I didn’t know what to expect when I went to New Orleans, to be honest. All I really knew was that New Orleans had Cajun and Creole food, Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street is a big thing there, and that it had a French influence. There’s definitely that but so much more! It’s such an interesting and weird city with so much delicious food, historical and cultural landmarks, and unique activities that really highlight what a unique and eclectic city it is. This was also my first time going to the South (I’ve pretty much only been on the West or East coast), so it really was like experiencing a different culture since it’s so different from the Bay Area. Read below to find out what I did during my weekend there – and yes, we really did everything over the course of ~three days! We flew into NOLA late Thursday night and left Monday morning, giving us three full days to do all the things.
I divided up this guide into three sections: Dining, Shopping & Activities, and Sightseeing. There’s also a last section with other things on our list that we didn’t get a chance to do and I would want to check out next time. I also indicated which neighborhood each location is in, since it can get hard coordinating what to do on each day – if you’re a planner like me, that is!
Of course, dining is a big part of any trip I take – even if I wasn’t a food blogger! It’s another way to explore the city and get a feel for the local life, especially if a city has dishes and cuisines its known for. New Orleans is definitely a foodie’s (I hate that word lol) city because there’s just so much good food everywhere! I also tend to be more bougie on a trip in regards to food, because I don’t know when I’ll get to visit again!
- [French Quarter] – District Donuts – Sometimes artisanal donuts can be underwhelming, but not these ones. Stopping by at District Donuts (which also has sliders and brew), was totally worth it. Their menu changes frequently as they switch up their donut offerings, but each one was delicious. There was a line when we got there late afternoon, but it moves quickly and there’s surprisingly a lot of seating. Another more common recommendation worth putting on your itinerary!
- [French Quarter] Sylvain – Sylvain is tucked away quietly and unassuming in the French Quarter on one of it’s colorful streets. Named after an opera that was performed in 1776, the restaurant is in what used to be a carriage house. It’s a small, cozy restaurant that has an interesting mix of Southern and New American cuisine. Literally every dish that came out was delicious – from fish fritters to beef cheeks – so make sure you come hungry and ready to eat quality, fine dining.
- [French Quarter] Cafe du Monde – Yeah, it’s probably the most touristy thing ever, but it’s so worth it. These beignets are amazing and worth waiting for. I would recommend coming at offhours, either early in the morning or late at night. Oh, and it’s open 24 hours!
- [French Quarter] Cane and Table – We stopped in after dinner. It’s both a bar and a restaurant and it’s bougie. I mean that in the nicest way, because it was cute. It was a little dead by the time we got here, so it doesn’t seem to be a very busy bar. It might be good for the ‘gram (but terrible lighting) or if you’re in the mood for a little class, but I don’t know if I would consider going back unless I wanted to try their dinner menu.
- [French Quarter] Killer Po’ Boys – Back when we went, Killer Po’ Boys was just a pop up located at the back of the Erin Rose Bar. They now have their own shop as well, but going to the original one is an experience to have. The bar has a fun punk rock vibe, which is a nice change of pace from some of the fancier places we went to. The po’ boys were really good and there’s an option for vegetarians too!
- [Garden District] Bakery Bar – I was excited for Bakery Bar after I found it while researching for the trip. It’s a really cute bar that’s also a bakery – so it’s open until midnight! We went there for dessert after eating at Cochon, and it’s decorated like a library. The cakes were good, with classic flavors like red velvet, but I don’t think I would go out of my way to visit it though, especially in a stacked weekend.
- [St. Roch] St. Roch’s Market – Originally constructed in the 1800s, St. Roch was an open air market for vendors. It eventually fell into disuse by the 1990s but was renovated into the modern food hall it is today in 2014. Today, they have a multitude of vendors and local goods inside. There’s a diverse mix of food options and you can shop for local Louisiana goods like jams. This is a great option to come with a group since everyone can get what they want! It also borders the Bywater and Marigny districts, which are pretty to walk around in and explore.
- [Tremé] Willie Mae’s Scotch House – This place is known for their fried chicken. There are lines wrapping around outside the building because people wait in line for it. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to try it since my flight left earlier that Monday morning – this was the last meal before everyone headed home – but I heard a lot of good things about it!
