New Orleans. Bourbon Street. The two pretty much go hand in hand even outside of Mardi Gras season. However, despite a single walk-through for the “experience” during my recent first trip to NOLA, I found the dodgy vibe wasn’t for me.
Thankfully, a few local friends gave me every traveler’s sought-after inside scoop. They took me to a few touristy spots like Cafe du Monde, which my taste buds found to be worth its salt (well, sugar) — but they knew to visit in the wee hours (early morning or late night) in order to avoid the lines. My idea of drinking in the street was fulfilled by ordering their cafe au lait in a keepsake mug and taking the rest to go. If you too prefer the slightly offbeat, consider the following haunts I was introduced to, by the people who live there.
Bywater: As Local as It Gets
If you lived here, you’d be home by now. At least that’s the wisdom of the hand-painted wooden sign that greets you along the waterway into this charming Crescent City neighborhood, one of very few in the Ninth Ward affected little by Hurricane Katrina. Dr. Bob, a local folk artist known for his signs including “Be Nice or Leave” (a favorite displayed in many local bars and establishments), has set up his art gallery and studio headquarters along Chartres in Bywater, and the location is hard to miss. Serving as the neighborhood’s unofficial mascot, the colorful yet gritty aesthetic of Dr. Bob’s art is indicative of the entire area.
As I wandered from brunch spot to brunch spot (brunch is a way of life in New Orleans), I became acquainted with the rainbow of houses and eclectic storefronts featuring vintage, antique and found objects. For every one I would pass or step into, there were two more I didn’t have time to discover. I suggest taking a day, or at least a whole afternoon, to wander this area and see what you discover for yourself.
For foodies, I recommend eating at Elizabeth’s. Its motto is “Real food, done real good,” and after eating there, I would overwhelmingly agree. This local establishment boasts no frills with plastic, cherry-dappled tablecloths and painted signs promoting their praline bacon (yes, you read that correctly … and that’s just an appetizer!). I went with the daily special — a stonerito — composed of eggs, sausage and bacon (yes, more bacon) in a French toast-battered wrap doused with powdered sugar, plus a side of fried green tomatoes with remoulade.
Our 5 Favorite New Orleans Hotels
Known by residents as the “locals’ Bourbon Street,” Frenchmen offers shopping, bars, restaurants, music and culture — without the beads and rows of daiquiri machines. If you get to talking with any local shop owners, at some point they’ll ask you if you “know about Frenchmen.” A relative secret to most tourists, some of the best jazz venues run along this rue, from the Spotted Cat and Snug Harbor to Maison and Apple Barrel; they’re even happening on a Monday night. Sip your hurricane from a cup, not a plastic monstrosity, and immerse yourself in the music. For late-night, post-drink snacking, I suggest getting the tachos (nachos made with tater tots) at 13, a restaurant/bar.
Antiquing and Supermarkets
A bit daunted by the high-end Shops at Canal Place, unimpressed with River Walk and fizzled out after the same booths row after row in the French Market, I found that my favorite places to shop in New Orleans were the ever-present antique emporiums, artists’ collectives and the local supermarket. Rare Finds, near the market in the French Quarter, had a distinctive selection of antiques and memorabilia from absinthe spoons to vintage coins that served as old call girl coupons. I found a beautifully aged fleur de lis hook from the 1960’s for around $20.
On Royal Street there’s plenty of art at a variety of price points, mostly by local artists. For a glass of wine, a chat and a look around, try the Great Artists’ Collective. Finally, for those souvenirs to bring home to the family, from sauces, spices and snacks to beads and masks, try a suburban supermarket such as Rouse’s. Though food specialties and decorations change seasonally, it’s a definite bet for reasonably priced condiments and local seasonings if you have a foodie at home. Pick up some groceries for yourself too, like a case of seasonal Abita beer or a bag of Voodoo chips to enjoy back at the hotel.
