Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to a perfect New Orleans itinerary! New Orleans, Louisiana is blessed with an abundance of historic neighborhoods. It’s got the French Quarter, the Garden District, the Marigny…
But only one neighborhood in New Orleans got its own television show, and that’s the Treme. If you want to learn where jazz was invented, see some of the most colorful buildings in New Orleans, and eat where President Obama ate, this is the place. We don’t want to waste any of our New Orleans itinerary with the Treme, so let’s get started right away!
New Orleans Itinerary
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. It’s within walking distance of the Treme, if you like walking. The rooms are comfortable and beautiful. Plus, the hotel is haunted! What more could you want for a New Orleans itinerary?
New Orleans Itinerary
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!
New Orleans Itinerary
Morning: Explore the Treme Area
In my experience, people in New Orleans are the most, shall we say, proactive people when it comes to correcting articles about their city online. So let me be as precise as possible. Not everything on this itinerary is actually in the Treme. But the attractions are all either in the Treme or close enough that they can easily be included on a Treme itinerary.
There, HAPPY NOLA TWITTER???? And remember, my ancestors were living in New Orleans since before the Civil War–long before you moved from Kalamazoo to attend Tulane.
Ahem. Without further ado, allow me to start our New Orleans Itinerary with…
approximately top 5: treme edition
1) St Louis cemetery no 1
New Orleans is justly famous for its cemeteries. But St. Louis Cemetery No 1 is unique. It’s the only cemetery that I know of where you need to book a guided tour to visit. That’s because it’s the only cemetery that houses the tomb of legendary voodoo queen Marie Laveau. Vandals just love to come to her grave and mark it up while making wishes. So the Catholic Church decided that no one is allowed in the cemetery without a guide. I personally would be too scared to mess with a Voodoo Queen’s grave, but maybe that is why I am not a professional vandal.
St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 has also long been associated with Hollywood. The late Dennis Hopper and the very recently late Peter Fonda totally trashed the cemetery while making a little film called Easy Rider. After that, the Catholic Church said no one was allowed to film there. But there’s a more recent Hollywood connection, if you look at my photo above. That pyramid there is the tomb of one Oscar-nominated actor, Mr. Nicolas Cage.
Some of you might be thinking that Mr. Cage is not dead, and you’d be correct! I guess he’s just thinking ahead for practical reasons, like that time when he married Elvis’s daughter or that other time when he went bankrupt and had to sell all his houses.
2) backstreet cultural museum
All right, my Internet Strangers, we are finally heading into the heart of the Treme. The Backstreet Cultural Museum was founded by a local man named Sylvester Francis. Francis has been filming and collecting artifacts from local African-American traditions since the 1970s. Some of these traditions, like second line parades and jazz funerals, have become well known outside the city. Some of them, like the Mardi Gras Indian costumes you can see in my photo above, have not.
Mardi Gras Indians have been a part of black carnival celebrations in New Orleans since the 1800s. The black community started wearing these costumes to honor the local American Indian tribes who had sheltered runaway slaves. As you can tell, making these treasures is a real artform. It can take all year just to make one costume, given the elaborate beading and feathers.
I did meet Sylvester Francis on one trip to New Orleans, and he is a national treasure. I can’t decide which part of his tour I preferred, the part where he told us a story about a local jazz musician whose daughter was so broken up by his death that she carried around a large dummy dressed like him and took the dummy out to dinner, or the part when he warned all the ladies on the tour that “all gentlemen have the clap”. But if you go now, you’re more likely to meet his very knowledgeable daughter Dominique.
They’re always adding new exhibits, like the display on female African-American revelers known as Baby Dolls. So even though it’s a small museum, it’s worth a visit any time you are in New Orleans.
3) st augustine church
New Orleans is a historically Catholic city, so it’s full of churches. But if you only get to one church, let it be Saint Augustine. Saint Augustine in the Treme is the oldest African-American Catholic Church in the country. Its most famous parishioner was probably Homer Plessy, the hero who refused to sit in a segregated car from the Plessy vs. Ferguson case.
When you visit the church, be sure to see the cross made of chains in the back. It marks the Tomb of the Unknown Slave because so many enslaved people were buried without a gravestone.
