Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to a day in New Orleans you will love! Though I have never lived in New Orleans, my mother was from the city. And her mother’s family has lived in New Orleans for over 150 years. So I feel entitled to think of myself as partially a local and I know how to plan a day in New Orleans you will love.
And the first thing any local knows is that if you want to listen to jazz in New Orleans, you shouldn’t go to Bourbon Street. Head to Frenchmen Street instead for some fine music at all hours.
On my most recent trip to the Big Easy, I didn’t have so much time to spend exploring. That’s why I was glad to find Urban Adventures’ Total New Orleans Tour. This tour allows you to get all the “Must-Dos” done with just 24 hours in New Orleans. The morning part of the tour is food in the French Quarter, the afternoon part is cocktails, also in the French Quarter, and the evening part is jazz on Frenchmen Street. Don’t believe me? You will by the end of this blog post.
A Day in New Orleans
Where to Stay?
New Orleans is the kind of city where you want to splurge a little on your hotel. After all, the motto is “laissez les bons temps rouler”, and nothing makes the good times roll faster than a little luxury. Plus it’s easier to take advantage of the New Orleans nightlife if you’re in a centrally located hotel, and those are a bit pricey. I recommend the Bourbon Orleans Hotel. It’s located right in the French Quarter, but it’s not crazy expensive. The rooms are comfortable and beautiful. Plus, the hotel is haunted! What more could you want for a day in New Orleans?
A Day in New Orleans
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. It’s usually hot in New Orleans, though not always, so it’s smart to wear sandals. I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Also, don’t forget the sunscreen! The sun can get scorching! My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. You don’t want to sling a heavy bag all around NOLA. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!
A Day in New Orleans
Morning: French Quarter Food Tour
The French Quarter is the most famous historic neighborhood in New Orleans. It’s also an excellent place for a food tour. There are so many tourist traps in the French Quarter, and a good guide can efficiently help you avoid a disastrous meal.
I estimate that there are currently a flobbityjillion food tours running in the French Quarter, but I strongly recommend the Urban Adventures French Quarter Food Tour. This tour does an excellent job of leading you to more obscure, local stops instead of the famous places that everyone already knows about. (Often those famous places are also delicious! But we’re trying to be adventurous here, Internet Stranger.)
I don’t want to give away all the fun facts and secrets I learned A Day in New Orleans. But I will whet your appetite with…
approximately top 5: french quarter food
1) beignets at the french market!
The first stop on the food tour was the French Market for beignets. The French Market is the oldest public market in America. Right now it’s divided into two places. One is the more touristy part where you can get tacky T-shirts and things I’m sure no reader of this blog would ever purchase. The other is where you can buy delicious food and cool local souvenirs. I’m sure I know which part you’d prefer!
We started our day right with some beignets, fried squares of dough topped with a psychotic cloud of powered sugar. Never wear black when you’re eating a beignet. I’ve eaten all manner of beignet in my life, but these were special. They were the first beignets I had ever eaten that were stuffed with pralines. This is a beautiful idea whose time has most definitely come. And you can’t spend A Day in New Orleans without beignets.
2) man bites alligator
Our next stop was for one of the most local treats possible in New Orleans: alligator bites. Alligators are quite plentiful in the swamps of Louisiana. (Unlike crocodiles they don’t usually eat people. I mean, unless you are tiny, like a toddler.) The meat is very lean, so usually chefs add pork fat to the alligator meat to make it delicious enough to live to New Orleans standards.
It’s very hard to find alligator outside of Swamp Country, so I urge you to snack on it when you get the chance. I promise you’d never know it was alligator unless someone told you!
3) gumbo time!
When you’re in New Orleans, you just have to indulge. That’s why there’s no point in getting just one gumbo. I insist you chow down on three! We feasted on the gumbo sampler, which included a seafood, a chicken, and a turkey special. Gumbo is a traditional stew in New Orleans.
The first thing you will notice about gumbo is how thick it is. There are two main ways of thickening your gumbo. You can use a vegetable called okra, or you can use file powder, made from ground-up sassafras. (PS. Sassafras is a fun word to say.) My mom usually made gumbo with file powder because it’s easier to keep on hand than fresh okra.
Whether you’re making a meat, seafood, or even vegetarian gumbo, you can’t forget the Holy Trinity. These are the three vegetables you find in almost every savory Louisiana dish: peppers, onions, and celery. I’m pretty sure they send the Ursuline nuns after you if you forget the Holy Trinity. And nobody wants to make a bunch of nuns angry!
4) a muffu-whatta?
We’ve already had beignets, alligator, and gumbo, so it’s time for another New Orleans classic: the muffuletta sandwich. Many people think that New Orleans was entirely settled by the French, but in fact many ethnic groups, like my Irish ancestors, contributed to the development of the city. And it’s the Sicilians we have to thank for the beautiful muffuletta.
