New Orleans has been on my travel bucket list for over a decade. The music, architecture, cuisine, and unique history blend together in a way that makes the city truly original. From the first bite of crawfish etouffee to the last sight of Spanish moss on the trees, there is something here for everyone.
Brad and I were able to take a road trip over this past Memorial Day weekend to explore the Southern city. It was about an eight-hour drive from Austin to New Orleans. We stopped about half-way through and stayed Thursday night at the Golden Nugget Resort and Casino in Lake Charles, Louisiana. It was a nice way to kick off the weekend with some drinks by the pool and gambling.
Blue Dog Cafe (Permanently Closed)
On Friday, we made our way to Blue Dog Cafe for lunch in Lafayette. The restaurant was founded by contemporary artist George Rodrigue in 1999. His Blue Dog paintings, based on the Cajun legend of the Loup Garou, adorn the wood paneled walls giving patrons a gallery experience with their meals.
For appetizers we ordered boudin balls with a canebrake mustard aioli and pickle herb relish and gumbo. Both were delicious and flavorful. For entrees we split crawfish enchiladas and the Half & Half, which was a trio of crispy soft shell crab, fried shrimp, and crawfish etouffee with rice. MY OH MY! The complex flavors of the dishes represented Cajun cooking perfectly.
Oak Alley Plantation
After two more hours on the road we made it to Oak Alley Plantation, which was established as a sugar cane plantation during the Antebellum Period. Now a National Historic Landmark, the public is welcome to explore the grounds and exhibits.
We took a tour of the mansion, slavery exhibit, Civil War tent, sugarcane exhibit, blacksmith's shop, and gardens. It was very interesting to learn about Southern culture and the hardships of the slaves.
However, the 28 massive oak trees lining the two pathways to the mansion are the main attraction. The trees are magical and definitely make you feel small under their twisting branches. The area provides a variety of gorgeous photograph opportunities.
Walking around the grounds with a mint julep in hand was definitely a great way to help with the humidity! I would recommend spending at least three hours here to fully absorb everything.
After another hour of driving, we arrived at R&O Restaurant for dinner to have their amazing ham and roast beef with Swiss cheese po' boy which we split due to the massive size. We also shared the shrimp remoulade with iceberg lettuce. Let's just say I can still taste the sandwich and tangy remoulade sauce!
I learned of this diner after watching a Food Network show about New Orleans cuisine. The local hot spot is simple and efficient. As we walked out there was a line. Don't miss out!
We arrived late at our hotel, The Troubadour, in the Central Business District. After unpacking and freshening up, we walked about ten minutes to Bourbon Street in the French Quarter to have a fun night of partying!
There are so many bars to choose from, but here are a few of my top picks. Tropical Isle has the popular Hand Grenade, a lime green frozen slush similar in taste to Mountain Dew, and the Shark Attack, a spiked Shirley Temple with a plastic shark on top. Pat O'Brien's Hurricane is a sweet concoction best enjoyed in the outdoor courtyard. Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Piano Bar and Lounge serves up the purple Voodoo blend, which tastes like a frozen grape popsicle. It is the oldest building used as a bar in the United States!
Bourbon Street is exactly what you would expect...a crazy time! It was a blast to listen to live bands, walk around with drinks in our hands, and watch ladies earn their beads. After grabbing a few late-night slices of pizza we headed back to the hotel to relax. Definitely the perfect place to have a bachelor or bachelorette party!
We woke up a bit hungover, but started the day right with a bacon, egg, and cheese croissant at Maison Soule. It was the perfect breakfast and conveniently on our way to the Steamboat Natchez dock. While we were waiting in line to board the boat, an organist played several tunes to keep the patrons entertained.
We took a two-hour ride down the Mississippi River in one of the last authentic steamboats operating in the United States. A narrator informed us of interesting facts about buildings and docked ships along the river's edge. I would highly recommend taking this Southern cruise to get a unique perspective of New Orleans.
Cafe du Monde
After a bit of sun we were ready for a snack at the legendary Cafe du Monde. Nothing relieves the New Orleans humidity like a frozen cafe au lait and a trio of beignets. The hot deep-fried pastry covered in a heaping pile of powdered sugar was everything we hoped for and luckily I remembered to wear a white shirt to hide my mess. Don't be intimidated by the long line and keep your eyes peeled for a table since it is self-seating.
In order to make our way to the Garden District, we took a pedicab to give our feet a break. We had a blast marveling at the beautiful architecture with our frozen cafe au lait in tow.
Once we reached the entrance to Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, it was time to visit the deceased. The engraved marble mausoleums and tombs were unique. White magnolias contrasted with cast iron fences amongst forgotten names. Tours are available as well for visitors wanting to learn more about the historical people interred here.
A 20-minute stroll later and we arrived at the Columns Hotel to have a cocktail on the porch. Designed by Thomas Sully and built in 1883, the haunted hotel is a prime example of Italianate architecture. We took a look inside and admired the ornate woodwork and impressive rooms. After finishing our drinks we took a fun ride on a streetcar. It was a cheap and easy way to get back to our hotel.
