How to Venture off the Tourist Trail in New Orleans

Wander the French Quarter at daybreak, roam among quieter neighborhoods, and discover the food the locals love.

White and gray wooden houses along water in Bayou St. John neighborhood in New Orleans

Explore the historic—and much quieter—neighborhood of Bayou St. John on foot or by kayak.

Photo by Rita Harper

My neighbors are professional vaudevillians. I contend daily with horse-drawn-carriage traffic. My house is haunted. You guessed it. I reside in the French Quarter. I like to say I moved here at the perfect time, just six months prior to the start of the pandemic. I watched my famously garish streets bloom during Mardi Gras, a riot of color and revelry, then shut down completely. We got a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse of this place sans tourists.

We welcomed them back heartily once the virus waned. As we hopefully welcome you soon, a few words of wisdom: Our summers are hot, our winters wet. And we have different high seasons than other towns, thanks to our events. Easter, Jazz Fest, Mardi Gras, and Halloween are boisterous and not the best time to delve deep. Visit in sleepier months, like November or directly after Mardi Gras, when hotels and restaurants offer nice discounts.

New Orleans is very easy to navigate. You’ll need 15 minutes by rideshare to cross the entire town. Want a more leisurely, romantic pace? Take our storied street cars or even go on foot. It’s very flat here. Blue Bike stations are common in tourist areas, too. As with many big cities, it’s best to follow big city rules, like walking in groups, taking rideshares or pedicabs late at night—and always be vigilant of your belongings in high-traffic areas, like Bourbon Street. Here’s how to enjoy everything great about New Orleans without the crowds.

Street scene in the French Quarter in New Orleans, with people at sidewalk café at twilight

You won’t want to miss the French Quarter, especially if it’s your first time in New Orleans. Explore in the mornings to see it at its best.

Photo by Jenny Adams

Experience the French Quarter . . . the right way

It really is one of the most striking neighborhoods in the world, with its 300-year-old architecture and gas-lantern ambience. The French Quarter remains a worthy first stop—particularly if you approach it correctly. It has a late-bedtime reputation, so use that to your advantage. Explore in the first golden hours, when the streets are wet and shining from the street cleaning trucks, birds swoop merrily over peeling roof dormers, and Caribbean colors are bathed in that timeless, sepia hue.

Forgo the obvious

Instead of the famous Café Du Monde, where lines for a coffee and beignets can stretch an hour, head to French Truck on Chartres Street. The New Orleans Iced is a town cult classic, with coffee, milk, and chicory, shaken and strained over crushed ice. It goes perfectly with its bacon, egg, and cheese biscuits.

Forgo the Quarter’s busy western half, and seek the residential blocks between Ursulines and Esplanade, from North Rampart to Decatur. Here, Creole cottages and striking townhouses are strung like pastel pearls down shady, tree-lined streets, with gas lanterns flickering and side yards neatly maintained.

Heed the advice of full-time residents

Ashley Porter owns Porter Lyons—a Royal Street fine jeweler with inventive designs and ethically sourced stones. She loves the tiny spots, like newcomer Fives. “It feels like I’m stepping back into Paris, circa 1920,” she says of the petite raw bar and craft cocktail emporium, off of Jackson Square. “Manolito is another,” she says, of the famously cramped space, with, “the city’s best Cubano and gorgeous, frozen cocktails.”

It’s rare to grow up in the French Quarter, but Katy Casbarian loved the experience. So much so, she still lives on one of the neighborhood’s busiest corners, at Bourbon and Bienville, right above her family’s restaurant, Arnaud’s. She and her brother are fourth-generation owners of this 1918, haute Creole establishment. It’s one of the largest restaurants in the country, capable of seating 1,100 guests, via 17 opulent dining rooms. Certainly an touristy restaurant, Arnaud’s exquisite service and beloved classics keep it a local favorite, too.

For Casbarian, the French Quarter’s charms remain ever-vibrant. “We walk outside our front door and are embraced by the most beautiful architecture, the sweetest music, and the world’s best restaurants,” she says. “Grocery shopping isn’t so easy, but we have benefits, like Faulkner House Books and St. Louis Cathedral. I love a cocktail and a burger at Sylvain.”

Exterior of entry to greenhouse in Botanical Garden, with shallow pool and sculpture in front

The Botanical Garden, which dates back to 1936, houses 2,000 plants across 10 acres.

Photo by Rita Harper

Visit the quieter neighborhoods

The city has dozens of historic neighborhoods, destination streets, and micro-neighborhoods, each bringing exclusive highlights and singular character.

