New Orleans has been described as the “northernmost Caribbean city and the westernmost European city.” A quick look at New Orleans history, explains a lot about its influences. The city was founded by the French in 1718, then went under Spanish rule, returned to the French and sold to the United States in 1803.
Even though the face of the city is distinctly European, its soul is decisively Afro-Caribbean. The city has been a melting pot of cultures and languages ever since it was founded, with a multitude of dialects spoken still in everyday life. This fact has made NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana) one of the US major tourist attractions, drawing in more than 10 million visitors a year, before the tragic events of the Katrina hurricane took place.
New Orleans Off the Beaten Path
Known all over the world for its Mardi Gras celebrations on Bourbon Street, New Orleans is not your typical tourist destination. If you visit it outside the festive seasons, you might be disappointed. Local spots are not advertised as much, while there are many parts of the city that revellers do not even get a chance to see.
Attractions such as the French Quarter, Magazine Street and St.Charles Avenue are all great choices to go all year round. You’ll see spots like Cafe Du Monde for breakfast and Pat O’Brien’s featuring on all tourist guides. However, if you are anything like us, you prefer the unexpected. Below, you will find our guide for off the beaten path things to do in New Orleans. Check them out and, as they say in the “Big Easy”, laissez les bon temps rouler!
Where To Eat in New Orleans
Most visitors to New Orleans tend to stay within the general area of the French Quarter. While the food there is not bad, it is seriously overpriced and not even close to what New Orleans is all about! Since the city is built on the banks of Mississippi River, seafood is the main ingredient in New Orleans cuisine, followed by delicacies like po’boys, gumbo and chicken creole.
Seasonality is the main thing to watch out for if you want to experience the best kind of seafood in the city. Crab, catfish, shrimp and gulf fish are ok to eat year round, while gator crawfish season lasts from March to late May. Oysters are generally best during late fall through mid-March.
If you are looking for a breakfast/brunch spot, avoid staple tourist experiences like Cafe du Monde and head out to places like Surrey’s Cafe & Juice Bar (be sure to try the Foster French toast), and Morning Call. If you’re in the mood for something more filling, try the po’boys at Parkway Bakery and Tavern. If you are after a quick bite, St. James Cheese Company is the perfect place to get stock up on sandwiches and salads.
Seafood in New Orleans deserves to hold a category on its own, as it is the city’s most famous attraction after the Mardi Gras. Mandina’s Restaurant is among the best choices for local cuisine, as it is far enough from the hubbub of downtown NOLA. Other great choices include Joey-K’s, Atchafalaya, Clancy’s and Patois. Commander’s Palace is another famous local favourite in the Faubourg Delassize neighbourhood.
Discover Offbeat New Orleans Neighbourhoods
For first-timers, the area around Canal Street and Bourbon Street is where all the action is. While we agree that the French Quarter is an amazing place, you probably have seen it all by day one. Locals and long-time visitors agree that there is a whole world waiting for you just a short streetcar ride away. Here are some of the most underrated neighbourhoods in New Orleans.
Marigny lies on the eastern edge of the French Quarter and is perhaps best known for Frenchmen Street, an area full of bars, restaurants and live music venues that are often preferred by locals over the touristy Bourbon Street. The neighbourhood is populated by a lively hipster crowd drawn in by live music bars such as The Spotted Cat, Cafe Negril, Snug Harbor or the Hi-Ho Lounge.
East of Franklin Avenue, you will find the riverfront area of Bywater. This neighbourhood shares a similar crowd with its neighbouring Marigny, although it is more famous for its late-night dive bars and clubs like Markey’s and the Country Club.
A bit further from the touristy parts of town, you will find the 60-acre Couturie Forest, which is quite literally, a separate ecosystem in the heart of New Orleans. A perfect place to escape from the urban environment of the city, the forest has many varieties of flora and fauna along its beautiful trails and waterways. It is also home to the city’s highest point, the Laborde Mountain, and a famous spot for birdwatchers.
Immortalized through the homonymous HBO series, Treme is one of the neighbourhoods that were hit the hardest during Hurricane Katrina. Nowadays, the area has recovered to its old glory, with the colourful narrow houses standing as a proud reminder of African-American History (the neighbourhood was the first African-American enclave in the US). Visit the Armstrong Park, named after the famous trumpeter Louis Armstrong and check out the numerous events happening throughout the year.
Interesting Museums in New Orleans
Although it is mostly affiliated with Mardi Gras celebrations and a lively music scene, New Orleans is a multicultural hub of languages, cultures and cuisine. As one of the most historical cities in the US, there are many interesting museums to see around the town. Don’t miss out on a chance to learn more about it!
The National WWII Museum
Not exactly a secret or an off the beaten path destination, but this fantastic collection of WWII exhibits is definitely worth your attention. The aircraft collection in the US Freedom Pavilion steals the show in an anyway impressive set of exhibits.
New Orleans Museum of Art
You will find the New Orleans Museum of Art on the southern part of City Park. NOMA is the city’s oldest fine arts museum and houses a collection of more than 35000 artworks, including works by Renoir, Matisse, Gauguin and Jackson Pollock. Definitely not to miss after a day of walking through the Couturie Forest.
New Orleans Jazz Museum
Music runs in the veins of New Orleans. The Jazz Museum is located on the old US Mint off the French Quarter and houses the world’s most extensive collection of jazz instruments (owned by legends such as Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet and Dizzy Gillespie), artefacts, photographs and memorabilia in an area of over 8,000 square feet. This museum is a must for music lovers all over the world.
As with any major city in the US, you will find a street where all the high-end shops are concentrated. In New Orleans, we’d suggest you steer clear off places like Canal Place and Riverwalk and focus on smaller shops. There are many artists’ collectives and antique shops around the city, where you stand a good chance of finding a bargain. Places like Rare Finds have vast collections of oddities from the early 20th century, while there are plenty of street artists that you could support on Royal Street.
Famous Musicians from New Orleans
New Orleans was the birthplace of some of the most influential jazz and blues musicians in the world. Here is some of their music to set you in the mood!
Luggage Storage in New Orleans
Discovering all the unknown things to do in New Orleans is easier when you’re not dragging your heavy bags around. Stasher offers many places to leave your luggage in New Orleans. Whether you are in the French Quarter or the neighbouring areas, you can explore the city at your leisure, as we have luggage storage locations wherever you need them!
Stasher’s Off the Beaten Path Guides
Looking for more off the beaten path guides? Check out our some of our articles below:
- Beyond Broadway: 15 Non Touristy Things to Do In NYC
- Off the Beaten Path: Unique Things to Do in Amsterdam
- Beyond Mardi Gras: New Orleans Off the Beaten Path
- Athens Off The Beaten Path: Things to do in Athens Like a Local
- Off the Beaten Path: Unique Things To Do In Paris
- Top 10 Hidden Gems in Rome – When in Rome do as the Romans do