New Orleans – Things To Do & Buy
Most folks go to New Orleans for food or music (or both), but there’s lots more to the city. It’s the last authentic place in the United States, because, through benign neglect and an intransient population, things have remained essentially the same here for generations. An influx of youth after Hurricane Katrina has revitalized the city (some say for the worse) with new businesses, restaurants and slow but steady gentrification of outlying neighborhoods.
For architecture buffs, walking around the residential streets of the French Quarter, the Garden District, or the Bywater can keep you busy for hours. The arts are alive and well in New Orleans, and the Arts District is chock-a-block with galleries and museums. The Contemporary Arts Center, Ogden Museum of Southern Art and the World War II Museum are all within a block of each other. The Ogden Museum’s gift shop is a great stop for locally designed goods, and if I’m in town on Thursday I never miss Ogden After Hours. Enjoy live music in the lobby and a cash bar, starting at 6pm. It’s ALWAYS someone good (plus what’s better than a concert BEFORE dinner!). Some favorite galleries are: Jonathan Ferrara, Arthur Rogers and Hall-Barnett Gallery.
My step-mother, Jeanne Nathan, started the Creative Alliance of New Orleans (CANO) in 2008, an arts non-profit whose mission is to provide training, education, and information for creative artists and the community, protect the cultural legacy and promote revitalization of the city as a cultural and economic center. There is always something interesting going on at CANO. Check their website for current exhibitions, tours of artists’ homes and studios, and art-related events.
New Orlean’s City Park covers 1300 acres and has the New Orleans Art Museum, golf courses, tennis courts, a kiddy amusement park and plenty of other diversions within its boundaries. It’s a lovely destination on a sunny morning, for a walk or bike ride through the park, a stroll through the Sculpture or Botanical Gardens, a visit to the Museum (and its delightful Cafe Noma, run by the Brennan family) and even a gondola ride . Do not miss a stop at Morning Call (Cafe du Monde’s stiff competition) for beignets and cafe au lait in a bucolic park setting.
If you need to work off those beignets, head to The New Orleans Athletic Club on the edge of the French Quarter. One of the oldest continually operating clubs in the country (opened in 1872), it’s members only. Few visitors know that $20 and a hotel key will get you in. Besides the line up of spinning, Zumba, weights and cardio machines, it’s worth it just for a look-see… think original marble bathrooms, a stunning indoor swimming pool and yoga in the ballroom! It’s also the only gym I know of where you can have a drink in the bar after your workout…so New Orleans!
It’s easy to keep up your yoga practice, too. Yoga at the Cabildo offers an all levels morning class on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday in the historic Museum on Jackson Square. My sister and I try to go whenever we’re in town. Get your day off to a healthy start, then head straight across the Square to Cafe du Monde!
Because I’m not one to stay out til all hours, I love hearing some live music in the afternoon. If you happen to be in NOLA on a Sunday, check to see if Tipitina’s has a fais-do-do with Bruce Daigrepont on the calendar. This is one of the most fun things I’ve done in the city (especially if you like to dance). Everybody hits the dance floor for some Cajun two-step and if you don’t know how to do it, believe me, someone will grab you up and teach you. Doors open at 5pm.
I’m such a snoop; I love to tour historic homes. Longue View House and Gardens is a wonder, not only for its over-the-top decoration and meticulous gardens, but the Stearn family’s collection of modern art. In the Quarter, tour the Old Ursuline Convent (completed in 1752), Beauregard Keyes House and The 1850 House (in the Pontalba buildings, considered the oldest apartment house in the country). Find more here.
Good to know: getting around New Orleans is probably best done by cab (you can’t hail them, call United Cab or station yourself in front of a hotel). If you’re heading uptown from the Quarter, take the St. Charles streetcar. Pedicabs are a fun way to get around the Quarter or the Arts District. New Orleans has installed bike lanes on major roads. Rent a cruiser from American Bike Rentals (in the Quarter) and head up Esplanade Ave. to City Park.
I asked my friend Morgan Molthrop, Chief Creative Officer of Custom New Orleans (providing custom tours) and native New Orleanian for his favorite things to do in the city. Here’s his list:
1. Pitot House Tour on Bayou St. John. Best tour of an early 19th century house in NOLA (I agree!).
2. Free People of Color Museum on Esplanade Ave.
3. Bywater neighborhood, the hippest new hood in town. Use The Healing Center as nexus and walk toward the river and through the neighborhood for a photographic ecstasy of Caribbean color.
4. Whitney Plantation Museum: Brand new and completely done from the slave’s perspective. Emotional, important, amazing.
5. Honey Island Swamp Tours: Can you resist an airboat tour of the bayous? Alligators (and other beasts) up close and personal!
