Being originally from Oregon, I haven’t spent much time in the southern states. In my head it was always a place of mystery, with my imagination conjuring up images from Huckleberry Finn or the history books I read in high school. I pictured fireflies, banjos, alligators, simmering heat and spicy food.
Mt first trip to New Orleans was prompted by business right outside the city, but I was excited to explore the food, shopping and culture and want to share my favorite places for a newbie visiting the area!
When booking lodging in a new city, I look for chains of some of my favorite artisan hotels so I can guarantee that my home base is comfortable and familiar. Perfect enough, I remembered that an Ace Hotel recently opened in downtown New Orleans. I love their locations in Palm Springs, New York and Portland, so was excited to see the style of this hotel as their various locations always have a superb artistic interpretation of the city they inhabit.
It for sure didn’t disappoint; filled with dark woods, a mix of vintage and modern furniture, leather, linen and pattered fabrics with gorgeous pattered wallpaper and plants—lots of plants! The hotel is flanked with a fantastic restaurant, Josephine Estelle, on one side and Stumptown Coffee on the other.
The restaurant has eye-catching tile floors, bronze lighting, olive green leather chairs mixed with wood for a Scandinavian + Mid-Century meets vintage south vibe. The lounge in the hotel was always hopping with music and bustling with hipsters and business folks nightly—they even have a music venue downstairs! A photo booth (always a hit) is by the elevator and the rooftop holds a gorgeous pool surrounded by tropical plants, a bar, restaurant and 360 view of the entire downtown area.
Our room was giant (an amazing quality of the South!) with a bed clothed in dark grey and white crisp linens with a swiveling flat screen TV, vintage rugs and furniture mixed with bronze fixtures and thick curtains covering ceiling height windows. The bathroom had a large slate shower and soaps from local companies that smelled delightful. We had our nine month old baby with us, so we simply brought our handy Baby Bjorn travel crib (I’m obsessed with the way this packs up and travels) and set him up by the bed. I specifically want to commend the staff of the hotel as they were so kind and accommodating—quick to help with local spot recommendations. Our first day we grabbed delicious coffee and strolled through the cute shops on the street by the Ace that carry beautiful clothing designs, jewelry, purses and bags and paper goods.
I can’t pick one favorite spot as the city is so beautifully diverse— it’s America’s most European and Caribbean city, imbued with French, Spanish, Haitian, and Cuban influence — but there are a few restaurants and activities you shouldn’t miss out on:
Stroll through the quaint neighborhoods:
My first impression driving from the airport was that New Orleans isn’t a city that is just spotted with historical buildings. Almost the entire thing is historical and that provides a beautiful visual and artistic consistency that I was deeply inspired by.
Of course, downtown is a bit more modern but the smaller neighborhoods such as the Garden District are so quaint and historical, it’s incredible. The majority of homes are plantation-style with large porches, stately white pillars and made of brick or wood painted in a wide array of colors. Many homes have little lanterns hanging from the porch ceilings with candles flickering even during the day. I felt like I was back in time; that life had slowed down and I wanted to just sit on one of those porches and rest and read tales of the South.
I had one of the best meals of my life at Atchafalaya. Situated on a corner in a quiet area, it was small and quaint with dark wood and light yellow walls scattered with unique artwork. The combination of modern southern flavors didn’t disappoint and the presentation of the food was creative and innovative — highly recommend this spot!
Visit the French Quarter:
The French Quarter is typically very touristy, but it’s defintely a must see. The lower Quarter is a bit quieter but all of the area is rich with historic charm. There are charming boutique spots, like the three 18th-century French Colonial cottages that make up the elegant Soniat House. The historical narrow roads and authentic buildings with shutters, flaking paint and leftover Mardi Gras beads hanging from every balcony makes this area a photographer’s dream. There are jazz musicians playing on virtually every corner and a plethora of amazing restaurants, my favorite being Cane and Table.
Take the Swamp Tour:
Ok, so I’ve always hated alligators, mainly because my mother is terrified to death of them (laugh out loud). But my nature-loving side has always had fascination for them. I feel like they are one of our last links to the prehistoric age — one of the only species of dinosaurs to exist (OK, they probably aren’t technically dinos, but they are sure crazy looking!).
We held extra tight to our baby, Judah, on the boat as we launched into the murky dark green water swamp with weeping willow trees. I didn’t think we would actually see anything, (I thought gators had to be in season like fish haha) but then, when the white cranes started flying by, the fish started jumping out of the water and the first alligator approached the boat, slithering like a ribbon in the water, I knew this was going to be fun.
The guides get them to come up by hitting the water with sticks with marshmallows attached to them – they came from all over and jumped out of the water for the treats. Not sure how that diet works for them with hundreds of boats doing that all week (cringe)! It was unlike anything I’d ever seen and the landscape was breathtaking.
Have Authentic Crawfish
We attended a crawfish boil at a friend’s house, but you can definitely find them in the city. A great one takes place out in Kenner (a suburb of a suburb) at Fisherman’s Cove, a place in business for over 30 years. It’s close to the airport, which is convenient if you need crawfish on your way in or out of town. These little guys are like small lobsters but I still don’t think I mastered the art of cracking them open — it actually really takes practice! Make sure they are serving macaroni and cheese, garlic bread and red dipping sauce!
Visit a Plantation
There are several plantation tours in the surrounding area but we went to Laura Plantation. Although the history imbedded in these places is certainly disturbing, the stories and landscapes are worth learning about. We had a lovely tour guide who gave us insight into the psychological aspect of the owners and how the place was passed down and changed over the years.
When we went we got caught in a thunderstorm with insane lightning and we had to sport ponchos and cut out a hole for baby in his carrier strapped to my husband’s body. They told us that since the grass was flooding we needed to watch for water moccasins — scary!
Overall, New Orleans is a city of great diversity. You can go to party and dance, you can go to relax, you can go to enjoy rich history and more. The energy is fun, lively and the sights are a visual feast!
Featured Image by Sam Burriss