There are few cities in America with as much soul as New Orleans — everything from the architecture and impromptu jam sessions to the shrimp boils and annual events seems to have a rhythm to it — making it a captivating place to visit any time of the year. In recent times, the Crescent City has sparked a new identity thanks to a dining and cocktail evolution that has brought it into the global spotlight.
Whether you’re in town for just a weekend or for a special occasion, NOLA has much to offer every palate. Here’s the perfect way to spend 48 hours basking in the sights, sounds and tastes of this unforgettable landmark.
Check in to Windsor Court Hotel. New Orleans boasts many classic, beautiful properties that embody the spirit of the city, but few do it quite like this Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star beauty. The elegant address boasts 316 guest rooms and suites, all of which have private balconies with panoramic windows of skyline views or bay vistas of the Mississippi River.
At 800 square feet, the one-bedroom Premium Suite is the ideal place to stay for a lively weekend in the Big Easy. It has its own wet bar area apart from the living room as well as a dining table and an Italian marble bath. Those who appreciate great amenities will adore the Diptyque bath products.
When you enter the lobby, you will immediately feel the Southern charm of this hospitality icon. A signature, opulent centerpiece of fresh roses in the foyer sets the warm tone while windows throughout the lobby showcase the lush foliage in the porte-cochère.
On the weekends, an English-style afternoon tea packs Le Salon with two seatings and then roughly once a month there is a themed tea based on the season (the March 7 offering has a St. Patrick’s Day theme, for instance).
Upstairs, the Polo Club Lounge is the place for a classic cocktail and jazz most nights and a great spot to watch the big game on Sunday.
After you get situated, it’s time to hit the town. First stop: those famous New Orleans beignets and a cafe au lait.
Those in the know will tell you to avoid the always-packed French Quarter’s Cafe du Monde and, instead, make your way to the new location inside the Casino Building at New Orleans City Park.
Enjoy your bag of powdered fried dough and a dark roasted coffee and chicory before a late-morning adventure into the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden adjacent to the New Orleans Museum of Art. In 2019, a six-acre addition was unveiled at the free garden with 27 new works from primarily 21st-century artists. Standouts include the Alu Tress Star, a multi-point constellation by Frank Stella; Viñalesa, 60-foot-long mosaic wall by artist Teresita Fernández; and Pacific Red VI, Larry Bell’s rosy, glass-box installation. There are more than 90 pieces to peruse among beautiful foliage, tranquil water features and mature trees.
After working up an appetite, head to Magazine Street and choose from two cool, kitschy eateries that are becoming new classics — Turkey and the Wolf or Molly’s Rise & Shine, both from chef Mason Hereford. If you are in the mood for breakfast, Molly’s offers playful options on all the first-meal favorites. One example is the Grand Slam McMuffin, a sandwich made with pork sausage, hash browns, griddled onions, American cheese and ketchup. Enjoy each bite while you stare at all of the 1980s pop culture relics (Chutes and Ladders board game, Hot Wheels salt shakers) around Molly’s dining area.
Its sandwich shop sibling, Turkey and the Wolf, pays homage to art of the stack with innovative creations such as the towering fried bologna on white bread with American cheese, stuffed with potato chips, and kicked up with hot English mustard and the signature collard green melt with Swiss cheese, pickled cherry pepper dressing and coleslaw on rye.
After brunch, spend time strolling the antique shops and boutiques of Magazine Street. New Orleans independent eyewear company KREWE is a must visit for handcrafted frames and sunglasses.
For a relaxing afternoon in the French Quarter, book an appointment at the newly renovated The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans’ spa, the largest in the city with 22 treatment rooms. Having recently completed what is known as its Redeux in honor of the hotel’s 20th anniversary back in October, the spa offers many new things to discover. A top choice is the Voodoo Ritual, a treatment using coffee and praline along with notes of absinthe, cypress, moss and incense during a full-body massage and a poultice that casts a spell of calm.
Keep the momentum going with dinner at NOLA culinary star Nina Compton’s Compère Lapin inside Old. No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery. Compton’s nouveaux Caribbean menu features specialties such as broiled shrimp with Calabrian chili butter, conch croquettes with pickled pineapple tartar sauce and curried goat with sweet potato gnocchi.
And because there is always room for one more, stop by Bar Marilou at Maison de La Luz — this is a luxury guest house by creative studio Atelier Ace, the team behind Ace Hotel — before retiring for the evening. The dramatic red, candle-lit cocktail bar and lounge comes to life with abstract paintings, eclectic books, curated curiosities, 3D sculptures, dramatic sconces and cocktails like the frozen Holy Mountain (bitter French aperitif Suze, crème de cassis and lemon) that have an international influence.
Kick off the next 24-hour dining expedition at chef Kelly Fields’ pastry palace Willa Jean. (If it happens to be Mardi Gras season, make sure to order one of her caramel crunch king cakes 48 hours in advance.) Serving three meals a day, Willa Jean focuses on Southern decadence. The brunch menu’s “Biscuit Situation” section, with options ranging from simple butter and jam to sausage, egg and pimento cheese, is not to be missed.
While basking in the glow of a carb-loaded breakfast, stop by the Magazine Street gallery of Ashley Longshore, the Louisiana-based painter, gallery owner and entrepreneur who praises food in many of her pieces. Lauded as the “modern-day Andy Warhol,” Longshore’s art screams pop culture feminism. Take home one of her beaded bags with a picture of pizza one side and words that read “work hard, eat carbs, spend money” on the other, or score an oversized throne embroidered with “I do not cook, I do not clean, I do not fly commercial,” which also happens to be the name of Longshore’s 2019-released book.
Of course, no trip to New Orleans is complete without a stop at one of the city’s classic dining institutions, Commander’s Palace, which has been operating since 1893. At lunch, co-proprietor Lally Brennan can be found working a dining room filled with guests ordering the famous turtle soup and 25-cent martinis.
It’s a good thing Commander’s Palace limits the martinis to three per customer because, after unwinding a bit back at Windsor Court, your next stop will be the iconic Roosevelt New Orleans, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel’s Sazerac Bar, home to its boozy namesake, the world’s first mixed drink. One of the most famous rooms in Crescent City, the space has murals by Paul Ninas flanking the striking African walnut long bar. Try a Ramos Gin Fizz if you’re not in the mood for cognac.
Follow that up with dinner. Either go seafood at the dark and quaint Seaworthy, housed in a centuries-old Creole cottage, or try a few bites at Jewel of the South, a nouveaux tavern serving dishes such as bone marrow cream or smoked ham. The drink to wash either down with at Jewel of the South is bartender Chris Hannah’s French 75, a cocktail he has made nearly a million times in his former life at another New Orleans classic, Arnaud’s French 75 bar.
And there is no better way to close out two perfect days of dining in New Orleans than with some jazz just a four-minute ride from Jewel of the South at the French Quarter’s legendary Preservation Hall, where a rotation of 50-plus musicians has been performing 350 nights a year for six decades.