How to visit New Orleans in style

Being the parents of two incredible–and incredibly busy–teenage girls, we’ve learned that vacation time for mom and dad is extremely precious. We love our alone time, but we also love being with our daughters, so we need to make every moment count. When we think about where we can go to have our “us time”, we also know there’s a likelihood that we’ll be missing the girls as well. 

As we scroll through trip options online, we look for destinations where we won’t constantly say, “Wow, the girls would love this” during the entire trip. We also want a certain level of sophistication, fun, excitement, and of course, great food and drinks. And drinks. (Not a typo.) With this criteria in mind, one city stands out and never disappoints. New Orleans.

New Orleans may have a negative impression in the minds of more upscale travelers, conjuring images of bead-tossing and boob-flashing. But for the discriminating traveler who plans well, New Orleans offers a host of opportunities for grown-up fun in surroundings you’ll appreciate–with a dash of the unexpected. For those who are beyond the all-you-can-drink-but-the-liquor-is-cheap excursions of your college days, here’s how to get the most out of the Big Easy.

For summer visits, schedule close to your travel date–or buy the insurance

Unfortunately, the city of New Orleans is frequently on the list as a potential pitstop for hurricanes. And this is impossible to predict if you’re making air and hotel reservations in February for a summer trip. We like to travel to New Orleans in August, which is typically after our family trip and before school starts. So we usually purchase our airfare a couple of weeks before we leave, when hurricane forecasts have already been confirmed. Hurricane season typically peaks August through October, so we always get trip insurance for peace of mind. If you’re planning to travel during other times of the year this may not be as relevant.

Arrive mid-week

Having selected New Orleans as our adults-only getaway for several years in a row, the husband and I quickly learned that by arriving on a Tuesday or Wednesday there are a couple of advantages. First of all, airfare and hotel rates are typically less expensive, compared to a Friday arrival. However, that’s not nearly the most important factor. Arriving mid-week means fewer tourists in town, and that’s critical. It means you can stroll through the French Quarter without over-served frat boys throwing up within earshot. Restaurant seating is more plentiful, and the French Market is less crowded. We usually arrive mid-week and leave Saturday morning, so we get the Friday night experience before heading home.

Do not choose a hotel in the French Quarter

While this is a popular area of the city and an essential stop on any New Orleans visit, it is not where you’ll want to sleep. That is, if you can sleep in the French Quarter. With the constant (and pretty great) jazz coming from restaurants or strolling bands or street musicians, combined with the laughter and chatter of tourists, the French Quarter is rarely completely quiet at night. And if you’re visiting on a weekend (you brave soul), the constant flow of pedestrian traffic can be a bit much when you’re just trying to make it back to your room.

We suggest choosing a hotel in the Central Business District (CBD), which is walking distance from the French Quarter but in a more upscale area. Our favorite is the Renaissance Pere Marquette, by Marriott. The hotel’s website refers to it as a “French Quarter area hotel”, but it’s not located in the French Quarter, which technically is on the other side of Canal Street.

We have three simple criteria for hotels when we travel:  The hotel offers room service, has a restaurant/bar and it’s affiliated with a national chain. With these elements in place, we can usually rest easy knowing that we can dine in-room if we’re feeling lazy, we can hang in the hotel bar if weather is bad, and we can expect the hotel to have national standards of service. The Pere Marquette hits on all three of these, and the bar is well stocked–including a wonderful locally brewed craft beer called Juicifer.

We’ve also stayed at the Blake Hotel (affiliated with Best Western Premier), which was also nice. Although the amenities weren’t quite as plentiful, we’d stay here again. But next trip, we’ll be back at the Pere Marquette.

Visit the French Quarter, but choose wisely

So while you don’t necessarily want to sleep there, you definitely want to get in a visit or two (or five) to the French Quarter. There’s so much to see and experience, you can spend two hours on one block. The people watching is fantastic, not to mention the music. 

If it’s your first time visiting the French Quarter, you may be tempted to stop in every establishment you pass. But that doesn’t mean you should grab a drink at each stop. New Orleans is famous for drinks that will knock you on your butt, but that’s pretty easy with cheap booze. Our advice is to pace yourself, and look for quality–not just alcohol quantity–in your beverages. Don’t worry, you’ll get there.