4) the treme petit jazz museum
I hope you’re beginning to see what a culturally rich neighborhood the Treme is. But of course the number one reason to visit the Treme is that it’s where jazz was invented. That’s why I was so excited when the Petit Jazz Museum opened up. It was started by Al Jackson, a local who is passionate about jazz history. When you visit, he will give you a tour of his memorabilia from legends like Fats Domino and Little Richard.
When I took the tour, Mr. Jackson said they were trying to get a permit to play jazz, but that it’s hard to get music permits in the Treme. That is…one of the craziest examples of cultural appropriation I’ve ever heard of. How can it be hard to get a permit to play jazz in the neighborhood where it was invented???
Photo taking inside the museum isn’t allowed. What is allowed is getting your picture taken with a giant beaded necklace. There’s always a way to break the rules in New Orleans if you wait long enough.
24 hour tip
As you might have noticed, both the Backstreet Cultural Museum and the Petit Jazz Museum are closed on Sundays, so I recommend doing this itinerary…any other day of the week.
5) dooky chase
Dooky Chase is probably the most famous restaurant in the Treme. It was founded by Mr. Dooky Chase and his wife Leah. Leah, who passed away recently, was the chef, and she made Dooky Chase famous for its Creole cuisine. But Dooky Chase was also a popular meeting spot for leaders in the Civil Rights movement. (Martin Luther King Jr., a man who knew good food, ate here several times.) Both Barack Obama and George W. Bush dined here when they visited New Orleans. And now you get to come for lunch!
My two favorite dishes are the rich, meaty gumbo, and the fried chicken, which is made fresh to order. So you’re going to want to get the gumbo first because you might have to wait a bit for your perfect chicken. It will be worth it, though! You get a side, but I always choose okra. Like many Southerners, I crave the stuff, and I can never find it cooked properly in New York City. So I order as much as I can when I’m down south. (Anyone who leaves a comment saying that they don’t like okra is automatically banned from this website.)
6) treme coffeehouse
After all that chicken, I assume you’ll want a light dessert. If it’s hot in New Orleans, that means it’s also Sno-ball season. Sno-balls are an Only in New Orleans treat. You make them with shaved ice and a torrent of flavored syrup. I’ve never been able to find them outside of the Big Easy. It’s just not a New Orleans summer without a Sno-ball! They’re the only upside to the oppressive heat and humidity.
I’m partial to the Sno-balls at the Treme Coffeehouse. I always choose the weirdest flavor on the menu, so I selected something called Tiger’s Blood. (I assume no tigers were hurt in the making of this Sno-Ball.) Apparently it’s a mixture of watermelon, strawberry, and coconut. Just right for a hot day in a tropical climate!
New Orleans Itinerary
Afternoon: Ogden Museum of Southern Art
Now it’s time to leave the Treme and head to one of my favorite museums in New Orleans, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. It houses the largest collection of Southern art in the world. They even showcase works from artists from Oklahoma and Florida, which is charitable of them. The exhibits change regularly because their holdings are so vast, so I can’t guarantee that the works I share with you today will be on display when you visit. But I can promise you…
three fun facts: ogden museum of southern art
1) how old is southern art?
Pretty dang old! Remember the South was colonized by at least three different colonial powers: the English, the French, and the Spanish. So there are many European influences on the region. When I was at the Ogden Museum, there was an exhibit on the Spanish colonial period in New Orleans. The most famous portrait painter at the time was Josef Francisco Xavier de Salazar y Mendoza. He must have been good to be able to afford to get that entire name printed on a business card.
My favorite portrait in the exhibit was this one of a local family. I hadn’t been aware that there were multi-racial families who would have had their portraits painted during the 18th century.
2) any local artists?
Mais bien sur! I draw your attention to Clarence Millet, a native of Hahnville, Louisiana. He moved to New Orleans as a teenager, and he made a name for himself painting street scenes and local buildings. You can see that he was influenced by the Impressionists, like many American artists of the 1920s and 30s.
I like this painting because it’s such a good example of the kind of artist who has been so successful selling their work for decades and decades in the French Quarter. You need both talent and hustle to make it in such a crowded market, so I assume Millet had both. (If you’re interested in learning more about Millet, I highly recommend this excerpt from Antiques Roadshow about a lady who found a Clarence Millet that belonged to her parents.)
