiance of this place was incredible though- We started with oysters and a sage butter gnocchi, I had melt-in-your-mouth shrimp and grits, and we finished with a bottle of wine and king cake rice pudding. Big fan of this French Quarter hotspot!
- Ruby Slipper Café- A Sunday brunch must; A co-worker recommended this place and, oh my word, their benedicts are amazing. Make sure you order a side of their pig candy bacon.
- Lose- And Find Yourself- On Frenchmen Street– Days before my trip commenced, I posted on Facebook and asked my friends for some of their New Orleans recommendations. Everyone on my feed responded with, “Forget about Bourbon, head to Frenchmen Street.” I had also researched on Pinterest a bit and noted that while Bourbon was about 80’s cover bands and belligerent street traffic, Frenchmen paid tribute to the soul of NOLA. Thankfully I was able to make it to that area of town and I don’t think that I will ever be the same again.
I will never forget about this time that I was taking the NY Subway home from work one night- I rounded a corner and saw a one-man band with massive headphones on his ears, a keyboard and a drumset beside his DJ system. Around him, there were at least fifty people dancing to his rendition of Drake’s “One Dance.” Strangers were dancing with strangers, the beat echoed off of every wall and passing tin transportation car, and when this musician spoke of a revolution into his mic, the crowd roared. It was one of the more epic moments in my life, witnessing such a sense of community and instance of music providing nothing but joy.
I felt the same sentiments on Frenchmen Street. Bars were filled with blues and jazz bands, people sang and clinked glasses and bopped and swayed their heads in time to the music. But I was set on staying outside: On a lively street corner, a trumpet, trombone, saxophone and drum played as people danced in the street with enthusiasm. Soon, three more musicians appeared and started playing with the others until there were close to eleven members in the band. I watched two, four mates stop playing to extend a handshake before blowing their horn with the others; the crowd was addicted to the sound that they were creating. I danced like no one was watching under a solitary street lamp, could have stayed all night in that single spot. It felt like religion, something that could bring me to my knees or lift me above NOLA’s tallest Cypress tree. If I had listened to nothing but the Lemon Drop Martini’s I consumed at the Royal Frenchmen Hotel, I would’ve stayed there until the sun came up.
- Insta By The Bywater- The ride to the Bywater was a little longer so I don’t recommend walking if you are staying in the French Quarter. However, if you are a fan of graffiti art, the stop is definitely one to make. I especially liked the murals by an artist named Brandan “BMike” Odums (@BMike2C); If I went back to NOLA I would try to see his exhibit right beside his iconic depictions at Studio BE.
- Beignet, All Day– One cannot leave NOLA without trying at least one beignet, a mouth-watering fried dough puff loaded with powdered sugar. Although Café Du Monde is the staple, it is definitely important to plan ahead when adding the spot to your agenda because 1. They only take cash and 2. Lines are long and the place gets crowded quickly. We ventured to the Jackson Square location right when the place opened so there was no line but the following day I found Café Beignet and liked the vibe- and the pastry there- better. Definitely get a café au lait as well!
- Get Out Of Town– Let’s face it, there is way too much to do in the city to tackle it all in one trip. But Caitlin and I did book a tour that showcased other sides of Louisiana, took a full day to explore the bayou and one of the state’s beautiful plantations. After breakfast on Sunday, we ventured to a designated pick up station and a representative from Cajun Pride Swamp Tours transported us to our first stop- the Manchac Swamp for a leisurely boat tour.
Although we didn’t get to see many alligators due to the time of year, the captain was a wonderful guide, the raccoons, egret, and other animals painted a picturesque backdrop. It was so interesting to learn more about the wetlands and we even got to hold a baby alligator at the end of the excursion!
From the swamp we got back onto the bus and headed to our second destination, Oak Alley Plantation. Built in 1837-39, the estate is most famous for its alley of 28 evenly spaced live oak trees, believed to be at least 100 years older than the big house. Caitlin and I could’ve spent hours taking photos, laying beneath the oak branches, relaxing in the afternoon sun. We were able to get a tour of the home interior and take in the sweeping views of the plantation landscape from the second story balcony. It was truly an incredible experience.
- Make The Memories Last– I would be fibbing if I said that I didn’t take more than 500 photos while on this trip. Every hurricane cocktail, every po-boy, every street sign, every store front now lives in the Cloud and I could have probably taken more, as I am a memory preservationist, through and through. But Caitlin and I also carried out a new tradition of hiring a photographer to take ‘best friend photos’ at each destination- it was something that started last year while she was visiting Virginia. This time, Caitlin found the talent, organized logistics, and coordinated the day of meet and greet. And I couldn’t have picked a better person if I tried.
It has been mentioned in the review that I posted on Google, but I could not be more impressed, and utterly in awe, of the woman behind Nyejah Bolds Photography. Not only was Nyejah responsive and receptive to our style requests during the planning process, but once we met her for our shoot, she was extremely professional, flexible, and was also great company, donning her photography and tourguide hat for the duration of our shoot. As first timers in the city we felt safe, comfortable, and beautiful walking through the French Quarter as Nyejah directed our hands, fixed our hair, made us laugh. She felt like a third best friend and I honestly can say that the experience was one of my personal trip highlights.
Whew! Four pages and countless hours later, I am finally done with my long-winded itinerary of four days in NOLA, off the beaten path. There still are some things that remain on my list for next time (I’m sharing them below) but each of the items mentioned above were enough to make me fall in love and want to move to this magical place. If you have any additional questions on where we stayed, where we wandered, what we paid, etc. feel free to reach out in the comments below. Until next girls getaway-
Thanks for reading!
5 Misc. Things To Add To The Above List
- Visit Armstrong Park
- Go On A Bookstore Tour (If You Start At Faulkner Books They Give You A Handy Map)
- Try A Hurricane From Pat O’Briens
- Stroll Through The Old French Market
- Explore Jackson Square
10 Things That I’ll Be Sure To Do Next Time
- Ride A Streetcar
- Enjoy Bubbles & Bites at Effervescence, NOLA’s Champagne Bar
- Dine At Erin Rose For Famous Frozen Irish Coffee & Po-Boys
- Two Words: More Jazz
- Try The Banana’s Foster At Brennan’s
- Choose Accommodations Off Of Bourbon
- Stake Out AHS: Coven Filming Spots
- Indulge In A Boozy Jazz Brunch At The Court Of Two Sisters
- Get A Tarot Card Reading
- Take A New Orleans Cooking Class