In general, as a visitor, your best bet is to stay in these neighborhoods: Lower Garden District, The Warehouse District, The French Quarter, The Marigny, or The Bywater. Airbnb is not available in the French Quarter, and if you do use an AirBnB in this city, please be respectful of the many folks who call these neighborhoods home by not treating your rental as ground zero for partying (we have lots of bars and restaurants for that!).
The Catahoula Hotel (The Central Business District)
$175 - $300 / night
A hip and quaint boutique hotel with an amazing rooftop + bar. Great for anyone in search of a relaxing experience in a historic New Orleans property. Also… seriously check out Pisco Bar in the lobby.
Hotel Peter & Paul (the Marigny)
$129 - $700 / night
Gorgeously renovated school-turned-hotel in the hip Marigny neighborhood with an awesome bar. The design of this place is truly amazing. Great for anyone wanting a unique New Orleans experience.
The Drifter Hotel (Midcity)
$80 - $200 / night
Midcentury motel in mid-city with a beautiful bar and pool. Random location but only a short drive from downtown. Great for adventurous folks and groups.
The Louie (The Marigny)
$295+ / night (2 bedroom house rental)
Fantastic guest house in the Marigny neighborhood, surrounded by incredible restaurants and bars and just a short walk to the French Quarter. Two bedrooms, one bathroom, two sitting rooms, a dining area, and porch—all so so so thoughtfully designed. Perfect for a small group of friends or couples.
If you ask most natives where to get the best “New Orleans Food”, the answer will be their grandma’s house. To save everyone’s grandma the trouble, we put some of our favorite restaurants below for classic New Orleans cuisine. This list below is organized into spots for regional cuisine and then spots that aren’t necessarily serving regional cuisine but still amazing and worth your time.
Casual “New Orleans Foods” + $10-$20 + no Reservation Needed
Po’ boys. Get the surf n’ turf dressed, extra gravy (it’s fried shrimp and hot roast beef). Also get a Barq’s root beer. And the debris fries. Go for lunch or dinner. Counter service.
Three words: fried chicken plate. You may not feel great after. Go for lunch or dinner (note that they close at 8 pm).
Seafood gumbo and red beans and rice. Lunch is typically a buffet, hit that up and also order their gumbo. Best for lunch.
Go here for a muffuletta (muh-fuh-lot-uh), a gigantic sandwich with layers of meat, cheese, and olive salad—made famous by the city’s Sicilian immigrants.
Did you know New Orleans has a gigantic and vibrant Vietnamese population? If you’re by chance looking for an amazing bowl of pho or Bun Bo Hue and don’t mind a 20-minute drive a little out of the city center, this place is amazing. Plus the attached bakery makes what some people say is the best king cake in town during Carnival season. (If you don’t want to go out of the way to get THE BEST Vietnamese in the city, these Vietnamese spots are closer and still very good: Lily’s Cafe, 9 Roses, Magasin)
Old-school Italian desserts in an adorable old cafe setting. They’ve been open for over 100 years. Get a cannoli. Get a spumoni. Get an espresso. Get some gelato.
If you want the classic New Orleans beignet experience, go to Cafe du Monde (but avoid weekend mornings, the line is too long) and get an order of beignets and a cafe au lait. Going here after dinner is also very very nice. If the line is too much when you show up, head over to Cafe Beignet.
Formal “New Orleans Foods” + $45 and up + Definitely make reservations)
It’s so lovely when you find somewhere that is both formal and right on the money when it comes to their food and wine program—Bayona is it! It’s so so good, and if you like to geek out over wine, their wine list is roughly the size of a bible. Check it out for a cute, somewhat buttoned up French Quarter dining experience.
They bill themselves as “the oldest French-creole fine dining restaurant in New Orleans,” and yeah that sounds about right. It’s over 170 years old and serving up many famous New Orleans dishes in a truly ornate setting.
In our opinion, this place is more about the dining experience than it is about the food. You’ll have like seven waiters, your water will be filled constantly, etc. This is a great spot to try some historic New Orleans dishes (like turtle soup!), but the food is not necessarily any better than a lot of places in the city that are a bit more relaxed. However, it is a New Orleans classic and a historic spot, even if a bit stuffy for our personal taste.
