Greater New Orleans Area
Soulful music, world-class cuisine and a culture unlike any other converge in the Greater New Orleans region.
Founded by the French in 1718, the city known worldwide as the “birthplace of jazz” is cradled in the crescent of the powerful Mississippi River. The historic French Quarter is the heart of the city. Stroll through her romantic courtyards, graced with wrought-iron balconies. Visit the St. Louis Cathedral, Cabildo and Presbytere on Jackson Square. Dance in the neighboring Frenchmen Street music district, and stroll among Creole cottages in historic Faubourg Marigny. Gaming and entertainment are just a few steps away at one of the region’s biggest casino complexes – Harrah’s New Orleans.
Visitors often remark that Greater New Orleans touches all of the senses. Among the inspired: jazz greats Louis Armstrong and Buddy Bolden; songwriter Allen Toussaint; the Marsalis jazz family; the Neville Brothers band; comedian Ellen DeGeneres; writer Truman Capote; vampire novelist Anne Rice; and chefs Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme.
Music is always in the air here, especially in the French Quarter, home of the New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park. For live jazz in a family setting, Preservation Hall is highly recommended. The world-renowned Tipitina’s, which has hosted blues to rock to jazz bands, should be on every music lover’s list. The self-guided Jazz History Walking Tours series is a free musical treasure map. Also, visit the Backstreet Cultural Museum in the Tremé District, an homage to Mardi Gras Indians.
Preserving and paying tribute to regional culture, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art showcases the works of art from the 18th century through today, and the beautiful New Orleans Museum of Art sits elegantly in lovely City Park. Galleries abound throughout greater New Orleans, from the French Quarter, Warehouse District and Magazine street to north shore communities such as Covington, Mandeville and Slidell.
In Louisiana, food is considered another art form. New Orleans’ world-famous cuisine captivates with upscale restaurants like Galatoire’s and celebrity chef John Besh’s August, and favorites such as Dickie Brennan's Steakhouse, GW Fins and Muriel’s. No one should leave New Orleans without eating a beignet from Café Du Monde, or the historic Court of Two Sisters’ daily jazz brunch. Fulton Street, in the city’s historic warehouse district, boasts new and historic restaurants, including Ernst Cafe, dating to 1902.
For those foodies who want to bring Louisiana flavor home with them, the New Orleans School of Cooking gives Creole and Cajun cooking demonstrations. Beyond New Orleans, fine dining venues simply mushroom. Mosca’s is reason enough to cross the Mississippi to Avondale. In St. Tammany Parish, the French cuisine of La Provence and Sal & Judy’s Creole-Italian draw the traveling gourmets to Lacombe; Etoile Restaurant & Wine Bar triumphs in Covington; Nuvolari’s reflects elegant Old Mandeville. In Tangipahoa Parish, family favorites include Trey Yuen at Hammond and Middendorf’s in tiny Manchac.
Fairs and festivals are another great way to sample the local cuisine. Among the best is the Strawberry Festival of Ponchatoula, the place known as America’s “antiques city.” At the Plaquemines Parish Fair & Orange Festival in Belle Chasse, competitors play with their food during orange-peeling and oyster-shucking contests. Downriver from New Orleans, neighboring St. Bernard Parish boasts hereditary ties to colonial settlers from Spain’s Canary Islands (the Isleños). St. Bernard hosts the Louisiana Crawfish Festival, an annual blessing of the shrimp boat fleet, and the Chalmette Battlefield of the War of 1812 – the last American conflict with a foreign power on U.S. soil.
Tour the Tangipahoa African-American Heritage Museum & Black Veterans Archives in Hammond and the Camp Moore Confederate Cemetery and Museum in Tangipahoa. For more war stories, visit the National World War II Museum in the Warehouse District. The Westwego Historical Museum and the Gretna Historical Society share the tales of everyday life in their towns through restored homes. Westwego restored a general store, and Gretna maintains a working blacksmith shop and an 1876 steam pumper. Tour colonial log cabins at the Washington Parish Fair Grounds in Franklinton.
Family delights include the Aquarium of the Americas and the new Insectarium, where bugs are the main attraction, on Canal Street; and the Audubon Zoo in uptown New Orleans. Or parents can venture with the kids to Folsom for a safari at Global Wildlife Center, take a swamp tour in Slidell’s Honey Island Swamp or see alligators up-close at Covington’s Insta-Gator Ranch.
Jefferson Parish boasts Jean Lafitte National Park. The Barataria bayous and marshland that once concealed a 19th-century pirate and his fugitives now offer sanctuary to birds, plants and wildlife. Returning to Plaquemines, then downriver, the port of Venice marks Louisiana’s land’s end – the gateway to the Gulf of Mexico. Here, the explorer LaSalle first claimed the Mississippi River Valley for France. Today, the bounty of the revitalized city – and the charming parishes that radiate from it – are yours to explore.