  • Musical Legends Park is always one of our first stops. Here you can listen to live music in a garden patio environment, surrounded by restaurants that provide quick al fresco fare and abundant adult beverages. This is a great destination during the day or in the evening, and a great way to soak up the New Orleans vibe.

  • On our first visit to New Orleans, we fell in love with Hermes Bar. This lovely little wood-clad watering hole is connected to the historic Antoine’s Restaurant, and features a limited (but delicious) menu. Even better, Hermes has a happy hour that offers surprisingly good pricing on a wide range of cocktails, including New Orleans’ “official drink”, the sazerac. This is the husband’s favorite drink while we’re in New Orleans, and sometimes for a few weeks after.

  • Two of our most favorite French Quarter stops both happen to be in the Sonesta Hotel. Desire Oyster Bar has a great menu, much of which is–you guessed it–oysters. Now we weren’t always oyster lovers. In fact, the first time we visited New Orleans neither of us had tried them. What we quickly came to realize is that there’s a wide variety of oyster dishes. We are now avid fans of oysters Rockefeller and chargrilled oysters, but almost anything on Desire’s menu is very good.

  • Another French Quarter must-see, especially for jazz fans, is the Jazz Playhouse (also in the Sonesta). This intimate music venue places you up close and personal with talented and experienced musicians who remind you why New Orleans is the home of jazz in America. With small tables in a velvet-lined room, you may forget where you are until the music stops. As of our last trip, admission is free on a first come first served basis, but you may want to pay for a reserved seat if you want to be sure to get one.

  • For us, no trip to New Orleans (or any city) is complete without at least one truly upscale dining experience. Landry’s Seafood offers incredible fare, coupled with a rooftop view of the river. If you’re unfamiliar with Landry’s, this is the same restaurant company that owns iconic brands such as Morton’s Steakhouse and The Oceanaire Seafood Room. You will not be disappointed.

These are just a few of the great French Quarter spots that allow you to experience New Orleans and keep it classy (as always). Of course, there’s also no shortage of bars that offer cheap drinks in plastic cups (or, literally, fishbowls). But if your primary goal is true inebriation you’d probably do better with a bar in your room, so at least you’d have quality liquor.

Visit other areas of the city

Remember, New Orleans is more than just the French Quarter, and great food is everywhere. The Store, a breakfast and lunch restaurant in the central business district, offers phenomenal shrimp and grits as well as a shrimp and greens po-boy that will change your mind about putting collard greens on sandwiches. Magazine Street offers a host of shops, bars and restaurants with a “newer” New Orleans feel. And with a visit to the French Market, you can grab a variety of souvenirs, enjoy a muffuletta for lunch, and score a bottle of some of the hottest hot sauce as a delicious reminder of your time in N.O. 

This is only the tip of the iceberg. Check out New Orleans’ official tourism site for more ideas.

Ride a streetcar

Lastly, no trip to New Orleans would be complete without a ride on a streetcar. Running 24-hours a day, streetcars offer a great opportunity to explore the city while enjoying this authentically New Orleans mode of transportation. From cemetery tours (yes, that’s a thing in New Orleans) to the casino to the French Market and more, streetcars get you there. On our last trip, we boarded a streetcar on Canal and rode north with no particular destination, discovering a great restaurant we never would have found on foot. If you’re looking for a great way to explore the city, check out Tripadvisor’s overview of New Orleans streetcars to learn more.

So that’s our take on a visit to this wonderful city, the playground for grown-ups that is New Orleans. Each year, we try to select a different destination for our one-on-one getaway, but New Orleans keeps calling us back with its wonderful food, creative beverages, easy going pace and soulful jazz music. Maybe we’ll get to another city this year, but that just means we’ll schedule an additional trip as well as New Orleans. Nothing can replace this city.

What are your thoughts on New Orleans? Do you have a favorite restaurant or bar? Share your comments and tips below. We’d love to know what you think!

Note: The businesses and brands listed in this article are based on our opinions. We are not receiving any compensation from these companies.

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