Updated: May 6, 2022
I’ve been traveling the United States since October 2021, and I just spent two months living in New Orleans. I felt drawn to the city after spending an adventurous week there five years ago. There was just something about the culture—the long, dark history drips from its balconies, and the rambling jazz music from Frenchman Street tell stories from decades past.
Even though I only lived there a short time, I made a lot of memories. Here are some of my favorite things I did in New Orleans.
Outdoor Parties and Festivals
I lived in New Orleans from February to March, which means I was there for Mardi Gras. If you’re not familiar with Mardi Gras, it’s basically a city-wide party that starts at the beginning of the year and lasts all the way until the first day of March (AKA Fat Tuesday). For a full recap and recommendations, check out my article How to Survive Mardi Gras While Living in New Orleans.
Apart from Mardi Gras, I went to several other outdoor parties and festivals throughout the city. For Saint Patrick’s Day, I went to a block party in the Garden District. I’ve been to a few block parties before, but this was unlike any other I’d been to.
The street was packed with locals adorned with green shirts and faces full of glitter as they danced in the streets to classic Irish tunes. There were drink stands after drink stands serving Jameson, green Jell-o shots, and green beer. There was even a man walking around offering green cherries soaked in Everclear. I had a few beers, but I passed on the cherries…
A parade looped by the block party, throwing beads, cabbage, and garlic to the partygoers. What more could you expect on a Saint Patrick’s Day celebration? The block party and parade honestly gave Boston a run for its money.
At the end of March, I went to the Freret Street Festival that’s just one of the many outdoor street festivals in New Orleans. Six blocks of Freret Street were blocked off and packed with authentic New Orleans food, art, and music. I got to buy local artwork that captures the essence of the Big Easy—a keepsake I get from every city I live in.
Street vendors smiled and chatted with passersby as they cooked up fresh gumbo, crawfish, and even a massive pan of paella. Visitors would get their fresh food, and then walk to one of the three stages where musicians performed live in front of the sunny crowd. I’m pretty sure folks all the way in the French Quarter could smell the delicious aromas coming from Freret street. If not, then they could definitely hear the music!
Seeing Gators Up Close
One thing Louisiana is well known for is its marshland and accompanying wildlife. Specifically, alligators.
I love gators, so I was determined to see at least one while I was living in New Orleans. And I was not disappointed…
Some friends and I took a swamp boat tour with Cajun Encounters through Honey Island Swamp, which is a 45-minute drive northeast of the city. About 15 of us piled into a small, flat-bottomed boat where we sat practically eye-level with the water. I was hoping we would see some gators, but also praying that we wouldn’t.
We ended up seeing several smaller gators from afar, lots of birds, and two very cute raccoons. Apparently, most of the bigger gators were still in hibernation, so it’s better to go on these tours in the summer.
We also got a sneak peek into the lives of those who—literally—live on the swamp. Just picture wide, wooden houses with overhanging porch rooves plopped right in the middle of the swamp. Residents live there year-round with no electricity, and when they want to visit the mainland, they have to paddle over on a boat. It’s a life reserved for very few people.
A few weeks later, I drove out to Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve by myself. It’s a 30-minute, scenic drive south of New Orleans. I explored the self-guided tours through the marshland, weaving over wooden bridges and planks that were just barely above the swamp water. Believe it or not, it didn’t take long to stumble across two big gators!
Initially, I was scared to get too close, but I quickly realized that they were very relaxed and didn’t seem to mind the company. There was a former tour guide walking along the trail who shared some fun facts with me, like the fact that gators can’t chew, so they have to swallow all of their prey whole. He also told me that the bigger gator’s name was Vinny Diesel—ha!
New Orleans has some of the darkest, eeriest histories of any city in the country, so naturally I wanted to learn everything about it while I was living there. This included taking two ghost tours, a cemetery tour, and visiting multiple museums.
The cemetery tour I chose to take was of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, better known as the gravesite of the great Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. The Voodoo Queen was buried in the cemetery back in 1881, and visitors still visit to leave her offerings in the hopes that their prayers will be answered.
Also located in this cemetery is the tomb of Nicolas Cage. I know, I know, he’s not dead yet, but the National Treasure actor purchased a—fittingly—pyramid shaped tomb in the nearly full cemetery to reserve his burial ground. Carved into his tomb is the phrase “Omnia Ab No” which is Latin for “Everything From One.” Some speculate that this could be an homage to his alleged vampirism or that he wants to be buried near Marie Laveau to uncurse himself after buying the haunted LaLaurie Mansion just down the street.
For a deeper dive into New Orleans’ haunted history, read my article The 5 Most Haunted Locations in New Orleans’ French Quarter.
Enjoying Southern Cooking
Apart from ghosts and festivals, New Orleans is famous for having great southern food. Due to their creole influences and their close distance to the ocean, restaurants boast delicious jambalaya, gumbo, crawfish, oysters, and so much more comforting food that will stick to your ribs.
Despite being raised 45 minutes from the Pacific Ocean, I don’t love seafood… I know, I know, it’s basically a sin. BUT I do like oysters, so I enjoyed trying all different kinds while I was living in New Orleans. Hands down, my favorite type were grilled oysters.