Casual Counter service + great for lunch + $10-$25 (no reservations)
Incredible, creative, and affordable food that is mostly sourced locally. It’s got plenty of vegan and vegetarian options, and any meat on the menu will come from local farms. It’s truly wonderful. Our favorites: cauliflower tofu salad, the tempeh reuben, and the real meat flatbread. Located in the Bywater.
It’s basically elevated stoner food. It’s quirky, cute, and a local favorite. Try them out after a day of shopping along Magazine Street. The wedge salad is covered in everything bagel seasoning. Fuck yes. Located in the Lower Garden District.
Hip + great for dinner and brunch + $25-$50 (maybe make a reservation)
A cute Garden District spot with a great bar. Go for brunch, which is when they have a family-style fried chicken platter for the table with deviled eggs and pickles and buttermilk ranch. Yeah. Get some mimosas, and eat allllll that. Dinner here is also fantastic, and a bit romantic.
French and Southern fusion in a cozy French Quarter setting. Intimate and loud and dark (in a good way) with an amazing cocktail program. Check it out for brunch or dinner. Located in the French Quarter.
N7 (dinner only)
A very very cozy neighborhood spot with a wine bar and a menu full of French favorites. Bon Apetit awarded them Best New Restaurant a few years back when they first opened, so, like yeah you should probably check it out. It’s kind of hard to find since it’s hidden behind a fence and literally in the middle of a neighborhood but look for the small sign that says “N7” and you’ll be fine. Located in the Bywater.
A no frills restaurant and bar set in the center of the French Quarter. The spot delivers a quality product but at its heart is a true neighborhood joint. Check out the courtyard and their happy hour, which is from 4-7 pm and offers $5 Sidecars, Moscow Mules, Daiquiris, and select wines. You’re hereby required to order the English Peas.
Italian inspired food in a truly amazing warehouse-ish setting (think massive ceilings, huge windows, lots of concrete, somehow still comfy). They’ve got an incredible line up of affordable small plates and pizzas, as well as larger entrees that will blow your mind. Of course, as with basically everywhere on this list, their cocktail and wine programs are great.
This city is the birthplace of the cocktail, but it’s also got a lot of drinks you should probably avoid. Check out the below spots for some of our favorites both high end and low brow. It’s legal to drink on the street here, and everywhere will likely have a “go cup” as an option. Grabbing a cocktail to go and taking a stroll around the French Quarter is one of the best ways to spend an afternoon!
The Sazerac Bar
$15 - $ 20
Iconic and somewhat fancy spot in the Roosevelt Hotel to grab one of New Orleans’s most famous cocktails: the sazerac. This bar is the perfect uniquely New Orleans blend of classy and, later in the evening, a little rowdy. Located in the Central Business District.
Cane & Table
$15-30 / person
Cozy, hip, fantastic proto-tiki cocktails, and a great happy hour. Located in the French Quarter.
Get the purple drink. It’s the only famous “Bourbon Street Drink” that locals actually drink. Frozen, not too sweet, a little tangy. Located in the French Quarter.
$10 - $ 20
Classic cocktails, dark French Quarter atmosphere. Perfect for a night cap. Located in the French Quarter.
$15 - $50
This Bywater spot is kind of a big deal now, but basically it’s just a wine shop with a huge backyard, nightly live music, and a great counter service kitchen situation. It’s very cozy and very fun. Weekend nights here are slammed, so if you can, opt for getting here at or around sunset on a week day.
$5 - $10
A frozen daiquiri is a New Orleans classic. It’s basically an alcoholic slushy, but so much more than that. Check out Gene’s in the Marigny neighborhood, or go for one of the drive-through (seriously) options around the city like Fat Tuesday. These will get you very drunk, so be warned.
There’s so much to do beyond drinking and eating (although, if that’s all you wanna do then you’re all set). A couple of these spots require transit of 30 minutes to 2 hours, so check them out and plan ahead! Here’s your list of experiences, activities, and miscellaneous things to do around New Orleans.
