Places We Love: New Orleans Edition
How much do we love NOLA? Let me count the ways. Though a bit of a drive from most major installations, New Orleans is a totally doable weekend trip from places like Fort Polk, Benning and Rucker. I visited in early 2018 from Fort Benning and it was just under a seven-hour drive. While I certainly didn't see it all, I came away with a New Orleans itinerary to share. Like most trips I take, I planned it last-minute thanks to the unpredictability of my military schedule and flew by the seat of my pants.
When to Go
Sooo you might think the answer to this is obvious. Mardi Gras is when you should go to New Orleans, right? Wrong. Have I been during Mardi Gras? No...so I should probably shut my mouth. But hear me out. Every local I've ever talked to says that Mardi Gras in NOLA is the single most disgusting annual event on American soil (vomit, and feces, and urine, oh my!). So if that sounds good to you then have at it.
We went the week after Mardi Gras in mid-February so most of the decorations were still up, but the crowds had died down a bit. Going in February was also great because the weather was temperate and we were able to avoid the mugginess of the mid-year months.
Where to Stay & Getting Around
We usually opt for an Airbnb, but in NOLA we found that most places were just as expensive as hotels. So naturally I chose to have my sheets changed daily and went with The Pelham Hotel. There's a great brunch spot right beneath it, so you can stumble downstairs for a Bloody Mary first thing in the morning.
For future visits, we plan on finding a spot in the Frenchmen Street Corridor, since that was our favorite area during our visit.
We got around mostly on foot, but we really like to walk. You can definitely grab an Uber (especially if you've been drinking), and there's also the streetcar. I'd only use the streetcar if you've got a substantial distance to go as the frequent stops often make it quicker to just walk.
Ok, now on to the fun stuff...
What to Do
Between the history, the food, the music, and the culture you'll never find a dull moment here. There's something for everybody!
Consider stopping into any one of the great museums. We only had time for two: the National World War II Museum and Confederate Memorial Hall, which are right down the street from one another. The WWII Museum was great and I highly recommend the Beyond All Boundaries 4D show. There's a substantial military discount too!
Confederate Memorial Hall is also a pretty great museum. I enjoyed my experience here much more than at the WWII Museum mostly because I didn't have to fight my way through crowds to see anything. The building is beautiful and historic and the artifacts are really neat. If memory serves me, entrance was free for active duty military with ID.
You can't walk anywhere without finding a great spot for grub in New Orleans. Nevertheless, I'm gonna give you some of my favorites.
Obviously you have to start each day with Café du Monde, which is world-renowned for its beignets and café au laits. Do not be turned away by the ridiculous line that forms outside! It actually moves quickly and they turn tables in the blink of an eye (we spent no more than 15 minutes in line). One interesting thing I noticed was that the entire place seems to be staffed by Vietnamese-Americans. After some quick research, I learned there is a large population of people from Vietnam living in New Orleans. They immigrated there after the fall of Saigon because of its similar climate and because of the Catholic charities. Read more about it here, and definitely try out any of the Vietnamese restaurants that you'll find all over the city.
Another place of note is Turkey and the Wolf, located in the Garden District. This place is so fantastically cool and they put fun, delicious twists on classics like fried bologna sandwiches. I also really appreciated the humor in their menu.
Music, Culture & Activities
You could realistically spend your entire time walking up and down the streets of the French Quarter, stopping in the quirky art and antique stores and sipping on to-go alcoholic beverages. In fact, this might very well be my entire plan for my next visit. BUT, if I could pick two activities that are absolute must-dos while in NOLA, I'd have to say bar hopping along Frenchmen Street and taking a Ghost Tour after dark.
Frenchmen Street is the it spot for live music in New Orleans and just about every bar and restaurant has a live band playing seven days a week. Grab a seat, a few beers and an order of raw oysters and settle in for some New Orleans-style jazz.
Since voodoo, vampires and ghosts are woven into the fabric of New Orleans culture, you would be remiss not to take part in it during your visit. We booked our tour the day of with French Quarter Phantom Tours and cannot recommend their Ghost & Vampire tour enough! It's after dark, so you get that added creepy factor. More importantly, the tour kicks off at the Voodoo Lounge and you get buy-1-get-1 Hurricanes that you get to bring with you on the tour. Our guide was fantastic and we actually joined her for drinks and live music at Checkpoint Charlie's near Frenchmen Street after the tour was over.
If all else fails on your Big Easy vacation, grab yourself a Hurricane on Bourbon Street and settle in for the world's best people-watching. We did this for about 10 minutes before complete sensory overload. Regardless of where you meander in the city, you're sure to find something going on. Definitely check out the cemeteries and enjoy listening to a street band here and there!
What are your favorite things to do in New Orleans? Tell us in the comments!
about the author
Riley is an active duty US Army Captain and the Founder of Right and Up. She’s currently stationed in Washington, DC, with previous assignments at Fort Huachuca, Fort Bliss, Fort Riley and Fort Benning. You can typically find her eating embarrassingly large amounts of food in local restaurants, or exploring her military town with her husband, Sean and her dog, Gus. Connect with her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter!