Summer Visit to New Orleans
Southern hospitality, good vibes, and great memories are alive and kicking in one of my new favorite historic cities – New Orleans!
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I was SO excited to be traveling to New Orleans with Ryan this summer. I couldn’t stop talking about it! I just imagined I would love everything about it. He wasn’t quite as excited before the trip (this destination just wasn’t at the top of his list), but spoiler alert – the city totally won him over, too.
When I told people we were headed there, I got a whole range of responses - It’ll be too hot in August (really wasn’t any different than a hot and humid day in Chicago), Bourbon Street will smell (it smelled like a city, so if you’re used to fresh country air, maybe it is different), Bourbon Street is only a couple of blocks and there isn’t that much to do (WRONG), and it’s unsafe (I felt completely fine the entire time – just have basic street smarts that you would use in ANY city). I’m glad random opinions didn’t sway me from planning our trip!
The trip started off a little rocky in the sense that I woke up at 3AM to get a workout in before our flight, and ended up swapping that for a 40 minute Epsom Salt bath because I was SICK! I wasn’t going to let it ruin my trip, so I sat in that warm water, popped my daily supplements, and chugged a carrot juice. Call me weird, but I felt so much better after! I ended up just having a little congestion that a bit of Mucinex covered just fine!
When we fly on cheaper airlines (we flew Spirit this time) we typically opt to share luggage to bypass any extra baggage fees. It’s also nice to only have one bag to lug around! Checking in at the airport went smoothly and before you know it, Ryan was snoozing and I was reading my book on the flight down. I’m usually not able to sleep on a flight, so I always make sure to have something to read. Current read: You Are a Badass at Making Money by Jen Sincero. I’ve read her other book, ironically titled just You Are a Badass, also, and loved it.
When we arrived in New Orleans we quickly snagged an UBER (the airport was very organized with an UBER pickup system) and made the 20-minute trip into the French Quarter to our hotel. We stayed at the Royal Sonesta right on Bourbon Street, and it was a fantastic hotel and location! We arrived around 10:45AM and were able to check into our room right away. The hotel is gorgeous, has a great fitness center, a rooftop pool, and several restaurants. And seriously, the location is smack dab in the middle of everything you’d want to see and do! Another comment we got from people was that it would be too noisy to stay on Bourbon Street. However, I couldn’t hear a damn thing once we were inside our hotel, so I’d just like to take a moment to dispel that myth (for our hotel at least).
The rest of this post is going to be split up by day, because we did a TON in the brief time we were there and it’s really the only way I can remember it all, haha.
After we checked in and freshened up quickly, we ventured out to explore! We were a little hungry, so we went to Royal House Oyster Bar for a dozen oysters (duh), a fresh Caprese tower, and a drink. It was a great light lunch for the summer heat! Afterwards, we headed down Bourbon Street and stopped at the famous Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo. You aren’t allowed to photograph the interior, otherwise I would’ve taken a bunch of photos. It’s small, but all sorts of creepy and cool! We bought a couple of unique postcards we plan to frame, left a couple of quarters on the pile of change below Marie Laveau’s photo (we didn’t want her to think we were cheap by offering anything less), and learned a little bit about the Tarot and Medium readings available onsite. They also have another shop – Rev Zombie’s Voodoo Shop – just a few blocks away.
Further down Bourbon Street, we stumbled into Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar. You HAVE to go here during your trip! It is one of the oldest structures throughout New Orleans (think: 1700’s), and is reputed to be the oldest continuously operating bar in the United States. Both the interior and exterior have so much character, and at night, they have a ton of lighted candles illuminating the bar. I have an obsession with white candles, so this was perfect! We ended up here twice during our visit!
Afterwards, we stopped at the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum. For $5, you can explore the two-story, multi-room museum with a handwritten guide. There are a TON of items in the museum, most of which seem barbaric to me compared to the medical advances we have now. Let’s just say I’m glad I’m not a female in the 1800’s! If you love museums as much as my dad does (yes you, dad!), you might want to allow at least an hour inside, but Ryan and I were there for about a half hour.
