A big city has to be special for us to take the Airstream there: in addition to having fun and/or interesting things to do and see and eat and drink, and it must have a centrally-located campground. We’re not keen on parking in the suburbs and driving 25 minutes into town. Big cities we’ve enjoyed with the Airstream include Austin, Nashville, and St Louis, because they have so much to offer AND we can park our home in the middle of the action. We’re thrilled to add New Orleans to the list!
The French Quarter RV Resort is a cute little park with decorative touches like brick everywhere and lampposts marking the sites. It has a pool and fitness center, which we didn’t check out, and a phenomenal location just outside the French Quarter. It’s close to the interstate but quiet, and we felt safe walking home after dark.
The campground is surrounded by a wall with a security gate, and just outside that gate is the Lafitte Greenway, a paved path that connects to other commuting trails in the New Orleans network. We used the Lafitte Greenway like crazy: we walked Bugsy over to nearby Louis Armstrong Park; we trekked up to City Park via pretty Bayou St John; and we repeatedly took the Greenway to the French Quarter and beyond.
New Orleans is sandwiched between the Mississippi River to the south and Lake Pontchartrain to the north (fun fact: the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway crossing the lake is the world’s longest continuous bridge over water–it takes about 50 minutes to drive across!). The city covers a lot of ground, and mapping out adventures can seem daunting. Our approach was to primarily focus on the French Quarter and Garden District, and then pick target destinations (mostly breweries and restaurants) in other neighborhoods and walk to them. Doing that, we got a taste of Bywater, Marigny, the Warehouse Arts District, and Bayou St John.
I also love sightseeing in a city by going for a run. While you may not be able to linger over a view or read as many informational placards, you can cover a lot more ground than walking. There are lots of good running options in New Orleans, and many are convenient to the campground.
The French Quarter
When you think of the French Quarter, maybe you think of all-night partying on Bourbon Street, but there’s so much more to the French Quarter than drunken revelry. There’s history and architecture and possibly ghosts… and even if you don’t want to party, it’s fun to get a cocktail-to-go (drinking on the street is legal in the French Quarter) and do some people-watching.
This walking tour from Frommer’s is a fantastic way to get to know the French Quarter. It criss-crosses you all over the neighborhood, pointing out interesting details on the gorgeous French and Spanish colonial buildings and giving you all sorts of juicy info about the history of the area.
The Garden District
Want more architecture? The Garden District‘s opulent Victorian and Greek Revival architecture is very different from what you see in the French Quarter. Frommer’s strikes again with a super walking tour of the neighborhood.
Also in the Garden District, the excellent National WWII Museum is a must-see.
We knew we wanted to get outside the French Quarter and Garden District, and we had a long list of eating and drinking establishments to hit, so we combined goals and explored as much as we could while eating and drinking all the things. It’s a fun way to tour around! For example:
We ran the bike path up to City Park along Bayou St John (checking out a brewery along the way) and returned to the campground along stately Esplanade Ave, once called Millionaire’s Row for the Creole section of town. (Yes, Frommer’s has a walking tour for that part of town too! It’s also a winner.)
City Park is huge and a delight to explore, but we especially enjoyed the Besthoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art. It’s free to enter, but no dogs are allowed. Bugsy’s favorite sculpture would have been the giant Rodrigue Blue Dog.
New Orleans Staples
From creole food and cajun food, to beignets and pralines, New Orleans is known for some unique foods. We did our best to eat a lot of it, with a special emphasis on king cake because we were lucky enough to be in town for the start of king cake season!!!
Ahh, king cakes. So delicious. And yet, I had only ever had one type (traditional cinnamon brioche with cream cheese filling) and had no idea there are a million different flavors to choose from. What’s a king cake enthusiast to do? Clearly we couldn’t buy whole cakes if we wanted to sample a variety and not die, so we looked for bakeries selling king cake by the slice and hit Hivolt after our Garden District walk. The king cake was from Hi Do Bakery in Gretna filled with Bavarian cream, which in our opinion is not as good as the traditional cream cheese.
And then we hit the jackpot. My friend Cindy came over from Baton Rouge to spend an afternoon with us and brought TWO king cakes with her! Best friend ever?? One had a donutty texture and one was the traditional brioche, and both had a scrumptious cheesecake flavor. We were too excited to start digging in (notice in the photo we’re eating it with a plastic spoon straight from the box) that I didn’t note where they were from. I’ll have to repeat this research project next time I visit.
I can’t believe I just wrote so much about king cakes. Yes, I can.
One last note for this section: you really do have to get beignets. You don’t have to do the tourist thing and get them at Café DuMonde, but that’s really where you should go. The original Café DuMonde is in the historic French Market, but we found the new outpost in City Park to be way less crowded.
New Orleans Foodie Scene
This post is getting out of control. I’ll try not to emote so much. But that’s hard when my notes from Turkey and the Wolf are just the name of my sandwich followed by five exclamation points. Turkey and the Wolf is a sandwich shop owned and cheffed by a UVA grad, and it was Bon Appétit’s Best New Restaurant of 2017. Yes, a sandwich shop won that award. My multi-exclamation point sandwich was the Collard Green Melt.
I also overused exclamation points when we had lunch at Dong Phuong Bakeshop. It’s a 15 or 20-minute drive from the campground (past the eerie abandoned Six Flags New Orleans), but holy cow the bahn mi sandwiches (veggie and several meat options available) are fantastic and crazy cheap. DP is also famous for their king cakes, which had already sold out at 9:30 that morning.
In non-sandwich news, dinner at Compère Lapin was phenomenal. This highly-acclaimed Caribbean-Creole restaurant in the Warehouse Arts District wowed us with its sophisticated ambiance, service, cocktails, and food. Chef Nina Compton is a 2018 James Beard award winner and it was clear why!
Friends (and multiple best-of lists) recommended Maypop and the idea of Asian-Cajun Fusion intrigued us. The food was very good but the star of our show was the bread service: annatto sesame rolls with coconut butter and shellfish pepper jam, served in a little cast iron skillet. We ordered a second serving for dessert!
After all the sandwiches and heavy food, you may want a healthy meal. We needed salad, so we had lunch at True Food Kitchen. Yes, it’s a chain, but the seasonal ingredient salad was fresh and fabulous and just what the doctor ordered.
New Orleans was once the brewing capital of the South: in the 1880s New Orleans was the South’s largest beer producing city. But the local beers tended to be bland, more utilitarian than flavorful: “it’s in the culture to drink shitty beer down here.” After Katrina, craft breweries slowly made their way into the city, and now the New Orleans beer scene is going gangbusters. If you’re interested in learning more about the present and history of New Orleans brewing, this is an excellent article. Relevant to this post is that the list of breweries to visit in the city is growing and full of high-quality options. Let us know if you have a recommendation for our next trip!
Second Line was our favorite of the breweries we visited in New Orleans. Our favorable impression started when we walked by to scout it out for later. They weren’t yet open, but the owner saw us snooping around and gave us a can of IPA to take home to try–and it was really good. That smart marketing paired with a cool dog-friendly courtyard drew us back for beers later. They have a rotating cast of small-batch concoctions, and we liked everything we tried, especially (for me more than J), the snow cone IPA.
Parleaux Beer Lab, in the funky cool Bywater neighborhood, also specializes in tasty small-batch beers and has a festive outdoor drinking space. The taproom is in an old auto garage and the beer garden has interesting industrial items sprinkled about. We liked how it felt like we were hanging out in a friend’s backyard.
Zony Mash Beer Project has the most interesting indoor space amongst the breweries we saw in New Orleans: it’s an old theater, redecorated with impressive woodwork and colorful art, with a space for events in front of a big movie screen. Their focus is Belgian beer, which is no longer our favorite, but they had several hazy IPAs when we were there. The taproom is dog-friendly and Bugsy-approved.
