Travel has made me seemingly incapable of releasing Bullet Sundays on Sunday, so hold onto you calendars... because a Very Special ALL NEW ORLEANS EDITION of Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• Why? New Orleans is one of my favorite cities on earth and tied with Chicago for my favorite American city. And the reason for that has nothing to do with the debauchery that everybody seems to equate with the place. Yes, New Orleans is a city built for fun, but there's so much more to it than a drunken romp down Bourbon Street. There's the amazing architecture... the mind-boggling array of incredible restaurants... the friendly and welcoming locals... and a list of activities and attractions that makes it a vacation-worthy destination unlike any other. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
• When? Heat and humidity make summers a tough sell for visiting and, to be honest, September and October are more of the same (on my trip last week, afternoons were pretty miserable). Oh yeah... as if that weren't enough, this is also the hurricane season! However... for obvious reasons, this is when prices are at their lowest... so you can stay in the French Quarter for a reasonable price. If you'd like to be more comfortable without breaking the bank, your best bet is late November through January when temperatures drop 20 degrees and the humidity isn't so stifling. Prices skyrocket from Mardi Gras (usually in February) through Spring, and for good reason... it's the absolute best time of year to visit. My favorite visits to New Orleans have been late March through mid-April.
• Where? When people think of New Orleans, they're probably thinking of "The French Quarter" with all the French-style buildings overlooking famous places like Bourbon Street or restaurants like Pat O'Briens. But there's also The beautiful Garden District, colorful Faubourg Marigny, or even the Warehouse District and downtown area to consider when picking a hotel. How to choose? Most of your decision will come down to cost. My favorite place to stay in the city is the French Quarter, led by Soniat House (made famous by one of my favorite movies, Undercover Blues) which is a beautiful and unique property in a quieter area of the Quarter. It's pricey (bordering stratospheric in the Mardi Gras/Spring season), but is a New Orleans experience unlike any other. If you must have that prime Bourbon Street location, check out The Royal Sonesta Hotel or Bon Maison Guest House, both of which I enjoyed. If you want hotel points, I've also had great stays at The Four Points by Sheraton on Bourbon. A more fantastic chain hotel choice is the wonderful W French Quarter on Chartres Street. My recent trip I stayed at the inexpensive Inn on St. Peter, which is actually a fairly nice property at a decent price (despite the shitty internet and noisy staff). My final French Quarter pick is Hotel Mazarin, which was wonderful in every way. Outside of the French Quarter is where you'll find good hotels at a bit nicer price. I'm a big fan of Hotel Modern, which is half-way between the French Quarter and the Garden District, and just a quick streetcar ride away from either! Speaking of the Garden District, two of my picks from staying there are Hotel Indigo and (believe it or not) The Hampton Inn, both a great experience... and right on the St. Charles streetcar line! An overlooked neighborhood of the city is Faubourg Marigny, which is a shame. This colorful and funky neighborhood is outside the craziness of the Quarter and has a unique charm all its own. If you are into B&B's, this is the place to go... starting with the amazing Auld Sweet Olive B&B. This is not a "hotel" by any stretch of the imagination... it's like staying a a friend's home where their only mission is to make you feel at home. Probably one of the best lodging stays of my entire life.
• What? When it comes to what to do in The Big Easy, there's dozens of options no matter where your interest lays. Obviously, it's an architecture fan's dream come true, with amazing French and Creole architecture lining the city streets from one corner of town to another. In fact, my favorite activity in New Orleans costs absolutely nothing... wandering. I could roam the streets of this city for days and never be bored. If you're into museums, you simply cannot top the World War II Museum, which seems to get bigger and better every time I visit, and a must-see if there ever was one. Nearby is the very nice Louisiana's Civil War Museum. Other great historical/educational selections include The Cabildo, The Irish Cultural Museum of New Orleans, The Amistad Research Center (at Tulane), The Pharmacy Museum, and even The Southern Food Museum! If you're into art, NOLA has a small but fantastic smattering of museums for you, including The New Orleans Museum of Art, The Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and The Contemporary Arts Center. Interested in all things Mardi Gras and want to see how they build all those amazing floats? Then Mardi Gras World is for you! And that's just scratching the surface... Streetcar and Riverboat rides will let you see the city from a new perspective. New Orleans cemeteries are world-famous, and taking a cemetery tour is a must. Like a good zoo? New Orleans is home to the terrific Audubon Zoo plus the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, plus The Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium. Want to get a feel for the "Old South?" Beautiful restored plantations mask the horrors of slavery just outside the city... including the famous Oak Alley Plantation (made famous for appearances in Interview with a Vampire and Primary Colors). It goes without saying that if you appreciate live Jazz music, New Orleans is your city... there's loads of venues where you can catch the best Jazz acts going (including Preservation Hall). And that's just for starters! Churches, theaters, and parks are plentiful and worth a visit. If you're looking to buy some art, the galleries on Royal Street is where to go. Want to learn how to cook Southern-style? There's a school for that. The choices just go on and on and on. There's something (and everything!) in New Orleans for everyone.
• Who Dat? When it comes to food, New Orleans has so many amazing options that you could build an entire vacation around nothing but eating. Especially if you are into seafood and cajun cooking. Vegetarians have it a little rougher, but all is not lost! One of my favorite restaurants on earth, Carmo, has excellent vegetarian options. Attiki has some decent falafel and Mediterranean selections for the non-meat-eater. And, of course, there's Cafe Du Monde for beignets and hot chocolate (or chickory coffee, if that's your jam). This recent trip I had the chance to eat at Coop's Place, which has some amazing food (along with a great veggie burger)... all served with a snarky attitude that will make you appreciate new levels of sarcasm and abuse! I also ate at St. Lawrence (home of divine food!) which was a bit pricey, but the food and service were fantastic. If you're into famous chefs, Emeril Lagasse has a place here... as does Paul Prudhomme. The most famous restaurant in the city (and home to Bananas Foster) is Commander's Palace... which is all kinds of amazing, if you can afford the price tag. My previous trip to New Orleans included a visit to St. James Cheese Company (thank you TripAdvisor!) which was an amazing Garden District surprise that blew me away (the Gruyere Grilled Cheese with Caramelized Onions is heaven on a plate). Boucherie doesn't have a very vegetarian-friendly menu, but the chef invented a very nice meal when I inquired. The desserts are to die for. And, lastly, no visit to NOLA is complete without Bananas Foster French Toast. My favorite is at Surrey's... which has banana cream cheese stuffed inside the toast... but a close second is Restaurant Stanley, which ups the game by adding toasted walnuts and a scoop of ice cream in lieu of a cream cheese filling. My suggestion? Try both places and find your own favorite! And if all these vegetarian options are this amazing... can you imagine what's in store for meat-eaters? Seriously one of the best places on earth to dine.
And that's a wrap.
And only the tip of the iceberg.
My passion for New Orleans really knows no bounds. I've been to the city a dozen times. I hope to visit dozens more. It's that one place I feel completely at home whenever I go, and wandering her streets is one of my most favorite travel experiences of all time. If you haven't been, then you owe it to yourself to find out what all the fuss is about. If you've been before, then you know exactly what I'm talking about, and should be planning a trip back!
Laissez le Bon Temps Roleur! And be sure to watch Undercover Blues, if you haven't already...