This past week, I had the pleasure of visiting New Orleans. My husband went for a conference and I tagged along. I'll admit, I was pretty much terrified to go out alone but I soon learned my way around and was quite excited to go and do - even alone. I had five days and plenty of time to nose around the city and if you have the time, I suggest you do the same. If you don't, here's some gems that I found that you might enjoy too - along with some little tips on how to get where you are going.

1. First Lunch When You Get to NOLA - The Market Cafe

The first place you'll want to sit down for an afternoon lunch will be at The Market Cafe. We got up too late for breakfast almost every day so lunch was a big deal to us. If you are on Canal St. head towards the Mississippi and take a left on Decatur. Walk several blocks until the street Ys. It's right there smack dab in the middle with open-air seating. The servers were friendly, there's always live music and you'll want to order the Taste of New Orleans for your first meal. It's about $20 and two of us ate well. It comes with staples: Jambalaya, red beans and rice, crawfish etouffee and gumbo. I also ordered a Bloody Mary drink. It was yummy and hint, you ca get it in a go-cup and take it with you up and down the streets.

BONUS: Their bathrooms were extremely clean and you could smell bleach. (Always a good thing.)


2. Tours - Free Tours by Foot

We took the bus ride all over New Orleans on our first day from Cajun Encounters. Our guide, Butch, was very informative but at $50 a person, I'm not sure it was worth it. Here's the coupon that I'm just now finding - you're welcome.  There are about a zillion tours you can take but my favorite was Free Tours by Foot. (TIP: Book ASAP b/c they fill up fast.) I hopped the St. Charles streetcar (we'll talk about these in a minute) at the corner of Canal and Carondelet - look for the Kids Foot Locker and head down to the Garden District. Get off on the Washington Ave. stop and walk down Washington Ave. until you get to the first corner of the Lafayette Cemetery. If you get there early enough, grab a drink at The Rink - Garden District Coffee Shop. Only one bathroom for the whole shopping center so make it snappy!

Kat was my tour guide and she was AWESOME! We wound our way through the Lafayette Cemetery and she explained how they bury the dead in NOLA. There was even an open (unused) tomb to peek inside. Then we toured the surrounding historic homes and she was very knowledgeable about celebrity homes, architecture and NOLA history. Beautiful! When you are done, tip the tour guide and head down to Magazine St. by way of Washington Ave.


3. Shopping and Dining - Magazine St. and Joey K's

Down on Magazine, you'll find all kinds of odds and ends. There were mostly clothing and home stores but you'll find an concessional wine shop or chocolatary. Great for finding gifts for those who couldn't join you. When you are done shopping, take a few minutes to eat at Joey K's. I had the Trout Tchoupitoulas, which was seasonal fish lightly floured and sautéed, topped with shrimp & crab meat, served with mixed vegetables and new potatoes. It was so delicious! My husband had the all-you-can eat catfish. And, for a guy who can really put the food away, he only needed one plate. He also had a lively Saints/Colts discussion with Adam, our server, and I opted for the New Orleans Lager & Ale Brewing Company Galaxy Blonde fishbowl which was light, crisp and delicious. 


 3. Faster Breakfast Beignets and Mena's, a Locals Only Joint

Cafe Du Monde is the premiere place for coffee and fried powdered dough but if you want something a little quicker that's just as good and even has open air seating, opt for New Orleans Famous Beignets and Coffee. It's right off Decatur next to the Jackson Brewery. You stand in line to grab your breakfast to go and then you can choose to sit outside or take it on the run. If you are looking for a cheap but filling breakfast with a little character, check out Mena's Palace, located a couple blocks off Canal on Chartres. What made this place really special was how sweet the servers were and the crazy tiny bathroom (which was very clean)! I had the vegetable omelet and my husband had the two-egg special. A good breakfast choice and the lunch and dinner menus looked fab as well.


 4. Frenchman Street is Way Better than Bourbon Street

Our first night in NOLA, we went down to Bourbon. I mean, you have to, right? UG, it was gross. But, we found our place down on Frenchman St. To get to Frenchman St., head toward the Mississippi and turn left on Decatur and go all the way down until you get to Cafe Du Monde. At the Y, stay on the right. Keep going until you see the fire station and stay to the left of the fire station. There you'll find lots of fun bars and restaurants that are filled with glorious music. We enjoyed Connecticut-based brass band The Funky Dawgz as well as a plethora of other bands. Please remember to TIP your musicians!

Our favorite place was Cafe Negril. Good tunes, good people, a good time. I even heard a DMB/Led Zeppelin brass mashup. It was epic and I don't say that lightly.


5. Gifts for Everyone

I wanted to grab some gifts for the people who were holding down the fort at home. Here's what I found that said "New Orleans" without being cheesy - at least, I don't think it was.

1. Pepper Palace - Bloody Mary seasoning (smokey and delicious, I hope.) This is located on the front side of the French Market as well as on Decatur. The employees are nice and knowledgeable and there's a tasting bar.

2. Little Toy Shop - I bypassed the mini voodoo dolls like 'Bourbon Bunny' for a Little Golden Book of The Princess and the Frog. This Disney classic is all about New Orleans, the food and the culture without being scary for little eyes. The Little Toy shop is located on St. Ann St. right off Decatur - it's the first street past the St. Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square.

3. Aunt Sally's Pralines - These places are all over the French Quarter and you can buy one, six, or a dozen pralines. They can get pricey but everyone will love them.

4. New Orleans Nike Shirt - At two for $25, we bought several of the Nike branded NOLA t-shirts. To get to the Nike Factory Outlet, just take the City Park street car (grab it in the middle ground streetcar headed away from the Mississippi) and get off on the Carrollton Ave. stop. Go left down Carrollton Ave. for about a mile and look for it on the right, right before the overpass.


6. City Park

Visit the museum or just stroll around. Also, visit the Morning Call coffee stand where history meets charm! Just keep riding that City Park street car!

7. Art Life

I went down to the free music festival, The Bayou Boogaloo Music fest for awesome tunes, fun food and great art. My favorite artist was Becky Fos. Her vibrant colors are breathtaking and her local work is a must for any home. I'll be ordering something soon!


8. Learn to Cook Cajun & Creole

When I was in the French Quarter on Chartres, I stumbled across Crescent City Cooks. There's a daily cooking class and you get to eat what you make. I wasn't able to make to the class but I looked in the classroom and it was really nice. The store is full of local art kitchen pieces (perfect for gifts too). The staff was very friendly and you won't find a a crab claw oven mit anywhere! Here's the weekly class schedule.


9. Final Meal in New Orleans - The Praline Connection's Taste of Soul Platter

We had to wait about 20 minutes but it was worth it. Our very sweet server, Terrance, donned a fedora and musical note tie. The ambiance was simple but authentic and the food - Cajun soul food was particularly delicious. We ordered the “A Taste of Soul” Platter which came with File Gumbo, Red Beans & Rice, Jambalaya, Greens, Fried Chicken, Ribs, Catfish Strips and Bread Pudding. I added on a side salad and it was plenty for two to share. The Praline Connection is located on Frenchman Street. Head towards the Mississippi on Canal and turn left on Decatur. Stay right when you hit the Y and head across the street to the left of the fire station on Frenchman. It's on your left.


 10. The Streetcars

Okay, my favorite part of NOLA (a close second was the amazing music) was the Streetcars. Original from the 1920s and a National Historic Landmark, the St. Charles Streetcar, specifically, will take you back in time. It doesn't have AC but a cool breeze blows through the wide open windows. They only take exact change ($1.25/ride or $3 for an all-day pass). Just pay in the machine at the front of the car or show your pass to the conductor. I went down to the Garden District twice, just to ride this streetcar.

Pro tip: Keep your feet out of the aisles, have exact change and exit out the back if you are seated near the back. Also, sit up front if you don't know your way around so you can hear the conductor to get off in the right spots.