Affectionately known as the “Big Easy,” New Orleans is the cultural epicenter of Louisiana. The city is filled with culture, delectable Cajun and Creole cuisine, live street jazz music and art history, making it a charming destination for those looking to expand their cultural palette. It’s easy to wander the French quarter or the historic Treme neighborhood and get lost in all the history that New Orleans has to offer. Despite the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, both the people and the city are still powerful and triumphant.
When visiting the Crescent City, there are several things you must do to make the most of your experience. EBONY.com outlines the top 10 attractions if you’re looking to party, explore, or just pique your interest on what makes this city so special.
1. Eat beignets at the world famous Cafe du Monde: While it’s true there are many culinary and dining options in New Orleans, the simple fact is you must try the beignets at Cafe du Monde. Not familiar with a beignet? It’s a deep fried dough pastry topped with powdered sugar, and it’s the staple dessert of the city. Served piping hot, the best time to eat these “fritters” is when served. Whether for an early morning breakfast or after a late night on Bourbon Street, the popular café is sure to be packed any time of the day.
2. Stay at the historic Hyatt Regency New Orleans: Famous for its role at the heart of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, this hotel served as a “shelter of last resort” for Superdome rescue workers, the mayor and those in New Orleans unable to evacuate. Led by an African-American general manager, Michael Smith, the Hyatt Regency is located steps away from the Mercedes Benz Superdome and the Smoothie Center, making it a perfect “home away from home” while away on vacation or visiting for a conference. Truly a luxurious retreat, you can indulge in the hotel’s amenities, or restaurants such as Vitascope Hall or Borgne.
3. Take a walking tour of the Treme neighborhood: As the oldest African-American neighborhood in the U.S., Treme is the heartbeat of New Orleans. With music origins traced back to the historic Congo Square, and jazz greats such as Charles “Buddy” Bolden and Roy Brown, the influence of Treme has led Frenchman Street to be what it is today. From the tomb of voodoo queen Marie Laveau to the Golden Feather Gallery to Louis Armstrong Park, Tour New Orleans takes you through the legacy of Treme from the people who actually grew up within the community, recounting intricate details of a dynamic group of citizens.
4. Enjoy dinner at Dooky Chase: Opening its doors in 1941, Dooky Chase is a legendary Creole restaurant offering some of the best fried chicken, mac and cheese and peach cobbler on that side of the Mississippi. Located just outside the French Quarter in Treme, Dooky Chase has been graced with the presence of everyone from President Barack Obama to Al Sharpton to Quincy Jones, making it the premiere choice for Creole cuisine when visiting the Crescent City. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a sighting of the elderly Leah Chase, the Queen of Creole cuisine, who still prepares meals at the famous New Orleans restaurant.
5. Get your palms read: As one who is very skeptic to psychics and voodoo culture, I was always hesitant to indulge these people who were confident they’d be able to predict the next few years of my life. However, if you’re somewhat familiar with New Orleans culture, you know that voodoo and gypsies have a special history within the city, originating from traditions of the African diaspora. No matter what your belief, this is a fun outing with friends or simply to pique your own curiosity.
6. Attend a Saints game at the Superdome: Famously known for being shut down by Beyoncé during the Super Bowl Halftime show in 2013, the Mercedes Benz Superdome is the home of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints. If you’ve ever been in the proximity of the Superdome before or after a Saints game, you know you’ll find tens of thousands of fans decked out in black and gold attire, chanting “who dat?!” throughout the streets. Witnessing this excitement is an experience in and of itself. If you love football, or simply want to join in on the fun, get your black and gold ready and head to the Superdome for some action.
7. Take in a concert or basketball game at the Smoothie Center: Home to the New Orleans Pelicans and arena to mega concerts such as Justin Timberlake and Usher, the Smoothie Center is just minutes away from the French Quarter and right next door to the Superdome. In town during a game or a big concert? Grab your girlfriends or your significant other and head to the arena for a night out. While this may be something you can experience in your respective city, there’s nothing like watching an NBA game in a different arena and getting to know the culture of other fans and teams.
8. Explore Prospect 3 Art District: Prospect 3 showcases the artwork of more than 50 up-and-coming artists and creatives within the New Orleans community. With museums such as the Odgen Museum of Southern Art, showcasing an exhibit of “Basquiat and the Bayou,” and the George and Leah McKenna Museum of African American Art, showcasing the work of Carrie Mae Weems, you can get swept away in the diversity and artistic expression of some of the most prolific African-American figures.
9. Listen to live music on Frenchman Street: Just down river from the French Quarter, this popular street is thriving with live jazz music and vibrant hotspots including The Spotted Cat, Apple Barrel, Maison and the Blue Nile. Once the plantation of a wealthy Creole man, this “it” strip is a thriving center point of music, restaurants and clubs. The energy from the people on Frenchman is electric, and the perfect addition to your Friday or Saturday evening.