If you want the most historical, enjoyable, and authentic dining experience in New Orleans, Antoine's Restaurant is the place! We consumed so much delicious food including the spicy shrimp remoulade, fresh blue crab starter, grilled filet of pompano with lump crabmeat sautéed in butter, grilled gulf fish with crawfish tails in a white wine tomato sauce, potatoes au gratin, and vanilla ice cream on a lightly toasted meringue.
Now to be clear we did not order three of the aforementioned items...we have self-control! Our server clearly wanted us to have a wonderful time tasting all of the fabulous staples. He was an over forty-year Antoine's veteran and gave us the inside scoop on the best dishes to order that night.
The unique dining rooms are adorned with antiques, photographs, and menus to give customers a glimpse back in time. A decadent meal we will not forget and worth every penny.
Although we were stuffed to capacity, I wanted to go to Brennan's for its famous bananas foster dessert. Flambeed table-side in rum, butter, and sugar the bananas had a sweet flavor and paired well with the vanilla ice cream. Brad, who loves bananas, was not impressed and neither was I. This $20.00 dessert was a flop.
To end the night on a high note we were lucky enough to get tickets to see a live acoustic jazz performance at Preservation Hall. The venue is intimate and provides an authentic New Orleans sound. With five shows per night you can easily fit the one-hour set into your itinerary.
Waking up with full bellies, we walked a block over to Two Chicks Cafe for Green Blast juices to go. The cleansing drinks were helpful after all of the heavy food the night before.
We stopped by St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 to get another look at the tombs before making our way back to the French Quarter. We admired the buildings along Royal Street and popped into a few galleries.
Voodoo is an important component of New Orleans and exploring the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum was a great way to understand the culture. We learned about Marie Laveau who was a prominent Voodoo queen, rituals, altars, and Voodoo dolls.
Make sure to have a few coins or tokens with you so you can make an offering or wish. We picked up a tiny Voodoo doll as a souvenir at Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo. The shop also offers readings on a first-come, first-served basis.
We had one of our favorite meals at Cafe Amelie in the French Quarter. The lush outdoor courtyard and quaint tables make it a truly romantic restaurant. We shared the chicken and andouille gumbo, shrimp and grits, and Cajun country poutine. The delicious food, refreshing cocktails, and relaxing atmosphere made it hard to leave!
After enjoying gelato and macaroons at Sucre, we wandered around Jackson Square and watched the street performers. Live music, psychic readings, and artists filled every side of the market.
The symmetrical facade and elegant spires of St. Louis Cathedral are hard to miss. We cooled off inside and gazed at the impressive stained glass windows and paintings. Eager to rest our feet, we made our way to Muriel's for cocktails on the balcony. This was the perfect spot to enjoy our last afternoon in New Orleans.
Our two-hour 5-in-1 ghost and mystery tour with Haunted History Tours was very fun. We learned about devastating fires, murders, epidemics, and haunted buildings. I enjoyed hearing about the paranormal and our eccentric guide finished the tour by giving each person a palm reading.
During the tour we were lucky enough to see a wedding line parade making their way to a reception site. It was great to see a popular New Orleans tradition.
One cool shower later and we were ready to make our last night count. We had dinner at Cafe Sbisa and enjoyed amazing crab cakes for an appetizer. Our entrees were nothing special, but what can you expect when you order chicken and steak in the city of seafood. We just needed a break and learned our lesson.
To cap off the night we walked over to Frenchmen Street, a three-block area known for its live music venues. We noticed Palace Market showcasing a great assortment of local artisans selling unique items. The space evokes a colorful and cheerful vibe.
I bought my Dad a fitting Father's Day card depicting crawdads hanging out around a grill which I thought was hilarious. After weaving in and out of a few bars, we eventually found a live band to enjoy. Walking around the Big Easy at night is unforgettable!
Airboat Swamp Tour
Checking out of our hotel was bittersweet, but we had a few more scenic adventures ahead of us before we left New Orleans. We booked a two-hour large airboat swamp tour with Jean Lafitte Swamp and Airboat Tours.
Before boarding the airboat, Brad and I had a lot of fun goofing around with the Spanish moss. I spotted an alligator near the dock and couldn't contain my excitement! The ride through the swamp was exhilarating and the scenery was beautiful. A few marshmallows later and we had a few gators surrounding us. The tour was well organized and worth the money.
To see more of the swamp, we visited Barataria Preserve and found a few lizards as we walked the boardwalk. The trails were peaceful and enchanting. We were surprised by the lack of mosquitos and tried to spot an alligator below the duckweed. The preserve is free and only a 30-minute drive from New Orleans.
Restaurant des Families
A mile up the road was our lunch place, Restaurant des Families, which had a beautiful wall of windows providing an amazing view of the bayou. We ordered tasty deep-fried boudin boulettes, gumbo, BBQ shrimp with jalapeno-cheddar grits, and a shrimp po' boy with jambalaya. Although ready for a nap, we rallied and started the drive back home to Austin.
The Crescent City embodies everything you could ever desire in a trip. The rich and lively culture has been preserved regardless of the many obstacles the area has faced. Four days was not enough and I cannot wait to return. Our itinerary was full, but had room for spur of the moment additions. Don't forget the sunscreen and stay hydrated. As the locals say, let the good times roll!