We decided we needed a little pool time, so we stopped back at the Royal Sonesta, changed into our suits, and headed out to the rooftop deck. I snagged an IPA from the pool bar (I tried a few different local IPAs during our trip and all of them were great) and relaxed with Ryan for an hour or so in the sun and water. We showered and changed after, and went to Orlean’s Grapevine Wine Bar and Bistro for their Bacon Happy Hour (yes, it’s a thing) and dinner. They literally kept refilling our basket with fresh cooked bacon and it was AWESOME! I think we went through 3 baskets, haha. They also served fresh bread and butter, and we ordered their cheese plate, scallops, and half chicken with veggies. SO GOOD!
After dinner we grabbed a quick drink (and one to go) at Finnegan’s Easy and then met up with our tour guide for a nighttime Ghost Tour through Voodoo Bone Lady Tours. Our guide was SO fun and we learned a lot of spooky history about the French Quarter over two hours. A few of the places we visited definitely had a weird energy to them! We wrapped up the night with another brief stop at the Blacksmith Shop Bar and some live music at Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub.
Ryan and I slept in a little, and then fit in a workout and some time at the pool (where I sipped my daily dose of magnesium) in the morning. After we got our fill of sun, we showered and headed out to meet up with our guide, Lindsay, for our Doctor Gumbo Food Tour! Ryan and I like to do food tours when we travel because you get to visit spots you wouldn’t normally notice, try foods you wouldn’t normally order, and get some history and stories along the way. We had such a good time during this 3 hour tour! Lindsay was frickin' hilarious (she was seriously awesome and I really wanted to be her friend) and taught us SO much about the history of New Orleans and the food they are famous for. We tried shrimp beignets, pork rinds, chicken croquettes, hot sauces, pralines, muffaletas, catfish po’ boys, hot sauces, gumbo, brisket, and more! I also may or may not have whored myself out for a free bottle of hot sauce at Pepper Palace by screaming “Pepper Palace is AWESOME” as loud as humanly possible in the middle of the French Quarter. I’m always down for keeping things interesting! Two of my favorite stops were SoBou and Tableau – definitely worth visiting on your trip.
Some of you may know that I grew up in a law enforcement family, and was previously a police officer, so finding a cop bar in the French Quarter called The Boondock Saint (complete with patches from all over the world stapled to the beams) was super cool! We hung out here for a couple hours after our food tour and had fun relaxing and talking. Next up was dinner at BB King’s near Frenchmen Street, followed by a little live music and BED. We had to wake up earlier the next day and tried to be as mature as possible.
We wanted to make sure we saw more than just Bourbon Street during our visit, so Friday morning we headed out for a swamp tour! We booked through Cajun Encounters and they picked us up right at our hotel. Our driver gave us a ton of history on the drive out to the Honey Island Swamp, and the 45 minute trip totally flew by. It was crazy to see a lot of damage from Hurricane Katrina along the way!
Upon arrival, we checked in, got a wristband, and met up with our boat captain. Within minutes of being on the tour we met a massive alligator named Brutus, who very politely came up to the boat for bits of hot dogs. He was HUGE! We did a 2-hour loop throughout both thick and open swamp areas and saw probably 20 alligators, little raccoons, a bunch of wild hogs, and massive birds. So fun!
They dropped us back at our hotel afterwards and we walked down Royal Street to the streetcar line. We jumped on the St. Charles Streetcar, and boy was it an experience! It ended up being free because the ticketing system was down, so we loaded on to the crowded car and got a kick out of all the people that got on and off. One guy was singing, another was drunk, someone carried a flat screen TV on, etc. The way the conductor drives the streetcar is crazy, also! There’s a system of levers and wheels he moves constantly to speed it up and slow it down, and there has to be a pretty sharp learning curve to get the hang of it.
We jumped off at the Garden District and headed to Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 where a lot of movies, such as Double Jeopardy, have been filmed. I thought the cemetery was SO interesting! It was strangely beautiful and serene, and some people were even taking their lunch break from work there. There were a lot of people hanging out offering walking tours for tips (entry to the cemetery is free, but it does close at 3PM), but we opted just to roam around ourselves. I got a ton of great pictures that I can’t wait to frame for our house. I’m not sharing them all here, so make sure to follow me on social media to see more!
