The sugary aroma of powdery-sweet beignets and bold, chicory-flavored coffee wafts out from street corner nook cafés. The sweet sound of bluesy jazz intoxicates the warm air, seducing those within earshot. Sunday morning strangers strike up conversations in a Southern drawl too musical to come from anywhere but the Bayou. That’s New Orleans, Louisiana. Though the rhythm of the city may have changed a bit since Hurricane Katrina touched down in August 2005, the Big Easy is nowhere close to giving up. Still a mighty, seductive festival for the senses, New Orleans is a people’s city kept afloat by the unwavering passion of her longtime residents and guests.
Made up of several districts, New Orleans is anchored by the famed French Quarter. As the oldest and most-visited part of New Orleans, the French Quarter is home to Creole cottages and colonial architecture that make up the many hotels, restaurants, bars, shops and jazz clubs. The galleries and boutiques of Royal Street by day give way to the raucous parties and curbside festivities of Bourbon Street at night. The Central Business District is the intellectual core of the city, with its high-rise office buildings, hotels and museums. Uptown is home to a largely residential section, as well as the Garden District and Magazine Street shops ranging from thrift to upscale.
No matter where you go in the city, there will always be an attraction or event that is strictly New Orleans. The Historic Voodoo Museum is a fascinating place where tourists can learn about this form of spiritual expression that was brought to the area by slaves. For a fun class in local cuisine, stop by the New Orleans School of Cooking and partake in the creation of a mouth-watering gumbo, jambalaya or praline treat. Stroll along Jackson Square and visit a fortune teller or watch a street performer in front of the Saint Louis Cathedral. Take in some cool jazz at hole-in-the-wall Snug Harbor while having a locally brewed Abita beer or head over to the famous House of Blues on Decatur Street for some blues, soul or rock ‘n’ roll done in that distinctive New Orleans style.
New Orleans is an absolute culinary phenomenon. Creole and Cajun staples converge with Southern cuisine, with touches of French, Spanish, Italian, Afro-centric, and Native American influences, in a way that makes a gourmet meal out of a lunch counter po’ boy or a muffuletta sandwich, or a steaming plate of crawfish étouffée. Located in the heart of the French Quarter, Brennan’s is a famed fine-dining restaurant where visitors can enjoy a French-inspired breakfast, lunch or dinner among the magnolia trees in the courtyard. Oyster lovers will revel in the menu at the Acme Oyster House. Not only do their master shuckers serve up a perfect oyster on the half shell (or prepared any other way imaginable), they also tend to keep guests coming back for their jokes. For some of the tastiest (and moderately priced) Creole cuisine in town, check out the Gumbo Shop on Saint Peter Street. On this menu, gumbo is king, and can be made with Andouille sausage, chicken or seafood.
Louis Armstrong International Airport (MSY) -- named in honor of one of the city’s favorite sons -- is the city’s primary airport, located just outside of New Orleans in the suburb of Kenner, La. The airport shuttle service ($20) or taxi ($33) are the best modes of transportation into the city. If visitors are staying in the French Quarter or Central Business District, there is no reason to rent a car. Most attractions and restaurants are within walking distance or are easily accessible by the River Street, Canal Street or Saint Charles Street street car lines.
New Orleans has a sub-tropical climate with hot, humid summers and mild winters. The average low for winter stays around 43° F, but can reach highs of 65° F. Not only are the summer months the hottest (with average highs of 91° F), but are also the wettest, with hurricane season lasting until well into September. The nicest time to visit New Orleans (weather-wise) is in the fall, with daytime temperatures in the high 70s to low 80s, and humidity is low. Hotel prices during Mardi Gras in mid-late February and Jazz Fest in late March/early May will spike, as the city enjoys a large influx of visitors.