New Orleans, the first stop on our Road trip to Colorado. After five weeks of fitting out our van in the conservative rural town of Dublin, Georgia, we headed to the city that was probably its antithesis.
With 48 hours to get the feel for the city, we jumped right in. Although the following week we paid the price for our indulgence we wouldn’t change a thing. We loved our short time in the Big Easy, here are six unusual things to do in New Orleans.
1. Grab a Shrimp Po-Boy from the Parkway Bakery and Tavern
Easing into things, our first New Orleans experience was a Po’ Boy. While you’ll find this southern staple from Texas to North Carolina, it originated right here on the streets of New Orleans. A Po’ Boy is essentially a sandwich made on New Orleans French Bread (think a large crusty baguette) and stuffed with meat, traditionally roast beef or fried seafood.
Parkway Bakery and Tavern (only in New Orleans does a bakery need a tavern attached) has been serving up Po’ Boys since they appeared in the late 1920’s, and baking bread for two decades before that. We figured they must be doing something right.
We opted for the fresh shrimp Po’ Boy. Stuffed with golden fried shrimp, order it ‘dressed’ with lettuce, tomato, pickles and mayonnaise. Don’t forget a good dash of hot sauce. A small (half sandwich) will fill you up for lunch. Grab a large, and you can probably get away with skipping dinner.
2. Visit the (in)Famous Bourbon Street
There are two schools of thought on Bourbon street. One, it is Disney land for adults, bar after bar of live music, colour, fun and frivolity. Or, two, it is the literal devil, a street stinking of urine and vomit, lined with bars that are too expensive playing music that is too loud. Not to mention the homeless, the drunks, and the prostitutes. We felt we had to see it at least once to get our own read on the place.
Wandering up the neon street, we bounced from bar to bar, dancing to some seriously good live music into the wee hours. Sure, we saw our fair share of drunks, naked bodies, and general craziness but nothing too over the top. As a one-off experience, it was a great night but I can also understand why the locals have all sworn off this place. If you’re visiting New Orleans it’s definitely one to tick off the bucket list.
We didn’t make it to Frenchmen Street but we have heard it offers a slightly more relaxed outing without the manic energy of Bourbon Street, but with plenty of live Jazz and Blues.
P.S. While I would have thought it was obvious before I visited, leave the stroller and the kids at home.
3. Beat Your Hangover with the Hair of the Dog at a Local Dive Bar
After a night on Bourbon street it’s a fair bet that your head might be a little sore. Around here the only cure is to get back on that horse.
New Orleans is the only place in the U.S. where there are no laws requiring bars to close. While this doesn’t mean every bar in the city is open 24 hours (or that we recommend you try to spend 24 hours in one). It does open up more possibilities.
In fairness, we didn’t set out planning on drinks for breakfast. However, waiting for our sausage biscuits and breakfast burritos from Wakin’ Bakin’ in Mid-City, we needed to get out of the sun. Thankfully the dark, air-conditioned neighborhood dive bar, the Banks Street Bar & Grill was open.
Sitting at the bar sipping on a really good bloody Mary while waited for our breakfast order certainly helped put a bit of pep back in our step.
If you’re still here by lunchtime, well shame on you, but also treat yourself to a meatball sub from Mid-City Pizza, a revelation.
4. Swing by a Pool Party at the Drifter
If you find yourself in Louisiana in the Summertime, you are going to need to beat the heat.
Thanks to an inside tip we discovered Drifters weekend pool parties. The $15 door charge may seem steep to access a renovated 1950’s style motel garden, with a dinky pool, some lawn chairs, tables and umbrellas, on astroturf. But what the pool lacks in modern facilities it more than makes up for in atmosphere and some great people watching.
Attracting free spirits from all over New Orleans and beyond, the pool party feels like it could be in Berlin as much as the Southern United States. Their website touts the hotel as the haunt of ‘confident outsiders’. 90’s inspired vampires, anime characters, psychedelic veterans and every other colourful character in between were out and in various states of undress. Set to some great house music courtesy of house DJ’s it makes for a fun afternoon pool session.
5. Take a stroll down Oak Street
Hop a streetcar
named desire to Oak Street. A retro main street featuring some of New Orleans’ best cafes, book stores, live music venues and restaurants. This is everything Bourbon Street is not, authentic, calm and bohemian. Oak street is a beacon for New Orleans students, musicians, and artists.
Grab a coffee from Rue de la Course before taking an evening stroll down this iconic street. Explore the funky retro stores. You’ll find everything from vintage clothes, comics, art studios and bookstores many occupying historic buildings
Dinner time and it seems that every cuisine under the sun is represented here. But we are in New Orleans so it’s hard to go past the Creole soul food being served up at Jacques-Imo’s.
After dinner head next door to the Maple Leaf. A New Orleans institution this beautiful musicians bar has live music 7 days week. While it is the home of many famous local Jazz artists, they play a broad range of styles from jazz to rock to reggae. Whatever they’re playing when you’re in town, you can be sure it’s going to be quality.
6. Beignets and Coffee for Breakfast Before you Hit the Road
Somehow the healthiest thing we did this weekend. Stop by New Orleans Coffee & Beignet Co for a serve of, crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, deep-fried pastries served piping hot and covered in powdered sugar. Fantastic with a large cup of their fresh brewed coffee.
It’s just the pick-up you need to get moving after a weekend of indulgence in the Big Easy.
Where to Stay in New Orleans
Looking for an alternative to your standard hotel offerings? Try The Drifter. A renovated, retro 1950’s motel, complete with neon vacancy sign, pool, bar and plenty of astro turf. Be forewarned their pool is open to the public and attracts a diverse crowd, most of whom come to party. Music and pool parties run through the weekend.
Overlanding, Van Life and Camping Options
It’s a bit difficult to find free parking close to New Orleans downtown – which is where you’re gonna wanna be. However, for $10/24h you can park in the Armstrong Park parking lot. Walking distance to the french quarter and access to a toilet.
Alternatively, you can find free overnight parking at the New Orleans City Park, it’s a bit further out and there aren’t any facilities.
Where to Eat in New Orleans
Wakin’ Bakin’ in Mid-City – We highly recommend the breakfast burrito, breakfast bowl, or breakfast biscuit, or anything that involves their bacon confit.
Beignet’s and coffee – There are a number of places claiming to serve the best version of these deep fried breakfast treats. The most famous of which is Cafe du Monde however we also highly recommend the New Orleans Coffee & Beignet Co. Be sure to grab a cup of their brewed coffee or the traditional accompaniment of Cafe au Lait.
The Parkway Bakery and Tavern – The best Shrimp Po’ Boy in town. Full disclosure, we didn’t try any others.
Mid-City Pizza – Delicious meatball subs!
Jacques-Imo’s – The self-proclaimed experts on real ‘Nawlin’ food, make sure you check out Jacques-Imo’s for some jambalaya, fried green tomatoes, gumbo or smothered chicken.
Hopefully, you found some fun and unusual things to do in New Orleans! If you have a question or comment, let us know below!
Looking for more quirky cities to check out in the US? Try these great cities