If you’re even in doubt of an artist’s origin, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art helpfully puts a picture of the state from whence the artist hails next to the painting. So all you have to do is memorize the shapes of the 15 Southern states represented in this collection before you visit, and you’re good to go!
3) are there special events?
Of course! I recommend Ogden After Hours, which happens every Thursday between 6 and 8 PM. You can listen to a free concert, always given by a local musician, sip on some not-free beverages, and enjoy the artwork of the past while appreciating the musicians of tomorrow.
Even if it’s not a Thursday evening, you can still head up to the Roof Sculpture Garden and enjoy the views. (Don’t get too excited. The sculptures are cool, but like most buildings in New Orleans, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art is not very tall. They can’t build too many tall buildings in NOLA, or else they’ll sink into the swamp and get eaten by alligators.)
New Orleans Itinerary
Evening: Dinner at Compere Lapin
So we’ve been spending today talking about New Orleans art and music and all that classy stuff. But what about NOLA’s greatest claim to fame: food? New Orleans has won many James Beard awards (the Oscars of American cooking), and one of the most recent winners is Nina Compton from the Caribbean restaurant Compere Lapin.
Ms. Compton is from the gorgeous island of St. Lucia, and her menu includes influences from all over the Caribbean. That makes it a perfect fit for New Orleans, which is sometimes called the northernmost city in the Caribbean.
I visited the restaurant just after Ms. Compton won her James Beard award, and I was intrigued by these flowers I saw on the table as I was waiting to be seated. When I peered at the card, I saw it was from none other than New Orleans culinary legend Emeril Lagasse, congratulating Ms. Compton on her award. So this photo of the flowers is a special bonus you can only find on this blog!
24 hour treat: tuna tartare
For the appetizer, I selected the Cold Smoked Tuna Tartare with avocado and crispy bananas. This is one of the more memorable dishes I’ve ever eaten because it tasted completely different whether you ate the tuna with the banana chip or you ate it by itself. With the banana chip it was much less spicy. I wonder if that means that if you accidentally eat a spicy pepper, you should just shove a banana down your throat and all will be well.
24 hour treat: goat curry
If I could only give one piece of advice for enjoying restaurants it would be this: order the specialty of the house, not necessarily what you like. For example, one of my favorite foods is pasta with pesto sauce, but I’m not going to order that at a sushi restaurant. So that is why I insist that when you go to Compere Lapin, you get the goat curry. It’s Nina Compton’s signature dish.
I know some people will be skeptical about eating goat, but I don’t see why. After all, a goat wouldn’t be skeptical about eating you because goats will eat anything. It comes with cashews and sweet potato gnocchi. I was grateful for the gnocchi because the dish is rather hot, so you need something sweet and carby to tamp down all the heat. And Ms. Compton’s sweet potato gnocchi is certainly more delicious than ramming a banana down your throat.
3) 24 hour treat: soupsop semifreddo
The soursop semifreddo was the perfect dessert on a sweltering New Orleans evening. Soursop is another popular ingredient in the Caribbean. They are small fruits that taste a little like you blended apples, strawberries, and lemons together. They’re basically an all-in-one smoothie. In case you are curious, those are cucumbers on the top of the dessert. I think they’re there because cucumbers are so healthy, they actually remove the calories from the rest of the dish. So I’m pretty sure eating this dish will help people lose weight.
That’s A Perfect New Orleans Itinerary!
What would you do with a New Orleans Itinerary! If you put cucumber in a dish, does that mean the dish is automatically healthy? Are you aware I’m not a doctor and you shouldn’t follow any of my medical advice and then sue me? 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 24 hours on a New Orleans itinerary. If you have time for another New Orleans itinerary, we have lots of options!
If you want to add a 24 hours in New Orleans itinerary with the French Quarter, try this. If you’d prefer a 24 hours in New Orleans itinerary with the Garden District, I’ve got you covered here. And if you’re interested in a New Orleans itinerary with the Bywater and a drag brunch, check this out. If you’d like to add 24 hours on a full day tour with food and cocktails, click here.