This year marks the Tricentennial of New Orleans, home to Mardi Gras, the birthplace of jazz, and one of the top culinary destinations in the world.
When to Go:
Head south from March to June, before the weather heats up and after the Mardi Gras crowds have gone. There’s still plenty of festivity to be found. Mark your calendar for April 27 to May 6, for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (headliners include Aretha Franklin, Sting and Bonnie Raitt) and the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience, from May 23 to 27, which includes wine tastings and the Royal Street Stroll through the French Quarter.
Where to Stay:
Located in the business district on the western edge of the French Quarter, the historic Roosevelt New Orleans has long been a top-choice luxury hotel in the city, thanks to spacious suites, a splurge-worthy spa and a rooftop pool that offers a respite from city bustle. Be sure to swing by the Sazerac Bar, a New Orleans institution, order the namesake cocktail and take in the Paul Ninas murals flanking the African walnut bar. If you prefer boutique hotels, opt for the Soniat House, a French Quarter gem where each of the 31 guest rooms is individually decorated with period antiques. The pretty courtyard provides a peaceful spot for breakfast: a basket of buttermilk biscuits straight from the oven, homemade strawberry preserves and café au lait.
Where to Eat:
There’s a local joke that New Orleanians discuss where they’re having lunch over breakfast, and discuss dinner over lunch. But, with all the eating to be done here, it’s important to have a plan. First-time visitors should feast on a breakfast at Café Du Monde, which has been serving chicory coffee and beignets since 1862, and its location in the historic French Market makes a great jumping-off point for a morning spent exploring the market’s shops and art galleries. Housed in a Victorian-era mansion in the Garden District, the James Beard Award-winning Commander’s Palace offers a classic Creole lunch menu of its famous turtle soup, sugarcane-lacquered South Texas quail and Creole bread pudding soufflé. For a more casual bite, line up at circa 1906 Central Grocery in the French Quarter to taste one of the best versions of the city’s signature sandwich, the muffuletta, made with Italian meats, olive salad, provolone and Emmentaler cheese sesame bread. For a romantic dinner, make a reservation at Justin Devillier’s Uptown La Petite Grocery for contemporary Louisiana fare, with must-order dishes including the blue crab beignets and the turtle bolognese. And, if you’re in town on a Sunday, be sure to head to the jazz brunch at Arnaud’s—which is celebrating its 100th year—where live music is paired with Creole cuisine like its signature dish, Shrimp Arnaud, gulf shrimp marinated in a tangy rémoulade. Foodies should also mark their calendars for September 10 to 16, Restaurant Week in New Orleans, when over 100 restaurants will offer special, prix-fixe lunch and dinner menus at a discount.
What to Do:
Start your day at one of the most iconic buildings of the Crescent City, the St. Louis Cathedral, which will feature a special exhibit for the tricentennial through the end of June, with photographs, documents and artifacts exploring the rich history of the Catholic Church over the past three centuries. From there, book a private tour with Royal Carriages, which will take you on a horse-drawn ride and guided tour of the beautiful architecture of the French Quarter. Make your way to City Park to explore the Botanical Garden and wander the footpaths meandering through its 1,300 acres. Or head to the New Orleans Museum of Art for a visit to the open-air Besthoff Sculpture Garden and, from October 26 through January 27, view the special Tricentennial exhibition of selections from the collection of the city’s namesake, Philippe II, Duke of Orléans. In the evening, be sure to go for a drink at the famous revolving Carousel Bar & Lounge at Hotel Monteleone, followed by a late night of excellent jazz at the Spotted Cat Music Club on Frenchman Street, where you can find some of the best live music clubs in NOLA.
Text by Leigh Crandall