A proper muffuletta is made on a special type of round, sesame-dotted bread. You stuff it with various Italian meats and cheeses, top the whole thing with a tangy olive salad, and voila! You got yourself a muffuletta, cher! The most famous muffuletta is at Central Grocery, but I was happy that this food tour stopped at Frank’s instead. Frank’s makes a warm muffuletta, which I had never tried before.
Frank’s is also a family-run business, so I got to meet some of the assorted Franks (I assume it’s their last name) and hear them gently rag on each other as they make their sandwiches. That’s how we express love in New Orleans: hot food and mild insults.
It’s not a proper trip to New Orleans without the local candy. Pralines look kind of like cookies, but there’s no flour in them. They’re made with butter, brown sugar, and pecans. The original pralines came from France, but there they are made with almonds. Almonds don’t grow in Louisiana, so the Creoles had to adapt and use the local pecan. They’re a total immigrant food.
We picked up the pralines at Evans Creole Candy Company. They’ve been around for over a century, and you can still watch them making pralines in the back of the shop. My guide, Butch, said they save this stop for last because if people are too full to eat something else, they can always save the praline for later. But I needed to open mine right away and eat it so that I could get the perfect photo for this blog post. Everything I do is for you, Internet Strangers!
A Day in New Orleans
Afternoon: New Orleans Cocktail Tour
Now that our bellies are full, it’s time to use all that food to soak up some NOLA booze! The second portion of the Total New Orleans tour is the New Orleans Cocktail Tour. This tour will take you through 5 of the best cocktails New Orleans has to offer. (Think 5 sounds excessive? Then you’re not getting into the proper New Orleans spirit yet!)
Now, the cocktail probably wasn’t invented in New Orleans, no matter what the city’s bartenders tell you. But bartenders have been mixing drinks in the Big Easy for almost two hundred years, so there’s more cocktail lore in the town than you can shake a swizzle stick at. I can’t share it all with you, but I can give you…
three very fun facts: new orleans cocktails
1) what do the locals drink?
Some locals will tell you they don’t drink in the French Quarter. But when they do, they’ll stop at Molly’s at the Market. There’s no screaming topless girls on Spring Break here, just a quiet-ish bar where friends can hang. The signature drink here is the frozen Irish coffee, the world’s most addictive adult milkshake. As I mentioned, my family is Irish from New Orleans, so I’m just going to go ahead and assume that my great-great grandfather invented this drink.
As I sat down here with my guide Kiaser, we saw a couple who had been on the same tour the evening before. “KIASER IS THE MAN! YOU’RE GONNA LOVE THE TOUR!” they yelled at me. I could see they had loved the cocktail tour so much, it encouraged them to day drink on a regular basis. That’s New Orleans for you!
After Molly’s, we stopped at a different local bar for the much less labor intensive whiskey and coke. Kiaser said this is what a lot of locals would sip on after work with their pals while watching the Saints play. Notice that the drink comes in a plastic cup. That’s so you can take it with you when you walk down the street! New Orleans is one of the few open carry cities in the United States. Let the good times roll!
2) what are some classic Nola cocktails?
Man, are you in luck on this tour if that’s the kind of question you’re interested in! Any discussion of New Orleans cocktails needs to begin with a Sazerac. This was probably the first New Orleans cocktail. (And it was definitely invented in New Orleans.) The Sazerac is made like an Old Fashioned, with whiskey, sugar, and bitters. The difference is that with a Sazerac, you add an absinthe rinse that gives the drink a slight licorice taste.
You might be asking where the word Sazerac comes from. Was the drink invented by a M. Sazerac? Mais non! It used to be made using Sazerac brandy. But nowadays the whiskey version is a lot more common.
If you want to get a little classier, try a French 75, made with champagne, gin, lemon juice, and sugar. It’s like champagne for people who want to get real drunk, real fast.
We got the French 75 at Antoine’s, which is probably the most famous place in New Orleans to sip on this cocktail. I put my drink in a go-cup while Kiaser showed me the hidden rooms in the back of Antoine’s containing their wine cellars and assorted Mardi Gras memorabilia. At least, I hope that we really went to these rooms and actually saw those things and I didn’t just hallucinate them. (That French 75 is a powerful drink.) At a certain point I feel sure I saw a giant snail on the wall, and that doesn’t seem possible to me.
Or is it…?
3) help! What do I do about my hangover?
An excellent question Internet Stranger! And we’re about to head to Frenchmen Street for some jazz, so you need to clear your head right away. For the last drink of the night, let’s grab a Ramos Gin Fizz. It’s made with gin, orange blossom water, egg whites, and heavy cream. (It was also invented in New Orleans, naturally.) This is the most thrilling drink to watch because the bartender has to shake vigorously until it turns into a snow-white, boozy volcano.
