When visiting New Orleans for the first time, one thing becomes immediately apparent: the stories are true. There are wildly talented musicians playing music on the street; oak trees that are hundreds of years old are scattered throughout the city; second line parades are common; it’s swampy, sweaty and the air is heavy. Visually striking and strangely emotive at almost every corner, NOLA is a city that genuinely feels alive. From seeing live music (whether bluegrass or bounce), to going on a gator tour, eating beignets, or visiting the delightfully creepy Pharmacy Museum, there are plenty of essential experiences in the “Big Easy.” We’ve selected some lesser-known favorites that represent the diversity and magic of this dynamic city.
The sheer laid-back logic of Bywater’s Bacchanal Wine will immediately win over wine enthusiasts. In the front, it’s a wine shop with plenty of old-world delights by small producers (they even offer a map of the small store), and just out the backdoor is a sweeping pebbled yard with plenty of seating. Guests simply take their wine away, or—on their way out to the yard—fill a bucket with ice, grab some glasses and find a spot to sit. There’s no host to seat you or pour your wine, and that’s half the charm.
A five-minute drive (or 20 or so minute walk) from Bacchanal is French-inspired N7—hidden behind a tall wooden fence, visitors might need a moment to realize they’re not walking into somebody’s private backyard; complete with a Citroën DS parked in the driveway. For a truly Euro picnic treat, try one of the can-to-table options—various canned fish and seafood served with a fresh baguette. There are plenty of impressive natural wines on their list (which changes often) as well as beers and sake. Perfect for a snack, or a full meal of noshing, everything is prepared for sharing.
While the Ace might be best known for compact and affordable accommodation, the space in the Warehouse District affords the Downtown NOLA location some palatial rooms, a large rooftop pool and bar, plenty of drinking and dining venues, and even a band room. Rooms in the French Deco building have a decidedly retro feel—with vintage-looking refrigerators, Tivoli radios, record players and plenty of timber and leather accents. The minibar is stocked; notably with Zapp’s New Orleans Voodoo chips. The rooftop (predictably) is super-popular, so it’s worth snagging a daybed early, though staff members inform visitors that hotels guests get first dibs.
Defend New Orleans
Just a few doors from the Ace (they also have a Garden District store), Defend New Orleans is a sun-drenched store filled with goods that are made in New Orleans, broader Louisiana and beyond. From tie-dyed and re-printed vintage T-shirts to prayer candles, key chains and more, there are plenty of cute twists on classic souvenirs—and a few design-forward items in between. Be sure to check with the staff on which products are made by small NOLA brands if you want to make certain.
Founded five years ago by Stirling Barrett, Krewe is equal parts entrepreneurial endeavor and love letter to his hometown. This super-sunny space is, of course, stacked with sunglasses and spectacles—all designed to last, aesthetically and physically (the brand offers replacement pairs if you damage your frames, no questions). The store also sells planters and pots—which add some greenery to the decor—and, at the back, there’s a tiny coffee shop and sweet courtyard for customers to hang out.
Contemporary Arts Center
Recently given an impressive industrial-vibe update, the Contemporary Arts Center is home to several gallery spaces, The Stacks book and gift shop, Revelator Coffee and sprawling co-working space The Shop. Not just a place for locals and visitors to see art, CAC is a community-focused organization that offers workshops for young artists, summer camps, field trips and more.
Turkey and the Wolf
Kitsch, colorful and sunny, Turkey and the Wolf is quick and easy but far from fast food. Using mostly local and seasonal ingredients, there’s an elevated (but not pretentious) take on the humble sandwich at this order-at-the-counter diner. Even if you’re a regular meat-eater, we strongly suggest the asparagus sandwich (asparagus, roasted creole tomato, chimichurri “cream cheese stuff” and parmesan on sourdough), which comes with full stalks of asparagus—crisp and vivid green.
Carbs aren’t the enemy during a visit to Willa Jean. Open for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner, we recommend dining here during prime breakfast/brunch hours to enjoy their buttery, rich, flakey biscuits—which are also available to take out from their walk-up coffee counter. This glass-walled venue serves sophisticated comfort food—griddled banana bread, shrimp and grits, grilled sammies, and more—so good that you’ll want to visit more than once.