Greetings, Internet Stranger and welcome to the best things to do in the Garden District! The Garden District is the classiest, most upscale neighborhood in New Orleans. If you’re a tourist to New Orleans, you need to know the best things to do in the Garden District. If you are a celebrity and you are interested in buying a house in the Garden District, thanks for reading my blog! Feel free to recommend me on Twitter because as far as I know, the only celebrity who currently follows me is Taye Diggs.
If you’re not a celebrity, you’re still welcome to read my blog, and you can have a fine day with the best things to do in the Garden District eating artisanal donuts, stealing from football dynasties, and indulging in the finest Reveillon dinner that money can buy. Come hungry and with comfy shoes! Our day begins with a walking tour!
Things to do in the Garden District
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. You can easily take an Uber from here to find the best things to do in the Garden District. The rooms are comfortable and beautiful. Plus, the hotel is haunted! What more could you want?
Things to Do in the Garden District
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!
Things to do in the Garden District
Morning: Two Chicks Walking Tour
I love walking tours when I travel in general. They’re a great way to meet people when solo traveling. If those people happen to be creepy weirdos, it’s very easy to escape them when the tour is over. Also you learn lots of fun facts on tours, and I love fun facts. But the Garden District is the perfect neighborhood for a walking tour because you really need a guide to tell you all about the history behind the different buildings and monuments and help you find the best things to do in the Garden District.
I recommend the Two Chicks Walking Tour for finding the best things to do in the Garden District because our guide was a sassy lady and sassy ladies are the best kind of lady. I’m sure that even if you happen to be a man, you will enjoy being led around town by a sassy lady. The tour was informative and encompassed the two main features of the Garden District: fancy homes and the Lafayette Cemetery No 1. As usual, I will be generous and share with you:
THREE FUN FACTS: Things to do in the Garden District
1) what’s up with the cemeteries?
The cemeteries might be the number one of all the things to do in the Garden District. Most people who visit New Orleans notice that the cemeteries are special because people are buried above ground in “houses of the dead”. Apparently, each “corpse mansion”, a term used exclusively by this blog, is owned by a different family.
Every time someone in the family kicks the bucket, they have to open up the tomb and stuff the new body inside. Then they add the newly deceased’s name to the exterior of the tomb. Sometimes people move away and stop paying for the upkeep of the family tomb, which is which some of the corpse mansions look like this:
This tomb is even more depressing and spooky than the average, which is saying something.
2) How did you get these graves?
Aside from dying? You didn’t need to be a member of the 1 percent to afford a stay in a cadaver hotel, though. Sometimes unions would own a burial plot that could accommodate many of their members.
I particularly liked this tomb for the Jefferson Fire Company No. 22. My great-grandpappy was a New Orleans firefighter, so I felt familial pride as I stared at this monument to the flame-fighting brethren of the New Orleans area I also wondered how they managed to put out fires with that confusing contraption pictured on the side of the tomb.
3) any local celebrities?
Another one of the best things to do in the Garden District is hunt for famous homes. As I mentioned, many celebrities such as the Manning family, Nicholas Cage, and Ann Rice live or have lived in the Garden District. Part of any tour of the area will involve showing off their homes. But my favorite celebrity abode in the Garden District is Sandra Bullock’s because it looks just like where a good witch would choose to live. Is Sandra Bullock a good witch? You read it on this blog first!
24 Hour Tip
Unless you are staying in the Garden District, you are going to want to take the St. Charles Ave. streetcar here. Just get off at the Jackson Avenue stop! It’s like taking a ride into history because the St. Charles streetcar is the oldest operating streetcar in the world! The streetcar costs 1.25, which is really bupkis. But you can also buy a 1 Day unlimited Jazzy Pass online here for three dollars.
24 Hour Treasure
The tour begins at a delightful and punctuation friendly restaurant amalgamation called District: Donuts. Sliders. Brew. Do NOT pass up the opportunity to get an unusual NOLA-specific donut here. My favorite is the red beans and rice donut, which is filled with a creamy and tasty rice pudding. If you’re not an adventurous eater, they always have “normcore” flavors like glazed and chocolate available too.
At the end of the tour, our friendly guide offered to walk us all to the nearest bus stop and wait for a bus, but I was planning to stay in the area, so I declined. Roast beef was my game and Parasol’s was the name I was looking for!
24 hour treat: roast beef po’boy at parasol’s
Going to New Orleans and not eating a po’boy is like slapping an angel in the face. Why would you do such a horrible thing? For the ric’boys among us, a po’boy is the New Orleans version of a hero or grinder, except way better.
You need to eat it on the special fluffy on the inside/crunchy on the outside baguette that you can’t get outside of New Orleans. You can fill the PB with pretty much anything you want, but it’s best to get it “dressed” with lettuce and mayo. I usually prefer seafood po’boys. However, as the specialty at Parasol’s is the roast beef po’boy, I decided to make an exception,
You don’t technically get the roast beef po’boy in the Garden District. You get it in the neighboring hood known as the Irish Channel. The Garden District was historically the English-speaking neighborhood in New Orleans, and the wealthy Brits and Anglophiles who lived there wanted to have their Irish servants. Of course, they didn’t want old Paddy living in their neighborhood. So the Irish settled the area next to the Garden District, hence the charming sobriquet of the Irish Channel. Isn’t bigotry fun?