Courtyard Brewery was at the top of J’s to-do list, but it was closed while moving to a new location. They’ve since reopened so you should go there and tell us about it.
The beer scene may be growing, but at heart New Orleans is a cocktail town. Cocktails were invented in New Orleans, when the Sazerac became the first branded cocktail in the 1850s, and the city is famous (or infamous) for several other potent concoctions. We figured we should sample a few for reporting purposes and had some tasty drinks at enjoyable establishments, but there are so many more places to try!
Our favorite fancy cocktail joint: We’re a sucker for award winners, and the French 75 Bar at Arnaud’s is on multiple best-in-the-country lists, including a James Beard award for best bar program a few years ago. It’s a sophisticated, mellow spot amidst the French Quarter chaos and we liked it a lot.
Our favorite tiki lounge: Tiki Tolteca has a fun tropical vibe and all sorts of tiki drinks made from fresh juices and homemade syrups. I like tiki drinks and the associated atmosphere more than J, but he admitted the painkiller was tasty, even if he will dispute Tiki Tolteca being included on the favorites list.
Our favorite dive bar: Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar is housed in a structure built between 1732 and 1733, and is said to be the oldest structure used as a bar in the US. Go there to admire the old building but be warned that our drinks were not good.
Our favorite jazz bar: Admittedly, we only went to one, Bamboulas, but it was cool and the music was stellar. Listening to more jazz on Frenchmen Street and generally exploring Marigny is on our to-do list for next trip.
The cute but insanely touristy bar that we admired and skipped: We stopped by to see the Carousel Bar and quickly moved on. Normally I would be all about sitting at a revolving bar built on an old-timey carousel, but apparently people start waiting in line before the bar opens at 11am and it’s packed all day.
Our favorite convenience store to get a sickly-sweet neon cocktail to take for a people-watching stroll on Bourbon Street: Um… Yes, we did get one, and yes it was gross. I don’t know where ours was from, other than the store had a giant chicken-man standing out front. You can get your own party beverage at a multitude of stores and bars in all sorts of horrifying flavors and colors. Hurricanes and Hand Grenades are the more (in)famous varieties. Good luck!
Café Du Monde is famous for beignets, but also for the coffee with chicory that goes so well with the little fritters. I felt compelled to get a café au lait, even though I don’t like milk, so I will keep my unfair opinion to myself. I’m sure it’s delicious if you like café au lait!
It’s easy to find good coffee in New Orleans. In addition to a zillion independent coffee shops, there are two local chains, PJ’s Coffee and CC’s Coffee House, so no need to go to Starbucks. We recommend Backatown Coffee Parlour, a short stroll from the campground on the site of Storyville, once the red-light district of New Orleans.
I brought home a couple bags of King Cake Blend coffee from French Market Coffee, and it’s so delicious and makes me think of our New Orleans visit everyday. No, I don’t want to know what the artificial flavors are in there.
To do next trip:
The list is long! We’ll definitely take the Airstream back to New Orleans.
- Get a po’boy at Parkway, a recommendation from Cindy
- Browse the businesses along quaint Oak Street, another favorite of Cindy’s
- Explore more grand architecture along St Charles Avenue
- Wander the shops and restaurants along Magazine Street
- Visit Mardi Gras World: we assumed it was a cheesy tourist attraction, but Cindy (thanks for all the help, Cindy!) said there’s good stuff about the logistics of building and deploying the floats
- Check out the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum
- Listen to more live music on Frenchmen Street
- Dive a little deeper into the Bywater neighborhood
- Eat seafood in the Lakeview neighborhood along Lake Pontchartrain, maybe on Wednesday evening to watch the weekly sailing regatta. Or run along Lakeshore Drive.
- Hit more breweries!