You might not think of New Orleans as a shopping destination, but it’s easy to drop significant dough in the string of antiques shops on Magazine street. Spend the morning strolling the street and then head to Lilette for lunch, or Sucre for a sweet pick me up when your energy flags.
Here’s a list of a few favorite shops:
Mignon Faget is the grande dame of New Orleans jewelry designers and her collections are informed by the architecture, flora and fauna of Louisiana. (My dad’s “Shotgun House Collection by Robert Tannen” is also featured here).
Lucullus is a must for culinary antiques: flint glass, ironstone, sterling and china from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, it’s all here and gorgeously displayed in tabletop settings.
I can spend hours in Faulkner House Books. Hidden down Pirate’s Alley off Jackson Square, it’s not only a charming independent bookstore filled with rare volumes and the latest literary tomes, but it was the home of William Faulkner.
My friend, Alexa Pulitzer, is known nationwide for her stunning stationery (you’ll find it in Bergdorf’s and Anthropologie). If you’re looking for gifts to bring back, her note cards, memo pads, place cards and cocktail napkins have delightful New Orleans themes. You’ll find her goods in almost every museum store and stationery shop in New Orleans, or shop online here.
Cookbook collectors will salivate over The Kitchen Witch. This French Quarter shop is crammed with vintage and rare cookbooks, with a staggering section on Creole and Cajun Cooking. If you’re on the hunt for a specific volume, they’re happy to track it down.
If your luggage didn’t make it with you, head to UAL on Chartres Street for a rather astonishing selection of designer clothing at ridiculous markdowns. It’s the sort of place where you get lucky or not; that perfect Marc Jacobs frock only comes in size 4.
Likewise, if you’ve forgotten your hat, (a necessity in semi-tropical New Orleans) stop in at Goorin (with locations on Magazine and in the Quarter) to pick up a straw, or if it’s a fancy headpiece you’re after, check out the handmade, couture-worthy selection at Fleur de Paris.
Wehmeiers has been crafting belts, boots, bags and wallets from alligator and other exotic leathers since 1951. Their wares are an investment, but I’ve had my alligator wallet from Weimeirers for fifteen years and it’s still in excellent shape.
Hove Parfumeur has been creating distinctive perfumes, soaps and bath and body oils for four generations. The scents are inspired by New Orleans, incorporating sweet olive, magnolia, gardenia and vetiver. We love the vintage packaging and always pick up a couple of soaps to decorate the bathroom.
I can’t resist a stop at Laura’s, the oldest candy shop in New Orleans, for a box of pralines and a few pieces of their famous Mississippi Mud or Heavenly Hash. Shop online here.
Crescent City Cooks in the French Quarter offers daily demonstration classes of all the classics: gumbo, etooffee, jambalaya, bananas faster, bread pudding and more. The retail storefront has all the ingredients you’ll want to bring back home, from red beans and popcorn rice to cajun spices and chicory coffee. Classes run from 10 to 12:30 and include lunch. $30/per person. I haven’t taken the class but peeked in and it looked like fun to me! Next time…
Note about Jazz Fest: My family usually convenes at Jazz Fest, but I can’t make it this year. The 2015 lineup is incredible: Elton John, The Who, Lenny Kravitz, Lady GaGa and all my favorite New Orleans bands, of course, too. The Saenger Theater will host the farewell concert of the royal family of New Orleans, The Neville Brothers, on May 2nd (sure to be a hot ticket). If you’re going, a few good things to know:
Bring rubber boots or a pair of sneakers you can toss after (see my $10 Old Navy numbers below), wear a hat and sunscreen, a small backpack is handy to keep your hands free for food or dancing, and if you can’t deal with the port-o-lets, there are real (and clean) bathrooms in the air-conditioned Grandstand (expect a long wait). My favorite foods at Jazz Fest are: soft shell crab po’ boy, spicy Natchitoches meat or crawfish pie, fried chicken (it’s great here!), Shrimp Macque Choux or a plate of crawfish. I tend to skip the saucy stuff and try to pace myself! On a hot day, nothing beats a Mango Freeze.
Some helpful New Orleans websites:
www.bestofneworleans.com (Gambit’s website)
www.grubnola.com food blog
sucktheheads.blogspot.com food blog
www.magazinestreet.com shopping map of magazine street
www.nola.com Times Picayune website
Beauregard-Keyes House and Garden
Colorful Shotgun House
Pool at New Orleans Athletic Club
Heavenly Hash at Laura’s (photo courtesy of their website)
Cruiser for rent
Me and my baby cousin, Rikki at Jazz Fest 2014
My Jazz Fest footwear!