- [Warehouse District] Willa Jean – Very typical of me, but this was one of my top favorites of the eateries we tried. It’s rustic, has baked goods, great brunch options, and coffee. All my favorite things! They’re also known for their biscuits, so be sure to order those – whether its with fried chicken, grits, or with any of their other in house baked goods.
- [Warehouse District] Cochon – Cochon means pig in French, and it is aptly known for their dishes – which feature pork. Even Anthony Bourdain stopped by during an episode of “The Layover”. It’s definitely ironic that a group of non-pork eating people ended up here, but rest assured that the rest of their menu is just as good – and even includes alligator and rabbit!
There’s so much to see in New Orleans! It’s such an interesting place full of a unique history with its French influence and the flourishing of Cajun and Creole peoples and culture. I’m all about learning history and culture and architecture/landmarks since I find it fascinating, so that’s where my recommendations tend to lean towards. Also, no Bourbon Street here if you notice, because it’s gross and smelly and no one really goes there for anything lol. It’s worth walking down just to say you went there but meh.
- [Central City] Hot Tin – Hot Tin is a rooftop bar at the Pontchartrain Hotel. This is where Tennessee Williams lived at some point and wrote A Street Car Named Desire. It’s decorated with vintage accessories like an old letterbox and a typewriter as well as items related to Williams like his plays. There’s a really nice view of the city, and even though it doesn’t necessarily have that typical city skyline, it was nice to be able to get that view.
- [Vacherie, Louisiana] Oak Alley Plantation tour – So, I actually felt personally conflicted about visiting a plantation since it feels weird to tour, visit, and take pictures of a place that’s such a terrible part of American history and shouldn’t be romanticized or celebrated for its opulence. However, Oak Alley does a good job of presenting the history of the plantation and the era and didn’t paint the plantation owners in a positive light. I think this is worth visiting just to see the divide between the insane wealth plantation owners had and hardships and tragedy slaves were subjected to. These trees (which were planted long before the plantation was built) were also really stunning. This did take most of our day though since it’s a drive from NOLA.
- [French Quarter] Walking tour of the Quarter – This was booked by someone in the group, so I don’t have the exact details of it, but doing a quick Google search will turn up a bunch of organized tours. This was really cool because we got interesting historical information as we walked through the Quarter and saw points of interest like Marie Laveau’s grave at St. Louis cemetery and a tour of Madame Lalaurie’s house. I actually got sick from the heat so I left the tour partway lol but everyone had a good time with it.
- [French Quarter] Faulkner House Books – This was originally William Faulkner’s House and now its been converted into a bookstore. The front half of the building is the store and it’s like walking to a house lined with bookshelves from top to bottom. People actually live in the back and it’s a proper house with a living room, etc. It’s been updated though, so it doesn’t have Faulkner’s original furniture in the home.
- [Garden District] Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 – We were originally going to go to this on the first day but everyone was pretty tired. They ended up doing it before they flew home, but we were already on a plane by then I only got to drive past it, but it’s so worth going to! They filmed American Horror Story and other films here.
- [French Quarter] Jackson Square – It’s the square in the heart of the French Quarter. There’s nice greenery, you can take in the Quarter and just see the life of New Orleans. Among other significant buildings, the St. Louis Cathedral faces it, and you can walk in as well. It was actually pretty nice and calming to go in there because it was 1.) nice and cold 2.) quiet from the bustle of the city. It’s also the oldest cathedral in America.
SHOPPING & ACTIVITIES
I don’t really go shopping much on trips to be honest. My budget is allocated more towards food, transportation, housing, and some activities, so it’s last on my list – especially if I’m just traveling domestically. I do look up those areas though because they’re usually flanked by restaurants and other things to see, which are listed below.
- [French Quarter] Shopping on Magazine Street – This is the street that District Donuts is on. It’s a cute street that spans a few blocks that has a bunch of different shops and restaurants to explore.
- [French Quarter] Live music on Frenchman Street – Definitely walk around Frenchman Street at night. You’ll hear all kinds of different live music spilling out into the streets – just pick whatever you’re in the mood for and walk in! A lot of travel guides online recommend The Spotted Cat – even my airplane magazine did. I would honestly stay away – not because the music sucks but because it was SO crowded! I’m not even a claustrophobic person and I needed to leave – I’m also very short and people were towering over me. There are plenty of different clubs to wander into to get some live music.
