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Editor's Note:
This story was written prior to the devastating hurricanes on the Gulf Coast. GoNOMAD welcomes updates to this story in the wake of the storms.


You meet all kinds of people at New Orleans' jazz festivals. Photo: NewOrleans.comGoNOMAD DESTINATION MINI GUIDE

New Orleans



By Craig Guillot

WHY GO?

There is much more to New Orleans than world famous Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street. The heavy African, Spanish, and French influences have joined to form a culture unlike any other in the United States. From the ghostly cemeteries to the tranquility of the bayous, friendly locals, spicy food, wild times, and an interesting history await the traveler in this southern city.

WHEN TO GO

New Orleans is a city that bustles with excitement year round. While the winters are usually mild, the summers can bring 100-degree F. temperatures combined with 100 percent humidity, causing the locals and tourists to walk the streets in sweat-soaked clothes.

The city's most famous celebration, Mardi Gras, usually starts two weeks before the Catholic holiday Ash Wednesday, climaxing on the Tuesday before (Fat Tuesday). Other special times include the Jazz and Heritage Festival (often the first and second weeks of May), New Year’s, Football Season, and Halloween for all the elaborate Haunted Houses the city displays.

GETTING THERE AND AROUND
Read Jamaica hotel reviews

By air

The Louis Armstrong International Airport is serves quite a few airlines with direct flights to most major US cities as well as a few European and Latin American countries. Airport shuttles head downtown for $10 a passenger. A taxi from the airport is about $21 for two passengers.

By road

Estimated driving distances (miles) are as follows : Atlanta 473 , Chicago 929, Dallas 499, Denver 1279, Houston 352, Las Vegas 1725, Los Angeles 1914, Miami 861, New York 1324, San Antonio 543, San Francisco 2293, Seattle 2,577, Washington DC 1,085.

Greyhound Buses, Tel: (504) 524-7571 leave and arrive at the Union Passenger Terminal, 1001 Loyola Avenue, and have numerous regular services throughout the South as well as connections to destinations all around the country.

Amtrak, Tel: (504) 528-1610, also operates out of the terminal and has daily services to Chicago, Memphis, New York City, Birmingham, Atlanta, and Washington DC. Three times weekly, there is a train from Miami to Los Angeles that stops in New Orleans.

Getting Around

The Regional Transit Authority buses run throughout the city and suburbs with $1.00 fares and $.10 transfers. They also operate two streetcar lines, one traveling St. Charles from the river and the Audubon Zoo all the way to Canal St.

United Cabs, Tel: (504) 522-9771, provides services throughout the city and metropolitan area.

BEST ATTRACTIONS

French Quarter

The Place d' Armes, renamed Jackson Square after the War of 1812, is the heart of the Vieux Carre (French Quarter). Towered by the St. Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square is filled with palm readers, musicians, artists, performers, and beggars on the weekends and is the center of many of the festivals.

Covering more than 80 square blocks, the French Quarter runs from Canal Street to Esplanade Ave. and goes from the river to N. Rampart. Some of the world famous highlights include the French Market, Jackson Square, and the St. Louis Cathedral, as well as a number of historic homes that line the area.

Don’t forget to stop at the world-famous Café du Monde for some New Orleans coffee with chicory and hot, greasy, sweet beignets (French donuts covered in Powdered sugar). Watch the world go by, hear a street musician and refuel for the day.

Preservation Hall is also a must see if you want to hear the real New Orleans Dixieland Jazz sound. Smokey and dark, it’s everything you always imagined it to be, and still some of the best horn players around make a stop here.

  • Bourbon Street

    World famous Bourbon Street is a 24-hour party spot in New Orleans. Perhaps the center of attention for visitors, the crowds increase late at night on the weekends and continue to the wee hours of the morning with live music, bars, sex shows, and other attractions. Holidays and football games at the New Orleans Superdome can sometimes send crowds packing the street tight. Things usually don’t heat up until around midnight.

