I had last been to New Orleans 10 years ago to attend a college football playoff game, but this summer, I was lucky enough to have an excuse for a weekend in the city.
You need to decide which way you want to go with New Orleans when you visit. It obviously makes for a super fun, all-out girls weekend or guys getaway, but I think you can also craft a fantastic weekend devoted to the great music available every single night in this town. The only weekend I wouldn’t create is a family weekend. Save it for when the kids are older - much older.
New Orleans straddles the place between overrun tourist magnet and historically significant cultural landmark city. I found a few ways to keep it on the latter:
There are hundreds of places to stay in New Orleans, but staying in the French Quarter logistically makes plenty of sense. I had the pleasure of staying at the Ritz Carlton this trip, and the hotel has a lot going for it. Although it is located in the French Quarter, it is on the edge, so it feels more calm. I enjoyed the respite from the chaos when I entered my hotel.
The Ritz offers a special “hotel within a hotel” for their Club Floor and it is amazing. The space itself is beautiful: you have a very traditional library filled with books and overstuffed leather chairs, to bright sunlit rooms and even a tv room. There are five food presentations each day and a variety of lovely white and red wines to enjoy. The staff will happily make you a cocktail as well.
The “ladies and gentleman” that work on the Club Floor are what make this a special place. They ask your name, make suggestions for things to do, and ask you about your adventures each day with genuine interest. They’re eager to help enhance your stay in any way. I was tempted to come up with some crazy request just to see how they would figure it out.
Then in the evenings (Wed - Sat), their in-house jazz artist is Jeremy Davenport. If you are not familiar with Davenport, just picture Harry Connick Jr. - his voice and trumpet are incredibly refined. His band is fantastic, and you can just grab a drink and take in a set right in the hotel.
If you are in New Orleans for the music, reach out to the concierge and get some recommendations on who is playing during your stay. There are a number of hotel jazz bars that form a bit of a circuit and you can head from one to another. The Royal Sonesta has great options.
A must for old-school jazz lovers is Preservation Hall. They have shows daily on the hour, starting at 5 p.m. The only trick is you have to wait in line and many shows will sell out. To be safe you can go online and purchase a VIP seat, but don’t get too excited: it is a seat on an old low bench just like everyone else, but you get to go in first and when shows are standing-room only, you will be glad you splurged for the ticket. The musicians change regularly, but the intimate setting is remarkable. You feel like you’ve gone back in time and are sitting in the French Quarter a hundred years ago. While it can be a bit touristy, it remains authentic enough to put it on your list.
Finally, some of the best jazz is located down on Frenchman Street. Although it is a bit of a hike from the French Quarter, it is easy to hop in an Uber. Even if you don’t necessarily want to opt for a whole show, many of the venues are open and just walking around allows you to get a bit of great jazz, not to mention street art and performers. There are some delicious restaurants here as well, so mark this down for one evening’s night out.
Go for a run in the French Quarter
To combat a bit of the damage from the food and booze in the evenings, an early run through the French Quarter is highly recommended. If you can get out before 9, temperatures are at a tolerable 78 degrees and you can do a giant loop of the Quarter in about 3 miles. On your way back, stop at Cafe du Monde and grab some beignets and a coffee. You will get there before the lines start and, while touristy, it is a New Orleans staple you need to experience.
You can head over to the Garden District and manage a longer run, but even two loops through the quarter was very entertaining.
Get Outside the French Quarter
Take the streetcar outside the French Quarter to Magazine Street. It gives you the chance to see where some of the famous, wealthy locals live and get away from the tourists, making for a fun day. Download an app to your phone that lets you purchase a day pass for $3.
Another interesting idea is going to see the St. Louis Cemetery, which is very close to the Ritz Carlton. Tours run from 10-3 every day and you hire a guide right at the entrance.
You really can’t go wrong with dining in New Orleans. There are a few meals you really must have.
Beignets and coffee at Cafe du Monde - This is such a popular place that you will almost always find a line - except it is open 24-hours, so if you find yourself out in the wee hours of the morning or you double back from your morning jog, you should stop by. It is worth making time for this New Orleans institution.
Po’Boys and Oysters - Yes, some are better than others, but all the major spots are terrific. Acme Oyster House and Felix’s Restaurant across the street both have great options and fantastic oyster menus.
BBQ Shrimp - I had the pleasure of enjoying the BBQ Shrimp at the bar at Mr. B's Bistro. These were succulent shrimp, caught fresh that morning, with the heads and shells on, sitting in that dark thick sauce that gets all over your fingers. In most locations they will provide a bib - the New Orleans version of a whole lobster - because it is a messy affair.
Classics that are still worth the trip - K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen in the French Quarter and Commander’s Palace are still going strong for a reason. The traditions and quality classic dishes are worth seeking out.
If New Orleans sounds like an interesting idea, we are able to get great rates and exceptional amenities for clients at most of the top hotels. We also have contacts for really special experiences - dinner in a traditional house in the French Quarter, a visit to a private plantation home outside New Orleans or a spiritual consultation with an authentic voodoo priestess. You should absolutely consider it for a weekend getaway this Fall.