One can always travel to New Orleans for the major parties -- think Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest -- but even after these big events, you can enjoy this fantastical city to the max. From live jazz seemingly on every corner to amazing Southern food to drinking outdoors, the Crescent City calls to anyone looking for fun and a truly good time. With that in mind, here's how to spend two perfect days in New Orleans.
For a true Southern breakfast, snag a table at the Ruby Slipper Cafe (multiple locations, therubyslippercafe.net). At this mini chain (there are four locations), you can get piles of fried chicken on buttermilk biscuits or sautéed Gulf shrimp swimming over a plate of steaming grits, all served in a casual, diner setting.
After this feast, explore the National WWII Museum (945 Magazine St., 504-528-1944, nationalww2museum.org), a three-building space hosting exhibits meant to show you the war through the eyes of the people who lived it. This means you can expect interactive displays, oral histories and more than 100,000 artifacts from that time period.
For lunch, enjoy the elevated Louisiana fare at chef Donald Link's Cochon Restaurant (closed Sundays; 930 Tchoupitoulas St., 508-588-2123, cochonrestaurant.com). Make sure to try the fried alligator and wood-fired oysters, two dishes that showcase local ingredients. Add smoked pork ribs with watermelon pickle, crawfish pie and a pint of Covington Pontchartrain pilsner, and you will be set. After that spread, it's the best time to sit back and relax on a cozy bus while taking an architecture tour of the city with Preservation Resource Center (prcno.org).
Now's a good time to grab a snowball at the 76-year-old Hansen's Sno-Bliz (4801 Tchoupitoulas St., 504-891-9788, snobliz.com), a seasonal spot dedicated to the frozen water and flavored syrup dessert prevalent around NOLA in the warmer weather.
Next, dinner brings us to Alon Shaya's new, self-titled joint, Shaya (4213 Magazine St., 504-891-4213, shayarestaurant.com). The young chef's Israeli cuisine sways drastically from traditional Southern food, which proves a nice break from the pork-saturated and butter-covered heaven that is New Orleans dining. Shaya also uses an impressive wood-fired oven to churn out the best pita in the state, possibly the country. End the night at The Spotted Cat Music Club (623 Frenchmen St., spottedcatmusicclub.com) for live jazz, blues and funk.
Start with a lighter, but just as NOLA-esque, breakfast of fresh beignets and dark chicory coffee at the famous Cafe Du Monde (multiple locations, cafedumonde.com). There are numerous locations nowadays, but the spot across from the French Market was the first and, some would say, foremost. It's also the perfect launching spot for a day wandering around the charming and historical French Quarter, an area laced with iron balconies, bars and shops all housed in brightly-colored buildings. As you walk around, keep in mind that you can take any alcoholic drink from a bar or eatery and enjoy it alfresco. Have a cocktail seated at the old-school bar in Old Absinthe House (240 Bourbon St., 504-524-0113, ruebourbon.com/oldabsinthehouse), or take a pickle-laden bloody Mary to go.
Stop in the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum (724 Dumaine St., 504-680-0128) to learn about the history of this dark magic, and pick up a couple charm and gris-gris bags to bring home. You can also get your palm read or tea leaves dissected at Bottom of the Cup Tearoom (327 Chartres St., 800-729-7148, bottomofthecup.com), an 80-year-old shop that indeed sells tea, but also features psychics.
Lunch brings us to chef and restaurateur John Besh's Lüke (333 St. Charles Ave., 504-378-2840, lukeneworleans.com), where you should fill up on oysters, seafood gumbo, roasted jalapeno grits and craft cocktails, all while sitting at the distinguished bar. From there go visit the wonder that is Mardi Gras World (1380 Port of New Orleans Place, 504-361-7821, mardigrasworld.com). As cheesy as it might sound, this establishment proves pretty awesome given you can walk through the rows of giant goddess, cartoon characters and animals that have graced many a parade.
Surprisingly, you are probably hungry after all that meandering, so you might as well head back to the French Quarter and dine at the eclectic Arnaud's (813 Rue Bienville, 504-523-5433, arnaudsrestaurant.com), established in 1918 by a French wine salesman. Say goodbye to Louisiana with its signature drink, the French 75 -- a tipple comprised of gin, lemon, sugar and sparkling wine, and grab another cocktail at the newly refurbished Le Meridien Hotel (333 Poydras St., 504-525-9444, lemeridienneworleanshotel.com) in its brand-new, New Orleans-themed lounge.