After the French Quarter head to Algiers Point

Directly across the Mississippi River, Algiers Point is a suburb that feels like a small, historic town. The land was owned by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville—the founder of New Orleans—and it’s now the second-oldest neighborhood in the city. The ferry from the French Quarter takes 30 minutes. Disembark and admire Jazz Hall of Fame statues of city musicians. Snag a latte at Congregation Coffee and a cold beer at the ramshackle Old Point Bar. Algiers lends travel in global flavors, like at Plume—an inventive, spicy Indian spot with neon pink picnic tables—and at Nighthawk Napoletana, opened in 2023. The gooey, Naples-worthy pizzas come crust-charred with tart red sauce. Belly full, bed down at the House of the Rising Sun, a pink bed-and-breakfast in a shotgun-double, with a white picket fence and double porches.

Small model train on tracks in Train Garden

Everyone knows the streetcars of New Orleans, but did you know there’s a Train Garden tucked away in the Botanical Garden? It displays replica models of the trains and streetcars that used to run through the city in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Photo by Rita Harper

Skip the Lower Garden District for Bayou St. John

If New Orleans were The Breakfast Club, the French Quarter would be Judd Nelson, and Bayou St. John would be Emilio Estevez. There’s an athletic, outdoorsy vibe and an actual bayou running though the latter district, which you can tour by kayak, paddling past sites like the Old Spanish Custom House, built in 1784. This micro-neighborhood within Mid-City also offers the three-mile Lafitte Greenway and City Park, which is twice the size of Central Park in New York. In the back of City Park’s Botanical Gardens is my favorite gem: the Train Garden. Along 1,300 feet of track, vintage trains chug past mini replicas of famous city buildings.

Refueling in this ’hood is a delicious endeavor. Bayou Beer Garden is a dog-friendly, indoor-outdoor venue with Old World wine lists and live music. For authentic European gelato, Angelo Brocato’s has scooped for over a century, and Lola’s plates excellent Spanish recipes, from Caldereta lamb stew to seafood paella.

Make a beeline to Oak Street instead of Magazine Street

Fun fact: Oak Street was originally in the town of Carrollton, before the area was annexed into New Orleans. “The vendors might change, but the shopfront facades are from the 1920s. It still has a trapped-in-time, Main Street appeal” says Penny Francis, owner of Eclectic Home, a wildly colorful home furnishing shop on Oak. “Rue de la Course is a great coffee shop in a historic bank building,” says Francis, “and Coutelier is a crazy-beautiful Japanese knife shop with cookbooks and small food items. Jaqueline [Blanchard] supplies every chef in our city with knives.”

Blanchard also opened Sukeban on Oak in 2022—adding an izakaya for hand rolls to the road’s multiple food draws. “Oak is really a destination. You have to go to Jacques-Imo’s, for the fried chicken and smothered greens” says Francis, “and the Maple Leaf for live music.” The best time to visit is always the Sunday before Thanksgiving, for the annual Po-Boy Festival, when all of Oak goes pedestrian.

Floor13 antique store, with small statue of person wrapped in keyboard (L) and general view of hodgepodge of wares for sale (R)

Floor13’s motto is “Keep good furniture in service, not in the trash.”

Photo by Rita Harper

Consider lesser-known alternatives

Instead of the biggest tourist attractions, do some research and find equivalent, but smaller, museums, shops, and points of culture.


This city is fabulous for shopping, particularly for antiquities and flea-market scores. The suburb of Metairie is excellent for authentic, Old World items. Only 15 minutes from downtown, Renaissance Interiors is a consignment emporium of estate pieces, from midcentury coffee tables to sterling silver. Ten minutes away, in the Jefferson suburb, Dop Antiques is a 20,000-square-foot, open warehouse for European antiques. Owner Michiel Dop imports new containers monthly and is always happy to haggle. Floor13 is for funkier finds. This colorful Mid-City warehouse has curated, shoppable vignettes and everything you never knew you needed—coonskin caps to old chess boards, tiki bars to Elvis ashtrays.


Of course, the New Orleans Museum of Art and the World War II Museum are invaluable stops, the latter especially, which debuted the Liberation Pavilion in 2023. This final exhibit explores the postwar years.

Beyond the big stops, the city’s smaller museums offer more personalized education. Le Musée de f.p.c., in the Treme neighborhood, showcases the story of the 1,800 free people of color who resided here prior to the Civil War, through architecture, oral histories, and art.

I love the New Canal Lighthouse. It’s a five-minute car ride from City Park. The museum is a rebuilt, 1839 lighthouse, right on the edge of Lake Pontchartrain. Tours blend history with science, and tickets support the nonprofit Pontchartrain Conservancy. Climb the lighthouse stairs to learn about Madge Norvell, the last keeper, who rowed out to save a downed Navy pilot.

The Los Isleños museum is 20 minutes from downtown by car in St. Bernard Parish—a historic village of preserved houses, formerly home to influential Canary Islanders, who immigrated in the 1700s. It’s a cool opportunity to see early construction styles, including the Estopinal House, from 1790. The walls showcase moss and mud, layered between wooden support posts.

