I could write a love letter to the weekend. Any weekend, really. Those magical two days of mental bliss. No work stress, no “office hours.” Just relaxation and fun. Maybe a little sleeping in, maybe an adventure or two. I live for these days (and must work to fund them, but as the saying goes, “work hard, play hard.”). We spent an extended weekend in New Orleans with my in-laws and it was just the diversion my mind, body, and soul needed.
It’s been 18 years since I last saw The Big Easy. Without giving away my age, as a lady never tells ;-), I was nearly out of my teen years and with my parents for Mardi Gras the first time I visited. Yeah, not exactly the kind of NOLA memory I’d like to have forever. It was time to make new memories and really see the city as an adult.
Welcome to Eat+Stay+Play, my new series of city guides. New Orleans is just the first of many in the series. I’d like to think of these posts as a mix between a travel diary and a guide, taking you through an itinerary of restaurants, accommodations, and sightseeing. It’s not an all-inclusive guidebook, but a glimpse into our experience that I hope inspires or motivates you. I’ve dedicated a page on Cathedrals and Cafes where you can access all Eat+Stay+Play guides. It’s under the Travel menu at the top of the blog on a page called Eat+Stay+Play.
We kicked off our 3-day weekend by flying Southwest Airlines into New Orleans early Saturday morning. Now that SWA has bubbly on board, my MIL and I enjoyed a couple mimosas. She’s a fun lady, what can I say?
Rather than a staying at a traditional hotel, we prefer to “live like locals” when we travel. We rented this amazing house in the heart of the French Quarter. We were one block off Bourbon street, so we were able to walk just about anywhere. The house was perfect, with two bedrooms, a fully stocked modern kitchen, and even a cozy private patio. We have found some amazing accommodations on VRBO over the years, and this one was no exception. I highly recommend forgoing a hotel for something that really does feel more like home.
Lunch was at Johnny’s Po-Boys because let’s face it, those mimosas had worn off and we were starving! I can’t think of a better first food to have in NOLA than a po-boy and Johnny’s is the real deal. The softshell crab po-boy and fried shrimp po-boy were fantastic, as was the muffuletta. Make sure to try the seafood gumbo, too.
I always like to walk after a big meal, so a quick jaunt over to Jackson Square to see the St. Louis Cathedral was a really nice post-lunch treat. It is the oldest Catholic cathedral in continual use in the U.S. and is an iconic New Orleans landmark. You can’t miss its three beautiful steeples. May in New Orleans is hot and humid, so be prepared to sweat but it’s completely worth it. There are also many local artists and performers in the square, too, so it can be quite entertaining.
From there you can walk easily to the French Market, where you can explore all kinds of goods and foods for sale. Café du Monde is also on the way. Just be sure to arrive early before they open because the line to get in gets insanely long. We actually decided to try Café Beignet because we had heard it’s really good and there’s usually not much of a wait. More on that in a bit.
If you’re an art collector or just like to look, be sure to stroll down Royal street and check out all the shops and galleries.
By now we were on the hunt for a great New Orleans cocktail before dinner. On the way back to the house we stopped in at the Bourbon O Bar in the Bourbon Orleans Hotel. My husband had a Sazerac, while my MIL and I sipped on a Midas cup (a strawberry and pineapple champagne cocktail) and my FIL had a Pimm’s cup. All were freshly crafted, delicious, and a perfectly refreshing end to a day of exploring on foot. This place also turned out to be a great spot to catch second line parades as they made their way down Bourbon street.
We had reservations at Mr. B’s Bistro for dinner, which I recommend as the place gets pretty busy. Mr. B’s is old school New Orleans refined dining. I’m going to review our experience in a separate post, but definitely make a stop here for the BBQ shrimp and the shrimp and grits. Also the bread pudding and three berry cobbler were some of the best I’ve had.
