Monday, August 3, 2015

New Orleans travel guide: What to do, see, and eat in the Big Easy

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I used to dream about visiting New Orleans. The colors, the food, the history—I couldn’t wait to get down to the Big Easy! Recently I had a chance to travel there (and took the pictures to prove it!). If you’re planning a trip to the Bayou, don’t miss these incredible places.

What to do:

Flanagan’s Pub at 625 Saint Philip Street offers a somewhat spooky ghost tour called French Quarter Phantoms. It’s more about some historical figures gone bad, with a few spine tingling moments thrown in for good measure.

Frenchmen Street While most people read about Bourbon Street as being the epicenter of all things New Orleans, it can be a bit over the top for some, filled with tourist traps and menus with inflated prices. This tucked away strip is where the locals go for live music.

Oak Alley Plantation at 3645 Highway 18 (Great River Road) is a spectacular working cane plantation located on 25 acres in Vacherie, about a hour-long drive from the city. The jewel of the property is the antebellum mansion, a palatial “Big House” restored in 1925 and now used as an event site and museum. It’s the perfect place to unleash your inner Scarlett O’Hara for a few hours and well worth the drive.

Swamp Tours Want to get up close and personal with an alligator? New Orleans Swamp Tours can be noisy and a bit intimidating, but the airboat excursions are also absolutely exhilarating. Think lots of trees that look like something straight out of a Dr. Seuss book, not to mention scores of swamp critters and wild birds.

My one big regret is that I didn’t get to visit the Garden District, made famous by Anne Rice’s novels. If you get to go, tell me how it is!

Where to stay:

The W Hotel, French Quarter at 316 Chartres Street is quite literally in the heart of the famed French Quarter. Step outside the lobby door and you’re steps away from shops, restaurants and local attractions.

Hyatt Regency New Orleans at 601 Loyola Avenue is very popular for those attending meetings, conventions, conferences and local events.

Where to shop:

The French Market occupies six blocks and is packed with everything from handmade Mardi Gras masks to alligator-infused delicacies and more. Wander around closer to the riverfront to see small art instillations and pop your head into loads of local galleries.

The Quarter Stitch at 629 Chartres Street is quite possibly the most beautiful yarn shop I’ve ever visited, filled with loads of yarn, needlepoints, and designs, including hand-painted canvases by local artists.

Where to eat:

Arnaud’s at 813 Rue Bienville maintains a strict no denim rule and has a fairly fancy Creole menu. Indulge in the Strawberries Arnaud, made with fresh strawberries, port, red wine and citrus, and check out the slightly spooky Mardi Gras museum if you get the chance.

The Bourbon House at 144 Bourbon Street has a gorgeous private dining room that takes you away from the crowds. Dinner there is a sumptuous, old world experience.

There are eight Cafe Du Monde Coffee Stands throughout the greater New Orleans area. For nearly two hundred years, this storied coffee outpost has been the city’s must-visit destination for coffee and one of New Orleans’ finest culinary specialties, beignets, doughy, sugary donut-type treats.

If you’re a vegetarian or a vegan, you might have a bit of a hard time eating at most restaurants in New Orleans, which are known for their seafood-heavy menus. Green Goddess at 307 Exchange Place has great options for veggie-lovers. Try the sweet potato biscuits with gravy—yum!

All pictures taken with the Olympus E-M10 ($699.99, getolympus.com). Don’t they look professional?

Rachel Weingarten is a noted and quoted style expert, personal brand consultant and former celebrity makeup artist. She’s a co-founder of becausestyle.com and the author of three non-fiction books including, Ancient Prayer, out 9/14. Tweet with her @rachelcw or like her new page on Facebook. Need help style-stalking your favorite celebrity look? Write to Rachel at psstrachel@gmail.com.

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Rachel Weingarten
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