New Orleans is one of the South’s quintessential cities that should be on everyone’s bucket list at some time or another. From the cobblestone streets to the ornate wrought iron handrails lining the second-story balconies of the French Quarter, the Big Easy oozes as much charm as it does bouncing jazz. From lively performances on nearly every street to the jazz bars that keep it hot all night, the city is one for music enthusiasts as well as culinary connoisseurs, art and history buffs, and so much more.
As always, we recommend following new CDC guidelines, and as more fully vaccinated Americans are able to travel safely, make sure to stop at NOLA. In New Orleans, a city that is undoubtedly known for its excess, there is something for everyone to explore.
Where to Stay
Best AirBnB: A Modern Condo Near the French Quarter
This stylish and comfortable AirBnB is the perfect retreat from the Big Easy when it’s time to unwind and rest. Set in the central business district, the condo is just across Cana street making it just mere blocks from the French Quarter. Its perfect location makes it walkable to many of the city’s destinations yet far enough away from Bourbon street to ensure a quiet night’s rest. Complete with self-check-in and a digital key, guests will find a spacious bedroom and living room in addition to a fully equipped kitchen. So swing by a grocery store to pick up supplies for a wine and cheese start to the night. When you’re ready, you can head up to the rooftop to sip and nibble until it’s time to hit the town. The unit also has a washer and dryer should you need them. This condo certainly makes for a modern yet relaxed stay in New Orleans. It is even cleaned under rigorous CDC-inspired guidelines so you can put your mind to rest even during uneasy times.
Best Mid-range Hotel: AC Hotel by Marriott New Orleans French Quarter
The AC Hotel located in the French Quarter offers guests everything they need including close proximity to the heart of New Orleans. Nestled just one block from Bourbon street, the AC Hotel is a modern and sleek stay for guests looking for easy access to the city. Rooms come with free Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs, of course, as well as complimentary snacks. The stylish lounge is a great stop for a nightcap on the way in, and the hotel also has a good breakfast each morning before you set out for the day. Those who want to get their exercise will also appreciate the fitness room. Upgrade when you check in for a wonderful view of the city, especially if you are looking for a change of scenery for a staycation.
- Nearest airport: Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport
- Time: 18 minutes by car
- Distance: 12 miles
Best Budget Hotel: Hampton Inn and Suites New Orleans Convention Center
The Hampton Inn and Suites New Orleans Convention Center offers great value for a stay in the Bayou. While the hotel is located at the southern end of the central business district, it is perfectly situated between both the French Quarter and the Garden District, which holds an abundance of beautiful city parks, Buckner Mansion, and tons of great bars and restaurants that are further from the beaten path. The hotel also looks out over the Mississippi River and affords a short walk to a nearby railway stop that’s necessary to reach other districts and attractions. The elegant lobby is only a precursor to the spacious rooms that include a sitting area as well as a comfortable bed. The hotel also has a well-equipped fitness room and a rooftop pool that’s perfect for cooling off during sweltering days. Though this is an optimal hotel for a stay on a budget, guests won’t give up any amenities or atmosphere for the lower price.
- Nearest airport: Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport
- Time: 20 minutes by car
- Distance: 15.3 miles
What to Eat
Dining out in the Big Easy is one of the best ways to experience the city. There are plenty of amazing restaurants in New Orleans. Cajun dishes are distinct and an entire Southern cuisine unto itself. First-time visitors and seasoned travelers to New Orleans alike should skip the run-of-the-mill restaurants that serve American classics like pizza, burgers, and wings for places that truly get to the heart of the region’s food. From classics to trendy haunts, these restaurants are the best for any occasion and are must-visits for any local too. Price ranges are indicated with a “$” sign. For your reference:
“$” = budget-friendly or cheap
Classic: Café du Monde
For those who have not done it, Café du Monde’s French Quarter location is a must. Though the beignets will leave you with powdered sugar absolutely everywhere, it is an experience visitors and locals alike have to have. The sweet shop does not deliver, but it is located underneath something of an outdoor pavilion making it a COVID-19 safe option with plenty of outdoor tables available. Don’t forget to order a cup of chicory coffee to sip with your beignets.
For breakfast and lunch, you can’t go wrong at Elizabeth’s. Set in an old house near the Bywater district, this joint is a local favorite. Filled with folk art and a lively bar, the restaurant offers only the essentials. Vinyl-covered tables quickly fill up with plates full of food thanks to the large servings dished out here. The breakfast menu includes your typical breakfast items as well as Cajun-country staples like fried catfish with two eggs. A can’t miss starter for the table is the praline bacon which has a near-cult following. The lunch menu includes burgers, salads, and a range of po’boys to choose from too.