Cane Bayou “Sunset Paddle” Kayak Tour
$55/person (45 minutes from New Orleans, contact to find out your transportation options)
Take a 3-hour long guided kayak tour down Cane Bayou. You spend the first half in day light making your way to the lake, then you enjoy the sunset at the lake, and take the same route back up the bayou in pitch black surrounded by the sounds of the swamp. Yes, you’ll likely see alligators, and yes, you’ll be safe. It is amazing.
Mr. Gregory’s Shrimp Boil
$65 / person
Mr. Gregory will cook a shrimp boil for you and other guests in a cozy upstairs French Quarter setting. It’s a fantastic way to experience a traditional New Orleans style seafood boil, including sides, and most nights there is entertainment. BYOB, or purchase cocktails next door at Bar Tonique.
$20/ person (50 minutes from New Orleans, you’ll need to book transportation)
One of the only plantation museums in the country dedicated to honoring the lived experience and history of slaves working plantations, the Whitney is a sobering look at America’s history that is often left out of the mainstream narrative. Tours are 1.5 hours. Book tickets and transportation to and from the site in advance.
Royal Street Art Galleries
Live Music on Frenchman Street (nights only)
Frenchman Street is packed with music clubs, bars, and restaurants. If you’re looking for live jazz, check out the Spotted Cat, Snug Harbor, or Blue Nile. Look on their websites or social media in advance to see if they’ve got shows going on.
NEW ORLEANS BOTANICAL GARDENS
$ 8 / PERSON( free for residents on Wednesdays)
Explore 10 acres of gardens right in City Park. You’ll see greenhouses full of cacti and succulents, vegetable gardens, dozens of orchids, prehistoric plants, and more. It’s a great way to spend a quiet afternoon.
LGBTQ French Quarter Walking Tour
$ 40 / person
Queer people played a massive role in making New Orleans what it is today, and you’ll find signs of this throughout the French Quarter. Learn about LGBTQ history, landmarks, etc, in this guided walking tour from Frank Perez.
NOLA Drag Tour
Local drag queen Quinn Laroux leads walking tours through New Orleans discussing everything from modern day drag in the crescent city to the history of sex work, and more. We haven’t been on this tour yet ourselves, but are looking forward to going on one soon! You can book private tours for a group as well.
There is such a vibrant LGBTQ+ community in New Orleans, and there always has been. The city is like a little liberal blue oasis where, for the most part, folks are accepting and celebrate diversity. There are 15 or so LGBTQ bars in the city, and two dedicated LGBTQ festivals: New Orleans Pride (June) and Southern Decadence (late August)—although the gays have taken over pretty much every other holiday, too. Check out our list of events, bars, activities, and local personalities below!
Recurring Local Drag Events You Should Attend
The below is a list of recurring events / drag shows that are completely wild and worthy of your time. Check out the bolded links to learn more and see if there’s a show happening during your visit!
Drag icons Jassy and Visqueen have created a remarkable reputation for throwing incredible drag events (literally Cosmopolitan wrote about them). Follow Jassy and Visqueen on Instagram to see if there are any events happening during your stay.
A recurring drag show hosted by local drag creatures Apostrophe & Slenderella at Oz Nightclub every Friday at 9 p.m.. Check it out, then spend the rest of the night doing the drunk swaying dance thing on the Oz dance floor. They’ve got a Facebook page if you’d like to keep up and get updates!
Showstoppers Cabaret is at the intersection of burlesque and drag, with numbers that range from hysterical to sexy to gut wrenching political commentary. You’re in for a fucking treat. Follow hostess and producer-ess Dede Onassis on Instagram for updates and see if there’s a show while you’re in town!
Local Drag Queens
We have got DRAG here, honey. New Orleans drag runs the gamut from old school campy drag to newer experimental drag, and a lot of it is fantastic. Here are some Local drag artists to keep up with on Instagram (see if they’re having a show while you’re here!): Jassy, Visqueen, Franky, Vinsantos, Apostrophe, Tarah Cards, Slenderella, Annie Bacterial, Laveau Contraire, Quinn Laroux, and Dede Onassis.
