“Travel Diaries: Play, Learn, Serve and Rest Well” is a series about the idea of traveling well in a society that minimizes adventure and exploration to mere Instagram likes.
The Big Easy is a destination for lovers of all kinds: some of the finest food, culture, music, nightlife and art can be found here. It’s a beautiful and eclectic city, constantly toying with innovation while maintaining the depths of its cultural heritage.
If you’re visiting New Orleans, then you’ll want to take a few days to slow down and soak up the city. Take some time to play, learn, serve and rest. While public transportation is available to use, this New Orleans guide focuses on the accessible city center.
We’ll start with one of the most well-known streets in New Orleans, Bourbon Street. With rows of restaurants, bars and clubs lined up with happy hour menus, where does one begin?
One of the most playful places in NOLA is Cat’s Meow. It’s for anyone who’s ever wondered how they’d do on stage, for the showerhead singers and the car karaoke aficionados. It’s for those starved for attention and those who don’t mind a healthy dose of embarrassment. The encouraging hostess helps, coaxing out the performer in the least likely of patrons.
The best part? The world-famous karaoke bar live streams nightly performances onto EarthCam for the rest of humanity to witness. Whether or not you come with friends, you’ll definitely leave with new ones.
More lowkey and on the historic side is the prestigious Preservation Hall. It’s a step into the jazz history of New Orleans. Many would say it would be sacrilegious to visit the cradle of jazz without experiencing a jazz show at the hall, where so many greats have played. Originally founded in 1961, Preservation Hall now hosts shows multiple times a night, almost every night of the year.
The venue is worn and intimate. The small room fills quickly, and you can almost feel the history of crowds squeezing in decade after decade to hear the life-giving jazz. Those who want guaranteed admission can book online. If tickets are sold out online, then you can get to the venue an hour ahead of showtime to nab the first-come, first-serve general admission tickets.
Every one of us has been affected by the aftermath of WWII, but not all of us understand the impact of it. Here, we have a chance. New Orleans is home to the National WWII Museum. Consistently ranked as one of the top museums in the U.S. and in the world, this museum takes visitors through an interactive experience with in-depth displays and artifacts. Visitors can follow the journey of real WWII participants throughout the stages of the war, from war photographers to nurses to soldiers.
Across from the WWII Museum is the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. Here, you can slow down and unfurl your mind. Learn about the contemporary art movements in the south, take a few minutes to try your hand at sketching or appreciate one of the current exhibitions on display. The museum holds the largest collection of Southern art, and the gift shop sells all kinds of locally-made souvenirs.
When traveling with intention, we should leave each place we visit better than we find it. It’s not difficult to find ways to serve, even in a new city. Hands On New Orleans is an organization that makes it easy to serve the community on any given day. Their calendar shows volunteer opportunities available throughout the city each month. With a few spare hours, you can make a meaningful impression in the lives of others and in your own life.
Looking to make a difference in climate change or for a way to offset your carbon footprint? Those interested in reforesting the city can do so with SOUL NOLA, an organization that plants trees throughout the city, fortifying it for the future and building community along the way. You’ll be helping the city, helping the planet and helping future generations too. When you give back to the city, you’ll find your travel changes into a mutually-transformative experience.
The best way to rest? With food. Stop by Cafe du Monde in the morning, and seat yourself at an open table to sip on chicory cafe au laits. Pair it with a heaping plate of hot beignets. Be forewarned, avoid wearing black: the beignets are topped with a generous dust of powdered sugar that will find its way all over you. The open air seating at the cafe allows for casual people-watching.
If you want to linger around a bar and enjoy the food, then another place to visit is Felix’s Oyster Bar. Sit at the bar to get an up-close view of the oyster shucking. If you’re lucky, then you might get an oyster sample and a story or two. For a family-gathering-in-auntie’s-kitchen kind of atmosphere, make your way to Willie Mae’s Scotch House for a holy fried chicken experience.
Craving something sweet to round things off? Stop by Southern Candymakers to see how pralines and tortues are made. You’ll smell the shop before you see it. You can walk it off at the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, a national park that offers free jazz concerts and guided tours.
Travel will always change you if you let it, and New Orleans is no different. If you let it, the city will keep your stomach and soul satisfied while expanding your cultural knowledge and musical understanding.
Have you ever been to NOLA? What was your experience in the Big Easy?
Feature Image via Sheri Giblin, Darling Issue No. 12, Body Images via Iona Brannon