It seems like there is no city more universally beloved than Louisiana's New Orleans. The colorful streets, adorned with wrought iron balconies, scream to be explored and photographed; the best restaurants in the entire country lure you in to try some of the most delicious food you will ever have in your life; and the promises of live shows until 4am contribute to the you-can-have-it-all vibrations that circulate around the city; they don't call it "The Big Easy" for nothing. It's a city that somehow continues to stay untouched by time and geography, its DNA seemingly made of otherwordly components as hard-to-grasp and unravel as those of a perfectly improvised jazz composition.
While some might point to Mardi Gras as the best time to visit this magical city, Jazz Fest is my personal favorite. It says a lot when someone who doesn't attend any music festivals, has been consistently going to this one for several years in a row now. There is a certain je ne sais quoi that surrounds the city, despite the actual festival taking place a little bit outside of the downtown area. The bars are filled with live music that spills onto the sidewalks, there are marching bands and dance parties that break out on every street corner at all times of day, and even the food tastes better than during any other time of the year, flavors coming alive with the energy of the city. With this in mind, if you find yourself in the city this week, here's a first-timer's guide to New Orleans that includes some of the spots that have made me fall in love with this extraordinary city.
Now, this is not a guide meant for locals or people who call NOLA their home away from home. This is a guide for travelers who are in Crescent City for the first or second time specifically for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival—whose second round starts today and goes through Sunday—and want to get the most NOLA-like experiences out of their limited free time there. This might not list the newest or the hottest spots to visit right now, but ones that are most reliable, ones that have proven themselves over the years and contributed to the character of this one-of-a-kind city.
Ahead, where to stay and what to eat (in two parts because that's how much great food there is in NOLA), drink, and do.
Where to stay
Given the quirky and historic nature of this city, it will really be a shame to end up staying at one of the sterile hotel chains when there are so many personality filled boutique hotels and Airbnbs populating Crescent City. If you're leaning more toward a hotel, consider booking one through Mr & Mrs Smith; not only do they only work with unique boutique hotels, but they will also throw in hotel perks that are only available to their users. Or, read our list of suggestions below.
One thing to note is that the festival and the downtown area are a 15-minute car ride away from each other. If you want to stay closer to the grounds and not deal with the car/taxi wait (which can be an hour long) following the festival, you will probably be better staying in an Airbnb close-ish to them.
Ace Hotel New Orleans: Ace's hotels rarely disappoint, and this outpost in NOLA's Warehouse District is no exception. In addition to an Instagram-worthy rooftop garden, modern-chic rooms, and a New Orleans-inspired osteria, ACNO plays host to a variety of engaging music events around this time as part of its Six of Saturns series. It's reason enough for us to stay there.
International House Hotel: We love a hotel with a good craft cocktail bar where we can begin our night, have a nightcap, or just never leave for the duration of the entire night because that's how good it is. Such a bar is International House Hotel's LOA, a favorite among guests, locals, and tourists alike. The whimsical decor throughout the hotel, the spa, and room balconies overlooking the city are just an added bonus.
Henry Howard Hotel: The facade of this hotel screams Southern manor, while the interior will remind you of the South of France. The spacious rooms and suites are all airy and bright with quirky, yet not kitschy, touches and details distinguishing one from another. You will want to photograph every detail from the vintage furniture to the graphic tiles and sweetly printed wallpaper.