New Orleans: Things to see and do off the beaten track

The Marigny

Pastel colored shotgun cottages line a street in the Marigny.

For most people, two things come to mind about New Orleans: Mardi Gras and the French Quarter. There’s nothing wrong with visiting New Orleans for all the fun and festivities of Mardi Gras or the general year-around craziness of Bourbon Street in the Quarter, but this city is so much more. My husband, Tom, and I love New Orleans, especially our favorite areas that are a bit off the main tourist track.

Faubourg Marigny
East of the French Quarter, Faubourg Marigny (FAW-berg MARE-uh-knee) is what the French Quarter used to be but on a smaller scale, with shops, restaurants, and homes in mostly 19th century Creole cottages and shotgun houses. Locals love the Marigny, particularly a two-block stretch of Frenchman Street that is home to two great music venues: the city’s premiere jazz club, Snug Harbor and the Spotted Cat. The Cat is wonderfully dilapidated, and in New Orleans, that’s just part of the character.

You’ll recognize the Marigny if you’re a fan of the HBO series, Treme. We like Café Rose Nicaud, often shown in the series, for its great menu and intriguing history. Lift your cup in a toast to the cafés namesake, Rose Nicaud, a slave who was the first coffee vendor in the city in the early 1800s. Rose was so successful (and her coffee so good) that she bought her freedom with her profits.

Arts District
A few blocks west of the Quarter, you trade funkiness for finesse on and around Julia Street, an arts destination since the early 1990s.

Contemporary Arts Center

Just steps from the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and the National World War II Museum, the Contemporary Arts Center presents programs and classes in visual and performing arts.

In more recent years, the addition of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Contemporary Arts Center, and the National Museum of World War II (which continues to expand) has brought thousands to the district. The Ogden’s permanent collection and traveling exhibits make it worth repeat visits. Touring the WWII museum (and talking with the veteran volunteers) should be an annual event. Museum exhibits range from those that show the almost unfathomable size and scope of World War II to those that tell very personal stories of individuals. I spend the most time in the oral history booths listening to the voices of those who experienced the war overseas or at home.

Hotels and B&Bs are plentiful throughout New Orleans, but this area’s proximity to the New Orleans Convention Center makes it an affordable and easy place to stay.

Garden District

Comander's Palace

Owned by members of the Brennan family since the 1970s, Commander’s Palace has been a New Orleans dining destination for more than 130 years.

From downtown or the Arts District, head west for the antebellum mansions of the Garden District. There may no longer be a streetcar named Desire, but the mahogany seats and brass fittings of the cars on the St. Charles Streetcar line are a trip back in time. You can catch a ride ($1.25) at Canal Street or anywhere along the seven-mile route that continues past Tulane and Loyola universities and Audubon Park Zoo.

We also enjoy driving west along Magazine Street, stopping frequently for the never-ending array of locally owned shops, galleries, boutiques, and oh, so many good restaurants.

A Garden District favorite for generations, Commander’s Palace, is a big hit with the lunchtime business crowd, especially for its famous 25-cent martinis—and that’s not a typo. Just don’t show up in shorts and a T-shirt. Business casual dress or better is required.

Just across the street from Commander’s is the entrance to another Crescent City landmark, Lafayette Cemetery, one of the most famous “cities of the dead” in New Orleans. Novelist Anne Rice lived just down the street at 1239 First Street when she was writing her tales of the vampire Lestat, and it is easy to imagine how the cemetery, the homes, and the ancient trees of the Garden District inspired her writing.

Lafayette Cemetery

One of the oldest and most famous cemeteries in New Orleans, Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 is also the only one dedicated to an individual, Theodore Von LaHache, a musician who founded the New Orleans Philharmonic Society.

One more favorite spot that I must mention is the wonderful bakery, La Boulangerie, at 4600 Magazine. We always make this our last stop to pick up favorite breads and croissants to carry a little taste of New Orleans into the next week at home.

Writer’s Note: Hurricane Isaac put New Orleans in the news again—but the good news is that the city was spared the wrath of the storm and is wide open for business. And in the Crescent City, business is all about having a good time.

Many of the hotels stayed open during the storm, most restaurants opened within a day or so, and Labor Day weekend festivities went on as planned. Is the city ready to let the good times roll? Absolutely!

More Information
Here are some good resources for more information about the city.

New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau is a great resource for places to eat, stay, and play.

New Orleans Online offers information and discounts for lodging, restaurants, and attractions.

OffBeat Magazine is the ultimate guide to the New Orleans music scene.

Credit for all photos: Tom and D. Fran Morley

D. Fran MorleyD. Fran Morley is a freelance writer, editor, and photographer living in Fairhope, Alabama, on the beautiful Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay. She fills her days writing feature articles for numerous regional and national trade magazines, but is most passionate about traveling (and writing about travel) and helping people preserve their life stories. She is also Content Editor for the Association of Personal Historians, an international trade organization.