Taking it Easy in the Big Easy: 36 Hours in NOLA
Leah Walker September 27, 2012

New Orleans is a favorite of mine. Living in Houston, it’s but a hop and skip away by plane and also a reasonable {and fun} road trip. I’ve done NOLA the hard way. You know, with copious amounts of hurricanes at Pat O’s, walking home with the sunrise, and avoiding water from the workers hosing puke off of the sidewalks. Ahhh…such memories. Now that I’m a little bit older, wiser, and my recovery time from a night of boozing has grown exponentially, I prefer NOLA the easy way.road trip

New Orleans - French Quarter - Bourbon Street at NightCredit 

For a place known for its debauchery is there such thing as taking it easy in the Big Easy?

I say, absolutely!

There’s so much more to New Orleans than Bourbon Street, gratuitous nudity, plastic beads, and voodoo dolls. It wouldn’t be the same without any of those things, but there is also a grown-up and somewhat sophisticated way to experience the Crescent City.

Recently I spent 36 non-alcohol-drenched hours in NOLA.

NOLA1

STAY

International House

International House NOLA

Two blocks from the French Quarter, yet still in the heart of the city, the International House is as grown up and as cool as you can get. A mix of old and new, this contemporary hotel impresses as soon as you step into the lobby. With 23-foot ceilings, plaster columns, and velvet-upholstered furniture, it’s plain to see that this isn’t your run-of-the-mill hotel.

International House NOLA

Just off the lobby is the Loa Bar. One part elegant parlor and one part saucy bordello, Loa is the place to go in New Orleans for the most innovative and imaginative hand-crafted cocktails. With fun drink names like Johnny & June, La La Louisaine, and A Polite Discretion, it doesn’t really matter what’s in the cocktail, although you can always count on the freshest ingredients and the finest spirits. And if this small hotel bar couldn’t get any better, Loa stays open until the wee hours of the morning, so feel free to people watch out the giant floor to ceiling windows from the comfort of your comfy velvet chair until you’re ready to call it a night up in your room.

EAT

Cochon Cajun Southern Cooking. Food in New Orleans Rocks! #sxswsfCredit 

Cochon

Don’t think you’re just going to show up at 8:00 on a Friday night and get a table at Cochon, one of New Orleans’ top restaurants. I actually tried it and was told it would be a two-hour wait. However, I was fortunate enough to grab a seat at the bar, which happens to serve a full menu. With a name like Cochon, French for pig, you can guess the restaurant’s specialty. A combination of Cajun and Southern flavors, the menu is small but packs an impressive punch. Some of the dishes I tried were:

  • Roasted shrimp with hog jowls, chilis & cornbread
  • Cane syrup glazed pork cheeks with mushrooms & roasted corn grits
  • Pork & black eyed pea gumbo
  • Louisiana cochon with turnips, cabbage, pickled peaches & cracklins
  • Oyster & bacon sandwich

Never fear if you’re not a pork fan; there are other options. But let’s be serious. Why would anyone go to Cochon and not eat swine? Don’t forget to wash all that porky-goodness down with a Catahoula Hound Dog or Sacalait Punch.

Mr. B’s Bistro

Mr. B's BistroCredit

Mr. B’s Bistro is owned and managed by Cindy Brennan, you know, of the FAMOUS Brennan family in New Orleans? It seems as if most of the best restaurants in the city have a Brennan connection, and that’s just fine by me. They know great food. With Creole-inspired dishes, Mr. B’s serves up a seafood and meat-heavy menu, just as you’d expect on the Gulf Coast. An elegant atmosphere located in the heart of the French Quarter, Mr. B’s has similar dishes to its more famous {and expensive} brother, Brennan’s. Mr. B’s even uses the Brennan family’s famous bread pudding recipe. This place is a great choice when you’re looking to have a nice meal, but don’t feel like dressing to the nines and forking over a car payment.