I don’t know if the Ramos Gin Fizz actually cures hangovers, as the bartender claimed it did. But I do know that I consumed five cocktails on this tour, and I didn’t even have one hangover the next day. Thanks Mr. Ramos!
A Day in New Orleans
Evening: Frenchmen Street New Orleans Jazz Tour
There’s no better place to spend an evening of A Day in New Orleans than around Frenchmen Street listening to jazz. But if you’re not a local, it’s hard to keep up with the coolest spots and the newest musicians. That’s why I wanted to take the New Orleans Jazz Tour. This way I could hear the latest stuff with someone who’s actually paid to find out what the latest stuff is.
Now, it’s hard to blog satisfyingly about a music tour because I can’t exactly pull your head through my computer screen so you can hear the same music I heard. But I certainly can share with you…
three fun facts: jazz and frenchmen street
1) how was jazz invented?
Jazz got started in New Orleans, naturally. Enslaved people in New Orleans were allowed to take some free time on Sundays. Many of them gathered in a place called Congo Square to play music. This music used a lot of improvisation, just like jazz does today.
Today, Congo Square has been turned into Louis Armstrong Park. Mr. Armstrong is the greatest and most famous jazz musician who ever lived, and he was from New Orleans. He left the city because of segregation and ended his days in my hometown of New York City. Nowadays, New Orleans names just about everything in the city after Mr. Armstrong, including the airport. If only he could still be alive to see it.
One of our Louis Armstrong stops was in the Hotel St. Pierre. There’s a sign here showing visitors that Mr. Armstrong once spent the night here. Usually only presidents get signs like that, which just shows you how big a deal Louis Armstrong is in the Big Easy. The Hotel St. Pierre has cookies out for its guests, but Kiaser told me that I could have one. I gotta say that any jazz tour that includes cookie theft is aces in my book!
2) so where’s a good jazz place on frenchmen street?
There are about a million good places on Frenchmen Street! One of the reasons for this is that cover bands aren’t allowed on Frenchmen Street. Any band that plays on Frenchmen Street has to play their own stuff. So if you want to hear covers, you’ve got to go back to the French Quarter. But why would you want to do that? Aren’t you cool, Internet Stranger?
It’s hard to know exactly when each show is going to stop and start on Frenchmen Street. You just have to wander around a bit and see which places have music on at which times. I was happy that we stopped at a place called 30-90. This had tables and food, which is not true of every club on Frenchmen Street, as well as live music. So I got to snack on a giant plate of oysters (not included with the price of the tour) while listening to some dudes in porkpie hats sing about Storyville.
If Congo Square was where jazz was born, Storyville was where it developed. Storyville used to be the red light district of New Orleans. There was a stuffy city alderman named Sidney Story who wanted to move all the prostitutes and other scofflaws to a designated district. He was successful, but to his dismay, the waggish citizens of NOLA named the area “Storyville” in his honor.
Naturally something needed to be done to entertain the gentlemen who were waiting for their designated ladies of the evening. And that entertainment? Jazz music of course. So if you ever read newspapers from the 1920s and wonder why people were calling jazz immoral, now you know.
3) is there an artist community in new orleans?
It certainly seemed that way! Kiazer was an artist, not a jazz musician, but he still seemed to know everyone we met on the tour. We stopped in for a show at the Balcony Music Club, another fine place that doesn’t allow cover bands, even though it’s not exactly on Frenchmen Street.
The band performing that night was fronted by a very charming young local lady. At the end of the show, she came over to chat with us about the show. I asked Kiaser how he knew her, and he explained that they used to be engaged. That’s not the sort of experience you can have on just any jazz tour!
At the end of the tour, Kiaser took me to the Palace Market on Frenchmen Street. It’s the best open air art market in the city, and we talked to some of his friends who were selling their work there. You can get anything from jewelry to lamps to skincare products. But I ended up getting my own free piece of artwork because Kiaser drew this chalk head for me as a way of saying thanks for taking the tour. And I’m sure you’ll get your own if you take the tour with him as well!
That’s a A Day in New Orleans You Will Love!
What would you like to do on A Day in New Orleans? Have you ever met a tour guide’s fiancee? And what’s the penalty for stealing cookies from a historic hotel? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend a day in New Orleans. If you want to add a day in New Orleans with the French Quarter, try this.
If you’d prefer a day in New Orleans with the Garden District, I’ve got you covered here. And if you’re interested in a day in New Orleans with the Bywater and a drag brunch, check this out. And if you’d rather add an itinerary with the historic Treme neighborhood, click here.