See Our Complete New Orleans Travel Guide
— written by Brittany Chrusciel
“‘Tradition’ is a synonym for ‘rut,'” tweeted @wandering_j in response to a call out for unique summer travel traditions. We beg to differ — especially if your tradition is to visit a different island park each summer, or to charter a boat and explore places unknown. Not that there’s anything wrong with the yearly beach pilgrimage to Wildwood for family fun, arcades and deep-fried Oreos, but we’re going unique here. Check out our five, then share your own inspired ideas for summer travel traditions.
1. Trace the Beer and Food Festivals
For the connoisseur or boozehound, Beerfestivals.org’s July calendar lists dozens of fests throughout the U.S. and beyond. I think this year, I’ll start on July 23 at the Philly Zoo’s Summer Ale Festival. Attendees can drink River Horse’s Hop Hazard (or brews from a list of other outfits) and eat local cuisine while supporting the zoo’s mission to “bring about the x-tink-shun of extinction.” Or brave the summer heat for New Orleans’s Tales of the Cocktail festival, which offers cooking demos and cocktail tastings at the end of July. Finally, we had to mention @TravelSpinner’s suggestion: Head to Suffolk, England for “Dwile Flonking,” which Wikipedia says “involves two teams, each taking a turn to dance around the other while attempting to avoid a beer-soaked dwile (cloth) thrown by the non-dancing team.” Now how could you miss that?
2. Escape to an Island State Park
Florida‘s Bahia Honda Key comprises a state park with a natural beach (you’ll quickly get used to the strong seaweed smell), fishing and snorkeling, kayaking, rare plant spotting, and hiking. Head up to the old Bahia Honda Bridge, part of the iconic Overseas Highway, for a view of the island and its surroundings. You can rent cabins or rough it at a campsite (a store and shower facilities are available on the island). Across the country, trekkers can camp at California‘s Channel Islands, a chain of uninhabited islands with a unique ecosystem. The islands are said to resemble California as it was B.S. (before smog). Activities for campers (back country and official campsites) include surfing, hiking, and seal and sea lion viewing.
3. Explore a Destination by Chartered Boat
Visiting a place by boat is often the best — and sometimes only — way to go. If you can pull together 3 – 20 like-minded friends (the more you gather, the more you can divide the costs), you can charter a boat for a cruise of Alaska’s Inside Passage, which is made up of islands unlinked by road. There are various choices, from two- or three-nighters to a week or more; all come with cook and captain. Meals and snacks are included in the costs, and often feature “catch of the day”-type fare, as well as crab and shrimp bakes. Excursions may include beach and rain forest hiking, fishing, kayaking (most charters are equipped with kayaks and smaller skiffs), wetsuit diving, whale watching, and visits to hot springs and waterfalls — all there to be enjoyed whenever the opportunity presents itself. For more tips, see Planning a Trip to Alaska.
4. Relive History
Some of the most important (and bloodiest) battles of Civil War occurred during the summer months. @PolPrairieMama mentioned that she heads to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia; Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; and Antietam (in Sharpsburg, Maryland), where 23,000 soldiers were killed in 12 hours, for summer reenactments. The big annual Gettysburg Civil War Battle Reenactment runs from July 1 to 3 and features live mortar fire demos and battles — but there are enough battlefields and reenactments to fill a lifetime of summers. And don’t forget: This year is the start of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.
5. Become a Home Team Groupie
Leap-frogging on an annual manly bonding trip taken by IndependentTraveler.com Editor Sarah Schlichter’s father and brother, we’re hitting the road with an arbitrarily chosen sports squadron. A quick glance at the Philadelphia Phillies’ schedule reveals a West Coast swing from August 1 – 10, during which the team plays the Colorado Rockies for three, the San Francisco Giants for four and the Los Angeles Dodgers for three. Three vastly different cities, climates, ballparks, landscapes. Next year we’ll pick a different team on a different swing. Anything but a rut.
