Take A Break is your ultimate guide to the perfect journeys to recharge, rediscover yourself and your relationships, and reengage with the world. We’ll cover shopping stops, great bars, restaurants worth your money, photo ops, memorable rides and experiences, and other important details you need before you book.
Below, we talk to Caroline Bologna, senior travel and culture reporter at HuffPost, about why you’ll want to put New Orleans on your to-do list.
What drew you to New Orleans as a place to visit or explore?
I was born and raised in New Orleans and lived there until I left for college, so the city is in my DNA. However, I don’t think I fully appreciated how special this place is until I left.
As an adult, I often return for typical family vacations, weddings and school reunions, of course, but I crave more NOLA time (and more NOLA food!) – especially around the many festivals and other incredible cultural events. It feels like there is always something exciting going on in New Orleans and people are always up for a good time. “Let the good times roll” is our unofficial motto, after all.
What are the best times of year to visit?
I don’t recommend visiting during the summer, as it’s hurricane season and also tends to be unbearably hot and humid. My favorite time to visit is spring, especially around Jazz Fest. Autumn is another weather-friendly time, with plenty of Halloween festivities as well. And the holiday season is beautiful, with balmy temperatures and festive decorations (thanks to lights at The Roosevelt and Celebration in the Oaks).
What’s your best advice for getting there? How to make the trip as stress-free as possible?
New Orleans Louis Armstrong International Airport is accessible via nonstop flights from most major hubs and other destinations. The airport itself is also quite new and nice, with amazing local cuisine like MoPho, Emeril’s and Café du Monde.
New Orleans is also a great road trip stop if you’re exploring the southeast. You can drive through Cajun country and quickly get to Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle.
Where do you recommend staying when you go?
I urge visitors to stay in hotels when possible, as the negative impact of short-term rentals on the New Orleans real estate market has been particularly difficult.
Luckily, there are plenty of wonderful hotel options. Beyond the classic chains, The Chloe and The Eliza Jane are ideal for boutique hotel atmospheres. I’m also a fan of Hotel St. Vincent and Hotel Peter and Paul, which are in renovated old buildings (and great for grabbing a bite or a drink too, even if you’re not staying there).
What are your favorite restaurants or foods during your stay?
Where to start? New Orleans is famous for its food, so it’s hard to have a bad meal. The last new restaurant I tried was Mister Mao, an eclectic “tropical truck stop” that did not disappoint.
Some of my favorites include Turkey and the Wolf (the melted cabbage is my all-time favorite sandwich), Toups’ Meatery (that dirty rice is pure smoky delight), Peche (make sure to order the whole fish), Willa Jean (don’t forget to try one of their famous cookies), Atchafalaya (brunch with live music and a Bloody Mary bar is hard to beat), Mother’s (great for classics like jambalaya and gumbo ) and Camellia Grill (an old restaurant with a famously gregarious staff).
I’m also a fan of Saba, Bywater American Bistro, Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, Bayona, Jacques Imo’s, Birdy’s Behind the Bower, La Petite Grocery, Willie Mae’s Scotch House, Compère Lapin, Cochon Butcher, and food hall offerings like St Marché du Roch and Pythian Market.
For a more refined meal, I recommend Galatoire’s (Friday lunch is a really special experience), Antoine’s, Brennan’s, Commander’s Palace, Restaurant R’evolution or the restaurant of the new Four Seasons New Orleans, Chemin à la Mer.
In the morning, have a coffee at PJ’s or French Truck Coffee and maybe donuts from Café du Monde or other pastries from Levee Baking Co. Honorable mention at Ruby Slipper Cafe for breakfast too. And for dessert, I recommend ice cream from Creole Creamery, one of the sweet treats from Sucré, or a sno-ball (not to be confused with other shaved ice desserts) from Plum St. Snoballs, Sal’s Sno- Balls or Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Balls.
What bars or entertainment venues do you make sure to visit? What’s good to drink there or what else should people know?
If you’re looking for a fun hotel bar, check out the famous Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone – it actually moves like a carousel!
