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New Orleans really needs no introduction. The Crescent City—which celebrated its 300th birthday last year— has inspired writers, artists, musicians, and ordinary folk alike with its larger-than-life spirit. And while the city may have officially been under French and Spanish rule before it became part of the United States, it is a true melting pot where Caribbean, African, Native American, Haitian, Latin, and even Sicilian influences have marked every aspect of its rich history and culture. Even in the face of destruction and natural disaster, New Orleans comes out swinging and better than ever—a testament to its endurance but most of all, to the strength of its people.
New Orleans is a city like no other so take your time to enjoy the sights, taste the food, and listen to its sounds. Here, a guide for all of the things to do in New Orleans, even if you only have a day to explore.
9 a.m.: Start your day with a proper Southern breakfast at the quirky Elizabeth’s Restaurant in the historic Bywater neighborhood. Chef Bryon Peck serves homey morning classics with a Louisiana twist such as fried catfish and eggs, duck waffles prepared with sweet potato duck hash and pepper jelly, oyster and shrimp po’boys, and shrimp and tasso scramble. Don’t forget to order a side of pecan-and-sugar coated bacon—this joint’s signature dish inspired by the city’s favorite candy, the praline. The hearty portions and the folksy art on the walls (and the entire facade of the building) will put your body and mind in the right place for the day ahead.
10 a.m.: Head west on Royal Street and after a ten-minute walk you will reach Studio Be, an exhibition space located in a 35,000-square-foot warehouse, the entire façade of which is painted with a beautiful image of a young girl. Inside, activist and visual artist Brandan “Bmike” Odums has put on his first solo show, “Ephemeral Eternal” that consists of spray paint works dedicated to African-American history and culture. Colorful portraits of prominent figures (Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King Jr.), as well as powerful quotes, cover the walls. The show is as much an empowering tribute to the past as it is a commentary on the present. Odums, who was born and raised in New Orleans, also pays tribute to his city’s resilience post-Katrina through a series of installations.
12 p.m.: For lunch, head to New Orleans School of Cooking and get some hands-on experience on preparing a classic Louisiana meal. Your private class will take place in a spacious kitchen with individual workstations where you’ll spend about a couple of hours stirring, frying, seasoning, and, finally, enjoying dishes such as corn and crab bisque, shrimp and grits, bread pudding, and pralines. It’s really the best way to learn some of the basics of New Orleans cuisine (like the difference between Creole and Cajun food) and take some useful cooking techniques, tips, and recipes with you home to later show off.
2:00 p.m.: Even if you’re not a history buff, you’ll enjoy taking a Drink & Learn tour of New Orleans. Drinks historian (coolest job ever, we know!), podcaster, and Louisiana native Elizabeth Pearce will walk you through the history of the city’s signature cocktails—the Sazerac and the Ramos Gin Fizz. Your tour includes visiting some of New Orleans’ most notable landmarks such as the Napoleon House, the St. Louis Cathedral, and the Carousel Bar. Of course, don’t expect to walk around a city that allows drinking in the street empty-handed—after all this is a Drink & Learn experience (you must be 21 or older to participate).
4:00 p.m.: Spend your afternoon exploring the city’s shopping scene. For giftables and unique home accessories, stop by Nadine Blake on Royal Street. The shop also carries a mixture of new and vintage artwork, stationery, and jewelry. Pick up a pair of new shades from Krewe’s airy flagship store in the French Quarter. The store includes a small plant gallery and an espresso bar with courtyard seating where you can hang out while you make up your mind on which frames to buy. Gentlemen, don’t miss Rubensteins, a New Orleans classic. The family-owned menswear store has been around since 1924 and offers a stylish selection of formal and casual wear apparel and accessories. For the ultimate preppy Southern-inspired look, pick up a seersucker suit by Haspel, the brand that pioneered the look 110 years ago in New Orleans.
6 p.m.: The craft cocktail-heavy menu of Restaurant Bar R’evolution makes it the perfect spot to kick off your evening. The drinks menu focuses on “Pre-Prohibition-era libations” and classic gilded age cocktails (with a modern twist!) that change seasonally. The bar’s version of the classic Sazerac is crafted with 124-year-old Armagnac Castarede 1893. House-made bitters, ratafias, and locally sourced fresh ingredients are the stars of the show.
7:30 p.m.: One of the most anticipated restaurant openings of this year in New Orleans was Justine, the traditional French brasserie of James Beard Award-winning chef Justin Devillier. The eatery is elegant and quirky all at once (there’s a burlesque dancer walking in between the tables in one of the dining rooms), a nod to its chic Parisian influence and New Orleans setting. On the menu: classics such as French onion soup (a must-try), foie gras (here it is prepared with Riesling poached pears), steak tartare, duck confit, and delicious grilled yellow in tuna that comes with a side of boulangère potatoes (oven-baked potatoes with bacon), and bordelaise sauce.
10 p.m.: Cap off the night at Snug Harbor on Frenchman Street. A New Orleans staple for over 30 years, this club is located in a renovated 1800’s storefront and attracts music fans with a lineup of excellent music acts that include Terrance Taplin Presents The Uptown Jazz Orchestra on Wednesdays and the Ellis Marsalis Quintet on Saturdays. The two-level music room has a concert hall feel to it so head there early and take a table on the second level for the best view in the club.
Where to Stay
The International House
Located in a gorgeous 1906 Beaux-Arts building in downtown New Orleans just a couple of blocks from the French Quarter, this boutique hotel is the perfect base for exploring the Big Easy. The spacious rooms feature high ceiling, oversized windows, and eclectic furniture (crystal chandeliers, velvet chairs and all). The lobby houses LOA bar where cocktail master Alan Walter mixes delicious drinks out of handmade syrups, bitters, and flavorful tinctures. While you’re there, don’t forget to check out the Banksy graffiti wall which was moved from a structure slated for demolition. It is one of fourteen works of art that the anonymous British artist painted in New Orleans in the summer of 2008.