We've shared with you a not-so-comprehensive list of places to drink in New Orleans, and we will soon be giving you a list of places to eat, but there's so much more to New Orleans than just getting drunk and full. The Crescent City is older than the United States itself, as reflected by its strong French, Spanish, and English colonial legacies. It's proximity to the Caribbean and, in more recent influences, Latin America strongly shape its modern day trappings, as do its history as a hub for immigrants from Italy, Germany, Ireland, and Southeast Asia. But what New Orleans takes from the world it gives back in spades, serving as the cultural cauldron that created the best of American food, art, and music.
More help planning your trip
More help planning your trip
While the purpose of your upcoming New Orleans visit surely revolves around the No. 12 Ole Miss Rebels and their first invite to the Sugar Bowl in four decades, you should hardly pass up an opportunity to enjoy the cultural offerings of a city that is as American as it is Southern as it is truly international. Below is a handful of our best recommendations for the Big Easy's cultural offerings to enhance your trip to something more than just being a visiting fan at a football game. Our recommendations don't do much more than scratch the surface however, so share anything you would like to offer in the comments thread below.
Take a Streetcar Uptown
Even if you've done this a dozen times, this may be something you'll never get tired of. Yes, the St. Charles streetcar can be cramped and touristy, and there's always seemingly a gap in service where renovations or improvements are being made, but riding uptown is almost like being in a moving time capsule. The cramped wooden seats and manually operated windows should give you a not-so-comfortable but scenic look at the numerous antebellum homes of the Garden District, Touro, and Uptown neighborhoods.
Visit the World War II Museum
Andrew Higgins, a native New Orleanian, designed the landing craft that allowed the allies to storm Normandy on D-Day. To honor him, the WWII museum was dedicated by Congress as the official American museum of our nation's experience in the Second World War, and its affiliation with the Smithsonian Institution gives it the resources and expertise to be a truly remarkable set of exhibits. You can visit the museum before or after your streetcar trip, as it's located near Lee Circle in the Warehouse District. Ticket packages range from $15-35 with discounts for students, veterans, seniors and children. While the museum is cavernous and comprehensive, one can get through the whole thing in about three hours or so. The museum is stocked with WWII vehicles, weapons, documents, and videosIts incredibly well done, moving and worthwhile.
Take a walk down Royal Street
Royal is just one block south of Bourbon street, but it's numerous boutiques and art galleries are a stark departure from Bourbon's less-than-refined offerings. Perhaps the most iconic gallery on Royal is the Rodrigue Studio, famous for its blue-dog paintings. Or, if you're feeling like spending a lot of money to treat yourself to a late Christmas present, get measured for a suit or dress at Italy Direct Clothing. For damn good music, cap off your trip to Royal with a stop at Preservation Hall (on St. Peter between Royal and Bourbon), or any of the clubs on Frenchman Street, which intersects Royal east of the Quarter at Washington Square.
Check out the Christmas Lights at the Roosevelt Hotel
Famous as the home of the Sazerac cocktail, the Roosevelt Hotel turns into a winter wonderland in December. Go for a drink in the Blue Room before taking in the elaborate and downright impressive Christmas lights and decorations. If you're bringing the significant other or the kids, pretend like you don't mind taking several hundred pictures for bonus New Year's brownie points (and go ahead and put it on Instagram while you're at it) before making a beeline back to the bar for another cocktail.
Visit the Southern Food and Beverage Museum/Museum of the American Cocktail
Food and beverage lovers will get a lot out of their $10 admission here, as cooking demonstrations are a constant feature of this museum. The food is always paired with small plates or cocktails in an effort to teach folks about food in general ("Here's how you make this thing") and in its historical and cultural context ("Here's where this thing comes from and why that matters"). Their most recent project was to digitize early menus from New Orleans' oldest restaurants as a part of a mission to document American food history.
Explore the Lafitte Greenway Corridor
Audubon and City parks are nice spots worth a visit, but this is a newly renovated 2.5 mile long park in a former rail yard. Renting bikes for transport around the city is a common pastime for tourists; if that's something you intend to do then take advantage of the greenway. This park will get you from Basin Street downtown all the way to Mid City with almost no risk of being flattened by an angry and daydrunk motorist. An important stop along the way is the original Willa Mae's Scotch House (which, we are told, has the best fried chicken ever). The trail ends only a few blocks from Mid City Yacht Club, which has a huge courtyard, lots of beer, and great food. This option provides an excellent spot to catch any of the other New Year's Six bowls without dealing with the crowds of the Quarter or Central Business District.
Get lost at the Hong Kong Food Market
Everybody knows about New Orleans' American and European offerings, so we'll invite you to explore some of its best East Asian options. You'll have to head across to the West Bank to see this many delicious and weird things jammed into one place, but once you get there, it's worth it. Per our sources, Hong Kong Food Market is "seriously fucking bonkers," as countless food stalls sling amazingly tasty and cheap offerings. You'll see tons of things you've never had before and plenty you didn't want to in the first place. Wether you want cheap, world-class dumplings, banh mi sandwiches, or pork blood by the gallon with fresh shark and snake wine, this place has you covered.
Back across the bridge and east on I-10 will take you to Dong Phong, an amazing Vietnamese bakery in New Orleans East. Its meat pies, steamed buns, vermicelli pancakes and Chinese meatball banh mis are highlights, but all the pastries are spot on. It's so good, in fact, that all the best po boy shops in the city get their bread shipped in from Dong Phong.
What not to do
In providing you with a far-from-comprehensive list of dos, we would be remiss to exclude a brief list of don'ts - things you, unless under duress, should avoid doing lest you out yourself as a dullard or an unimaginative tourist.
- Don't pronounce it "Nawlins" or "New Or-leenz" or anything that makes you sound like someone mocking Cajun speech or someone from north of Maryland.
- Don't conflate Cajun culture with Creole culture; there are commonalities there, but the histories of these two communities are very, very different.
- Don't buy beads, no matter how funny you think a $10 string of plastic boobs and marijuana leaves looks.
- Don't eat at the Krystal on Bourbon Street if there are Bama fans nearby.
- Don't make return trips to Mother's, Cafe du Monde, Acme Oyster House, or any tourist trip that you've already once waited in line to experience.
- And don't, under any circumstances, suggest that Ole Miss has any business losing the Sugar Bowl.
Thanks to Drew at Yalobusha Brewing Company for offering to help with this and our other New Orleans recommendations stories. He's a good Rebel and a current New Orleanian who wants nothing more than for y'all to have a damn good time in the Crescent City celebrating Ole Miss' return to the Sugar Bowl -- well that, and he wants you to buy Yalobusha beer, so do that.