  • Audubon Zoological Gardens

    Located at the end of Magazine Street near the river. The Audubon Zoo is among the best and largest zoos in the United States. The enormous grounds are divided into continents and theme areas including Africa, Asia, Australia and Latin America. One of the highlights for visitors is the now remodeled Swamp Exhibit, where visitors can walk through trails, view alligators and eat spicy Cajun food. There is also a dance hall over the swamp and cold beer is served from open to close. One fun way to see the zoo is to take a cruise down the Mississippi from Woldenberg Park. A combined ticket for the aquarium, riverboat, and zoo runs $26.

  • Historic Homes and Plantations

    Within the city center, there are various homes dating back to as early as the 1820’s. Such historic houses include the Beauregard-Keyes House (113 Chartres St.), Hermann-Grima House (820 St. Louis), and Faulkner House (624 Pirates Alley).

    Between New Orleans and the state capital of Baton Rouge lie more than a dozen plantation homes along the banks of the Mississippi River. The Destrehan Plantation destrehanplantation.org, built in 1787, has one of the oldest documented houses remaining in the lower Mississippi Valley. Other plantations include San Francisco Plantation, Laura Plantation, and Oak Alley Plantation.

  • Cajun Country

    From the outlying areas of Houma to the city of Lafayette more than 130 miles away, Cajun country can be worlds apart from the hustle of city life. Bayous, small towns and and great Cajun food await.

BEST UNUSUAL ATTRACTIONS

  • Voodoo and Cemetery Tours

    Perhaps one of the most unusual and interesting parts of a visit to New Orleans. The New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum, 724 Rue Dumaine (between Royal and Bourbon St.), offers numerous tours daily to the cemeteries, haunted houses, and voodoo rituals of the city. Prices for the four tours average $15. Go to voodoomuseum.com for more information.

  • Haunted Houses

    During the month of October, New Orleans has some of the most elaborate and scariest "haunted houses" in the country. Not to be confused with "real" haunted houses, these are dark trails and mazes through abandoned warehouses where monsters chase and scare visitors with chain saws and a variety of fake weapons. They are extremely popular during Halloween and can attract thousands of visitors, waiting in line for hours. One of the local favorites is the House of Shock, put on by local singer Philip Anselmo from the metal band Pantera. It is located in a few warehouses under the Huey P. Long Bridge on River Road. Orleans Parish Sheriff Charles Foti puts on his annual Haunted House in City Park right across from Delgado Community College.

  • Angola Prison Rodeo

    In the 70's, Louisiana's Angola State Penitentiary was one of the most violent prisons in the nation with more than 40 murders per year. Surrounded by the levees of the Mississippi River and snake and alligator infested swamps, the secluded 18,000 acres of Angola house 5,000 inmates and 1,800 staff. It is also home to Louisiana's infamous "death row" where the condemned are electrocuted and given lethal injections.

    Since Warden Burl Cain took over in 1994, there have only been two murders. Things have quieted down a bit, but Angola still hosts its annual prison rodeo, which has been going on since 1965. Every Sunday in October, more than 7,000 people flock to the prison for its professionally produced prison rodeo -- one of the oldest and biggest in the nation. Arts and crafts festivals outside the rodeo gates give inmates a chance to make a few extra bucks while all proceeds help supplement the Louisiana State Penitentiary Inmate Welfare Fund for educational and recreational supplies.

    Tickets are $8.00 and no cameras are allowed through the rodeo gate. All visitors are searched before entering the prison. To get there, take I-10 to Baton Rouge, then I-110 to Hwy. 61. Exit 23 miles on the left on Hwy.66, which ends 20 miles later at the prison gates. angolarodeo.com

BEST ACTIVITIES AND GUIDES

  • Swamp Tours

    Taking a swamp tour is a great way to see the wildlife of South Louisiana. "Cajun Man" Ronnie Guidry cajunman.com offers great swamp tours in Houma complete with his Cajun singing and accordion playing.

  • French Quarter Tours

    Knowledgeable and licensed guide Michael "Mr. Jazz" Gourrier, MRJAZZOFNO@aol.com offers various guided tours of the French Quarter as well as the cemeteries.

BEST ALTERNATIVE

  • Houseboat Adventures rents houseboats of various sizes in the Atchafalya Basin where you can stay in the swamps among the gators and local wildlife. It’s surely an off-the-beaten path excursion.

