New Orleans serves up unique options beyond Bourbon Street
Wednesday, January 29, 2020
New Orleans has a well-earned reputation as a party city, but entertaining options are plentiful beyond Bourbon Street. An easy walk or a ride on the reliable trolley system can bring adventures unique to this riverfront location where varied cultures coexist in an eye-opening historic setting.
Food is always a great starting point when discussing New Orleans. You can go beyond the eating, though, by taking a cooking class in one of America’s great culinary cities. You don’t need to be intimidated — classes work for any skill level. Some even teach the use of kitchen utensils.
Classes are available as hands-on or as observation, and the best part might be that you get to eat and drink what’s being prepared. You’ll also meet some new friends. At a recent session, visitors from Alabama, Michigan, Texas and Toronto shared one table and a lot of laughs. You also can share tips on favorite restaurants or activities from someone face-to-face instead of relying on internet reviews from distant strangers.
Sessions fill up quickly, so reserve your spot once you have your travel dates set. More than a dozen sites offer classes, so pick your menu, price range and location, and you’re on your way. Most schools have on-site shops that allow you to buy what you might need to prepare your dishes at home, right down to cookbooks, seasonings and utensils.
With its colorful past and its attachment to voodoo and pirates, New Orleans might be the best place in America to take a ghost tour. Plenty are available, for good reason. It seems the Crescent City is loaded with haunted sites, from creepy doctors to forlorn businessmen and scheming voodoo priestesses. You’ll hear stories about Jean Lafitte, the famed pirate whose blacksmith shop has been turned into a Bourbon Street bar supposedly frequented by ghosts.
Marie Laveau is another notable name that turns up on ghost tours. She rose to prominence as a voodoo priestess, reportedly by bribing slaves for information on their rich masters, then using that “insight” to help solve problems for a fee. A voodoo shop named for Laveau sells charms, potions and other trinkets and is located — you guessed it — on Bourbon Street. Many of the tours have a halfway stop, usually conveniently near a French Quarter bar, so you can get your dose of spirits one way or another.
Every great city has museums to brag about, and New Orleans is no exception. The difference might be that NOLA has a few that you can’t find in other places. The city that’s known for Mardi Gras has to have museums to herald that celebration. Don’t worry if you’re not visiting at Mardi Gras; the museums are open year-round and can put you in the carnival spirit with displays of costumes and floats.
An impressive museum located in New Orleans’ Central Business District is the National World War II Museum, an interactive trove of history covering five pavilions on an easily accessible six-acre site. The exhaustive research and documentation educate visitors of any age. The site is the official WWII museum for the United States, as proclaimed by the U.S. Congress.
The French Market is another unique experience, bordering the French Quarter against the Mississippi River. Shoppers — and browsers — can move among the 200-year-old market, which offers items from artwork, jewelry and dresses to hammocks, souvenir T-shirts and flea-market sunglasses. Food booths and restaurants along the way ensure you’re not too famished to shop.
The Garden District might be too challenging for a walk, but an inexpensive ride on a trolley puts you in the center of the area that boasts rising mansions, Old World-style cottages and sprawling lush school campuses. Mixed in among the homes are shops, eateries and other businesses. If you see something you want to explore on foot, simply step off at the next trolley stop, then jump on another trolley later.
Bumping against the Garden District in Uptown, the Audubon Park and Zoo is a natural respite far from the rowdiness of the French Quarter, in spirit if not in miles. The 350-acre park is home to playgrounds, gazebos, riding stables, tennis courts, a lagoon, picnic areas, ballfields, a jogging path and an eye-popping view of the Mississippi River.
The Audubon Zoo, located in the park, presents animals in a natural setting, including a Louisiana Swamp feature. If you haven’t seen a rare white alligator, this is where you’ll find them.
Two things that New Orleans has in abundance at any time of year are food and entertainment. No matter your musical tastes, you’ll find a club to suit your style in the French Quarter. At all times of day, musicians play and sing on street corners. Enjoy their efforts and drop some cash into a hat.
While the city has built a well-deserved reputation for seafood and Cajun and Creole cooking, other styles are well-represented. If you’re looking for a break from the city’s famous entrees, you have plenty of options, again within walking distance.
The city is easy to navigate, partly because it’s bordered by a major waterway. Cabs are available, but why not go with the romance of a horse-drawn carriage or a historic trolley? The city has both, taking you back with a sensory ride that includes the clip-clop of hooves on cobblestone or the ringing of the bell to clear traffic ahead on the tracks. And those rides will save you the effort of listening to directions or trying to navigate one-way streets after you’ve missed your turn.
If you’re visiting New Orleans for a vacation, a conference or on business, you get a look at a historic city unlike any other in America.
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