The Ruby Slipper Cafe

Ruby Slipper NOLA

Conveniently located a block or so away from the International House, the Ruby Slipper Cafe is a spectacular place to have breakfast or brunch. I should know. I loved it so much I ate there on Saturday and Sunday mornings. And bonus! They serve breakfast all day. The creation of The Ruby Slipper was inspired by Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz and the overwhelming sense of homecoming after Hurricane Katrina. They pride themselves in buying locally, recycling, and composting, but I say their greatest achievement is the bananas foster pain perdu.

Ruby

This French toast made from French bread is topped with banana foster topping and applewood smoked bacon. It’s a diet killer, but so worth it. Sit out on the sidewalk if the weather is nice. It’s a great place to watch the city and its cast of characters pass by.

Cafe Du Monde

Cafe Du Monde NOLA

There’s not much to say about this New Orleans institution. Fried dough. Powdered sugar. Chicory coffee. Get thyself there at some point during your say. Period.

EXPERIENCE

St. Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square

Jackson SquareTravel Rinse Repeat 

It doesn’t matter how many times I go to New Orleans, I always make it a point to visit St. Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square. An easy walk from the French Quarter, the church and Jackson Square surrounding it, changes depending on the time of day you visit. A steady stream of artists, musicians, and street performers fill the square. Have you ever wanted to get your palm read or visit with a fortune teller? Ironically you can do that right outside the church. The exterior beauty of St. Louis is only rivaled by the inside. Walk in and take a look around. Don’t miss the beautiful ceiling.

The National World War II Museum

WWII MuseumTravel Rinse Repeat 

I know that it seems rather odd that I’d suggest visiting visiting the WWII Museum in a city known for its upbeat and party atmosphere, and in reality, I was surprised that I wanted to go. But since this was to be a grown-up trip, I took the advice of my very grown-up neighbors {in their 60s} and made plans to visit the museum. Prepare to be overwhelmed by the sense of pride and loss that will wash over you before even stepping foot into the building. The sidewalks surrounding the museum are layered with etched bricks emblazoned with the names of those who gave their lives in the war.

WWII Museum Bricks

Inside the museum is a bounty of WWII paraphernalia from large to small. Boats, planes, and tanks dominate the entrance. Once inside the museum, rooms are filled with everything from weapons to advertisements to uniforms to countless other artifacts that represent war time. Perhaps the thing that struck me most was seeing the WWII vets touring the museum. Most of them didn’t get around very well, but to see their eyes and eaves drop on their stories was heartbreaking and magical at the same time.

WWII Museum BunkTravel Rinse Repeat 

After touring the museum, make sure and take time to see the 4D movie, Beyond All Boundaries. Narrated and produced by Tom Hanks, this educational, yet entertaining film will cause you swell up with pride. You’ll be reminded about the cost of freedom and what makes the United States such a great place to live. With blasts of cold air during Normandy and vibrating seats coinciding with the rumble of tanks, this movie is an experience not to be missed.

Harrah’s Casino

Harrah's New Orleans Hotel and CasinoCredit 

Alright, so maybe I didn’t take it completely easy in the Big Easy. After all, NOLA is one of the closest places to gamble from Houston. I couldn’t possibly be that close to legal blackjack and not take a seat at the tables. Harrah’s is over 100,000 square feet, has tons of slot machines, and plenty of table games to entertain the most serious or casual gambler. My only complaint is that they don’t have single or double-deck blackjack. Apparently I need to take that up with the state of Louisiana and not Harrah’s. In any case, take what you can afford to lose and leave the plastic in your hotel safe, if you’re anything like me. Harrah’s is a great place to hang with the locals, play some cards, have a drink, and people watch.

There are so many layers to New Orleans with its rich cultural history that I can’t begin to tackle it all in just 36 hours. I’m quite pleased at what I did experience by not sleeping off a hangover in my hotel room. I can’t wait to take it easy in the Big Easy again. There’s no telling what else I’ll discover.

Featured Image

Leah Walker

Leah's a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. She documents her experiences whether that's in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. Leah freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, The Daily Basics, Bonjour Paris, France Today, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah's thrilled to call Paris home after being awarded the coveted three-year Compétences & Talents visa from France, though her talents don't extend to speaking French. Yet.

36 Comments

  1. The World War II Museum is extraordinary. I’ll never forget it. NOLA is also a photographer’s dream city. If you like street photography, there’s a lot of characters in NOLA to catch with your lens.

    1. I know I’m not the only person who loved the WWII Museum, Frank. It gets rave reviews from everyone I know that’s been there. I do love your photos from NOLA, almost as much as the ones from Paris. I know I don’t have to ask, but NOLA or Paris if you could only shoot one city for the rest of your life?

  2. Thank you, Leah. Yes, Paris would get my vote and for many reasons. First, Paris has just about everything a photographer would want in a city — extraordinary architecture, beautiful parks, and — most important of all — citizens who are very tolerant of photographers. Second, Paris is one of the cleanest cities I’ve ever visited. Trash often makes for interesting photography, but sometimes it can ruin an otherwise beautiful scene. Third, I think it’s one of the best cities for nighttime photography — very little violent crime to worry about (the police pack uzis) and many of the buildings are lit up beautifully. If a person is serious about being a better photographer, Paris will provide an inspiring workout.

    1. Well, if I ever become a tenth of the photographer you are I’m sure I’ll love photographing Paris at night. Those are always my favorite shots and the ones I can never seem to capture.

  3. I loved the time I spent in NOLA last year. On a weekday afternoon, the French quarter was heavenly. And I didn’t do the bourbon street. I saw that hotel you stayed at and it looked beautiful!

    1. I only did Bourbon at my bachelorette party and that was enough…the damage was done. There’s so many other great places to go, even if you just want to party. It is something that needs to be experienced at least once.

  4. OMG Leah, I love this! I have always been curious about New Orleans but a bit wary of its reputation. I really want to go. Should we? Will you take us there? Is it cold for New Year’s? I am not joking!!

    1. Alright, my lady, NOLA is waiting for us. We’ve got a date in December. I can hardly stand it! We’ll see each other on two different continents in the same month. And then in January…just too good to be true.

    1. I’ve not been everywhere, but of the places I’ve been, New Orleans has the best food all-around. Of course, I love spicy food, so if that’s not your bag you might not love it like I do.

  5. Man, this post is making me hungry!! I’m scheduled to go to NOLA in October, but I don’t know if my trip will actually happen so I’ll dream of beignets with your photos.

    1. New Orleans in October is probably one of the best times of the year to go. The heat is all but gone and so are the crowds. However, if there’s a Saints game in town things can get a bit crowded. It’s fun nonetheless. I hope you get to go and eat some beignets for me.

  6. I can’t wait to go back to NOLA. Mainly for Bourbon Street and gratuitous nudity. But that other stuff’s cool too.

    1. You’re too much, Scott. Hey, I’m fine with gratuitous nudity, but sometimes I like a little less nipple with my gumbo. 🙂

  7. When I do finally make it to NOLA, I’m going to do it the easy way. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll have some cocktails, but I’d like to experience more than Bourbon Street. Such as the food. Yes, I gained four pounds just reading about that French toast and looking at the picture.

    1. I’m going to fast a solid five days before I return in December. Now, I didn’t say that I didn’t have a cocktail or two (or three), but swilling hurricanes and hand grenades in giant plastic cups is a thing of the past. If I’m gonna have a hangover, it’s going to be from a great bottle of wine. Get yourself there, and let me know when you do it!

  8. Last year Frank took me to dinner at August, one of John Besh’s restaurants in the Central Business District – OH.MY.GOD. it was good….

    We have also stayed at Le Pavillon – a super hotel right on Poydras, where the doormen weat top hats and white gloves. They have a tradition of serving (free!) PB and J sandwiches every night in the sumptuous lobby with hot cocoa or milk – sooo good! Their Sunday brunch, served in a gorgeous dining room, is not for the faint-hearted and also included bananas Foster French toast, with ice cream if desired. (I suggest packing pants with an elastic waistband, otherwise I predict an uncomfortable morning.)