    Houseboat Adventures
    1399 Henderson Levee Road, Breaux Bridge, LA
    Tel: (800) 491-4662
    houseboat-adventures.com

  • Cajun Dancing

Get off Bourbon street and experience the real Local entertainment. Cajun dancing is a favorite pastime in New Orleans and the locals are more than willing to teach visitors how to shake a leg. Dancing the "two step" is popular in local Cajun watering holes to such local favorites as Zachary Richard and Zydeco sweetheart Rosie Ledet. Mid City Lanes Rock and Bowl rockandbowl.com is often voted one of the best places in the city to hear live Zydeco music.

BEST LODGINGS

On the cheap side:

  • The India House Hostel
    124 S. Lopez off Canal St.
    Tel: (504)821-1904
    Centrally located with decently furnished rooms and a swimming pool. Dorm beds cost $14. Be sure to book in advance for Mardi Gras.
  • The Hummingbird Grill
    804 St. Charles on the corner of Julia St.
    Tel: (504) 561-9229
    Rents decrepit, yet adequately clean rooms for $26 per night. The area is a great location during Mardi Gras season with the hotel right on the parade route.

Check GoNOMAD's listings for budget hotels in New Orleans.

More expensive:

  • The Omni Royal New Orleans
    621 St. Louis
    Tel: (1-800-843-6664)
    Perhaps the best and fanciest hotel in town with a great location and rich furnishings. Rates start at $244 per night and escalate during holidays and Mardi Gras.

Large chain hotels such as the Hilton, Ramada, and Holiday Inn are all centrally located.

BEST EATS

New Orleans is known around the world for some of its spicy cuisine which includes gumbo, jambalya, red beans and rice, boudin, crawfish, and deep fried seafood. It is a city that loves to eat and it is no surprise that it has one of the most overweight populations and highest heart cancer rates in the country!

  • Mike Anderson's Seafood
    215 Bourbon St.
    Tel:(504)524-3884 (also in the Riverwalk Mall)
    mikeandersons.com
    Open daily from 11:30 to 10:00 p.m. (11:00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays) and serves fried, broiled, and boiled seafood with an assortment of etoufees, gumbos, and bisques and raw oysters
  • Ralph Brenan's Red Fish Grill
    115 Bourbon St.
    Tel:(504) 598-1200
    redfishgrill.com
    Has only been open a few years yet has been the rave of the town and its visitors. Set in a casual environment, they serve spectacular plates and platters of New Orleans cuisine.
  • Ralph and Kacoo's
    519 Toulouse St.
    Tel: (504) 522-5226
    An old time locals favorite serving traditional deep fried spicy seafood, gumbos, raw oysters, and jambalya.
  • If you are looking for a restaurant with great food and entertainment, consider heading to Michaul's, 840 St. Charles Ave. Between Julia and St. Joseph, with entrees ranging from $9.00 to $25.00 and live Cajun music and dancing. They also offer Grand Stands on the parade route for Mardi Gras and the waiters and waitresses may sometimes ask you to dance.
  • Deanie's Seafood
    1713 Lake Ave. in the suburbs of Metairie
    Tel: (504) 831-4141
    deanies.com
    Another local favorite, Deanie’s is most famous for giant seafood platters (enough for 3-5 people) piled high with catfish, oysters, soft shell crabs, hush puppies, shrimp, and fries.
  • For the best burgers in town, head to the Port of Call, 838 Esplanade Avenue, Tel: (504)523-0120. Open from 11 am to 1 am daily and has a port decor.
  • Taqueria Corona
    5932 Magazine St.
    Tel:(504) 897-3974
    Has been rapidly expanding through franchises and is one of the best deals in town for cheap Mexican eats. Lunch specials run from 11:30 am to 2:00 pm and dinner from 5 pm to 9:30 pm. Look for other new locations around the city.
  • For late night, 24 hour grub, St. Charles Tavern is the place to be. Also recommended is The Trolley Stop, 1923 St. Charles Ave., Tel:(504) 523-0090.

BEST LOCAL HAUNTS

The truth is that locals mainly stay away from Bourbon Street. It is about as touristy as you can get in the Big Easy. Young college-aged New Orleanians tend to head Uptown on St. Charles and Carrolton.

