Mention New Orleans to anyone who’s been and watch their face light up. Perhaps it’s a memory of jazzy eve on Frenchmen’s Street, a sunset view along the mighty Mississippi, or the smoky flavor of charbroiled oysters paired with a French 75. There are so many reasons to love The Big Easy — a town committed to the holy trinity of music, food and booze — where artists are embraced as the soul of the city. It’s a melting pot of cultures, cuisines, and celebrations, where revelers unite and magic happens. Turn a street corner to find brass band in a spontaneous sidewalk show, follow a costumed krewe as they parade through the streets, or grab a bag of warm beignets doused in a pound of powdered sugar and wander the French Quarter. NOLA is calling.
Food + Drink
Folks line up early morning for the first-come, first-serve Friday lunch seating at Galatoire’s. Inside the 117-year-old dining gem, you’ll find New Orleans gentry: bow-tied bespectacled lawyers and glitzed up socialites sporting funny hats, sparkling accessories, and boas, imbibing Old Fashioneds and Bloody Marys while tuxedo-cladded waiters swan through the high-octane crowd with plates of shrimp remoulade, seafood okra gumbo and etouffée. A local brass trio marches through the dining room sending everyone on their feet dancing. Often these booze-fueled lengthy lunches tip into dinner. Nearby Restaurant R’evolution feels like you’re guests in a magnificent Louisiana mansion as you enjoy Gilded Age cocktails, old-school service and classic Cajun and Creole bayou cuisine like blue crab beignets or gulf shrimp-n-grits and reinventions like their Death by Gumbo with a whole quail stuffed with oysters and andouille on top.
N7, a hip French restaurant in a secret garden, is a main draw of this boho arty neighborhood, where you’ll also find Bacchanal, a wine and cheese shop meets backyard party with jazz seven nights a week. Tables are dotted with sweatin’ ice buckets, build your own cheeseboards and juicy steaks under the strings of market lights.
Set in a 1880s former drugstore, candlelit Lilette with its red wine colored walls and cozy banquettes is a perfect spot for pillow-y gnocchi or duck confit in a romantic setting. At Saba, you’ll find a medley of Israeli dishes with Louisiana twists from acclaimed chef Alon Shaya. Bouligny Tavern serves up late night burgers and epic craft cocktails. And, of course, you can’t leave town without a French bread stuffed po’boy — try the roast beef topped with crispy fried shrimp at beloved Domilise’s.
This spirited town takes pride in its cocktail culture and tippling traditions. Sip America’s first cocktail — the Sazerac — at the Art Deco Roosevelt Hotel, venture to Annaud’s for an elegant French 75 at its namesake bar, knock back an Old Fashioned at Barrel Proof where’ll you find over 200 different whiskeys, or kick start your day with a creamy Brandy Milk Punch at Brennan’s, the very place that invented brunch. As NOLA has open carry law, get a “geaux cup” at Mr. B’ Bistro on Royal Street (we recommend Pimms), then explore the French Quarter. Local luminary and French Quarter all-star for 18 years, Chris Hannah, was crowned Best US Bartender in 2022 by Tales of the Cocktail. His Jewel of the South, a 1830s Creole cottage, has a perfect patio for caviar, foie gras and his revisionist takes on classic sippers. Uptown on Magazine Street, head to Vintage for bubbles and beignets or an on-trend espresso martini. Bower Bar shakes up progressive new wave drinks like 51 Problems, beet-infused mescal jazzed up with passionfruit, lime, demerara, and smoked salt.
Rest Your Head
Set in a Victorian-style mansion on the posh St. Charles real estate corridor, The Chloe charms with its leafy front patio for a garden lunch or DJ pool parties out back. The 14 unique rooms have nice touches like four poster beds, bay windows and turntables with vinyl from local music mecca Peaches. The boutique-y Hotel Saint Vincent has a stylish tropical pool scene and late night lounge in the property’s former chapel. Downtown’s most stylish hotel, the 67-room Maison de la Luz, is a designer dream with its vintage furniture, whimsical art, picture-perfect blue-and-white breakfast room, and a velvety red library bar with a secret bookcase revolving door.
A $500 million renovation converted New Orleans’ World Trade Center into the swanky Four Seasons, a beauteous waterfront escape. The glistening Chandelier Bar anchors the grand lobby where the bubbles in your champagne glass mirror thousands of dangling crystals above. Mississippi morning sunrises color the view from your river-facing guestroom, replete with downy luxe beds, marble showers, and deep soaking tubs. The hotel has two poppin’ restaurants — celebrated Chef Donald Link (Cochon, Pesci) helms Chemin à la Mer where you’ll find an eye-popping oyster bar, giant steaks and panoramic views of the Mississippi, while Miss River, a love letter to local cuisine by Chef Alon Shaya, showcases Southern fare like clay pot dirty rice with duck breast or buttermilk-fried chicken carved tableside. The fifth floor poolside bar calls for a Hurricane, but when you’re ready to roam, the French Quarter is an easy walk away. Concierge curated adventures include a private trolley tour or intimate concert at Preservation Hall.
Arts + Culture
A stroll through City Park reveals a mind-bending collection of 90+ spectacular pieces in the Besthoff Sculpture Garden — think Claes Oldenburg, Robert Indiana, and Jaume Plensa just to name a few — in the company of moss draped Spanish oaks and reflecting lagoons. On Friday or Saturday afternoons wander into the Terrance Osbourne Gallery on Magazine to this meet the native artist whose radiant, often whimsical artwork relays tales of NOLA. His subjects don wild colorful headdresses with iconic New Orleans images like shotgun houses, front porch lanterns, brass horns, beads and more. Myriad times, Osbourne’s artwork has graced the Official Jazz & Heritage Festival Posters, one of the most collected in the world. Another local luminary, Jason Marsalis of the famed jazz family, can be found playing live music during Flow Yoga at Spyre Center, the city’s coolest holistic hub.
All That Jazz
A current of music fills the streets throughout New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, but there’s nowhere better to land than Frenchmen Street with live music at every turn. Local favorite D.B.A. hosts plenty of memorable shows where you’ll find couples swing dancing to washboard and stand-up bass Dixieland jazz. Cozy into a couch in the lobby of the Royal Frenchmen Hotel & Bar for local bands like the Trumpet Mafia and Piano Man G. At the Blue Nile you just might catch legends like Trombone Shorty or Kermit Ruffins. The house band at Fritzel’s on Bourbon knocks out classic Louis Armstrong. Uptown, the Bayou Bar goes off at the Pontchartrain Hotel and be sure to head up to rooftop Hot Tin for the best skyline view of the city.
When to Go: Top 2023 NOLA Events
Feb 4 & 11
Pre Mardi Gras Parades before another million people show up.
March 25 & 26
Free event with African music, jazz, funk, gospel + gumbo cook-offs.
Free fest with 12 live music stages and endless food vendors from top restaurants.
April 28-30; May 4-7
Blues, Gospel, Cajun & Zydeco, Jazz, Rock and food galore.
Charity marathon with beer trucks, live music and a sea of red dress wearing runners.
The city’s official Halloween parade, Mardi Grad-style, with floats, costumed dancing krewes, bead throws, second lines and after parties.
Stunning holiday-themed decorations illuminate the historic oaks of City Park.
Ann Wycoff is a travel and lifestyle writer whose work has appeared in San Diego Magazine, Coastal Living, Modern Luxury, and many more. She lives in Encinitas, CA with her husband and daughter, and believes in traveling with a purpose.