French Quarter Offers Something for Everyone

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Jim Rosenberg on February 8, 2009

You don’t need a plan in New Orleans. Just follow your senses to see, taste, hear and feel it. The French Quarter is relatively compact and while you don’t necessarily have to stay in the quarter, it’s worth something to stay within walking distance. (And as the vintage signs in novelty catalogues tell you, beware pickpockets and loose women.)

First and foremost, New Orleans is one of America’s great places to eat. Restaurants follow the custom of posting their menus outside the door. Cajun and Creole cooking are king, but there is plenty of variety and the plethora of choices creates a level competition among chefs and establishments that takes culinary excellence to its highest levels. You can probably get a bad meal in New Orleans, but you’d have to work at it. Particularly well represented on New Orleans menus are specialties that include, shrimp, crawfish, seafood and rice. You can size up the restaurants for yourself or get yourself a Zagat subscription for as little as $4.95 for 30 days at which provides ratings on cuisine, service and ambiance. Or just follow your nose.

Besides enjoying great food, there are also a number of places where you can spend a few hours learning to prepare etouffee, jambalaya, remoulade, gumbo or flaming bananas Foster. A quick Internet search for New Orleans cooking schools will give you a number of options. My wife, Karla and her sister, Jane, chose the Cookin’ Cajun Cooking School, which was located in the Riverwalk Marketplace at the end of Poydras Street. It proved to be an entertaining few hours, along with a great meal – a bargain that’s hard to beat and something truly different. Who doesn’t want to make Slap Yo’ Mamma chicken?

Likewise, you won’t have any problem finding a place to drink. While many probably think that Bourbon Street is named after a type of whiskey and that would certainly fit the typical evening’s activities there, the title actually honors a French royal family. After dark -- and often well before -- Bourbon Street becomes a blend of a carnival midway and some kind of adult Disney World, complete with barkers and even a costumed mascot or two trying to talk you into drinking a "hand grenade" or some such thing. And who would ever think their commemorative drink ware collection could be complete without a genuine hurricane glass? There are also a lot of strip shows. (This is probably as good a time as any to mention that beyond some allusions to Cajun culture and its history, the French Quarter isn’t really "French." It’s more like "Excuse my French.")

Of course, beyond the beverages, there is a lot of great, live music. Just follow your ears. From street corners to stages up and down the street, you’ll have your pick. Personally, I lean toward Cajun and zydeco because this is the place where you’ll find them in their purest forms. But that’s not to say I wouldn’t join the second line in a jazz funeral if it marched by because all of the music is infectious and people have to play pretty well if they’re going to be playing very long in this competitive venue.

Especially by day, peruse the Quarter for its many art galleries, cookware and antique shops. Stroll through Jackson Square and by all means, get a café au lait and a beignet at the Café du Monde before exploring the waterfront and the French Market. Follow your feet, ride the streetcar or take a carriage ride. For whatever it has to offer in the way of entertainment and diversions, the Vieux Carre dates back to the 1700s and it is one of America’s most well-preserved historic districts with distinctive architecture and a feel that is all its own. A good guidebook will fill you in on the background, while helping you select your path. (My favorite is the Eyewitness Travel Guide by DK Books.)
French Quarter

New Orleans, Louisiana

© LP 2000-2009