Roof of mausoleum with angel on top (L) and metal entry gate to St. Vincent de Paul cemetery

New Orleans’s cemeteries can draw crowds. Skip the busy favorites in favor of some quieter alternatives for a more respectful visit.

Photos by Jenny Adams


The St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 and the Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 are our most famous, frequently featured in movies and novels. Heavy crowds can feel almost grotesque in high season. St. Louis No. 1 also now requires a tour guide booked in advance.

St. Louis No. 3 is better. Adjacent to City Park, noteworthy citizens buried here include architect James Gallier, New Orleans chef Leah Chase, and Storyville photographer E.J. Bellocq.

Speaking of photographers, I recommend a 7 a.m. visit to St. Vincent de Paul Cemetery for capturing mausoleums in that golden, morning light. It’s just north of the Bywater, and purportedly, a dog ghost haunts the rows.


Did you know, New Orleans was the first city in America to have a motion picture house? The Vitascope opened in 1896 on Canal Street. Pictures were a dime, seen from church pews. Today, all that’s left of Vitascope is a plaque, but the century-old Prytania Theatre in Uptown is another historic theater, fantastic for a modern flick.

At the Broad, in Mid-City, arrive early. The front bar is prime for cocktails and snacks. WW Cinema also occurs every Wednesday, when local filmmakers host parties, based around lesser-known films they particularly love.

A few people in Really Really Nice Wines wine store, with shelves of wine bottles in background

Skip the neon slushies of Bourbon Street and discover some really nice wines at Really Really Nice Wines.

Photo by Madeline Rose

Ask a local for the best food recommendations

Lean over to the next table at the coffee shop, ask a cab driver, or seek out someone in service. Asking a local where to eat will always lead you to tasty fare and cool dining experiences. These are a few of my favorite places currently:

The best burger

Slap Burger, hidden in the back of a dive bar called Marie’s, in the Marigny. It’s a proper, hangover-annihilating greasy delight, with American cheese, pickles, chopped onions, and sauce, on a brioche bun.

The best dinner experience

Goodenough Supperclub: “Our first pop-up dinner sold out in 20 seconds,” laughs chef/founder Jason Goodenough, who ran the now-closed Carrollton Market and was named Chef of the Year by New Orleans Magazine in 2017. Tickets are now easier to obtain. He announces the 30-person dinners on Instagram. Each dinner has a theme and is held in a secret location.

The best pop-up

At Really Really Nice Wines, a bottle shop and bar that opened in 2023, stop by for a glass of natural wine, a cheese plate, or some duck-fat popcorn. Tuesdays are the ultimate night, when locals flock for their fun food pop-up. It’s alternating, either rolls by Sushi Mercenary or dumplings by Get Your Mom & Dim Sum.

The perfect drink

Jungle Bird at Latitude 29: This esoteric, classic tiki drink from the ’70s, featuring a bold, beautifully bizarre combination of Campari and dark rum, had faded into oblivion. That is, until the late 2000s, when NOLA’s foremost tiki expert, author and historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, began slinging it and singing its praises. Berry now owns Latitude 29, in the French Quarter, and it’s widely regarded as one of the best modern tiki bars on earth.

Guest room at Columns Hotel, with patterned wallpaper, three curtained windows, and a chandelier hanging from red ceiling

The Columns Hotel, housed in a historic building, is small enough to feel intimate and crowd-free.

Photo by Yoshihiro Makino

Stay beyond the fray

Sure, the French Quarter is lovely to visit and a wild place to party. However, stay in quieter zones for a more neighborhood glimpse of everyday New Orleans’s life.

The best modern hotel: Hotel Saint Vincent

Try Hotel Saint Vincent, in the Lower Garden District. Steps away from Jennifer Coolidge’s house (yes, she resides here) and around the corner from appealing shops, this hotel is perfectly situated for retail therapy or the ultimate relaxing. You won’t want to leave the property: Perks including a swimming pool, fine-dining Amalfi classics at San Lorenzo, and a Vietnamese café with inventive breakfast pastries.

Old World digs: The Columns

Consider The Columns, a stately, Thomas Sully mansion built in the 1800s. Surrounded by towering live oak trees, set back from the street, with a huge front garden and a grand front porch, it feels tucked away. While it is fairly well known, the handful of rooms keep it intimate. They welcome you with a dark, saloon-style lobby bar, art-filled parlors, vintage beds, antique armoires, and balconies overlooking the St. Charles Streetcar line.

Jenny Adams is a full-time freelance writer and photographer, whose byline has appeared in more than 75 publications. She splits her time between New Orleans and Southeast Asia, reporting most often on epic meals and off-the-beaten-track discoveries.
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