Almost two weeks ago I was walking down a busy street in New Orleans, soaking up the humid heat that I love, drinking delicious, summery strawberry ales, and meandering in and out of various music venues listening to more live jazz than I think I’ve ever heard in my entire life. It was an absolute dream. Within my first few hours in the Big Easy, I was smitten. I turned to my dude as we sat in The Spotted Cat on Frenchman Street and said, “I want to live here” — partially joking, but also kind of serious.
New Orleans was even more charming than I’d anticipated. It’s a perfect destination for those searching for a relaxing, laid-back city where there are plenty of things to do and see but also endless amounts of cozy cafes to stop in to people-watch. There are delicious beignets, a rich history, stunning architecture, a vibrant nightlife…
Oh, and the jazz! Don’t even get me started. I never knew how much I liked jazz until this trip.
Okay, so New Orleans — you ready? Here’s what you should know before you go so you can plan the most amazing trip to the Big Easy:
NOLA is incredibly walkable, bikeable, and public transit-able.
While I wouldn’t wander around the whole city by myself, the city is flat and not too vast. I love walking in new places — and it’s a great way to stay fit when you’re traveling! — and my dude, his brother, and I were staying in a safe, walkable area with lots to do. Still, when venturing beyond that, we took public transit, which was so crazy cheap: $3 for a day pass! INSANITY. The Transit app certainly helped with figuring out routes and times. I would have loved to rent a bike, but I’ve heard that the roads are not in the best shape, so make sure you have one with large tires and a super comfy seat.
If you demand curbside service, New Orleans now has Uber since about a month ago. I’m normally not such an Uber fan since I’ve had some less than awesome rides with them in San Francisco, but NOLA Uber drivers were all awesome and made me like the company a bit more.
Bourbon Street is touristy, but it still is pretty.
When I travel somewhere, I tend to spend less time at the super touristy hotspots and as much time as I can looking for gems that will create a more personal, unique travel experience. I knew I wanted to see Bourbon Street for about 5 minutes just to say I had been there, but I didn’t expect I’d want anything more to do on it than that.
Well, I was partially right and partially wrong. If I were to return to NOLA I’d pretty much avoid Bourbon in the daytime. This is gross, but I personally thought it smelled like poo during the day. Like, literal poo, just roasting in the afternoon heat and humidity. At the same time, the architecture in New Orleans is simply gawwwwgeous dahling, so even with oodles of people walking around it’s fun and pretty at night. Is it touristy? Yeah, but it’s still an experience worth having.
There will be people in touristy areas who will approach you and say, “I bet I can tell you where you got your shoes.” It’s a scam, so walk away.
These people won’t hurt you, but they will annoy you and try to scam you out of cash. This was an incredibly common scam I saw happening on more than one occasion. Don’t fall for it! You’ll just feel dumb. I forget exactly how it goes, but it starts with the person betting you $5 they know where you got your shoes and ends with the person saying, “You got your shoes on your feet,” or something like that. Instead, just politely say, “No thanks,” and walk away. There are other common scams that happen on the streets here, but this was the only one I encountered. My general rule of thumb: if it feels weird, it probably is.
If you want to experience the locals’ New Orleans, then head over to Frenchman Street.
Frenchman is considered by locals as the new Bourbon Street. The AirBnB I was at was right on Frenchman Street, blocks away from the main drag of its bars and restaurants, so most nights were spent there. It was perfection. In the afternoons and evenings you can just walk down Frenchman and hear all different bands playing from all the different watering holes and foodie spots. I’m sure there are other little vibrant areas of the city similar to this, but I just adored Frenchman. The scene was hip, artistic, and enjoyable without being overwhelming.
In the daytime especially, many bars and restaurants will have live music with no cover. In the evenings, there may be a small fee to enter. Regardless, you are expected to drink and tip the band!
If you go into a bar or restaurant with the sole purpose of enjoying free live entertainment, you’re expected, in the very least, to purchase a drink. It doesn’t even have to be alcoholic if you don’t want — get a soda or something — but it’s common courtesy. Most places will list their drink minimums at the entrance, and anywhere I went simply asked that you purchased one.
Additionally, tip the performers. Always. Part of why artists and performers are able to thrive in a place like New Orleans is because they receive compensation from people like you for their amazing work. Also, remember this: for every $1 you give to a 5-person band, each person receives an extravagant 20 cents. Yup. So tip them!
It’s actually pretty decent for vegetarians.
I’ll be honest, I did not have high hopes for the veggie food scene in NOLA. I expected a lot of fish, a lot of Creole meat dishes, and other foods that I just wouldn’t be able to eat. Also, I’m not really a foodie and it’s not a big part of why I travel, so it was low on my priority list. Well, New Orleans is quite a foodie city, and I actually had so many large meals that by the end of my time there I couldn’t do it anymore. Although I did indulge in many beignets, I was happy to find great options like vegetarian burritos, BBQ tofu sandwiches, veggie burgers, and more. The food was delicious, but it was so, so, SO filling, and I finally had to tell my travel partners that I would not be able to do big meals for the rest of the trip.
Beignets are delicious.
I mean, obviously, fried dough + sugar = heaven. Forget whatever diet it is that you’re trying to stick to and just get some. You may cry they’re so good.
What would you be interested in seeing in the Big Easy? If you’ve been before, what advice do you have for first-timers?
More NOLA goodness coming soon!