For other great hotel bars, check out Columns, Chloe, Paradise Lounge at the St. Vincent Hotel, Chandelier Bar at the Four Seasons, Jack Rose at the Pontchartrain Hotel, and Elysian Bar at the Peter and Paul hotel.
I also take advantage of the Bar Marilou, the Cure, the Bar Tonique and the Vessel (located in an old church) for a good cocktail. The Country Club is a popular spot in the Marigny with great drinks, food and trolling brunches.
If you’re looking for a more laid-back outdoor vibe, grab daiquiris and glazed chicken wings at Bourrée, hit the terrace at Tchoup Yard, or hang out at Wrong Iron on the Greenway. Bacchanal is a beloved wine bar, and Lafitte’s and Pat O’Brien’s are classic French Quarter spots if you want a true visitor experience. (And of course there’s Bourbon Street, but more on that soon…)
What are your favorite shops and what do you look for when you are there?
Magazine Street is a great shopping area with tons of local places, such as Home Malone, Hazelnut and Sunday Shop for housewares and Monomin, Peony, Hemline, Dirty Coast, Fleurty Girl, Jean Therapy and Trashy Diva for clothes.
As for accessories, I love shopping for jewelry at local designer Mignon Faget, who also has a shop on Magazine St.. And I highly recommend picking up a nice pair of sunglasses from Krewe and browsing through all the unique pieces of the Saint Claude Social Club.
Where is your favorite place to take photos and why?
Obviously, the French Quarter is a very “Instagrammable” area, but don’t sleep in the Garden District for its beautiful homes and gardens that make great photo backdrops – with a nice side of architectural history .
Walk down Avenue Saint-Charles for more beautiful views filled with oak trees and perhaps pass my favorite photo spot for both sentimental and aesthetic reasons – the school I attended for 14 years, the Sacred Heart Academy. It frequently appears on lists of the finest schools in the South or the country as a whole.
Which tourist attraction should people avoid and what should they do instead?
Bourbon Street is obviously famous, so I see the point of visiting it at least once. But for a fun night out, I tell people to leave the chaos of Bourbon Street and head to Frenchmen Street instead for some amazing live music and bars in the Marigny district.
Where do you feel most relaxed, calm or happy?
“The Fly” is a beautiful waterfront area of Audubon Park where my friends and I used to hang out when we were younger. Sitting there and looking at the Mississippi River always brings me a strong sense of calm and nostalgia. Walking along the levees around the Mississippi River can also be a very relaxing experience.
What scenic spots do you recommend visiting?
Nature lovers will also enjoy City Park, which has 1,300 acres of green space to explore, as well as the charming New Orleans and Sydney Art Museum and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden. There really is something for everyone at City Park, from golf to fishing to an amusement park! (Head to Ralph’s on the Park for a panoramic view of the restaurants, too.)
I also tell history buffs to add the National WWII Museum to their itineraries―it’s a top notch museum in a very cool space. Music Box Village is a unique venue for performance and exploration, so be sure to check it out if the idea of ”musical architecture” appeals to you.
I have heard many good things about the Backstreet Cultural Museum. And Mardi Gras World is an incredible explosion of colorful floats to give you a taste of Fat Tuesday all year round.
What is the thing that you make sure to take with you if you go and why?
I recommend packing a sturdy, easily portable umbrella and/or rain jacket as it rains quite frequently in New Orleans, and often unpredictably. If you’re going to a festival like Jazz Fest, don’t bring all your good shoes.
What specific planning tips do you need to know before you go so you don’t get stressed out?
For a stress-free trip, I would again advise against visiting during hurricane season (especially August and September) as you run the risk of a storm derailing your plans.
And while the iconic streetcar allows for a scenic ride, it won’t be convenient for all locations, so figure out where you’ll need to catch an Uber or consider renting a car.
What surprised you about New Orleans when you first went there?
I grew up in New Orleans, so I had a funny sense of what was normal sometimes. Conversely, what probably surprised me the most was getting away from the city and learning that open container laws are a thing.
Anything else visitors should know?
Be sure to talk to the locals while you’re in town. The people and the contagious energy are what make New Orleans so special. And it’s pronounced New Or-linz, not Nawlins and definitely not New Orleenz.