My first-ever visit to New Orleans was years overdue. But with an infant at home and only 48 hours to take it all in, I was able to get an overview of a city that skyrocketed to the top of my list of favorites. My love for New Orleans after just two short days was such that I've asked my husband on numerous occasions what he thinks about moving there. But a life lived full-time in New Orleans probably wouldn't be spent on Bourbon Street and eating beignets, he reminded me, but rather with a job and the ins-and-outs of daily life.
And while I didn't see enough, and probably spent too much time on uber-touristy Bourbon Street, I'm still thrilled with my 48 hours in New Orleans. There's plenty I missed, but that just means there's plenty of reasons to go back.
Here are my seven can't miss experiences:
We chose the Hotel Monteleone as home base for its French Quarter location, historical significance, rooftop pool and the fact that it was rumored to be haunted. We arrived early, hours before check in, and were told the only room available was one that was windowless. Strange, yes, but it actually came in handy the next morning when we were sleeping off our big night out.
The hotel is famous for its Carousel Bar, a 25-seat revolving bar just off the lobby. It makes one full rotation every 15 minutes, just about the time it takes to finish one drink.
Being from New York City, it takes a lot to impress us, especially when it comes to fine dining. But Galatoire's is one of the most memorable dining experiences I've ever had. We went for lunch on a Sunday afternoon, soon after our flight landed. Galatoire's is on Bourbon Street, but don't expect the way you'd normally dress to hang out on Bourbon Street to fly in this more than 100-year-old establishment.
We ordered the shrimp remoulade and duck crepe to start. Both were excellent, but I am still talking about the duck crepe on a near-weekly basis, so that's an absolute must. For the main, crabmeat au gratin (sinful, but heavy) and the shrimp Creole, which my husband still talks about on a near-weekly basis. And to drink? Why the Sazerac, of course.
Galatoire's is closed on Mondays.
It's a bit of a hike from the French Quarter, but the po' boys at Parkway bakery are worth the trip. It's a 10-to-15 minute ride on the Canal Street streetcar and then a less than 10-minute walk from the stop at Jefferson Davis Parkway.
Parkway Bakery serves 25 different po' boys, and I was all set to order something pretty standard. But the doorman at the hotel recommended the Surf & Turf, made with both roast beef and shrimp. And then smothered in gravy. I was skeptical, but it was far and away the best po' boy I have ever had.
Important note: Parkway Bakery is closed on Tuesdays.
Because of time constraints, we took our Haunted History walking tour in the afternoon. Although the rain did make it a bit sinister, word around town is the tour should really be done at night for maximum spookiness. It was still quite enjoyable, however, and the two hours passed quickly despite the downpour.
The tour starts at a Voodoo shop, which was a little creepy, and our tour guide, dressed in black and wearing a cape and hat, did not look at us or speak to us until the tour officially started, which was actually very creepy. Once we got going though, he warmed up quickly and was very knowledgeable about the history of New Orleans. So while the tour did have a haunted angle, it was largely a historical tour of New Orleans. Learning something makes you feel better about all the drinking and eating you've been doing.
The Old Absinthe House is a perfect place to take a quick break from the bawdiness of Bourbon Street, or at least it was on one particular rainy afternoon. The antique chandeliers and marble fountains are an appropriate backdrop of a bar that's said to be haunted. The 'Old Absinthe House Frappe," a drink said to have been created there in 1874, is still on the menu. Today it's made with Herbsaint, anisette and a splash of soda water and served over ice.
Located in the Loews Hotel in New Orleans' Arts District is the perfectly charming Café Adelaide and Swizzle Stick bar. It's far from Bourbon Street and far more civilized. Truth be told, we went mainly because it share's the name of our daughter, Adelaide, but we were glad we made the walk. If you go, sample the signature cocktail: The Adelaide Swizzle, made from Old New Orleans Amber Rum, Peychaud's bitters, lime, soda and a secret ingredient.
A must on any first-time trip to New Orleans, Café Du Monde is a Crescent City institution, a place that has spawned several outposts (several in malls) but where the original is still the best. Skip the hotel coffee and walk to the French Market on Decatur Street, fight the other tourists for a table and sit to enjoy your beignet. (French doughnut with powdered sugar.) It's actually the only food on the menu anyway. To drink you may have milk, coffee (black or au lait) or orange juice. That's it. But what else would you need?