This weekend, I escaped the California smoke for the New Orleans rain and found myself in a world of music, beignets and beads. I felt a bit like Nick Carraway being sucked into Gatsby’s world of revelry, colorful lights and an intoxicating stupor, except New Orleans is a very real place, not a figment of one’s fantasy. It’s crazy to know there’s a place where you can find colorful beads from past Mardi Gras festivities in every tree, a universally shared sense of loyalty to Drew Brees, drive-through daiquiri places and someone playing the trumpet on every corner. How can I, a Californian, simply exist here in California while I know there’s such a place? I could go to New Orleans Square in Disneyland, but somehow, that doesn’t quite compare.
The best thing about New Orleans is that no matter how crazy and unreal it may seem, there’s nothing artificial about it. The people who live there, every old landmark and Zapp’s Spicy Cajun Crawtators give New Orleans more personality than most other cities in the United States combined. It was hard to narrow it down, but here are a few highlights from my weekend:
Uptown New Orleans is home to Loyola University New Orleans and Tulane University. As this is the more college-oriented side of town, you’ll find many students, and where you find many students, you’ll find many bars. Some popular ones are Bruno’s Tavern and The Boot Bar and Grill. And unlike many places around here, you can get in if you’re 18 or older. So freshmen, if you ever find yourselves down in NOLA, this is your time to shine! Feel free to check out the pretty college campuses as well. While of course they don’t compare to UC Berkeley, Tulane has a pretty sweet tree filled with beads, and Loyola has some lovely brick architecture you should check out.
Just across St. Charles Avenue from these schools is Audubon Park, a gorgeous and rather large park that has a zoo and a golf course. It’s a lovely place to walk around and watch the ducks in the giant pond. Further down and right on the Mississippi River is The Fly, or Butterfly Riverview Park. It’s a sweet place to catch the sunset, watch boats go by and have a picnic on the grass.
Magazine is like Los Angeles’ Abbot Kinney Boulevard, except not as ridiculously expensive, less LA trendy and way more Southern. Magazine Street is a nice compromise between trendy and classic. Check out some sweet restaurants such as Dat Dog, Araña and Sucré. Some of my favorite shops were Funky Monkey, a thrift shop that lives up to its name, and Zèle, a marketplace for local artists to sell their paintings, jewelry and gifts. It’s the perfect place for a lazy afternoon stroll with your friends.
When I got back, the most common question I got was, “Is the French Quarter like the one at Disneyland?” And to that I’d say, “Not really.” Disney did a pretty good job of capturing the architecture and replicating Cajun food at its restaurants, but that’s where the resemblance stops. The French Quarter is filled with antique shops, museums, gift shops, gorgeous buildings with swirly, iron balconies and jazz bands on every corner. It’s impossible to not spend at least 10 minutes watching each performer you come across. Personally, my favorite spot is Faulkner House Books, which is located in Pirate’s Alley. It’s a tiny little shop filled high with books, making it the perfect place to seek refuge from the bustle outside. Near Pirate’s Alley is Jackson Square, with the lovely St. Louis Cathedral looming over it. Around the gates of the square are street performers and artists who have hung their unique creations. You can spend hours exploring, so I’d suggest taking it (big) easy and taking your time to enjoy all it has to offer.
Bourbon Street is located in the French Quarter, but really deserves a category of its own. There’s really no other place like it. Here, you’ll find bachelorette parties throwing beads off balconies, drunk 50-year-olds clutching “hand grenades” and “hurricanes” (two drinks that consist of way too many types of alcohol), kids being pushed in strollers, and locals who got dragged into going by their visiting friends. It’s the hedonists’ and tourists’ paradise, and it’s also a place that can’t be missed, even if you aren’t the former. Watch out for a cool NOLA tradition — wedding parties parading down the street, often with bands and waving handkerchiefs!
I saved the most important topic for last. New Orleans has some of the best food in the United States, so prepare to loosen your belt a few notches when you visit. Your first stop should be Central Grocery and Deli for its famous muffuletta. A muffuletta is an Italian sandwich that consists of sesame bread, marinated olive salad, salami, ham, provolone, swiss cheese and mortadella.
This just so happens to be on Decatur Street, which is also home to Café Du Monde, the famous beignet place that’s open 24 hours. I happened to go twice in one day, with absolutely no regrets. This place usually has a long line during the day, but the line moves quickly, and it’s totally worth it. I’d recommend getting an order of beignets, the frozen café au lait or the hot chocolate. Or you can go back multiple times and try everything. The last notable restaurant I went to was Parkway Bakery and Tavern, famous for its poor boy sandwiches, or po’boys. If po’boys aren’t enough to convince you to go, Barack Obama took his family there years ago while he was president! I tried the delicious catfish sandwich, but the menu is so long it was incredibly hard to decide.
Now that you’ve gotten hungry reading about carbs and fried food, why not take a trip to New Orleans? Maybe you can make it for Mardi Gras! New Orleans is a resilient and beautiful place that knows how to have fun and make some tasty food. I barely even scratched the surface with all the things you can do in this cool city. Words can’t do justice to NOLA — you just have to see it with your own eyes.
Contact Sunny Sichi at [email protected].