There's plenty more to do in New Orleans than catering to a 24 hour drinking binge by walking around Bourbon Street. Though I might not be the best advice on that, given that tends to be one of my favorite activities. But seriously, take a walk. The city is beautiful. Just wander the streets of the Quarters, hit the riverfront, take a ferry back and forth across the Mississippi. And it's got some other gorgeous neighborhoods as well, along with other interesting exhibits.
Jesus calls you to leave the French Quarters
There’s another neighborhood bordering New Orleans with an equal amount of jazz and flair that that the Quarters is known for and tends to get more of a local vibe. Marigny is the city’s hipster and gay district, and with Frenchmen Street serving as its answer to Bourbon. It’s not as touristic, and most places require a cover. The patch between here an the Quarters can be a bit shady at night, so keep in mind that Uber is fully functional in the Big Easy.
Most bands playing on this street tend to be originals and not part of the tourist music circuit. It’s not as much of a street party as Bourbon Street is due to the covers, but because of the always solid music, it’s an easy place to go for a good time. Really, you're in a city that bleeds music, and to score a gig and a good place, you've gotta be pretty damned good.
Marigny has a very different feel, pic from Latter&Blum
If you're a regular Colbert watcher, then you should recognize this street as where Jean Batiste really calls his home. If you want to see local underground and national acts, check out d.b.a. for anything ranging from swamp music, to hipster, to blues. For the real taste of New Orleans jazz on Frenchmen, check out Snug Harbor, which keeps it fresh and real all the time. Lastly, for a real fresh and bizarre New Orleans experience, there's the Dragon's Den, which will fulfill all of your fantasies of a gothic New Orleans of vampires and hipster burlesque. To top off the atmosphere, it was also once the home of Aleister Crowley. They also have great Asian food.
the Mona Lisa interior
Marigny is also the best bet to venture towards if you're getting tired of seafood, Creole, and/or Cajun. The further you go in that direction, the more of a diversity the dishes. As I already mentioned, Dragon's Den, there's also Mona Lisa pizzeria, a small hole in the wall filled with hundreds of different interpretations of Mona Lisa. It's not quite in Marigny, but it is toward the neighborhood. For burgers, one of my cousins swore on Port of Call on Esplanade, and other local friends of mine have told me the best pre-drink or post-drink alcohol soaker are the hot dogs that can be had at Dat Dog, on Frenchmen.
My Mona Lisa interpretation, the Monkey Lisa
The Garden District
Another area to see in town is the Garden District, which once housed great Americans like Trent Reznor and Anne Rice. It’s a good place to walk around and explore the beautiful laid back architecture of giant colonial style mansions. In fact, for historical American mansions, this is the best place to get a flavor of the 1800s in the entire country. It’s easy to get there on the tram from Canal Street.
a Garden District house, from Lola's NOLA Scrapbook
The neighborhood was originally the site of plantations, but when New Orleans expanded, it annexed the area and sold it off in smaller parcels. Most of the people moving there wanted to live in New Orleans, but didn’t want to live in the Quarters where all those Creoles lived (read: black people). So thus became the Garden District, complete with its row after row of gigantic houses overlooking beautiful, tree-lined boulevards. A stroll through here and you can see why some folk want the South to rise again.
Part of what made this city famous was gambling. It's in its history. The states that line the Mississippi were all against gambling, but the river itself was a kind of free zone. And as most of the waitstaff on the boats were Creoles, that means they took their culture with them up to the big ports like Memphis and Chicago, spreading jazz and blues across the heart of America. There are some riverboats that you can still ride around on, like the Creole Queen.
the old riverboat, Creole Queen
I don't gamble. But there is one big casino called Harrah's that takes up almost an entire city block. We went in there to use the restroom, and one of the lady-guards at the door was hollering after my wife when we passed, "Baby doll, baby doll, we've got to see you're ID!"
the main entrance to Harrah's
You see, everyone in NOLA is conversational. I mean, if you're easily offended, a place called "the Big Easy" is probably not for you--Lafayette though might be. Cajuns have a much more traditional sense of polity and address folk as "ma'am" and "sir", but the Creoles have a much more relaxed manner. "Baby" is the much more common term, for guys and gals both apparently. And I noticed that when I gave out a "ma'am" or "sir", I got some outright cold stares. But if I said, "Could you get me a drink, baby," then the waitstaff would warm right up. It feels awkward at first, but the people are so relaxed about it, that it kind of feels warm and genuine.
I'll admit that this is almost in the Quarters. It's right on the edge of it, so it's not quite cheating.
my wife calls these manta rays, "smiling fish"
A much more child-friendly option of entertainment is Audobon Nature Institute Aquarium. It's complete with a sting ray tunnel, a big shark tank, and a few crippled birds of prey living out the last legs of their life, unable to enjoy the wilds. It's a hugely educational place for kids, and for parents too. There I learned that weirdly enough, the oil rig stands serve as a kind of replacement coral reef, creating homes and ecospheres for hundreds of different fish. For this reason, the platforms leave the underwater rigs on the ocean floor, creating a kind of wildlife reserve after they're gone.
a lot of seahorses at the aquarium
Finally, no visit to New Orleans is complete without a glimpse of a cemetery. Made famous from the sets of Interview with a Vampire, the New Orleans cemeteries are some of the most beautiful around the world. Due to the high water density in the ground, they aren’t able to bury bodies there (that and they're prone to vampirism, young vampires can dig out of dirt easily, but not having yet acquired human blood, they can't lift the heavy stone of a sarcophagus). The water meant they had to come up with an above ground solution, and they built giant, expansive tombs and sarcophagi, all covered and replete with statues of angels and demons guarding the dead from hurricanes. Did one of those angels just move? Don't blink.
There are also extremely interesting Plantation Tours, where you can see how both the masters and slaves lived, and see and learn how being a slave wasn't all some would make it out to be. And for the adventurous, there are Swamp Tours, that take you deep into the bayous of South Louisiana, right up to the mouths of angry, snapping gators. I'll delve into those more in a future post, so stay tuned and don't forget to subscribe!