Wednesday, December 9, 2015

My Favorite Things to do in New Orleans

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that Tony and I went to New Orleans with some friends a couple of weeks ago. New Orleans is one of those places we've been talking about going to for years, and after telling our friends (and neighbors) how much we wanted to go, we all decided to just go for it. It was one of my favorite vacations yet, and New Orleans will forever hold a special place in my heart. We are already talking about going back in a few years, this time with all of the kids (NOT staying on Bourbon Street if we bring the kiddos, more on that later....)

The city was unlike anywhere I've ever been, and I took little notes of things I never want to forget. I am going to share some of (in my opinion) the things you simply must do in New Orleans.

Enjoy the INCREDIBLE music. New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz, and the music fills your ears wherever you go. We went into some great jazz clubs (Maison Bourbon in particular was one of my favorites. The Jamil Sharif group was playing, and I could have stayed all night to listen. They also serve an excellent hot buttered rum.)

Anyways, in addition to all of the jazz clubs you can hear some of the best jazz on the streets. Several different jazz groups were walking up and down Bourbon Street. Make sure to give them a listen, and if you're loving what you hear don't forget to leave them a little token of your appreciation.

Look up, and down and all around you. The architecture is unlike anything I have ever seen. I kept saying how I felt like we were in a movie. There is beauty absolutely everywhere.

The St. Louis Cathedral in the middle of the French Quarter is just breathtaking.

We learned that the huge (what we thought were balconies) are called galleries. A lot of houses have them. They really are stunning.

Take a swamp tour! This was something Tony really wanted to do. I wasn't into it, but I am so glad we did go. We booked our tour with Cajun Encounters and I highly recommend it. We paid a bit extra for the smaller boat (and ended up with a private tour with just our group.) The smaller boat got deep into some little areas of the swamp that were borderline creepy, but it was such a blast! Bundle up - when the boat is going quickly it gets cold!

The cypress trees with Spanish Moss hanging off of them were ominous and beautiful:

Being on the small boat our tour guide pulled right up to the side of the bayou and started calling out a bunch of names. "Oreo! Baby Oreo! Mama Pig!" Then we heard these little squeals and a whole bunch of pigs (six little ones, and one BIG mama pig) came running right into the water. They totally knew our tour guide's voice. He feeds them marshmallows, and they were more than a little but happy to see him!

Look right in the middle. Kind of hard to see, but it's a little alligator. The day we were out was freezing. Like me, alligators are not fans of the cold, and they tend to do a mini hibernation on the really cold days, so we only saw a few, but it was still really neat to see them in their natural habitat.

This hollowed out cypress tree has been featured in a ton of movies (the ones that stuck out to me were Interview With A Vampire and The Princess and the Frog - it was the inspiration for Mama Odie's house.) Speaking of The Princess and the Frog I could not stop singing "Going Down the Bayou" during our tour. Whoops!

Take a cemetery tour! This is something I really wanted to do. I've always been pretty fascinated with voodoo and Marie Laveau and wanted to see her grave, and also some of New Orleans cemeteries. All of the bodies are buried above ground, and it was truly unlike anything I've ever seen. I made sure to leave some coins on Marie's grave. Just in case....

This unmarked grave is rumored to be Marie's (the above picture is the one marking her grave, but there's a bit of confusion and conspiracy surrounding her death.) It's widely believed that the below grave actually belongs one of her many daughters, who all had the name Marie in their own names. The cemetery tour was awesome if you are a history buff. We learned a lot of fascinating things about New Orleans as a whole (not just the voodoo side), and I really loved learning about Micaela Almonestar, who had a lot to do with construction in the French Quarter. If you have a minute read a bit about her HERE.

Eat (and drink!) your way through the city. (Sidenote: I didn't think about nutrition once. I gained three pounds in four days, and I don't regret one bit of it.) The food in New Orleans was the best I have ever had anywhere. My best advice is to be open minded, and be willing to share. We went with friends, and we basically all ordered something different, and it was all of us sharing, and taking bites off of each other's plates, and ordering a second serving of the things that were amazing.

These are gator tamales. YUM!

This was our lunch spread one day - gator tamales, shrimp boudin, pork boudin, jambalaya, red beans and rice (not everything is pictured, and I think we even ate more than this.)

Dickie Brennan's steakhouse. I have never been to somewhere like this - we had four waiters. One took our drink orders, one explained everything on the menu in detail, one took our food orders, one cleaned up between courses. It was crazy, and very cool. I had turtle soup here (sounds super gross, I know) and honestly, it was one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten.

World-famous Cafe Du Monde. I couldn't believe how cheap it was (like $5 for a cafe au lait and a plate full of beignets!) It is worth the hype, and a must do in New Orleans.

Other notable places to eat:

  • Acme Oyster House. We all shared, but my favorite thing here was the chargrilled oysters and the seafood etoufee.
  • Pierre Maspero's. This place was a bit hidden, and we popped in. Holy crap - amazing. We got a bunch of appetizers, and they were all incredible. Make sure to get the gator bites, and the seafood pistolettes.
Go with friends, act a little crazy, let loose and have a blast! We went with our friends and it was one of our best trips ever. In addition to getting to share a bunch of food, what's better than hanging out with friends all day? Drink the local drinks - the bourbon milk punch (from the Bourbon House, which was attached to our hotel) was something I would have usually never ordered, but it was their specialty. I ordered one, and it was my favorite drink of the whole trip.

There are beautiful masquerade masks everywhere. You can find them for as cheap as $3 and way up from there. On our last night we all rocked some fun masks.

We stayed at the Astor Crowne Plaza, right on Canal and Bourbon. Bourbon Street is a party all night, every night. I suggest grabbing a hurricane, a fish bowl (64 oz of boozey punch), and a frozen something or other (what's in our cups - you can find dozens of different "adult slurpies" in these little hole in the wall bars, lining Bourbon Street.) Bourbon Street is awesome, but not where I would choose to stay if the girls were with us.

New Orleans was good to us, and I truly enjoyed every second. So much fascinating history, incredible food, and music and breathtaking things to see around every turn. I can't wait to go back. Have you ever been to New Orleans? If so, what do you recommend?

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