One of the best areas is where the two streets meet at the river. Cooter Browns serves greasy burgers, raw oysters, and boasts more than 150 beers from around the world. Madigan's, 800 S. Carrolton, two blocks away tends to cater to the upper class college crowd from Loyola and Tulane University.

Another local haunt, Fat City (covers about six square blocks West of the Lakeside Shopping Mall in Metairie), is a small area of bars, clubs, and restaurants ranging from sleazy strip clubs to high class restaurants. Rock and Bowl is also popular with locals, as well as tourists.

BEST SHOPPING

The French Market, near the end of Decatur Street, provides some of the best shopping for traditional and authentic New Orleans and Louisiana souvenirs.

The Farmer's Market sells produce, local specialties, and spices while the area further towards Esplanade sells everything from T-shirts, to stuffed alligator heads to pipes, Mardi Gras masks and everything else of the variety. While the Farmer's Market is open 24 hours, the Flea Market is mainly open dawn to dusk with the weekends being the best time for shopping.

If you take a liking to the New Orleans cuisine, be sure not to leave without picking up a few food products and spices. Tabasco, the famous cayenne seasoning made on Avery Island, is one of the most famous. Another mandatory Cajun seasoning is Tony Cheaceries which also makes mixes for Jambalya, Red Beans and Rice, and Gumbo. Zatarans is an old time New Orleans classic seasoning, most famous for their little bottles of crab and crawfish boil seasoning. Zatarans also make a variety of boxes ingredients for New Orleans meals.

The famous Cafe Du Monde sells ingredients to make beignets. Modern shopping malls also offer shopping opportunities for visitors.

The Riverwalk at the base of Poydras on the river has a great variety of souvenir stands and stores selling New Orleans gifts.

In the heart of the French Quarter near the St. Louis Cathedral is the Jax Brewery, which also offers great shopping opportunities.

There are also an abundance of stores hawking souvenirs in the French Quarter.

BEST HAPPENINGS

  • Mardi Gras

    Two to four weeks before the Catholic Holiday Ash Wednesday, New Orleans becomes one of the wildest places on earth as locals eat, drink, and party all they can before the beginning of Lent. More than 50 Krewes parade through the city during that time, throwing beads, doubloons, and various other trinkets. It all climaxes on "Fat Tuesday" (Mardi Gras Day), when the Krewes of Rex and Zulu take to the streets. In recent years, "Lundi Gras" (the day before Mardi Gras Day) celebrations have become almost as big as the ones on Tuesday.

    Plan early if you want to visit New Orleans at this time. Hotels are full, full, full, and everything is more expensive and crowded. But, if you’ve never experienced Mardi Gras in New Orleans, it’s worth it.

MONEY AND COMMUNICATION

Public telephones can be found everywhere in New Orleans with the price of a local phone call being $.35. All Bell South public phones also have access numbers to make collect and credit card calls around the country as well as abroad.

Internet access is available at all Kinko's copy centers, as well as public libraries.

Most banks, hotels, restaurants, hotels, and shops will cash American Express Travelers checks.

HEALTH AND SAFETY

It is unwelcome news to most visitors that New Orleans has one of the highest murder and violent crime rates in the country. The good news is that things are slowly improving. Nevertheless, visitors need to take care on the streets as well as in the French Quarter. Although most of the murders take place in the city's housing projects, armed robbery and assault are moderate threats. Use common sense by avoiding walking alone late at night down deserted alleys and leave most of your valuables at the hotel.

Late night brawls are not uncommon on Bourbon Street and sneak theft is rampant. Watch your wallet! Scam artists are rampant in the French Quarter, especially Bourbon Street, but usually respond to a simple "No thanks." Some spots to beware of include the area North of Rampart in Treme near the St. Louis Cemeteries and Armstrong Park (they are safe enough if you travel by daylight in a group, but don't even think about going there after dark.) Other areas to take care in are on the other side of Esplanade Ave. in the Faubourg Marigny and along the river in Woldenburg Park after dusk.

Finally, always be sure to stay well clear of the housing projects.

BEST RESOURCES

NewOrleans.com
neworleans.com
An amazingly packed resource site with everything from hotels to attractions to "101 Cool Things To Do in New Orleans!"

See GoNOMAD listings for budget hotels in New Orleans

GoNOMAD also has listings for Washington, D.C. budget hotels.

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