Get more summer vacation ideas!
— written by Dan Askin
Food, wine, parades, live music and finally getting outdoors after a long winter … what’s not to love about the spring festival season? If you’re seeking inspiration for a last-minute spring trip, don’t miss the festivities going on around the U.S. in celebration of everything from strawberries to Cinco de Mayo. Read on for info on our five favorite upcoming spring festivals.
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival: New Orleans, LA
Despite its name, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival showcases much more than just jazz music; headliners this year include Jimmy Buffett, Robert Plant & the Band of Joy, Cyndi Lauper, Wilco, Wyclef Jean and dozens of other artists in every musical genre you can imagine. In addition to live concerts every day, the festival — which runs for 10 days from April 29 through May 8 — also offers a Louisiana Folklife Village and a Native American Village where visitors can watch crafts demonstrations and enjoy traditional local music. And don’t forget the food! This is your chance to sample N’awlins favorites like muffuletta, red beans and rice, po’boys, and crawfish pie.
California Strawberry Festival: Oxnard, CA
Whether you like ’em baked into a shortcake, dipped in chocolate, slathered with whipped cream or even tossed on top of a pizza, strawberries are the center of the action at Oxnard, California’s annual Strawberry Festival on May 21 and 22. Check out the Strawberry Promenade to watch cooking demonstrations and take in an informative exhibit on the “Life of a Strawberry.” Live music, a kids’ area, and locally made arts and crafts round out the offerings.
Cinco in the Park: Denver, CO
Denver celebrates Mexican culture and heritage with its annual Cinco in the Park festival, scheduled this year for May 7 and 8. The holiday of Cinco de Mayo commemorates a battle in which the Mexican town of Puebla overcame the French back in 1862; in modern-day Denver, the fiesta includes music, dancing, a parade and a Green Chili Bowl Cook-Off, in which local restaurants duke it out over who has the best spicy recipe.
Nantucket Daffodil Festival: Nantucket, MA
After a long and snowy winter, the island of Nantucket celebrates the spring thaw each year with its colorful Nantucket Daffodil Festival. This year’s festivities, which run from April 29 through May 1, will feature annual events such as the antique car parade (the vehicles are, of course, bedecked with daffodil blooms), the daffy hat pageant (how many flowers can you fit onto your baseball cap?) and the daffy dog parade (a daffodil-decorated Fido might lack a little dignity, but he’ll sure look pretty).
Vidalia Onion Festival: Vidalia, GA
Did you know that the Vidalia sweet onion is Georgia’s official state vegetable? Help celebrate all things onion at the 34th annual Vidalia Onion Festival, which runs from April 28 through May 1. The town goes all out for the festivities, which include an air show, a concert (with “American Idol” alum Kellie Pickler as the headliner), a Miss Vidalia Onion pageant, a rodeo, a motorcycle rally and, of course, plenty of opportunities to sample those yummy onions! Try the sweet onion rings, available downtown all day during the festival, or attend the Vidalia Onion Culinary Extravaganza with a local chef and cookbook author. Those with iron stomachs can join the onion eating contest.
For more ideas, see our Top 10 Stunning Spring Destinations.
— written by Sarah Schlichter
In the same way that a great meal of sausage, sauerkraut and local altbier can be the focal point of a trip to Berlin, the talented guy with the sax and hat on the French Quarter sidewalk can create a powerful imprint from which the rest of a travel memory can build.
We’ve all seen the diminutive Incan flutists who, like Jehovah’s Witnesses, are sent to proselytize the reverb-filled sound of the Andes. But what about those artists who seem to have no twin, those street performers who take the man-and-guitar concept somewhere new and bizarre? Here are a few of my favorites:
London, England. My head was in a rag-y Metro paper during the busy red line Tube rush. A stubbly pair, one with a guitar, stepped onto the train. Without fanfare, they begin singing in a melodious staccato chant: “If you can’t shave in the public toilet, where can you shave?” After a second of confusion, the car’s commuters were a-grin. I was somewhat suspicious, as the duo wielded a clarity of voice and harmony you might not expect from people used to shearing in a public loo — but it was two minutes well spent either way.