- [French Quarter] Midnight market on Frenchman Street – Funnily enough, because I had to get out of the jazz club, we found a Midnight market in the lot right next door to The Spotted Cat! It was literally like any other craft/local vendor market – just at midnight. It was cool to look around and see some of the arts and crafts people were selling.
- [Bywater District] Explore the Bywater District – We only ended up at the edge of Bywater since we went to St. Roch Market, but it’s known to be a colorful (literally because of the houses) neighborhood, have cute shops, and a diverse group of people living there. Also Solange seems to be in that area a lot – if this is important to your interests.
- [Garden District] Take the St. Charles Trolley – We actually didn’t end up taking the trolley even though it picked up right at our Airbnb! It looked really cute though and a convenient way to go back and forth. I’m glad we stayed in the Garden District since – as you can see by this list – the majority of the things we did were here or nearby in the French Quarter.
THINGS WE DIDN’T GET TO DO
You’re probably thinking, “why is this even a list if you didn’t experience it?” Some of these things were included on our final choices, but we cut things out in favor for above, it didn’t work out with timings, or we just simply ran out of time. I would want to come back to check these things out – as well as explore new things!
- Tremé neighborhood – Tremé is also near Bywater and St. Roch. It’s similar in that it’s also a neighborhood known for their colorful architecture. It’s one of the oldest neighborhoods in the cities, predominantly mixed race, and is a center of African American and Creole culture. The HBO Show “Tremé” is centered around this neighborhood and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I think it’d be really cool to explore both this and Bywater next time!
- Swamp tour – I really wanted to do this too because it sounded fun (and kinda scary) but it was either go on this tour or the plantation tour, and the plantation won out. That’s okay since the plantation tour ended up being really interesting, but it would’ve been cool to float down the river and see – even hold/pet – baby alligators!
- [French Quarter] Napoleon House – We walked by this place while touring the French Quarter, but ultimately didn’t pop in or eat here. It’s known as a “watering hole” of sorts for writers such as Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner, who were contemporaries.
- [French Quarter] Café Amelie – This was another cute cafe that’s on a lot of lists. We actually ended up walking past it while going to Sylvain (I think), and it looked really nice inside. I’d want to come back to do brunch here because I love the outdoor seating.
- [French Quarter/Garden District] Sucre – his was something that I wanted to check out… probably because it’s Instagrammable haha. Not only is it a really cute sweet shop, but they also do a high tea with all of their confections! No one was really into that idea so it didn’t happen (which is okay lol), but I would want to stop in next time just to see if the hype is worth it.
- [Garden District] Turkey and the Wolf – This restaurant didn’t exist in 2016. It’s the #1 Best new restaurant of 2017 according to Bon Appetit Magazine though, and I would make it a point to go try it out after all of the glowing reviews – especially since it’s “just” a sandwich shop! It just looks like a casual lunch spot that doesn’t take itself too seriously but dishes out good, comforting food.
- [Bywater] Bacchanal Wines – This is a big, expansive area where essentially you can just have wine and eat cheese. It looked really pretty, but not sure how practical it would’ve been in the middle of summer with blistering heat. I just like cheese plates, so I’d be down.
- [East Riverside] Le Petite Grocery – This was on our possible list of restaurants, but ultimately it didn’t make the cut since we wanted to try out some of the other known restaurants. The chef and owner, Justin Devillier, of this restaurant was on Top Chef. I watched that season and liked him so it would’ve been cool to make it out there!
- [East Riverside] Shaya – Around the time we were going, this was one of the hot, new restaurants that had opened up. We actually had reservations, but because the group was too big to accommodate for them, they split us into two – which wasn’t worth it. Also, it was Middle Eastern food, and coming from the Bay Area and L.A., everyone has had their fair share of good food from that region, so we cut it as well. It does look amazing though, so I would consider coming back and having it since we tried some of the more quintessential Southern restaurants.
And whew, that’s the list! I hope I didn’t make it too long, and it was a little hard to categorize, but I think there are a lot of fun options no matter what type of trip you’re taking. I personally enjoy history, architecture, and culture, which is why my recommendations lean that way – and of course, food, duh. Let me know below in the comments if this was helpful and if you have any thoughts or other New Orleans recommendations!