    Another very good, I-can’t-believe-I-ate-so-much jazz brunch is at the Court of Two Sisters. Your waiter will explain that mimosas are they way that locals get their vitamin C.

    It’s also very important that you go to Mother’s, also on Poydras in an unassuming brick building. You’ll notice the line outside. It’s not fancy, but it doesn’t need to be. Whatever you order, make sure it has the “debris”. You’ll understand. On a quiet day, you can stand outside and listen to the diner’s arteries harden.

    Now I want beignets. Damn.

    1. Consider your suggestions noted. I’m taking some friends from England just before NYE, so I’m always up to try something new and different. I know about Mother’s. In fact, I wanted to eat there at lunch the last time I was in town. Unfortunately I waited until I was about to pass out from hunger and went some place else after seeing the line. It will be a top priority in December. I hear their ham is amazing!

    1. March is a great time to visit the area. It’s not absurdly hot and humid yet. Take note of Linda’s comment and her restaurant suggestions. She lives in Lake Charles and knows a thing or two about New Orleans and great food.

  9. I have to admit that while I’ve been meaning to visit NOLA, the main reason I wanted to go was for the partying. However, now you’ve convinced me that there’s so much more to see. You’ve also convinced me that it’s about time I get my butt down there!

    1. You’re still young enough to be able to party and see all the cool stuff as well. I’m just too damn old to recover like I used to. I would say that you’ll kick yourself if you don’t get the most out of the city. There are great walking tours through the Garden District that I’ve still yet to do. Next trip, I guess.

  10. Great NOLA tips, especially Cafe Du Monde! Some partying would be had if I went there I’m sure, but I’d probably enjoy these kinds of places/activities more. Shouldn’t have looked at the French Toast and bacon haha. Hope to make a road trip of it when in the ATL sometime. 🙂

    1. It’ll be a pretty good road trip from Atlanta, but would be so worth it. You’ve certainly got to have your share of cocktails, just not too many. You’ll miss out on the best of New Orleans.

  11. I went to New Orleans for the first time this year. If Cafe du Monde was around the corner from me, I would be 600 pounds. It’s remarkable to me that it’s open 24 hours a day. You presented some more appealing food options so I think I need to return!

    1. It doesn’t matter how hot it is outside, I’m going to have some fresh-out-of-the-grease beignets. I’ll literally be sweating, but it doesn’t matter. It’s worth it do indulge. Yep, Suzy, I think another trip is in order for us both.

  12. I went to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl one time when Tennessee was in it back in the early 1990s. Don’t remember much from that trip. I get a hangover just thinking about the two times I visited New Orleans.

    If I went and was sober enough to enjoy any of these things in your post, it would be the World War II Museum. The landing craft used at Normandy and other countless battles in the Pacific were built in Normandy.

    Also, the great historian, Stephen Ambrose, taught at the University of New Orleans, and I believe he was instrumental in getting the museum in the Big Easy. If you ever want to learn more about D-Day and World War II read Stephen Ambrose. He is a historian who writes in an interesting narrative form that is not boring. He also wrote a remarkable book on Lewis and Clark called Undaunted Courage: another great read.

    1. Oh, Ted, the fact that you weren’t sober enough to remember NOLA doesn’t surprise me. And after reading your blog, I am really not surprised that you’d love the WWII Museum. I actually was thinking about my trip to the museum in your last few France posts. I never really knew how NOLA got the museum, but it makes sense given the Ambrose connection.

  13. New Orleans is my second home…it’s the place my parents call home and where we spend a good deal of our holidays. You did a great job of covering a lot of the off-bourbon street things to see and do in the crescent city. Nicely done, and nice photos ;)!

    1. I knew you spent a lot of time in New Orleans, but I didn’t realize it was because your parents live there. Now all your inside knowledge of the Big Easy makes sense. I’m headed there with Mr. and Mrs. O in late December, so you must divulge your favorite haunts. Thanks for the use of your great pics. 🙂

    1. Yes, New Orleans is one of the American cities that reminds me of Europe. Boston and New York are the other two. You should go back. Make it a Texas/Louisiana road trip!

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