3 Days in New Orleans: Shopping, Cosmopolitan Dining and More
Famous for music, this city offers plenty of other fun distractions not to be missed.
People assume they know New Orleans. But the city is much more than beads, beer and Bourbon Street — which locals seek out about as much as they would the city’s pitiless traffic cameras. There’s a percolating energy here, with a brand-new $1.3 billion airport terminal, expanding bikeways and newly ascendant neighborhoods. The food, as always, is insanely delicious. But sophisticated dishes from new, internationally inflected restaurants such as Saffron (Indian) and Saba (Israeli) are now as big a draw as red beans and rice. Like San Francisco, New Orleans is a historically Catholic city perched on the edge of disaster, and it also resembles the Bay Area in another way. While the state of Louisiana is MAGA-hat red, its famed cultural oasis has a decidedly diverse, gender-fluid accent. “Three days in New Orleans is like a perfectly fun dinner party,” recent visitor Joannie Ericson of San Anselmo says. “There’s a deep sense of hospitality at every turn.” So be like Blanche DuBois and lean on the kindness of strangers. Clamber aboard the Marin Airporter — United and Alaska offer direct flights from SFO — and head out for a three-day tour of the City That Care Forgot.
You’re not in Larkspur anymore. Start in the French Quarter with a (red) eye-opener at Brennan’s. The famed Creole restaurant’s Roost bar hosts a 9 a.m.-to-7 p.m. Friday champagne fest with half-price bubbly bottles and fizzy pink drinks. The bananas Foster and eggs Sardou may keep you guzzling till lunch. Next, wander down Royal Street to the Historic New Orleans Collection. The newly expanded exhibit space interprets the city’s storied past.
Cross Canal Street to the CBD (not cannabis oil, Central Business District). There, just-opened Greek-inspired Rockrose serves up tasty lamb burgers and lemon potatoes in the International House hotel, where there’s a Banksy in the lobby. Check out the National WWII Museum in the Warehouse District. Its sprawling seven-acre campus has exhibits devoted to the European and Pacific operations as well as life on the home front. You can even bivouac on-site at the Higgins, the museum’s new 230-room hotel, part of the Hilton Curio collection, with suites named for Eisenhower and Patton. Or look into Maison de la Luz, a boutique luxury hotel on Carondelet Street from the Ace Hotel Group. Its guest-only lobby has a speakeasy bar.
Walk the Warehouse District to Gianna for Italian wood-fired rustic fare by chef Rebecca Wilcomb. Then return to the Quarter for a nightcap at Jewel of the South, recently opened by acclaimed bartender Chris Hannah.
Carbs are abundant and Pilates scarce in a city that sleeps in later than most. Give up. Gobble breakfast beignets at Cafe Du Monde by Jackson Square. Make them guilt-free by plonking your bottom on a rental from Blue Bikes. The sky-blue conveyances pepper this pancake-flat town. Pedal north from the Mississippi along Esplanade Avenue, a tree-lined treasure that some locals declare even prettier than famed St. Charles Avenue. Your destination is City Park, the city’s emerald 1,300-acre green space, dotted with ancient live oaks and ponds (some occupied by alligators). There’s a freebie here: the recently expanded Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA).
If kids are along, the just-opened Louisiana Children’s Museum, adjacent to the statuary, is a great bet. It’s built over a lagoon and packed with hands-on exhibits on Louisiana’s watery environment. Bonus: Acorn, a Brennan-run restaurant, where lunch hits include honey-broiled Brussels sprouts and mushroom and arugula pizza slices. An insider secret is Rosedale, a cozy Lakeview neighborhood bistro featuring star chef Susan Spicer. Her French Quarter Bayona may be packed, but this local joint is a great place to linger over bowls of shrimp and cheddar stone-ground grits. Bike back downtown via the 2.6-mile-long Lafitte Greenway, a trail that cuts through a New Orleans most visitors miss.
Explore downriver. Have dinner at Nina Compton’s Bywater American Bistro, then head for raucous Frenchmen Street and its late-night jazz joints. If you need a place to crash, hotels in the ’hood include Peter and Paul, a charming dazzler in the restored convent and rectory of a historic Catholic church. Another option is the Melrose Mansion, a Victorian B&B close to the clubs but quiet enough for slumber.
A brisk walk will shake off last night’s fun. With a cafe au lait and morning roll from The Orange Couch, stride to Crescent Park for a promenade along the Mississippi with terrific views of the river and downtown. Meander back through streets filled with densely packed gingerbread-trimmed cottages. Feeling more adventurous? Take the ferry at the foot of Canal Street across the river to Algiers. This little-known NOLA neighborhood is composed of shotgun doubles (single-story duplexes) and Mardi Gras dens, secret warehouses where krewes construct their Carnival floats. Enjoy huevos rancheros at Tout de Suite and call on Doorman, a by-appointment furniture company crafting contemporary pieces from salvaged cypress wood.
Uber to Magazine Street, one of the country’s longest contiguous shopping streets. Past Louisiana Avenue, Magazine becomes like San Francisco’s Fillmore Street with Spanish moss, replete with upmarket boutiques. Discover evocative 19th-century antiques at Dunn & Sonnier; farther uptown, Pilot and Powell features bright and cheerful women’s clothing and accessories designed with a New Orleans eye for celebration and color. Down the street is Tasc, a local brand with a loyal following for its stylish workout and yoga wear designed to breathe in warm weather.
Surely a Sazerac with dinner is in order, which dictates a visit to old-school Clancy’s or La Petite Grocery, a Justin Devillier restaurant where bar seating is usually available (order the blue crab beignets) and that, like New Orleans itself, always entertains. “I want magic,” Miss DuBois demanded upon stepping down from her streetcar. This town supplies it.
For more guides to great U.S. travel destinations, check out our Travel & Outdoors page.
This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s February 2020 issue under the headline “Mélange à Trois”.