On our last major road trip down south, we planned to spend one day in New Orleans before hopping back in the car and heading out to our next exciting destination. It’s pretty hard to package the excitement of NOLA into just 24 hours, but here’s how we did it.
9 PM the First Night
In case you didn’t read the last post about the road trip, we arrived in New Orleans at 9 PM after an excruciating 28 hour journey through snow, rain and terror. We were tired, but eager to see the exciting nightlife of the city. The first stop was to check into the hotel and freshen up.
Checking into the Hyatt
I managed to book a great rate for the beautiful Hyatt Regency just a few blocks outside of the French Quarter. I was really impressed with this hotel. The rooms were large and clean.
We were able to stay on one of the top floors, so we had a decent view of the city – although my room didn’t face the water, which was a bit of a bummer.
It was definitely the kind of room that made me wish we were staying longer than one day in New Orleans.
This place was like a maze though, lots of weird corridors and twists and turns and we got lost a few times just trying to get out of the building.
They offer two forms of parking, vallet which was $40 or self-parking that is attached to the hotel for $25/day. We opted for the self-park and it was pretty convenient.
Inside the Hyatt, there’s a few restaurants and a Starbucks, although with the French Quarter so close I don’t know why you would bother with a chain restaurant.
Eating Dinner in the French Quarter
The walk from the Hyatt to the French Quarter is about a half of a mile and takes around 15 minutes. The walk does take you past a few seedy looking areas so be cautious (as you should be in any big city with lots of tourists).
After showering, regrouping and heading into the FQ, it was rounding 10:30 PM and we were starving. The places for dinner dwindle a bit when it’s that late at night, but even on a Wednesday night there were a lot more options for food than here in Boston.
“New Orleans food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin.” – Mark Twain
We meandered around Bourbon Street a bit until we happened upon Olde NOLA Cookery.
I liked this place, it had a “down home” feel and was reminiscent of a small restaurant you’d find out in the Bayou – lots of wood inside (paneling, exposed beams and the like) with neon illuminated signs.
They serve what you’d expect to find in New Orleans – lots of fish, Cajun-style dishes, Po’boys, gator and much more. Their prices were a little on the high side, about $20 an entree. I ordered the Red Fish Etouffee which was good. Honestly though, I was so tired and so hungry by this point I would have eaten anything.
Drinks before Bed
From the restaurant we headed out to the gay section of Bourbon Street. At around 900 Bourbon Street, there’s a few gay bars in close proximity. You can recognize it by all of the flying rainbow flags.
As an aside I should mention that one of the primary purposes of our one day in New Orleans was to investigate NOLA as a potential place to live. Seeking out the gay scene is an important glimpse into what life would be like there for Matt and me.
We popped in and out of a few places and finally ended up in Café Lafitte in Exile. Nothing remarkable about this bar except that it has a second floor balcony that you can hang out on while you have a drink. Standing up there looking out at both ends of Bourbon Street was a refreshing end to the night.
The Second Half of our One Day in New Orleans
Even though we had very little sleep the past two days, we still wanted to wake up early the next day to really make the most of our 24 hours in NOLA. We were up and out the door by 8:30 AM. Here’s a video with the highlights of the day:
Breakfast in the Garden District
Our first stop of the day was to the Garden District. We started walking from our hotel only to realize that it was actually kind of far, so we took a taxi. The taxi was under $10.
I should probably note here that it was Thanksgiving day, many of the businesses were closed. We opted for a cafe and grabbed a coffee and some pastries to go. In addition to the French Quarter, we are also considering the Garden District as one of our potential places to move.
Enjoying the Architecture
Your day in New Orleans wouldn’t be complete without taking in the extraordinary architecture of the area. Back in the 1800’s, the Garden District was originally developed for the wealthy elite. Each house was surrounded by large gardens.
Some of the those lots were further subdivided, so you get this great combination of stately mansions and late 19th century gingerbread Victorian homes. Many of the facades have been meticulously maintained.
Walking around the Garden District is something I would recommend to everyone during their one day in New Orleans.
The Garden District had a more suburban feel, lots of residential buildings with the majority of shops and restaurants along the main streets. If you’re looking to live in New Orleans, but want to avoid the craziness that is the French Quarter, this would be where you’d want to live.
Visiting a Cemetery
During our walk around the Garden District, we happened to stroll past a cemetery. New Orleans cemeteries were made famous by the Anne Rice books as a place of mystery and intrigue. These cemeteries are like no other and are definitely worth a visit on your trip.
Smack dab in the middle of the district is Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
It’s full of above ground tombs and mausoleums and has a maze like appearance.
It’s incredible to think that over 7,000 people have been buried here in the space of just one block. It’s open to the public most days and you’re free to wander around inside. They also offer tours, which we didn’t do.
After we finished our exploration of the Garden District, we went back to the hotel to check out and move our baggage from the rooms into the car. After things were squared away, we headed back to the French Quarter looking for a good meal.
Retrouvailles Bistro caught our eye as they were having a Thanksgiving buffet special. Unfortunately Yelp-ers do not like this place, but we had a great experience there.
All of the Cajun and creole dishes were fantastic. The fried catfish was light and delicious, the jambalaya was hardy and filling and the praline pudding was a great finish. The other more traditional Thanksgiving dishes were just OK however.
We got to enjoy all of this great food from a second floor balcony overlooking the French Quarter!
Hand Grenades and the Streets of FQ
After our bellies were full, we wandered back onto the street. Next on our “Things to Do during our One Day in New Orleans” list was to get a Hand Grenade.
Tropical Isle on Bourbon Street is the home to this famous NOLA drink, you can get it to go in their signature cups. You can drink on the streets of New Orleans as long as it is not in a glass bottle.
From there we went south to Jackson Square, home of the famous St. Louis Cathedral.
This was a great place to walk around and burn off some of that hearty Thanksgiving meal.
There are often street vendors and performers surround the square and is a great place to pick up some unique gifts. This area is also a perfect place to take photos – lots of interesting statues and beautiful greenery.
Cafe du Monde
No stop to New Orleans is complete without a cup of strong New Orleans coffee at Cafe du Monde. Be sure to order some beignets as well.
The line is often long, but moves quickly. It is a “seat-yourself” establishment so be on the lookout for an empty table.
The menu is on the napkin dispenser and the server is quick to bring out your items.
It is open 24 hours a day, so feel free to stop by anytime you need a quick, chicory-infused caffeine jolt.
Just next door to Cafe du Monde is the French Market. Rows of boutiques and small shops line the sidewalk. It’s a great place to walk after your coffee.
The Mississippi River
Just behind the French Market and Cafe du Monde is the mighty Mississippi River.
There are some benches and even the beach you can enjoy after your New Orleans one day trip. We ended our journey here after having accomplished most of what we wanted to. It was serene and a nice break from the business of the French Quarter.
A Surprise Parade!
Well not quite a surprise, but it was unexpected.
On our walk back from the French Quarter to the car we were blocked in by a huge Thanksgiving day parade. We didn’t mind though, it was actually a lot of fun to watch. You can catch some footage at the end of my video posted above.
A Checklist for One Day in New Orleans
- Hit the bars on Bourbon Street
- Get real NOLA food in the French Quarter
- See the architecture in the Garden District
- Take a walk through Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
- Buy a Hand Grenade at Tropical Isle
- Take a picture in Jackson Square
- Get a coffee at Cafe du Monde
- Stroll through the French Market
- Relax by the Mississippi River
We crammed a lot of activities in just 24 hours, but we enjoyed it all.
Now tell me, what would you do with just one day in New Orleans?