“We dance even if there’s no radio. We drink at funerals. We talk too much and laugh too loud and live too large and, frankly, we’re suspicious of other who don’t.” -Chris Rose
Whether you call it the Big Easy, NOLA, or the Crescent City, New Orleans, Louisiana is a vibrant, historic, eclectic, and culturally rich city perched at the mouth of the Mississippi River and a spot that, in my opinion, every traveler should experience at least once in their lifetime. French, Spanish, West African, and Southern historical influences on the city’s culture have resulted in a City with its own unique cuisine, music, art, architecture, and yes, even its own language. It’s a charming city like no other! But why should you go?
Eat great food
“We don’t measure our seasoning. We just sprinkle and shake until the spirits of our ancestor’s whisper.” -Unknown
Food is a big part of travel and New Orleans proudly shares its culinary heritage with every visitor. If you are fearless in your food adventures, the list of dishes to try is long and delicious! Be sure to seek out and try Gumbo, Etouffee, boiled Crawfish, Po Boys, Bananas Foster, King Cakes, Jambalaya, Red Beans and Rice, or the New Orleans Muffuletta. Each of these dishes can be easy to find and will surely reinforce the New Orleans culture all around you.
For us, our visits to town always start gleefully enjoying Beignets at a NOLA institution, Café Du Monde. And while some might say that visiting Café Du Monde is the tourist thing to do, for us, it is a distinctly New Orleans must stop! Established in 1862, Café Du Monde is open 24 hours a day and closes only for Christmas Day and the occasional Hurricane that ventures too close to New Orleans.
In the 18th century, the French settlers to the Gulf Coast brought coffee and the Acadians (Cajuns) from Nova Scotia brought other French customs such as the beignet. Followed by a coffee shortage during the Civil War that led the New Orleans Creoles to develop Chicory-blended coffee and you have the distinctly New Orleans coffee and beignet combination served at Café Du Monde.
A Beignet is a square piece of dough that is fried and covered in powdered sugar. Simple as that! Made fresh, each order comes with three Beignets and I always warn that, if eaten properly, you will be covered in powdered sugar by the time you’re done! If you’re a coffee drinker, pair your Beignet with Chicory Coffee, or what appears on the menu as Café au Lait. Find these delights at Café Du Monde at 800 Decatur Street, New Orleans, LA.
Listen to great music
“I’m not sure but I’m almost positive that all music came from New Orleans.” -Ernie K. Doe
For me, New Orleans is the most vibrantly and demonstratively musical city of our travels. Especially in the bustling French Quarter, you can hear music on nearly every corner or exuberantly pouring out of restaurants or bars with the differing tunes crashing together in the street as you walk along. Considered the birthplace of jazz, the music of New Orleans has been influenced by the varying ethnic groups that have lived in the city throughout its history and the music you will hear has a distinctive swing like no other. In fact, when you hear it, I dare you to stand still! Most of us have at one time or another, enjoyed the music of New Orleans-born musicians Louis Armstrong, Harry Connick Jr., Fats Domino, Aaron Neville, and The Neville Brothers, to name only a few. The City of New Orleans celebrates its musical traditions with abandon and as you plan a visit, consider participating in the endless party sure to be happening in town. You can choose from the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, French Quarter Festival, Voodoo Music Experience, Bayou Boogaloo, Crescent City Blues & BBQ festival, Buku Music &Arts Festival, Cajun-Zydeco Festival, Central City Festival, Satchmo Summerfest, Freret Street Festival, Jazz In The Park, and of course, Mardi Gras. If you’re not in town for a festival, remember that in New Orleans, every day feels like a party and it’s likely that you can find some toe-tapping street musicians who make walking The French Quarter feel like a celebration.
Explore the History
“When you go to New Orleans, you’re not just going to a city, you’re going to an entire culture.” -James Carville
Founded by the French, occupied by the Spanish, and the most important city in the South during the Civil War due to its position at the mouth of the Mississippi River and the size of the Port of New Orleans, the city is rich in cultural and architectural history. A quick visit to the city should include a walk through the famous French Quarter, one of the most historic neighborhoods in NOLA, photo ops in Jackson Square, and a peek inside the beautiful St. Louis Cathedral.
Stepping outside of the French Quarter, a recommended ride on The Saint Charles Streetcar is an easy way to see more of the city. The Saint Charles Streetcar is the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in the world. Live Oak trees that drip with Spanish Moss line the route that passes dozens of antebellum mansions, Loyola and Tulane Universities, and Audubon Park. Buying a ticket from the driver makes for an easy, enjoyable ride through one of the most beautiful parts of New Orleans.
While in New Orleans, if you have time, an hour outside of the city is Oak Alley Plantation. On the west bank of the Mississippi River in Vacherie, Louisiana, and a true snapshot of life in the antebellum south, Oak Alley is a beautiful 28-acre property named for the double row of twenty-eight 300-year-old southern live oaks that create an 800-foot canopy that gives the Plantation its name.
Built in 1837 and now designated a National Historic Landmark, Oak Alley was established to grow sugarcane. Today, a visit includes tours of the “Big House,” and truthful exhibits about the Civil War and slavery at Oak Alley as well as the Sugarcane Theatre where the history of sugarcane cultivation is explained.
To plan a visit, find Oak Alley at www.oakalleyplantation.com.
Each time we visit New Orleans, we have a different experience but it is always an adventure. There really is no place like New Orleans especially when you have a local guide (we are lucky to have family in the area) to help you immerse yourself in the spirit of the city. If you aren’t that lucky, do your research and have a great time. A visit to New Orleans and falling in love with the food, the music, the history, and of course, the people is highly recommended.
“Laissez les bons temps rouler!” (Let the good times roll!)
**Some photos are my own while others have been provided by Unsplash.