More miscellaneous LGBTQ stuff:
Allways Lounge Cabaret (Drag Shows)
They’ve got pretty regular drag and burlesque shows. Check out their social media to see if they’ve got something going on when you’re visiting!
Country Club Drag Brunch (Saturdays only, often booked out months in advance)
Great food, great drag, great bar. It’s like one big party. If the weather is nice, bring a swimsuit and head to the pool before or after brunch.
LGBTQ History Walking Tour & the Drag Walking Tour
Read more about these tours at the bottom of the “Do This” section!
All of the below spots have standard mixed drinks ranging from $5-$10 and are located centrally in or near the French Quarter. Most only get busy late, except for “Sunday Tea” which is basically when everyone goes out on Sunday, usually from 3pm til late.
Good Friends (category: drink & chill)
Great balcony for people watching (balcony only open Thursday - Sunday evening). Relaxed atmosphere with drag karaoke on Tuesday night. Go see Tim downstairs or Jeremy upstairs.
700 Club (category: drink & chill)
Music videos play on screens all around the bar. Great place to start or end a night out! To be real though, the main draw is the small restaurant in the back, Faubourg Bistro—for incredibly good late night food (you should probably try the fried macaroni bites).
The Page (category: drink & chill)
They call themselves the premiere R&B LGBTQ bar in the French Quarter!
These two are right across from each other and form the epicenter of the “fruit loop,” the name lovingly given to the collection of gay bars in the French Quarter. They both have balconies, and dance floors (Oz’s is downstairs, while the Pub’s is upstairs). Check them out for late night techno mixes of Ariana Grande and the like.
The Golden Lantern (category: drink & chill // drag)
Cozy little spot popular among locals (though all of the spots on this list have a lot of local patrons). The Golden Lantern has some old school drag going on, and is in general a cute place to hunker down, surrounded by gays, in a more quiet area of the French Quarter.
Cafe Lafitte in Exile (category: drink & chill)
The oldest continually operating gay bar in the country. They’ve got a great balcony, a midnight napkin toss every Sunday (which is a treat to observe, though environmentally a disaster), and in general just a good vibe. Also, there are pool tables upstairs if you like that kinda stuff. Oh and it’s open 24/7.
The Phoenix (category: neighborhood bar & …let’s say… dimly lit.)
This is slightly further away from the other bars on this list but still walking distance. Hang out downstairs for a neighborhood gay bar experience OR turn off your phone and go upstairs to… well, you… if you’re adventurous. Uh. Yeah.
Our favorite things to do in the New Orleans area for every month of the year! All below events and activities are in New Orleans, or within a 2-hour drive. For anything within an hour of the city, you can usually use Uber or Lyft. For anything over an hour outside of the city, look into rental cars (and some activities may have a shuttle option).
Krewe De Joan D’Arc—a fantastic Medieval walking parade that basically serves as the official kick-off to Carnival season. French Quarter, New Orleans on January 6th.
The King Cake Festival—a sampling of king cakes from all over the city. King Cake is a fluffy cinnamon-y cake that is more or less the official food of Carnival, and everyone has their own opinion of whose is best. The event benefits children and babies at Oschner Hospital, and is free and open to the public. Champions Square, New Orleans in late January.
Mardi Gras Parades—while Mardi Gras’s date changes every year, our favorite parades typically happen at some point in February and we’d highly recommend catching them! Our favorites: Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus, Krewe du Vieux, Muses, ‘tit Rex, & Bacchus. Click on each name to see the route and scheduled dates, and please note that parades happen throughout the city and transportation to and from can be a real pain if you don’t plan ahead.
Mardi Gras Day—this will fall in either February or March, and everyone has a different opinion on the best way to spend it. Personally, we always catch the St. Anne Parade in the Bywater, and walk along through the Marigny and into the French Quarter. You’ll get to see amazing costumes, dance in the street, view the crowds below from the balcony of Mimi’s in the Marigny, etc. There are like 20 other ways to spend Mardi Gras Day and not enough space to share them all, so do your research!