There is apparently some sort of ferocious roast beef po’boy rivalry between Parasol’s and a nearby restaurant called Tracy’s. I like the roast beef po’boy at Parasol’s because they put a little garlic butter on the bread and garlic butter makes everything better, except maybe creme brulee. Don’t feel guilty if you can’t finish the whole thing!
24 Hours: Things to do in the Garden District
Afternoon: World War II Museum
Many people wonder why the National World War II Museum is located in New Orleans. At last, a question I can answer! The WWII Museum used to be the D-Day Museum, and New Orleans is a natural American home for the D-Day Museum.
First of all, it was where the famous Higgins boats used in the D-Day landing were built. (You know these boats because they provided a sturdy backdrop to endless shots of young men dying horribly in Saving Private Ryan.) Also one of the founders of the museum, historian Stephen Ambrose, taught at the University of New Orleans for many years. Eventually the D-Day Museum mighty morphed into the WWII Museum.
I know some angry New Orleanian is out there writing me an email to tell me that the World War II Museum isn’t one of the best things to do in the Garden District because it’s not in the Garden District. I know that already! But if I called this the best things to do in the Garden District and the WWII Museum, that would be terrible SEO.
You could spend all day profitably in the WWII Museum, and we only have half a day. So I’m going to encourage you to spend your time wisely with…
The approximately top 5: WWII Museum edition!
1) Meet the King of Hollywood
Many WWII era planes are on display in this museum, and if you are a military history nerd, I assume this will put a little swing music in your step. I’m more of a film geek, so I was interested to learn about Clark Gable, aka Rhett Butler, and his service in the Army Air Corps.
Apparently Hitler promised a reward to any German who could shoot down Gable’s plane. That is some badassery on Gable’s part! Can you imagine, say, Bashar Al Assad bothering to call for a hit on Leonardo DiCaprio?
If you’re more interested in contemporary kings of Hollywood, I suggest the film Beyond All Boundaries. It is shown every hour at the museum, and it is narrated by Mr. Tom Hanks. They say the film is 4D because it has effects like rumbling seats and real smoke and water in the theater. Also at the end, Lew Zealand comes out to throw fish at you.
2) 1943 jeep
There are two main exhibits in the WWII Museum. The first is the Road to Berlin, which traces the path of the Allied troops in the European theater from its beginnings in North Africa. I knew almost nothing about the campaign in North Africa against Nazi general Erwin Rommel. It’s disturbing to realize how close the Allies came to losing the war.
Antique jeeps aside, I loved how the museum recreates the actual path that the Allies took, so you feel like you are tracing their steps through North Africa, Italy, and Germany. More museums should take this interactive approach. There’s a reason the WWII Museum is ranked the 2nd best museum in the world on Tripadvisor, y’all!
3) Battle of the Bulge exhibit
The most immersive part of the road to Berlin exhibit is the recreation of the setting for the Battle of the Bulge. My favorite story I learned here is that when the Germans asked the Americans to surrender, Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe responded, “NUTS!”
I feel like McAuliffe dined out on that story for the rest of his life. I know if I told off a bunch of Nazis in such spectacular fashion, I would never let anybody else in the entire world forget it.
4) p-40 warhawk
Of course, once you’ve taken the Road to Berlin, you need to finish off the Axis powers. That will require a stroll down the Road to Tokyo. My favorite artifact here is this shark-face plane pictured above. Why did they do this? Did they think the shark would scare off the kamikaze pilots? Did it just help the American pilots keep their courage up? Was this the origin of Shark Week?
Jaws aside, this section taught me so much about the war in the Pacific. I had no idea that there were battles fought in places like the Philippines, Burma, and India. I can’t even blame my teachers because there just aren’t enough hours in the day to teach kids everything they need to know about history. That’s what historical museums are for!
5) Get to know the troops
If you get on this train at the entrance to the museum, you get assigned a real soldier. You can check in with him and his progress as you follow the Road to Berlin or the Road to Tokyo. It’s a little frustrating because I kept wanting to “help” my soldier as if he were a character in a video game. Then I remembered he was a real person and reality is very disappointing.
If you’re into identifying with people who died under tragic circumstances, take part in Final Mission USS Tang. You will be assigned the role of a real crew member of the USS Tang, which was a submarine deployed by the Allies in WWII.
As you can guess from the title of the exhibit, the USS Tang did not make it intact through the war. Neither did most of its crew. You get to see if your crew member made it through the battle at the end of the exhibit. (Spoiler! Most of the crew did not survive.)
Final Mission is the most depressing interactive exhibit at a museum I have ever seen. I can only imagine that the purpose is to bring us closer to an awareness of our own mortality. Two thumbs up! Highly recommended.
