Exploring New Orleans On Your Own—The Inside Scoop from the National Endowment for Financial Education
Editor’s Note: To help you gear up for FinCon in the Big Easy, NEFE editor Cara Hopkins shares her picks for places to eat, drink, and explore in and around New Orleans.
During the years I lived in Austin—from 2009 to 2013—everyone was always talking about how much better New Orleans was. I found it kind of annoying, frankly. I figured it was just hipster envy. The Pabst is always cooler on the other side.
It wasn’t until after I moved back to Colorado and a friend invited me to join her on a trip to New Orleans that I finally agreed to give the city a chance.
We rented an AirBnB bungalow in Bywater, NOLA’s trendiest neighborhood, where the narrow streets are lined with multi-colored gingerbread-looking houses ornamented with delightful wrought-iron fences and pastel window shutters.
We rode borrowed bikes a few block from our bungalow to Maurepas Foods, where we ordered a cheese plate and fancy handcrafted cocktails at the bar. From the first sip of my Tulum Honeymoon—a divine mix of tequila, rose, lemon, grapefruit, and bonal gentiane (an aperitif wine, naturally)—I knew I was in trouble.
That night, we made our way to Frenchman Street. Music pumped out of every open doorway. We landed at Café Negril, which we had heard was a popular spot. A few minutes later a band called “Another Day in Paradise”—chock-full of horn players of every variety—launched into a Cab Calloway tune. Over the next couple hours, musicians of all ages came in, pulled instruments out of carrying cases, and stepped up to join the ensemble in songs ranging from old time standards to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.
Outside, the streets were lined with people watching an impromptu performance by a brass marching band. As we snapped photos with our smartphones, it felt like all of us—white, black, tourists, locals, rich, poor—were equally moved to shake off our everyday lives and just enjoy ourselves together. It was, in a word, magical.
So, yes, damn it. New Orleans might just be the coolest city in America. Better than even Brooklyn, or Austin, or the hippest new ‘hood in L.A. And here are some places and activities to prove it:
Food & Drink
These selections are Bywater-centric. There are, of course, many other wonderful eateries in New Orleans, but these are some of the hippest at the moment.
3200 Burgundy St.
Goat tacos, duck meatballs, and great cocktails. The menu changes regularly based on what’s available from local New Orleans and Gulf South purveyors.
601 Gallier St.
Praline bacon? Adorably kitschy décor? Bloody Marys in to-go cups? Yes, please! Everyone from The New York Times to Lonely Planet thinks you should go here. And they are right.
600 Poland Ave.
It’s a wine shop. It’s a cool patio scene. It’s a live music venue. Pick up a bottle from the well-curated selection in the retail store, pair it with good eats from the kitchen in the back, and lounge with the locals in the courtyard. Live music nightly.
3218 Dauphine St. (and another location at 7901 Maple St.)
This might be the hippest coffee shop/ breakfast/ lunch joint around. Try the fresh-squeezed juices such as The Cleanser, made up of beets, fennel, cucumber, lemon, and celery.
617 Piety St.
A regular on “Best of NOLA” lists by every publication from Zagat and Eater to HuffPost and Buzzfeed, Pizza Delicious is Bywater’s slice of Brooklyn-esque cool. You can’t go wrong with the basic Margherita: mozzarella, Parmesan, olive oil, and basil. And if you really want to Brooklyn it up, sub vegan cheese.
701 Mazant (@ Royal)
So you say you want some delicious, down-home barbecue? Check out The Joint. It gets so hoppin’ that they were out of chicken when we arrived. But don’t worry. They will make more.
Stuff To See and Do
Believe it or not, there are things to do in New Orleans that do not involve drinking.
The French Quarter
There is obviously a ton to see right in the French Quarter. Visit the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum for a history of bloodletting, leeches, and questionable medical practices. Or stop in to chat with the locals, such as portrait artist Adrian Fulton who has an open studio at 618 Conti, between Royal and Chartres.
724 Rue Dumaine
This historic collection of artifacts and curios in the heart of the French Quarter is unlike any museum you’ve ever been to. It’s a little dusty, cramped, and creepy, but what else would you expect from voodoo?
Basin Street at St. Louis
Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 opened in 1789 and houses the alleged tomb of Marie Leveau, NOLA’s most famous voodoo priestess. You can take an organized tour or wander on your own. Don’t miss the pyramid-shaped tomb purchased by Nicolas Cage to be his final resting place. There is no sign, but you will know it by the fact that it is an enormous pyramid-shaped tomb.
Ghosts of the more than 40,000 New Orleans residents who died of yellow fever from 1817 to 1905 are among those you learn about on the Garden District tour originating at Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. There is a tour for just about any afterlife enthusiast—from Vampire Tours (likely with a heavy emphasis on local NOLA author Anne Rice) to the Scandal Tour, which promises to reveal stories of “murder, mayhem, corruption, conspiracy, adultery, and prostitution.”
Between St. Charles Ave., Magazine, and Toledano St.
Turns out that NOLA’s Garden District is a veritable who’s who of celebrity A-Listers. While on the Haunted History Tour, our guide pointed out homes belonging to Brad Pitt, Sandra Bullock, and Leonardo DiCaprio. We saw the house that John Goodman bought from Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. Forget Hollywood. If you want a celebrity home tour, come to the Garden District.
Elysian Fields Ave. to Mazant St.
If you need a break from the hustle of the Quarter, Crescent Park—newly opened in February 2014—offers an impressive view of the city and the mighty Mississippi River. The 1.4 mile pedestrian path can be accessed by the industrial-chic Piety Street Bridge in Bywater. And you can still see some of the now-infamous broken levees from Hurricane Katrina.
Just Outside NOLA
If you have wheels and some time…
Crawford Landing in Slidell, Louisiana
A mere 45-minute drive from the Quarter, you can hop on an intimate river boat and get up close and personal with alligators and wild boar. The guides are locals and the scenery is fantastic.
2247 Hwy. 18, Vacherie, Louisiana
Only 35 miles from the New Orleans airport, this Creole plantation has a rich—if disturbing—history of slavery and family drama. The stories told on this tour are almost too soap-opera-ish to believe and the gift shop is packed with French- and Creole-inspired goodies.
With all there is to see and do in New Orleans, just try not to forget all the great FinCon programming there is to attend, and stop by to see us at the NEFE booth.
*All images by Cara Hopkins