Photograph by Irina Grechko.
What to do:
You can check off no item from the list below and just spend the days aimlessly roaming around New Orleans, and feel like you know this architecturally stunning city like a close friend; it's so easy to get lost in Jackson Square, in William Faulkner's former home-turned-bookstore, in one of the many galleries lining Royal Street (Harouni Gallery was a highlight), in record stores filled with hard-to-find gems, and in metaphysical and spiritual boutiques (we're obsessed with Island of Botanica that's operated by a priestess) endlessly dotting the city. But you'll be doing yourself a disservice by not getting to know the city via its inhabitants and not doing any of the below.
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (duh!): With this year's lineup including Lorde, Kings of Leon, Maroon 5, Stevie Wonder, and so many more, don't miss out on the actual festival. While it might be tempting to skip the smaller acts that perform early on, in favor of exploring the city (been there, done that), the magic of Jazz Fest is spotting the emerging talent and getting to hear all the incredible jazz musicians who aren't always sufficiently recognized. You never know what surprises might happen during jazz fest, like marching bands breaking out in the middle of the grounds or famous guest performers joining bands last minute, unable to resist the energy.
Listen to jazz and live music, not on festival grounds: We know, chances are, you'll be listening to jazz and live music all day while at the festival, but seeing the musicians outside of the grounds in intimate bars and on small stages is truly something special. One of my favorite music memories was being squished by people in the iconic Blue Nile, close enough to the stage to touch the instruments, as the band Worship My Organ played until 2am. The list of music venues is truly endless in NOLA, but here are some places to get you started: Blue Nile, Spotted Cat, The Maison, Fritzel's European Jazz Pub, d.b.a., Balcony Music Club, Tipitina's, Maple Leaf Bar. You can also forego this list entirely, walk to Frenchman Street, and just go into any of the haunts from which music will inevitably come spilling out.
Take a cooking class at Crescent City Cooks!: From all my past trips, I've learned that it rains pretty often in NOLA around this time of year which means: (1) wear clothes and shoes that you don't mind getting dirty in and (2) have a backup plan for when you really don't want to be outside. Our plan B one year ended up being a cooking class at this part home store, part cooking school. As a local chef told us about the history of New Orleans cooking, he walked us through how to make jambalaya, rice and red beans, and bananas foster. We left feeling so inspired (also full!) that we bought half of the store—including ingredients necessary to make the aforementioned recipes—which the store shipped right to our homes in New York and Miami.
Swamp tour: While April is not prime alligator season, you will still manage to spot a few of these majestic creatures while riding along the winding swamp located about an hour outside the city. Depending on the tour operator you select, other highlights could include seeing the house facades shown in the Beasts of Southern Wild, holding baby alligators, and dying over the hysterical, insanely cute (see above), and insatiable hogs that devour everything in sight.
The National WWII Museum: Yes, really. It's impressive and historically rewarding—and not just for history and veteran buffs—showcasing photos, films, and interactive exhibits on battles ranging from Japan to Germany and Normandy. On one hand, this is a great rainy day backup; on the other hand, everyone else will be rushing to take in the impressive collection at the same time, too.
Nighttime haunted history tours: While we are not ones to typically recommend a haunted history tour, it's kind of fun to do one when in NOLA, due to the city's rich voodoo and ghost history. Sign up for one through the hotel or at one of the many companies that offer it in the city and prepare to learn about the dark and paranormal history of the city's slave trading, vampires, and spirits of corrupt powerful tycoons wronged.
Crescent Park: When you wake up feeling like you can’t drink or eat one morning (and you probably will), take a run by this scenic riverfront park. The modern industrial landscape paired with the waterfront views may work up an appetite or, at the very least, cleanse your mind and prepare you for the day ahead.
Food Shop: You might have eaten your way through NOLA, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't take edible goods with you back home. Stock up on different kind of pralines that are sold on almost every populated block (you can find our favorites at Tee-Eva's Old Fashioned Pies and Pralines), hot sauces at Pepper Palace, and spices from the World Famous N'awlins Cafe & Spice Emporium located at the French Market. (While at the market, also grab an alligator head as a gag gift.) Note: After tasting coffee at Cafe du Monde, you will love it so much, you'll want to get a jar home, but just know that many Whole Foods Markets nationwide and other specialty food stores carry the brand, so you don't actually need to go through the trouble of traveling with it or shipping it home.