After dinner the streets were filling with water from all the rain so we decided to pop in to the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone, which is right across the street from Mr. B’s. It’s the city’s only revolving bar and looks straight out of every child’s circus fantasy. It’s beautiful and we would have loved to have had an after dinner drink here, but it was pretty crowded. Most people had the same idea as us, which was to pop in and escape the rain for a bit.
So we headed to our final stop for the evening, Pat O’Brien’s. The piano bar was in full swing but we only waited in line for a few minutes before one of the green jacket-clad servers escorted us to a table. If you’ve never been to a piano bar, then Pat O’Brien’s is a must. Not to mention you can’t exactly come to New Orleans without having one of their signature Hurricanes. Although a friend of ours told us to forgo the hurricane for a 57 Chevy to really experience Pat O’s like a true local. I personally enjoyed the 57 Chevy more than the Hurricane but no matter what your preference, Pat O’s has a line of great signature cocktails to sip on as you sing the night away.
Sunday morning was a bit overcast so we walked over to the St. Louis Cathedral again and this time went inside. Just remember that there may be a mass going on and be respectful. When we arrived mass had just ended and we were able to take in its beauty. As I always do, I made a donation, lit a candle, and said a prayer. I’ve made this a habit whenever we visit churches and cathedrals. It not only brings me a sense of peace but I also think it’s a nice way to give thanks for the opportunity to visit.
For lunch we walked through tree-lined streets and colorful buildings over to a burger place called Port of Call. The nautical theme and bamboo separating the bar from the dining area give it a mixed feel of crab shack meets tiki bar – but beef is the main attraction here. The burgers are large and exceptionally good. They come with a side baked potato, an original touch that when ordered fully loaded is amazing. If you’re looking for an alternative to seafood or just want a really great burger, I highly recommend Port of Call. You may want to arrive a few minutes before they open, as a line formed quickly starting around 10:45am.
After lunch we went to The National WWII Museum. You may think tickets are a little high but this museum is completely worth it. It’s one of the best war museums we have been to. I enjoyed the interactivity of the “Dog Tag Experience” but the kiosks to scan your dog tag were pretty crowded, so if you’re planning to go I would recommend going early and buying your tickets online. We easily spent a couple of hours here but you could spend even longer. There is so much to see and the exhibits are created with impactful realism in mind.
We finally had beignets at Café Beignet at Musical Legends Park! This is a great spot to grab a soft, pillowy beignet and listen to some live jazz. It was not crowded so we snagged a corner table to enjoy our sugar coated beignets. They were so good!
A little afternoon nap at our house was much needed. One needs their rest to continue all the eating! Dinner was at Felix’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar. We grabbed a couple of Abita beers while waiting in line, but the line moves quickly and before we knew it we were seated at a table by the window ready to chow down. The raw oysters here are fresh and ice cold, and I love that you can mix your own cocktail sauce from the jar of horseradish on the table. We also sampled the fried crab fingers (as much fun as they are delicious to eat) and had fried catfish, softshell crab, gumbo, and fried shrimp. So good!
For a nightcap we headed to The Roosevelt Hotel for a Sazerac at The Sazerac Bar. Thought to be the world’s first mixed drink, the Sazerac here is perfect. We also had an Old Fashioned, a French 75, and a Cocktail a la Louisiane which is similar to a Sazerac but made with sweet vermouth. Cocktails at this landmark are on point and the atmosphere transports you to another time many decades ago.
Our final day in New Orleans was a short one, so we just had time for lunch at Gumbo Shop. This place knows gumbo but we also really enjoyed the shrimp creole and shrimp remoulade salad. The atmosphere is quintessentially southern and there’s a nice patio tucked away for outdoor dining. It’s a great lunch spot and located close to shops.
New Orleans is a city to be visited time and again. The culture exudes a “joie de vivre” that we we look forward to experiencing again. We will definitely be back!
Do you have any favorite places or restaurants in New Orleans? I’d love to hear suggestions for our return trip. Thank you so much for reading!
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