One note on Mardi Gras: there seems to be a lot of confusion among tourists on what & when Mardi Gras is. To clarify, Carnival is a season and Mardi Gras is the last and biggest day, sometimes referred to as either “Mardi Gras Day” or “Fat Tuesday”). The season starts January 6, and Mardi Gras is in either February or March. The biggest events and parades take place in the two weeks leading up to Mardi Gras Day and on the day itself. Click here to view all the upcoming dates for Mardi Gras Day!
Mardi Gras Day—see above!
St. Patrick’s Day Irish Channel Parade—a Garden District Parade for St. Patrick’s Day! Uptown New Orleans in mid-March.
Old Town Slidell Antique Fair—New Orleans is OLD and there’s definitely a culture of celebrating old architecture, homes, and the items within them. Check out one of the larger local antique fairs in Old Town Slidell, which is about a half hour drive from the center of New Orleans (out of town folks—Uber or Lyft is likely your best bet here). Slidell, Louisiana in late March and mid-October.
French Quarter Festival—a big free festival in the center of the French Quarter with lots of food and music and local vendors! The website says it is the largest free music festival in the United States. You should go! French Quarter in early April.
Strawberry Festival & Picking—about 50 minutes from New Orleans is a town called Ponchatoula, which is locally famous for its strawberries. You can go for the super popular weekend-long Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival and eat the best strawberries ever, or you can go picking strawberries in one of the farms most days between late March through April! We’d recommend Ms. Heather’s Farm. If you’re visiting New Orleans and are bringing or renting a car, this is an easy day trip! Ponchatoula, Louisiana in late March to early May.
Festival Internationale de Louisiane—one of South Louisiana’s most famous festivals celebrating the culture of Acadiana, right in Lafayette. There’s incredible food and lots of live music. If you’re staying in New Orleans, we’d recommend renting a car for the commute and booking a hotel room in Lafayette, as it’s about a 2 hour drive from New Orleans. Lafeyette, Louisiana in late April.
Jazz Fest—probably one of the most famous international festivals hosted in New Orleans. There’s always a massive lineup that includes everything from small local bands to big name headliners. Lots of incredible food. Dear God, the food. This is an extremely expensive time to book accommodations in the city, so we recommend getting your tickets early and planning far in advance. This festival is two weekends—the last weekend of April & first weekend of May. Midcity, New Orleans in late April & early May.
Jazz Fest—see above
Bayou Boogaloo—located in Midcity on Bayou St. John, Bayou Boogaloo is a laid back music and food festival that is free and open to the public. It’s a great way to spend a sunny afternoon soaking up the sun and eating some great local dishes. Midcity, New Orleans in mid-May.
Treme / 7th Ward Arts & Cultural Festival—a small relaxed music festival celebrating two of New Orleans’ oldest neighborhoods. Treme, New Orleans in late May.
New Orleans Pride—celebrate LGBTQ+ New Orleans with the pride parade! There are several events that happen this weekend as well but they’re always changing, so check in on the official website to make your plans! Downtown New Orleans in early June .
Cajun Zydeco Festival—Zydeco is a uniquely South Louisiana music genre that is a real treat to experience. Check out this festival and enjoy some of Louisiana’s best Zydeco musicians. Armstrong Park, New Orleans in mid-June.
Tales of the Cocktail—one of the biggest celebrations of cocktails and hospitality in the world. Thousands of visitors pour into the city for a week of events, tastings, and workshops. Find out more on the official website. Locations throughout New Orleans in early July.
Essence Festival—a huge music festival put on by Essence Magazine, celebrating African-American artists, entertainment, and empowerment. Headliners have included Beyonce, Missy Elliot, and Mary J Blige. Downtown New Orleans in early July.
Satchmo SummerFest—music festival named after Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong. It’s always got a fantastic lineup featuring incredible regional musicians. Small general admission fee. Downtown New Orleans in early August.
Red Dress Run—a fundraiser that involves throwing on a red dress, drinking beer, and running (or walking, or stumbling) through downtown New Orleans. Make sure you register so that you can contribute to the fundraiser, which benefits several small local charities. Downtown New Orleans in mid-August.
Southern Decadence—New Orleans’s biggest LGBTQ+ festival. It’s basically one big block party, where the French Quarter is filled with LGBTQ+ hopping from bar to bar or attending events such as the Horse Meat Disco at the Ace Hotel. Check in on the official website for event updates. Throughout Downtown New Orleans in late August.
