I was supposed to be in New Orleans ("NOLA") last month to celebrate a friends' 30th birthday. Last minute changes forced me to cancel the trip. Prepping for that trip got me thinking about some of my NOLA favorites. There is no shortage of things to do, places to see or food to experience. From weekend destination to extended vacations, I don't think you can go wrong making plans to visit New Orleans ("NOLA"). This guide has been carefully curated over several visits and discussions with locals. There is not a thing/place on this list I would not recommend to my nearest and dearest.
I found the best way to get around is by car. Rent one at the start of your trip and the possibilities are endless. If you are looking to save cost, uber pool has always been a great alternative to car rental. If you are only intending to stay near or around the French quarter, you can also get by without a car.
The Best Time to Visit
Unless you want to experience Mardi Gras, Voodo Fest or Essence Festival (or any other such annual events), I found the best time to visit New Orleans is September to November when the summer crowds have decipiated and the weather is friendly (or April & May - just become the crowds arrive)
Where to Stay
Near or around the french quarter. Personally, I like to avoid the heart of the French quarter. I have loved staying at Hilton St George (very close to French quarter, but away from the heart of it); Wyndham New Orleans and Hotel Provincial. If you want to stay in the heart of the excitement, I have always liked AC Hotel Bourbon/Fren Quarter and Astor Crowne. These are easy on the wallet and accessible. If you can snag a airbnb in the garden district, irish channel or uptown, then by all means. Those take you away from the tourist traffic of the French Quarter but not to far away that you can't get to it if you wanted.
Where to Dine
Of course there is Cafe du Monde. No NOLA trip is complete without getting beignets. They are open 24 hours and if you can get a seat looking out to Jackson square then you win the lottery for prime people watching.
For Brunch. You cannot go wrong with Luke's, Commander's Place, Cafe Amelie or Ruby Slipper. One of my favorites things is brunch in the Cafe Amelie courtyard and the Shrimp and Grits at Luke's is the reason for weekend brunch.
For Lunch & Dinner. Any of the Brunch recommendations will do, but you can also consider Bon Ton cafe; Acme Oyster house; Jacques-Imo; Juan flying burrito; Atchafalya or August by John Besh. For something more fancy, the Upperline is all kinds of fab. I have never gone wrong with anything on the menu.
For coffee and sweets. Cafe du monde (it bears repeating) - I hardly ever venture from the hot chocolate and beignets. The few times I do - I go to one of these: Spitfire coffee; District donut or District hand pies. For something cold and creamy, Creole creamery or Little vic does the trick.
Where to explore
Spending time in the French quarter is a given. Stroll down Bourbon street and canal street for premium people watch . Don't miss Jackson Square. There is also Frenchman street at night with live music at bars and restaurant. Find one you like, grab a seat and relax. Getting away from the French quarter, exploring the Garden district is a great way to spend an afternoon (lots of instagrammable homes). You can also join one of the free walking tours to get acquainted with the city. For shopping, the riverwalk outlet collection is a great option that keeps you close to the tourist areas. If historic cemeteries / above ground burial grounds are your things, NOLA has got a few I hear are worth checking out. If you want to get out of the city - a swarm tour might be a good option. The tours last two to three hours.