Key West, Florida. Mallory Square is known for sunsets and street performers. I’ve seen your typical magicians, sword swallowers and fire-eaters — but I’ve also watched a man eating a shopping cart piece by piece (or displaying an uncanny knack for sleight of hand) and a talkative chap riding a painful-looking 30-foot-high unicycle while juggling. The most memorable performance was the Movin’ Melvin show.
Melvin appeared with a flat wooden mat for dancin’ on and one of those giant Utz pretzel drums full of dollars. Melvin started tap dancing. Then Melvin stopped, looked at the audience with a smile and said, “People say, ‘Melvin, can you move faster?!'” The crowd repeated the call. Then shouted Melvin, “Now watch me now!” And he moved faster than previously. The whole crowd got involved, and the line, delivered louder and louder in unison, became, “Melvin, can you move faster?!” The climax came when Melvin could no longer move faster.
New Orleans, Louisiana. In a town where it seems that every third resident has some sort of crazy talent, differentiation is key for street performers. Puppet master Valentino Georgievski, whose show features puppet versions of famous musicians singing and dancing, understands this well. I caught his show on a recent trip to the Big Easy. Sax-playing puppets got down on one knee while growling out that high note. A James Brown-looking puppet in a gray suit fell into a split during the break-down of “The Big Payback.” Another puppet stalked the mic in between the lines of “Low Rider,” a favorite move of more fleshy lead singers. It was all very soulful stuff, and it was just as much fun to watch the puppet master, who grooved along behind his marionettes.
Your turn: What street performer left an indelible mark on your brain?
–written by Dan Askin
Want to help counteract the devastating effects of the BP oil spill … and save money to boot? Pack some sunscreen and head to the Gulf Coast, where travel deals are as plentiful as spicy shrimp gumbo.
According to the Associated Press, Gulf Coast tourism continues to deteriorate as a result of the BP oil spill. Even though any parts of the Gulf shoreline that had been affected by the oil are now clean, tourism rates are still about 20 percent lower than normal, and many local businesses are suffering.
The problem is perception. In spite of the reality — that the Gulf Coast is still an excellent vacation destination offering pristine beaches — travelers are wary of booking trips to a destination branded by the worst oil spill in history. Nowadays, the term “Gulf Coast” evokes notions of tar balls and oil slicks, whereas six months ago it signified fresh seafood, sport fishing and lazy days on the beach.
Local businesses and visitors’ bureaus have been working hard to boost the Gulf Coast image, launching positive advertisements and rolling out tons of travel deals across Mississippi, Florida, Texas and Louisiana. This is good news for anyone considering a trip to the Gulf. We trolled the tourism Web sites of some Gulf area locales and came across quite a few noteworthy offers. Here’s a small sample of what we found:
– Days Inn is offering 20 percent off stays of three or more nights at participating properties on the Gulf Coast.
– Get your fourth night’s stay free at A Beach Bungalow on Siesta Key, Florida.
– Save $200 per week or get your seventh night’s stay free when you rent with A Paradise Vacation Rentals on Anna Marie Island in Florida.
– Stay for five nights and receive an additional two nights’ lodging for free at McCarter Lane Guest House in Long Beach, Mississippi.
There’s no need to feel guilty about capitalizing on the BP oil disaster to save some cash on your vacation. Dozens of Gulf Coast communities depend on the tourism industry, and spending your money in the region is a great way to boost local economies — even if you are paying discounted rates. So start traveling! And if you’re looking for even more ways to help, check out these volunteer resources.
Has the Gulf Coast oil spill affected your travel plans? Will you be heading to the region anytime soon?