Why should I go?
Moments after you arrive in the Big Easy, it becomes clear that the people here are passionate about two things: music and food. Walk around the streets and the sound of jazz is never far away, nor are the smells of hearty gumbo, spicy jambalaya or those heavenly beignets.
The devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina are still being felt in New Orleans. But the rebuilding efforts—which includes Brad Pitt’s Make It Right foundation—and the resilient spirit of the city’s residents keep tourists returning to the city they know and love. Why? Well, there’s never a dull moment, which is always most evident during Mardi Gras New Orleans’ world-renowned two-eek celebration that ends on Fat Tuesday every year. Other events to check out: the French Quarter Festival and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, both in April; New Orleans Wine and Food Experience in May; and Tales of the Cocktail in July.
Where should I stay?
The 527-room Ritz-Carlton New Orleans stands in the northeast corner of the French Quarter on Canal Street and is a short walk from the major hot spots. The spa and gym are second to none, and the fit shop has many authentic souvenirs, including jazz CDs to help you re-create the New Orleans sound in your own home. Some staff members say the hotel is haunted—the lights did flicker once or twice—but we’ll let you decide. The club level, Maison Orleans, is perfect for guests who want extra-special treatment, like refreshments throughout the day and concierges with excellent knowledge of the city.
What should I do?
Back to those beignets: The buzzing Café Du Monde on Decatur Street near the waterfront is the place for these warm doughnut treats, which arrive in batches of three, buried under a mountain of powdered sugar. They’re the perfect accompaniment to the city’s famous chicory coffee. Across the street is Jackson Square and Saint Louis Cathedral, the heart of the Vieux Carre (aka the French Quarter). Take a buggy ride to soak up the atmosphere and gaze at the beautiful 18th century architecture. Exquisite villas and their delicate balconies are adorned with hanging flower basket and proudly displayed city flags.
Don’t forget to explore New Orleans’ otherworldly side, either by visiting the city’s spooky stores to buy a voodoo doll, or paying a visit to a psychic to get your palm read. Another tip: be sure to visit one of several above-ground cemeteries.
As nightfall descends, New Orleans starts shaking its booty. For those who want to get a head start, your first stop should be Pat O’Brien’s, where the city’s signature drink awaits. The Hurricane is a secret blend of who-knows-what, and locals warn tourists to imbibe only one on a night out. They’re right—two is pushing it; three is asking for trouble. Around the corner on the landmark Bourbon Street (which is not for the faint of heart) is Tropical Isle, a kitschy tiki bar where their specialty drink, the Hand Grenade, gives the Hurricane a run for its money.
For a more refined evening, Commander’s Palace in the Garden District offers elegant dining, including turtle soup, crispy soft-shell crab and bread pudding soufflé. Restaurant August, just a five-minute walk from the Ritz-Carlton, serves up Louisiana cuisine with a European twist and has charmed the likes of James Gandolfini and Faith Hill. Over in the eastern part of the city is Frenchmen Street, lined with jazz bars and restaurants. Snug Harbor Jazz bistro is a favorite hangout of the well-known Marsalis musical family and boasts delicious gumbo—particularly tasty if you’ve had one too many Hurricanes the night before.