As if we needed another reason to visit New Orleans — all those who have a penchant for art, literature, music and culinary bliss can flock to the historic French Quarter for the 29th annual Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, March 25-29, 2015. Known for A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Glass Menagerie, Hard Candy and more, Williams lived in the city of New Orleans, revolutionizing the way people saw plays, literature and the world.
The event takes place at 16 French Quarter venues in New Orleans over the span of five days, allowing for visitors to truly immerse themselves in the splendor of the Big Easy, just as Tennessee would have wanted it.
“Tennessee Williams is universally loved,” said festival representative Ellen Johnson. “We celebrate Tennessee because when he was living here, he was only Tom. He became Tennessee here.”
As I talk to San Francisco natives, local business owners and random people I encounter, I’m quickly learning the city’s history. From the Gold Rush that we all learned about in school, to the impact that Chinese immigration made to the city as a whole, San Francisco has some interesting stories to tell. And no hotel has more interesting story than the San Remo Hotel.
Whenever I visit a popular metropolitan city, I want to stay close to the city center as possibly while staying clear of all of the tourist traps. San Francisco is a city rich in culture and history and while I enjoy experiencing all of the attractions and neighborhoods, you won’t really find me at the highly-touristed locales.
To put this idea to the test, I booked a room downtown walking distance to the bustle of Union Square and close enough to avoid the huge amount of tourists in the area. The Pickwick Hotel is walking distance to Bart, Union Square, Moscone Center, Yerba Buena Gardens and more. The hotel, built in 1926, has undergone recent renovations and its ideal location makes it a hop, skip and a jump away from everything. I was within walking distance of dining, hidden coffee shops and even my office in the Financial District. Read more
Even though I was only able to spend about 50 hours in New Orleans, there was just two things on the itinerary: See the sights and stuff my face with Cajun and Creole food. It seemed like every tour or souvenir shopping stop was sandwiched by a stop at Café Du Monde or a bowl of etouffe. If you have a couple days to spend in NOLA and need some recommendations on where to eat, check out a few of the New Orleans restaurants I visited while in town.
Before you make any dinner reservations, ask the locals where they go for a meal. We stayed at the beautiful International House Hotel, located just a few blocks from Bourbon St. and French Quarter, and the staff there offered great insight into where locals eat. Architecturally beautiful with a Beaux-Arts design on the outside and sleek and sexy on the inside, International House was a wonderful hotel to rest our heads after long days of sightseeing.
The boutique hotel offers 117 guest rooms, suites and penthouses and was constantly buzzing with guests and activity. Curated art collections are on rotation within the hotel, but the space itself is something to marvel at. I’m a huge fan of staying at independent, smaller boutique hotels and the impeccable service, artistic appeal and luxury was exactly what I had hoped for.
Grab a seasonal, craft cocktail at Loa inside International House Hotel
Even if you’re not staying at the International House, you must drop by in the evening where you’ll find a candlelit lobby, antique velvet seating and a fabulous bar, Loa, which offers delicious and seasonally-inspired cocktails.
Nationally-recognized “Spirit Handler” Alan Walter is at the helm of Loa who also creates his own cocktail concoctions, syrups and aromatic bitters. The seasonal and signature cocktails list is not to be missed. I ordered a Delilah, a mix of London Dry Gin, Thai basil, pineapple balsamic and elderflower. All of the cocktails are locally inspired and beautifully presented. The mixologists are highly versed so tell them what you like and they can make a great recommendation to suit your tastes.
Order oysters wherever you go
My love for oysters is growing and while I’ve tried a gamut of varieties from the West Coast and Pacific North West, the oysters from Louisiana are unbelievable. Oysters from this region are plump, uber fresh and savory. Even if you’re not a fan of these delicacies, try some baked oysters and it’ll definitely change your perspective.
Some of the best oysters I slurped down came from Acme Oyster House. This oyster institution is packed non-stop so you may have to wait in line, but the hand-shucked oysters are completely worth it. Raw and chargrilled oysters can be ordered by the half or full dozen but you’ll also want to leave some room for an entrée or appetizer.
I ordered the Seafood Etouffe and a side of Fried Crawfish and it was true taste of the south. The etouffe was rich and creamy and the crawfish added a great texture to the meal. The menu is extensive so come with friends so you can try a bit of everything.
Traditional Cajun food is the way to go
Whenever I travel, I always order food that is typical of the area and New Orleans is one of the best places to do just that. One of our first stops in town was to Mother’s Restaurant where we ordered a Shrimp Po-Boy, Famous Ferdi Special and a bowl of Seafood Gumbo. The restaurant is a favorite among locals and is a quick and easy stop.
We also dropped by Remoulade in the heart of Bourbon St. for hurricanes, baked oysters, seafood gumbo, stuffed crab and red beans and rice. The eatery is the casual side of one of the famed New Orleans restaurants, Arnaud’s, so drop by there for a great meal among a low-key atmosphere.
