In May 2009 I paid New Orleans my first visit. I arrived in the city alone with no idea what to expect, and I left feeling totally inspired, a part of something, and at least five pounds heavier. The overpowering zest for life New Orleanians exude (their rally call is "laissez les bons temps roulez," or "let the good times roll!") is what made me fall in love with the Big Easy, and what brought me back three times in nine months.
Whether you’re a foodie, a partier, a music lover, an art aficionado, or an antiques hunter, there’s something for you in New Orleans. It’s an unforgettable destination, but the best way to experience New Orleans is to let go and lose sight of a few things.
Forget you can’t dance.
Music is the backbone of this city, and you’ll have no problem finding a band to rock out to, from the many clubs on Frenchmen Street to the college kids jamming on what seems like every other street corner. Famous music venues like Preservation Hall, Tipitina’s, and the Maple Leaf are packed every night. Spontaneous street dance parties are natural here, and dancing with locals to what you’ll proclaim is "the best music I’ve ever heard!" will be a highlight of your trip. Jazz, blues, zydeco, funk, and bounce, no one does it better than the musicians in New Orleans.
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Forget your diet.
Forks down, New Orleans is my favorite dining destination in the world. If I could choose one place to eat for the rest of my life, my plate would be full of beignets from Café Du Monde, barbecue shrimp from Mr. B’s, fried alligator from Cochon, po’boys from Domilise’s, and souffléed potatoes from Arnaud’s. Dare to find a challenger for the famous muffuletta at Central Grocery. Pay respect to the three golden boys of New Orleans cooking: Emeril Lagasse, John Besh, and Donald Link. Queue up for oysters at Acme. And don’t forget to finish every meal with a healthy dose of praline.
Forget your budget.
You’ll have no problem finding something totally unique at the antiques shops and markets that line the edges of the French Quarter. Art galleries on Royal Street in the Quarter, and on Julia Street in the Warehouse District, will cost you, but they’re fun to browse nonetheless. I love local artist Jamie Hayes’ work, which includes unique Mardi Gras posters from years past. The boutiques on Magazine Street in Uptown mix just the right amount of high fashion and Southern charm.
Forget your age.
New Orleans let’s you relive your college glory days when day drinking was a way of life. Characters of all kinds will be toasting with you up and down raucous Bourbon Street. You can drink on the street here, so take your foot-tall daiquiris and potent Hurricanes in a plastic "go cup" while you wander to the next destination. For the true cocktail connoisseur, duck into The Roosevelt hotel for a Ramos Gin Fizz, Napoleon House for a Pimm’s Cup, Arnaud’s for a French 75, or the Monteleone Hotel’s Carousel Bar for a Sazerac.