New Orleans was every bit as magnificent as I hoped. While I’m sure it would be pretty memorable to explore NOLA during Mardi Gras, I’m actually really happy that my first visit was during a relatively quiet week in early December. I still got to experience the chaos that is Bourbon Street but I also got to ride (literally) in style.
What brought me to New Orleans was a very special Hilton Hotels & Resorts event. Not only is the hotel located in the heart of the city and just a few blocks from the iconic French Quarter, but the Hilton New Orleans/St. Charles Avenue hotel was recently inducted into the exclusive group of Historic Hotels of America, which is no easy feat.
As soon as I walked through the doors and into the lobby, I completely forgot that I was even at a hotel. The space pays homage to its historical roots (it’s from the 1920s) while incorporating modern decor and amenities that appeal to today’s savvy and stylish traveler. Even though I was there as a guest of Hilton, I spent plenty of time taking in the sights and sounds of this fabulous city. Here are my top recommendations for a first time traveler to NOLA.
Start the Day with a Classic Jazz Brunch
The Jazz Brunch at The Court of Two Sisters on “Governor’s Row,” is one of the best, if not the best, in town. It’s located on a street with a storied political history that was once home to a future U.S. President. We arrived on the early side, or at least early for New York brunch standards, and for awhile we had the entire back room to ourselves. The brunch works as a buffet and if you want specific items like pancakes or Eggs Benedict, just mention it to your server and he or she will bring those dishes directly to your table.
About thirty minutes after arriving, the jazz band arrived. I was impressed by the collection of tunes they performed and their noise control. They played soft enough that our group could converse without screaming but loud enough that the notes echoed through the space. After playing a set inside, they headed to the outdoor courtyard where other patrons were eating their brunch.
Hit the Streets
Speaking of jazz, it’s everywhere. Many of them congregate in the French Quarter but you’ll hear and see musicians just about everywhere. The other great thing about the music scene in NOLA is that you don’t have to play your day around listening to a set. I heard music every time I strolled through the French Quarter and pretty much everywhere else I went. If you’re intent on sticking solely to Bourbon Street, there are a few great options including Preservation Hall, Fritzel’s and Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse.
Snug Harbor is a popular spot along Frenchmen Street, a local alternative to Bourbon Street. It’s much more manageable than Bourbon Street and just as eclectic. There is a local artisan markets most evenings and that is a perfect one-stop-shop for buying souvenirs for friends back home. Almost all of the bars have a stage so there’s a very high likelihood you’ll get to hear a few up-and-comers.
Megan Eileen McDonough
Megan Eileen McDonough is a New York City-based freelance writer the founder of Bohemian Trails, a blog covering global lifestyle trends for the savvy and stylish traveler. Her cultural escapades have taken her to Europe, Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and across the United States. Megan’s work has appeared on Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, US Airways and USA Today among others.