I learned a lot about how the crypts in New Orleans are “reused” by families, and let me just say – I’m NOT down for that! They’ll put your body in a special chamber within the crypt, and it takes about one year and one day in the New Orleans heat for your body to decompose. Afterwards, your bones are dumped in a communal spot within the crypt (yes, you have to literally get mixed in with Aunt Martha) and any metal pieces from hip replacements, etc. are removed and discarded because they take up unnecessary room. Then, it’s ready for the next family member! Sharing is caring, right?
The homes in this area are absolutely stunning, and some famous spots (like Commander’s Palace ) are located here. We even passed Sandra Bullock’s massive property! We were pretty hungry at this point, and headed over to Lula Restaurant Distillery for their $5 happy hour drinks and some food after a bit. Ryan enjoyed a Mojito, and I tried my first ever Cucumber Vodka Collins, which was SO refreshing after our walk. We also got the S & S Dip (more, please) and split the Grilled Skirt Steak, served with a massive fresh salad and French fries.
I read about the happy hour at Barrel Proof before our trip, so we went there next to check it out. It did not disappoint! Ryan and I sipped incredible Old Fashioneds for just $3.50 in a cool, industrial setting. You can sit inside at the bar or at one of the open tables, or score a spot outside on the sidewalk. I really loved the vibe of people in New Orleans – everyone just sat together like family, shared a laugh, and were incredibly chill.
Next, we shifted from whiskey to my other (and favorite) specialty – WINE! If you love wine and live music, then listen carefully: YOU HAVE TO GO to Bacchanal Wine in the Bywater Neighborhood. I recommend taking an $8 UBER over there from the French Quarter and plan to spend a few hours. When you get there, select a bottle of wine (or two) from their selection and pay for it at the counter. They’ll uncork it for you, and you can step out the side door where they have make-your-own-ice-buckets for your whites, and snag-as-many-as-you-need wine glasses (actually glass, not plastic!) for your guests.
You can head out back to the patio tables underneath illuminated white lights, up to the balcony overlooking the main area, or inside the upstairs at one of the cozy tables. You can also pick out a selection of meats and cheeses from their cooler, pay for them and let them know where you are sitting, and they’ll bring it out to you displayed with extras such as bread, pickles, nuts, and dried fruit on a beautiful charcuterie tray. AND, they have another food window for larger plated items such as Hanger Steak. Add in the amazing Jazz music, and I was in HEAVEN! JUST GO!
We were able to wrap up our last evening with an amazing Burlesque Show by Trixie Minx Productions, compliments of The Jazz Playhouse at our hotel, the Royal Sonesta. We enjoyed VIP seating up front (just reserve ahead of time!) and had such a good time. The girls were gorgeous, the live band was SO good, and the whole room was cheering. It’s a great spot to check out a show!
Our flight wasn’t until later in the day, so on Saturday we woke up, worked out and spent some time at the pool, showered, and left our bags with the bellhop. For lunch, we went back and shared some plates at one of our favorite food tour locations, SoBou. We got the shrimp beignets (again), pork belly steam buns (oh yeah), and the smokey poblano pepper tamale (yum). Afterwards, we hung out at Longway Tavern (owned by the same restaurant group as Barrel Proof) and enjoyed ah-mazing Old Fashioneds and calamari until it was time to grab our bags and UBER to the airport. Ryan pretty much had to drag me out of the city because I genuinely did not want to leave!
Things not mentioned: Making Ryan take my picture in random spots even though he hates it, admiring the amazing paint colors and history in every house lining the brick streets, me spilling wine all over my dress at BB King's, and falling in love with the energy throughout the entire city. We saw funeral processions, dogs in costumes, street performers, crazy outfits, and so much more. People in New Orleans just like to have FUN! NOLA, you stole my heart during this trip, and I can’t wait to come back!