Gumbo. Beignets. Fortunetelling. Jazz. It’s hard to put the affinity I feel for New Orleans into words. There’s no logical explanation for how much I love the place. I’m not from there, and neither is anyone from my family. I can’t even claim ancestry with any of the world powers that have held the city over time. I’m neither French, nor Spanish. And I’m definitely not Creole. So what does a mostly white girl like myself have in common with one of the American South’s greatest cultural meccas? I suspect because it has so much to offer, from music to cuisine to some of the spookiest stories in the world. We go there every chance we get. I even had my wedding in the Garden District. So I thought I’d do a round-up of some of the best New Orleans has to offer, spanning all the things I love about the city.
Best Sandwich: The Muffaletta at Maspero’s Cafe
Located at the edge of the tourist district, near the canal, Maspero’s offers traditional New Orleans fare for an excellent price. I love their French Onion Soup, and like to pare it with half a muffaletta, because I have yet to meet the person who can eat a whole one. It’s larger than a dinner plate, and comes stacked with meats and olives. It’s also a great way to prepare your stomach for all the alcohol you’re about to consume.
Best Haunted House:
Known around the world as the most haunted city in America, New Orleans has much to offer for those who seek a “real” spooky thrill. Although there are a ton of stately residences to choose from that are haunted, some of the most interesting places are hotels. My personal favorite is the Hotel Monteleone, located in the French Quarter. Guests have reported seeing the ghosts of former staff, and even other guests, and sometimes at night you can hear an old-time jazz singer in some of the middle rooms. The spectres of children who died in a yellow fever epidemic have also been reported. But the architecture is gorgeous, and it has a rotating piano bar, so that’s an all around win for the living and the dead alike.
Although the Hurricane is the signature drink of the city, I feel it comes in behind the classic mint julep as far as authenticity and taste. Made with crushed mint leaves, powdered sugar, and bourbon, it’s a traditional Southern sipping cocktail, best enjoyed on a front porch. They’re also quite good at the landmark bar Pat O’ Brien’s in the French Quarter, which is the birthplace of the Hurricane.
St. Louis Cemetery #1 is located near the canal, and is one of the oldest cemeteries in New Orleans. Built below sea level, cemeteries in New Orleans had to be raised above ground. This gave rise to elaborate tombs and mausoleums rising from the ground and crowded in together until the graves resemble a massive city of the dead. The most famous resident of St. Louis #1 is the woman known as “The Voodoo Queen of New Orleans,” Marie Leveau. Even to this day, people flock to her tomb in order to leave small offerings in return for her blessing. Unfortunately, her grave became so famous as a tourist attraction, that visitors are strongly discouraged from visiting the cemeteries located inside the city alone. Make sure to go with a reputable tour group during the day, because if you’re alone, or it’s night, you may fall victim to the city’s criminal element.
Best Place to Get Your Fortune Told
Jackson Square is a happenin’ place. Located directly across from the World Famous Cafe Du Monde, it often features street musicians, performers, and even a fire eater once. There are small, eclectic shops that have everything from antique toys to elaborate Mardi Gras headdresses. There’s a beautiful cathedral and cobblestone streets that go back to the sixteenth century. But by far my favorite part of this vibrant area are the fortunetellers. There are usually half a dozen to choose from, and most read palms as well as cards. I love talking to them, because they see the underside of the city, and have the best stories. As to whether they actually seeing the future, I honestly can’t say. The stories stand out way more than the predictions.
City Park was the scene of some pretty massive destruction during Hurricane Katrina, but it rebounded into the loveliest bit of green in the Big Easy. There are statues and fountains, ponds, ducks to feed, and an amusement park for small children. Rolling green lawns are shaded by massive live oaks and magnolia trees. It’s a fantastic place to relax in the sun before hitting the Quarter. Best of all, it’s completely free and family-friendly.
Best Open-Air Market:
The French Market has fresh bulbs of garlic the size of my fist. They have amazing produce, local honeys and jams, french breads and pastries, and more. But they also have embroidered dresses and jewelry, and a host of other small pretty things that make excellent impulse purchases you’ll only regret later. It’s the perfect, low key late morning activity to indulge in after a night on the Quarter. (Or hell, it’s N’awlins. Make that afternoon.)