The French Quarter is a blast, but savvy travelers know that countless epic experiences beckon from beyond New Orleans' most famous (and infamous) district.
Those two words conjure an atmosphere of raucous revelry from the most famous street in New Orleans. To many locals, though, this legendary boulevard (understandably) diverts many tourists and conventioneers from the clubs, restaurants, shops, galleries and parks that true New Orleanians hold dear.
But the savvy traveler knows to seek pleasure and experience beyond the French Quarter. As quaint, charming, festive, and sexy as it can be, there is much to see and do outside this historic district that visitors to New Orleans often overlook. While every day may feel like the weekend in New Orleans, this is a city with enough cultural wealth to warrant an extended stay. You don’t have to wait for Mardi Gras -- you can have an epic New Orleans adventure any time you want.
Get started in the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods. Located just a few minutes downriver from the French Quarter, this area has earned the title of the new Austin, the new Portland or the new Brooklyn: A hipster paradise booming with new music clubs, modern cabarets and edgy galleries and bistros. And yes, lots of men with coiffed beards and lots of menus featuring kale. This is, after all, 2016.
Frenchmen Street and St. Claude Avenue are the anchors to these two bustling neighborhoods. With myriad music clubs and almost as many restaurants squeezed into two city blocks, Frenchmen Street in the Marigny has earned the nickname “Bourbon Street for locals.” On any given night, the clubs here feature up to two dozen of the city’s great jazz, folk, blues, soul and swing performers – many with no cover charge. Of particular note, check out The Spotted Cat
, Three Muses
, the Blue Nile
For edgier music and dining experiences, head down St. Claude Avenue in the Bywater. The music styles skew punk and hip hop, spiced with Euro-pop and Gypsy themes. The food trends toward influences far outside Louisiana’s borders, bringing everything from Asian, African and South American cuisine – touched, as always, with dashes of Creole flair.
Magazine Street is the pride of the city’s arts, dining and retail cultures: 65 blocks of antique stores, modern galleries, offbeat markets, stylish clothiers, gift shops, day spas, delis, coffee houses and trendy restaurants, including Shaya
, the Israeli bistro that Esquire magazine named
the Best Restaurant in America in 2015. There is so much here that you almost can’t go wrong. Make sure to visit Funky Monkey
for – respectively -- vintage clothing, gifts, stationery and home furnishings and decorations.
Both Magazine Street and the Marigny/Bywater areas are ideal places to jump out of a cab – or hop off your rented bicycle – to explore on foot, getting lost in the sights, sounds and smells of New Orleans’ busiest and most bustling local street scenes.
Bicycling, by the way, is a great way to get a close and intimate view of New Orleans. There are many rental companies here and, in our post-Katrina rebuilding, dedicated bike lanes have become ubiquitous all over the city. The city’s famed architectural details – wrought and cast iron balconies, filigreed dormers, Victorian embellishments and our bright, tropical paint schemes -- pop the eyes so much better in open air than from behind the window of a car, cab or tour bus.
New Orleans boasts three beautiful, historic public parks well worth a visit. Located in the Treme neighborhood – that of HBO fame – Armstrong Park gets its name from our first ambassador of music, Louis Armstrong. The park features serpentine lagoons with vibrant waterfowl populations, spewing water fountains and a series of charming walking bridges that call to mind Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens. Its many outdoor sculptures feature homages to the legendary Satchmo and other jazz greats, as well as the city’s mysterious Mardi Gras Indian and second-line cultures. On Thursday evenings during temperate weather, the park hosts free concerts and an open-air art market. Check your local listings for details.
– at the very end of Magazine Street, Uptown, where it meets the Mississippi River -- features one of the country’s great natural zoos, with everything from a butterfly pavilion to an island of pink flamingos to a swamp filled with albino alligators.
– one of the largest and oldest urban parks in the United States – features the largest stand of live oaks in the country, all of them draped in haunting laces of Spanish Moss. Filled with wildlife and lagoons for fishing and boating, the park features a botanical garden, an amusement park and golf courses. It also hosts the annual Louisiana Seafood Festival
, the Voodoo Music + Arts Experience
and many other large-scale celebrations of Louisiana culture.
The park’s pièce de résistance may be Morning Call’s beignet
, New Orleans’ favorite sweet treat. Take a bite of this fried-dough-and-powdered-sugar delicacy under the oaks 24-hours a day.
There is more, so much more, to see in New Orleans beyond the French Quarter. The Ogden Museum of contemporary Southern Art
and The World War II Museum
in the city’s business district. The Julia Street art gallery scene. The Uptown music scene. The Bayou St. John dining scene. Horse racing, swamp tours, dance halls, streetcars, cemeteries, art markets….the list goes on forever and the party never ends here in the most unique city in America.