Grilled oysters are smothered in three of life’s greatest treasures—butter, garlic, and cheese—then popped on the grill until golden brown and toasty. They’re served with thick slices of bread so you can soak up and savor every last drop of that rich, buttery sauce. The best ones I ate were from Mr. Ed’s Oyster Bar, but you can find them at oyster bars all over the city.
While at Mr. Ed’s, I also tried an oyster shooter. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a shot of their bloody Mary vodka with an oyster in it. It was the perfect New Orleans’ treat!
Brunch is a way of life in New Orleans, and I was all about it. One of the best brunches I ever had was at NOLA Caye, a trendy little spot in the Warehouse District. When they brought me this massive plate of heavenly breakfast goodness, I nearly fainted. That may have also been because I was on my third mimosa… But you better believe I ate every bite that was on this plate and then ordered my last mimosa to go. I then couldn’t stop referring to this as a “Togosa” the rest of the time I was in NOLA.
I ate a lot of delicious, memorable meals while in New Orleans, but nearly all of them were at my favorite restaurant, Copper Vine. I’m not kidding when I say I went to this restaurant at least once a week for the entire two months I was there. It was that good.
They have an outdoor garden that is covered in dangling pothos, outstretched ferns, and massive monsteras. The inside of the restaurant is filled with quirky art pieces and spooky, old mirrors. Their bathrooms even have fun, alien artwork in each stall. If the décor and plants weren’t enough to make me fall in love with this restaurant, their food swept me off my feet.
From their bacon wrapped dates to their pork belly & corn fried oysters to their corn-flake fried chicken sandwich, I could never go wrong ordering their food. They have so many tasty, inventive appetizers that are perfect for sharing. While I could get beer or a cocktail, I would often get wine, since they have a large variety of selections on tap—how cool! Oh, and one last thing, their brussels sprouts served with garlic aioli are just: *chef’s kiss*.
Lastly, for food, it wouldn’t be right to live in New Orleans without getting at least one beignet. These sweet, fluffy, powdery squares of perfection are a staple in the city. I found them at a variety of spots, but the iconic place to order them is the original Café Du Monde, a coffee stand that’s been around since 1862.
Located in the French Quarter, just off the Mississippi River, there’s usually a line around the block of people itching to get their beignet fix. Luckily, I went during the week, so I barely had to wait. I did, however, have to run across the street to the ATM since this is a traditional, cash only spot. For only $3 I got three delicious, sugary beignets and ate them on the walk back to my apartment, leaving a trail of powdered sugar in my wake.
Famous New Orleans Drinks
New Orleans is a city that knows how to party. And with great partying, comes great drinking. A lot of drinking.
While I was in New Orleans, I tried their three most popular drinks: Hurricanes, the Sazerac, and Hand Grenades.
Hurricanes are a rum-based, tropical drink that instantly transported me to the beach—even when I was wandering down Bourbon Street. They’re not overly sweet, and they usually have a few cherries at the bottom that absorb the last bits of juice. These little guys make for the perfect cocktail dessert!
The Sazerac is a classic cocktail that was born in New Orleans back in the day. It’s similar to an old fashioned, as it combines Rye whiskey or Cognac, one sugar cube, three dashes of bitters, and—here’s the kicker—a shot of absinthe! It might sound weird, but it tastes so smooth as it warms the back of your throat with a sweet heat.
A Hand Grenade is the most dangerous drink in New Orleans. It’s only served at Tropical Isle bars, and there are only five of them in the whole city. And of course, they’re conveniently located on Bourbon Street. No one knows exactly what’s in a Hand Grenade; even the Tropical Isle website won’t say! “We can’t tell you exactly because it’s a secret. But we can say that it has a wonderful melon flavor drink with lots of liqueurs and other secret ingredients. It doesn’t have a strong taste, but WATCH OUT! The Hand Grenade drink has a kick!!”
After sipping on lots of liquor, I tried out some local breweries. My two favorites were Port Orleans Brewing Co and Urban South Brewery, both located in the Lower Garden District, right near the Mississippi River.
Port Orleans had a big indoor seating area, and an even bigger outdoor area that was bustling with dogs, friends, and kids playing cornhole and ring toss. The brewery had all sorts of different beers on tap, so I tried their IPA, pilsner, and sour. They all tasted fresh and vibrant, which is surprising for a place that brews its beer below sea level!
Urban South had a huge indoor taproom along with a smaller outdoor area with picnic tables. This brewery had even more beer on tap, and they specialized in several IPA’s. I tried their Grapefruit Holy Roller and I was in heaven. The taproom has a bunch of TV’s and some old school arcade games, so it’s a great spot to come hang out with friends or just pop in to watch a game and enjoy a pint.
Life with Landing
I was able to stay in a gorgeous, furnished Landing apartment that had a pool, gym, and 24/7 concierge. Landing provides a new way to live for digital nomads. My membership with them gives me the opportunity to hop from city to city as I please, allowing me to fulfill my lifelong dream of traveling the country. Learn more about their flexible leases today!