I highly suggest getting dessert while you’re at the restaurant since you can order off the same dessert menu as Arnaud’s. The Strawberries Arnaud is a bowl of fresh strawberries in a marinade of port, red wine, spices and citrus poured over local French vanilla ice cream. Absolutely heavenly.
Beignets for days
If you don’t get an order of beignets while in New Orleans, it’s like you didn’t even make the trip. I’m not ashamed to say that I went to Café Du Monde two days in a row – because they were just that freaking delicious. The fried French doughnut is served hot and the fluffiness of the pillowy dough and mounds of powdered sugar, in addition to a black coffee with chicory, is one of the best ways to start the day. Not to mention, it will give you the caffeine and sugar fuel you need to navigate your way through the city.
Café Du Monde is a great spot for people watching too as it is heavily frequented by tourists and is situated adjacent to Jackson Square. Saxophone players were playing outside both days I visited so I highly recommend taking your time here so you can take in the smells, sights and sounds of NOLA.
Saving the best for last
You’ve probably seen Willie Mae’s Scotch House on TV or heard about this unsuspecting restaurant through the grapevine. Voted Best Fried Chicken in America by Food Network, 2005 James Beard Foundation winner for America’s Classic Restaurant, Southern Region and a number of other impressive accolades, Willie Mae’s is the real deal. We made our way to Willie Mae’s right before heading to the airport as our final NOLA send off.
Fried chicken is an indulgence for me and while I’m not the connoisseur of this American comfort food, Kerry Seaton and the fry cooks are making magic in their kitchen. While Willie Mae has retired, her restaurant is doing everything right. The seasoning is perfect, the crunch of the batter is unlike anything I’ve ever had and the sides worked perfectly. At only about $11 for a plate of chicken and a side, Willie Mae’s is definitely worth the short cab ride to the Treme neighborhood.
With a city rich in culture, history and growth after Katrina, foodies definitely need to make the pilgrimage to New Orleans at least once in their lives. While 50 hours in NOLA is nowhere near enough time to see and eat everything, it definitely allowed me to see just a bit of what the city offers. I’ll be making my return trip soon enough, but until then, I’ll be dreaming of Creole food.
I pride myself in the ability to navigate my way through a new city and locate unique and under-the-radar restaurants, hotels, shopping and art. But if you’ve only got a few days in one of the cities that’s always been on your bucket list, sometimes it’s smart to do what the tourists do and go on a guided tour. I had the opportunity to spend a few days in New Orleans and when I wasn’t hunting down famous restaurants and landmarks, I tried my hardest to see what NOLA had to offer. While you can only see the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all that the city has, these tours are a great starting point. Here are my suggestions for New Orleans tours that you need to check out.
City Sightseeing New Orleans Double Decker Buses
I see them all the time in metropolitan cities and tourist traps. Those double decker buses are everywhere these days and they’re definitely plentiful in NOLA. I highly suggest you climb aboard one of these buses on your first or second day so you can get a lay of the land. We spent an afternoon with City Sightseeing New Orleans, a super friendly and convenient red double decker bus that shows you some of the highlights of the city.
What I love about the City Sightseeing buses is that there are a number of stops around town, including the Garden District, Magazine Street, Jackson Square and more. Buy a day pass (good for a full 24 hours) and locate one of the 18 stops. The entire tour takes about 90 minutes or so and you can hop on or off at any point during running hours. If you’re sans car and in town for a few days, the three-day pass is perfect if your hotel is within walking distance of one of the stops. Buses run every 30 minutes so it’s a great way to get around town if you want to spend more time at a specific destination.
Howie was our guide for the afternoon and he knew the ins and outs of all of the neighborhoods we drove through. Locals are the guides on these tours and they’ll give you an inside scoop on where else you should go around town. The tour company also has free walking tours at three of their stops and you can even get extra specials and savings when you show your shuttle ticket at various locations in town. Check out the website for more info.
Get a peek behind the curtains at Mardi Gras World
Mardi Gras needs no introduction at all and if you’re intrigued by the process of float making, you’ll absolutely love getting a behind-the-scenes experience at Mardi Gras World. Blaine Kern Studios has been making Mardi Gras floats since the 1940s and you’ll see designers and artists at work all throughout the day and year up until the big day. Go on a guided tour, watch a short film about the history of Mardi Gras World and nibble on a slice of King Cake while you’re there.
This space is also great for groups and large events so you’ll definitely want to check this place out while you’re in town. The amazing photos and photo ops are worth the ticket price alone. Make sure to add Mardi Gras World on your to-do list.
The food, history, culture in New Orleans is something to enjoy and appreciate and these tour companies are just a couple of the several tours available. While Bourbon Street and the French Quarter are entirely walkable, you’ll definitely want to venture into the various districts and landmarks all throughout the area.