Seed is a wonder for vegetarian and vegan travelers in the city. The restaurant has recreated many traditional Creole and Cajun dishes without any meat or dairy so even those with dietary restrictions can enjoy the famed foods of New Orleans. From po’boy and “pork belly” boa to gumbo and bisque, there are options that will appeal to everyone. The restaurant is currently serving a limited menu for pickup and no-contact delivery orders. If you are safely able to dine in, the chic restaurant combines modern and mid-century decor for a stylish ambiance.
Set in a light and airy historic building, Carmo is a fresh take on seafood with tropical influences. A departure from fried shrimp and hushpuppies, this bistro serves up dishes ranging from ceviches and tiradito fish to Creole fish and salads topped with fresh Gulf tuna. Check their website for weekly specials as well. The light and fresh fare is a perfect way to round out a day of rich or indulgent food like a plate of Café du Monde’s beignets. Dine-in, curbside pick-up, and no-contact delivery are all available options.
Delivery: Heard Dat Kitchen
Heard Dat Kitchen is the real deal when it comes to Southern and Cajun food. The low-key, no-frills restaurant only offers take-out and delivery, so it is very easy to order out. The menu ranges from perfectly crisp, fried chicken and blackened fish to delicious red beans and shrimp and grits. With sides like lobster potatoes, mac and cheese, and fries topped with buttermilk ranch and candied bacon, you might have trouble choosing where to start when you open the to-go box. You might find yourself making more than one trip to this restaurant for lunch or dinner.
For a special occasion or an elegant night out, look no further than Atchafalaya. The contemporary Louisana kitchen is an approachable take on fine dining. Set in a quiet neighborhood, the restaurant has a down-to-earth atmosphere while turning out some beautifully plated dishes. Start with the blue crab raviolo or the fried green tomatoes with crabmeat. Mains include Southern classics like shrimp and grits as well as Andouille-cornbread stuffed quail among other options. Though take-out is available, delivery is not. Dine-in is another option, and the masked staff follows rigid Covid-19 safety guidelines.
What to Do
While the world is still under its COVID-19 reality, the availability and possibility of things to do and what is open continue to be ever-changing. Some activities might be possible but already filled to capacity. So, use your judgment and be ready to go with the flow if you have to skip something or come back to it later than you had planned. That being said, there are still tons of COVID-safe things to do in New Orleans.
Walk the Heart of the City
For those who are new to the city, take a walking tour. Saunter down Bourbon street to take in the scene and hear music drifting through the air. One place you might want to try to visit is the Cigar Factory on Bourbon street. While you likely won’t want to hang out and light up in the store under COVID-19 guidelines, it’s still well worth the visit. The store also includes a cigar museum and folks actively rolling cigars as a demonstration. Talk to the experts and shop for a few cigars to try when you are in a safe place to do so.
Experience Live Music, New Orleans Style
You can also try to visit bars with live jazz, though many establishments are enforcing a 50% capacity rule. That means you might have to wait your turn to get in. The Longue Vue House and Gardens has opened its outdoor music series, Twilight at Longue Vue, again making it a safe, and stunning, option. Don’t pass Jackson Square by either. There are tons of local artists, fortune tellers, and tarot card readers set up around the square. It will give you the mystical, magical air of the Big Easy without compromising your safety or peace of mind.
Museums You’ll Actually Want to Tour
Visitors and locals alike can enjoy the museums around town too. The National World War II Museum has only been open for roughly one year making it new to almost everyone still. Not to mention, The Higgins is a new hotel across the street that has an amazing view from the rooftop bar and grill. Carmo is also nearby. So, plan a late afternoon tour of the museum followed by happy hour at The Higgins and dinner at Carmo.
Backstreet Cultural Museum and the New Orleans Jazz Museum are two other quintessential places to stop by. Backstreet Cultural Museum is a small but fascinating museum dedicated to Black history in New Orleans. Located in Treme, the exhibits also include a collection of Mardi Gras costumes as well as the origin of jazz funerals. It’s definitely a worthwhile stop for locals to visit too. While both museums tough on jazz, the New Orleans Jazz Museum is solely dedicated to jazz. Though it too is a small museum, it includes exhibits and information on jazz legends and New Orleans’ role in the music genre.
Get Outside, By Land or Sea
If you want to let loose away from the city and maybe even get some time outside, plan to schedule a tee time at a golf course or book a fishing guide for a full- or half-day. There are three easily accessible golf courses in New Orleans. The first is inside the city park which makes it easier to plan closer to time. The other courses, the New Orleans Country Club and the Audubon Park Golf Course might require notice further in advance.
Similarly, a fishing charter typically requires more planning to schedule as well. Try calling New Orleans Fishing Charters, St. Bernard Fishing Charters, or Southern Fly Expeditions. Depending on the season and the charter you book, you can look forward to fishing for speckled trout, redfish, black drum, jack crevalle, and more.
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