How to make the most of 24 hours in a new city.
I spent one night and two days in what is now one of my favorite cities in the US. My first trip to New Orleans was a spontaneously planned dinner date that I found out about a day before leaving. First thing to do before traveling: Check your favorite blogs or food shows to see if they've been there and what spots they recommend. Also, avoid eating something you could have in your hometown. Stay away from chain restaurants and cafes and try something local.
Pack Light. Pack comfortable.
A two day trip doesn't require you to pack much. You can fit everything you need into a backpack (at the most a carry-on). It took some practice, but packing light is the way to go. I traveled in the outfit I wore the first day, packed an evening outfit with shoes, something to sleep in and a long tunic for the next day (I wore the same pants and shoes that I traveled in). I left my purse behind for the trip because it feels like such a burden to carry it around when I'm traveling. Plus a backpack is much more comfortable and practical. I could carry it around all day and fit my camera, water bottles, some sustenance (dates and nuts) and an extra layer for when it gets chilly at night.
If you plan on walking a lot, pack your most comfortable shoes/outfit. Don't pack the "just in case" items. Check the weather ahead of time and pack accordingly. I always dress in layers so I can adjust my outfit as the weather changes.
Make a List, Not a Schedule
Get the most out of your time by knowing what you want to do and where you want to eat. You don't want to find yourself hungry, desperately scrolling through yelp reviews only to end up settling for a mediocre po' boy sandwich an hour later. Have a list, but don't have a schedule. You want to be able to enjoy whatever comes up in between and allow yourself to get lost in whatever the city has to offer, without stressing about getting to the next place on your list. Some of my most memorable experiences while traveling happened spontaneously or were a result of getting lost and just going with the flow.
Wander and Get Lost
We landed around 12 pm and headed straight for brunch at a spot called Surrey's Cafe and Juice Bar in The Garden district. We tried the shrimp and grits (I still dream about this dish), crab meat omelette and some freshly squeezed carrot/orange juice. Afterwards we started walking towards Magazine street (the neighborhood's commercial center), but took a detour once we happened upon a beautiful residential area. We ended up spending an hour just walking around, admiring the gardens, french style windows, colorful exteriors and beautiful wrap around balconies of all the mansions.
Eventually we made our way to Magazine street. We walked into every antique shop, book store and speciality boutique we could find and then stopped at Stumptown Coffee Roasters for an amazing cappuccino. We walked through another residential area in the Uptown District (beautiful homes from the late 19th century) to get to Parasol's for some Po' Boy sandwiches. The spicy shrimp and roast beef sandwiches are a must-try. We then hopped onto the trolly and rode into the French Quarter. By this point we had walked and ate so much , I was glad to check into our Airbnb for a quick power nap and to change clothes.
The French Quarter
Man where do i begin...The French Quarter is so vibrant. We started out walking down Bourbon Street, which was my least favorite street but still had a couple of gems. Things got more interesting the deeper we walked into the French Quarter.
New Orleans is full of so much talent. Every other corner was filled with captivating live performances. We stumbled upon an amazing ensemble called "Big Dawg", who were so talented I felt compelled to buy a CD.
My favorite market was the Frenchmen Art Market. It's an evening market that features work from local artists. We struck up a conversation with the most interesting couple here. It was a young guy and girl who's boat broke down while traveling from Texas to Florida. They had been "stuck" in NOLA for a few days, sleeping on their boat, just kicking it without a care in the world.
We were on a mission to try as much local food as we could. I wish I had the names of all the restaurants we stopped at just to try some gumbo, crawfish étouffée, or crab legs. A lot of the times we grabbed it to go and sat outside to enjoy the street performances as we ate. We walked for hours and just popped in random spots to hear some jazz or try more food.
We started off the next morning with beignets, a cafe au lait, and hot cocoa from Cafe Du Monde. We decided to take our order to go and eat at the pier. I enjoyed the serenity of sitting in the calm breeze, overlooking the water, while a charming elderly man played the saxophone in the background. We tried a lot sandwiches on this trip, but my favorite one was the "All That Jazz" sandwich from a little grocery store/deli called Verti-Marte. The “All that Jazz” is an insane stack of grilled turkey, American and Swiss cheeses, succulent shrimp, sautéed mushrooms, and “wow sauce.” After eating comes walking , so we then headed to the French Market. It's really touristy but I still enjoyed the ambience. After that, we had one last order of gumbo and crab claws on a balcony overlooking Jackson Square. We ended the food tour with a realllly good espresso from Spitfire Coffee.
New Orleans is a city that you could spend days just wandering and enjoying your surroundings. I was never in a hurry to go to any particular spot, because the walking itself was so enjoyable. Every step was filled with views of breathtaking architecture. I loved the wrap-around balconies, the colorful exteriors, and I felt like every door was more beautiful than the one before. I admittedly caught myself listening to other people's conversations just to enjoy their N'awlins accents. New Orleans features a captivating overlap of cultures and history. It's the one place I've visited in the states that felt like I was traveling abroad.