Restaurant Week New Orleans—restaurant week in one of the most culinarily renowned cities in the world is pretty dope. Many restaurants will have pre-fixe menus, and you can check out the full restaurant lineup on the official website. Located throughout the city in mid-September.
Nola on Tap—New Orleans has an incredible collection of local breweries, and this festival lets you celebrate and sample all of them! Midcity, New Orleans in mid-September.
Gretna Heritage Festival—get a taste for a small town festival in Gretna, located on New Orleans’ West Bank. The festival features local music, lots of wildly delicious food, and showcases a few of the cultures that you’ll find in the area, with “The Italian Village” and “German Beer Garden.” Gretna, Louisiana in late September.
Oktoberfest—celebrate South Louisiana’s German culture, eat all the sausage, and drink all the beer! Midcity, New Orleans in early October.
Crescent City Blues & BBQ Festival—like the name implies, it’s blues and BBQ! Lots of music and good eating. Downtown New Orleans in mid-October.
New Orleans Film Festival—celebrating both big and small budget films, with a focus on community and diversity. Downtown New Orleans in mid-October.
Black Pot Festival—celebrating food and culture of South Louisiana with a cook-off and music. There is a campsite that is first come first serve, for anyone interested in camping out for the weekend. If you’re staying in New Orleans, we’d recommend renting a car for the commute and booking a hotel room in Lafayette, as it’s about a 2 hour drive from New Orleans. Lafayette, Louisiana at the end of October.
Voodoo Festival—large music festival that usually has a very impressive lineup. Music ranges from local bands to big name headliners (last year we saw Lizzo and Janelle Monae!). There’s a stage for just about everything, from EDM to rock. You’ll want to buy single day or weekend-pass tickets in advance. New Orleans’ City Park in late October.
Boudin, Bourbon, & Beer Fest—Boudin is a DEEELIIIISH Louisiana sausage that’s filled with meaty rice goodness. 70 chefs come together to put a spin on it and your ticket gets you entry and the ability to fill your belly. And there’s bourbon and beer. And it’s for a good cause! Please note: event is 21+. Champions Square, New Orleans in early November.
Oak St. Po’ Boy Festival— A po’boy is the best sandwich ever, and this festival brings together restaurants from around the city to show off their po’ boys on adorable little Oak St. It does get pretty freaking packed, so maybe arrive early? Uptown Riverbend, New Orleans in mid-November.
Fair Grounds for Thanksgiving—We’re always busy with family stuff, but a ton of our friends go to the Fair Grounds race track every Thanksgiving and it sounds really really really fun. It’s basically a Bloody Mary-fueled costume party where you can also bet on horse races. Midcity, New Orleans on Thanksgiving Day.
Celebration in the Oaks—some of the oak trees down here are like REAL OLD. Like 600+ years. Every winter, City Park glams up its massive oak trees with incredibly beautiful lights. It takes about an hour to walk through the whole installment, and you can get wine or hot chocolate and also see some music. It’s very very fun. New Orleans’ City Park from late November through December.
Luna Fete—this is basically a celebration of New Orleans architecture with a holiday light show put on by the Arts Council. It’s absolutely gorgeous and a great way to spend part of your evening. It does change a bit every year, so check in on the official website for details and updates. Downtown New Orleans in mid-December.
Roosevelt Hotel Decorations—the Roosevelt Hotel gets decked out as a winter wonderland for the month of December. Definitely stop in and enjoy it all, preferably with a sazerac in hand from the Sazerac Bar in the lobby. Downtown New Orleans all December.
Bonfires—we light massive bonfires down here to help light the way for Papa Noel (Santa Claus). Festival of the Bonfires is a weekend of music, with bonfires being lit each evening to celebrate the tradition of Christmas bonfires. There is also the Christmas Eve Bonfires, which is a big lighting on the levee and the traditional day for the bonfires. The bonfires are in Lutcher, which is about 50 minutes away from New Orleans, so you’ll want to plan transportation. Lutcher, Louisiana mid-December and Christmas Eve.