24 Hours: Things to do in the Garden District
Evening: Commander’s Palace
Commander’s Palace is literally my favorite restaurant in the universe. You might not think that statement means much, as I freely admit that I’m not terribly familiar with restaurants on Jupiter or the Moon. But I don’t need to visit some high-faluting space restaurant to know that Commander’s is the best there is. And it’s definitely one of the best things to do in the Garden District.
When I was five years old, I went to Commander’s for the first time for brunch and ordered strawberries and cream, eggs and ham, and a praline parfait. When we went back the next year, I wanted to order the same thing, but it wasn’t on the menu. So I explained my problem to the waiter, and they just fixed me my favorite brunch off the top of their heads. Can you compete with that, other restaurants?
However, Commander’s isn’t just legendary because of my experience. Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse both got their starts here. The current chef, Tory McPhail, has won all kinds of awards. There are certain specialties at Commander’s, like the turtle soup with sherry and the bread pudding souffle with whiskey sauce, and if you are going there for the first time, you won’t want to pass them up. But for me, I like to get the seven-course chef’s tasting menu.
When I was there last, the chef’s menu was a Christmas blowout in honor of Reveillon. Reveillon lasts for the whole month of December in New Orleans, and it’s basically an excuse for every restaurant to go crazy and serve the most decadent tasting menu it can. At Commander’s, I treated myself to:
Approximately top 5: commander’s palace edition
This is Caminada Bay oyster with gin and sage sorbet and scorched rosemary. First off, leave it to New Orleans to put booze on an oyster. Second off, Caminada Bay oysters are from Louisiana, so they are the best. I am always happy when I find a local oyster in New Orleans because it means not all the oysters were covered with oil from the BP disaster.
To be more precise, stone crab and caviar finger sandwiches. As you can see from my photo, there was actual crab shell involved in the plating of the dish. I personally think any tasting menu that doesn’t have caviar and foie gras is rubbish and should go home.
3) foie gras!
More precisely, foie gras served with foie gras custard, goose confit, and a mini mincemeat pie. Clearly this is meant to be deconstructed Christmas goose with mincemeat. Thankfully the dish was even more delicious than it was clever.
I know some people don’t like foie gras because of animal cruelty, but I don’t like geese and I don’t mind if they suffer. They’re very rude–never using headphones when listening to music on the subway and suchlike.
24 Hour Treat: Coup de Milieu
There is always a cocktail served after the first three courses of the tasting menu at Commander’s as a palate cleanser, and it is called a coup de milieu. I guess Commander’s has to compete with all those lawyers handing out free booze. This one is a Blood and Sand.
4) Scallop in Hoppin’ John stew
Hoppin’ John is a traditional black-eyed peas and rice dish that is served at New Year’s for good luck. My mother and I used to eat it every New Year’s while watching the Twilight Zone marathon on the Sci-Fi Channel. (I had a weird childhood.) I don’t know if eating this dish gave me good luck, other than the good luck of eating something amazing.
5) boudin, cher!
This is a black truffle butter petit poussin stuffed with chestnut boudin. Boudin is a kind of traditional Louisiana sausage. This was obviously Commanders’ play on a Christmas stuffed bird, and I am here to tell you that black truffle and boudin make everything better.
6) Steak Stanley
Steak Stanley, which I had never heard of before, is steak served with cooked bananas. That sounds weird, but it’s not. The sweetness of the banana pairs perfectly with the meaty flavor of the filet mignon. Apparently this dish dates back to the early 20th century, and nothing brings out my food geek more than a historic recipe.
6) God bless us everyone, it’s sticky toffee pudding
This was all topped off with sticky toffee pudding served with roasted marshmallow and white chocolate ice cream. A perfectly fitting ending to this Dickens-meets-New Orleans Christmas dinner. When I was done, I rolled myself downstairs and the attendant gently eased me into a cab.
Further Reading: Things to do in the Garden District
Are you ready to start booking your hotel in New Orleans right now? Let me give you a few further reading suggestions to enjoy your trip even more. I like the Lonely Planet travel guide to New Orleans. The chapters are arranged according to neighborhood, which is very helpful.
So much great literature is set in New Orleans, it’s a little embarrassing. But a Must-Read is Confederacy of Dunces. This is really one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. And if you want to get used to the bizarre sense of humor we have around NOLA, you really have to read it.
I was literally named after a character in Streetcar Named Desire, so I have to recommend it. (True story, my parents actually knew Kim Stanley, the actress who played Stella in the movie, Kim Hunter, and she assumed I was named after her. But I wasn’t!) You can either read the play or watch the movie with a sexy, sexy young Marlon Brando.
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 in New Orleans.
If you want to add 24 hours in New Orleans with the Faubourg Marigny and Frenchman Street, try this. If you’d prefer 24 hours in New Orleans with the French Quarter, I’ve got you covered here. If you’d like to add 24 hours on a full day tour with food and cocktails, click here. And if you’d rather add an itinerary with the historic Treme neighborhood, click here.