In the early 1900s there was a dance hall in New Orleans known as “The Big Easy,” but the city’s nickname didn’t stick until much later, when a newspaper reporter contrasted New Orleans with the hustle and bustle of New York City. When it comes to the beloved “Big Easy,” there are some absolutes: you’ll never have a bad meal, the stately architecture and neighborhoods are gorgeous, and colorful characters line the streets. Throw in easy transportation via the streetcars, jazz on every corner and homemade pralines, and you’ll see why tourists flock to New Orleans.
I have visited the city many times and always discover a new haunt or some wonderfully bizarre happening. On a recent visit, I forced my family to hike 20 blocks to the second line honoring Carrie Fisher. To see the hodgepodge of Princess Leia’s — many in drag — was so worth it. On my next visit a local artist directed me to the Ashley Longshore Gallery on Magazine Street — seriously quirky! If you want a condensed trip to New Orleans, here are some ideas to maximize a 48-hour visit.
48 Hours in New Orleans
When it comes to where to stay, undoubtedly, the Soniat House offers visitors a true taste of New Orleans. Located in the French Quarter, the Soniat House was built during the period of 1829-1833 by French plantation owner Joseph Soniat Dufossat as an in-town residence. The current owners, Rodney and Frances Smith, acquired the property in 1982 with a goal of providing modern conveniences integrated with old world charm. The 31 guest rooms smack of just that, with French and English antiques and gorgeous European fabrics. The lush patios are a perfect place for my favorite cocktail, a gin and tonic, after a busy day in the city.
Once you’ve unpacked, head to Hot Tin, the rooftop bar atop the Pontchartrain Hotel for a pre-dinner cocktail. The jewel in the crown of the Pontchartrain, this dramatic space boasts a breathtaking 270-degree view of the Mississippi River and downtown New Orleans. Inside the bar, you’ll find a full cocktail complement and champagne. The space mirrors the look and feel of a 1940s artist loft with nods to American playwright Tennessee Williams, who lived at the hotel while writing A Streetcar Named Desire.
For dinner, don’t be deterred by the location of Lüke in the Hilton Hotel, as it comes with great reviews as well as accolades from Condé Nast Travel and the Times Picayune. A member of the John Besh family of restaurants, Lüke is a coveted reservation. Family members of mine who visit New Orleans regularly swear they have the best mussels in town! The restaurant pays tribute to the Franco-German brasseries that were once popular in New Orleans. Don’t leave without trying a Dixie Queen, made with vodka, watermelon, black pepper and lemon.
Music is everywhere in New Orleans, but do stop by Preservation Jazz Hall for a perfect nightcap to your first day in New Orleans. Shows start at 8 p.m., 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. nightly. Yes, it is a tourist destination, but every local I know says not to miss it. It’s a family affair, and all ages are welcome. They offer three shows nightly Monday through Wednesday, and four shows Thursday through Sunday. What’s the draw? It is kind of like the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville — it’s just a given that you go. Just as the Grand Ole Opry salutes traditional country music and legends, the Preservation Jazz Hall celebrates the jazz musicians who made New Orleans famous. Think Punch Miller, George Lewis and Sweet Emma Barrett. As the Preservation Jazz Hall band evolved, they expanded the musical offerings to include bands like My Morning Jacket, Del McCoury Band and the Blind Boys of Alabama. With an expanded mission to preserve, protect and perpetuate, the Preservation Jazz Hall is a great start to your first night in town.
No matter how many times I go to New Orleans, a visit to Café Du Monde is a must! It’s a great way to start the day, and it’s always busy — don’t let the long lines deter you. I like the coffee laced with chicory as much as I like the piping hot beignets. You’ll leave buzzed up and covered in sugar, but primed for the day’s adventures.
Now that you’re fueled up, head to the National World War II Museum, another must on your New Orleans itinerary. Originally founded as the D-Day Museum in 2000, the National World War II Museum is the top rated tourist destination in New Orleans. Probably my “a-ha” moment was when I realized how little I knew about the battle in the Pacific. It was brutal in every way as the Japanese were committed to fighting to the bitter end. As you know, the war in the Pacific resulted in the United States dropping the atomic bomb on Japan. The World War II Museum does an incredible job with first person oral histories and giving visitors a real look into the experience of being an American soldier abroad. Plan to spend at least half a day at the World War II Museum, which was just designated by Congress as the official World War II Museum of the United States.
I don’t think you can visit New Orleans without eating at least one po’ boy. On my last visit, I was stuffed from the night before, but still headed over Domilise’s. With almost a 100-year history, Domilise’s is known for their fried oyster and shrimp sandwiches served on a bun from the famous Leidenheimer Bakery. Roll up your sleeves, hit it with hot sauce and experience nirvana. Don’t forget to wash it down with a cold Abita root beer. I noticed on their menu they offer a “rest in peace” pepper wiener for $5.50. Dare you to try it!
You’re gonna be full, so let out your belt notch and head to Magazine Street, an area filled with wonderful, imaginative locally owned stores, most housed in quaint old buildings. The shop owners are gracious and ready to fill you in on the New Orleans scuttlebutt. I was ready to listen as I adore the dialect of New Orleanians.
Where to shop:
Lucy Rose, owned by two sisters, is a quaint shop specializing in chic clothing at affordable prices, and they have accessories galore. Once inside the door, you’ll feel welcomed by the staff.
Dunn and Sonnier Antiques is filled to the ceiling with hostess gifts, garden accessories, linens and more. On my last visit, they were loading some of the most gorgeous flowers for a local party. I scored and found my niece a wonderfully versatile garden vase to celebrate her wedding.
The French Library is a quaint shop we wandered into and were immediately taken aback by their collection of children’s books written in French. My daughter, who studied French for five years, was immediately captivated by the books. Owner Katherine Greer hosts children’s parties, too.
Ashley Longshore Gallery is known as a modern-day phenomenon. Artist Sarah Ashley Longshore is an artist, gallery owner and entrepreneur, and her art sales have supposedly exceeded $1 million as she continues to be one of America’s favorite icons in the art world. Bottom line — if you want to experience a modern-day Andy Warhol, stop by her gallery. You’ll chuckle on the way in and the way out. SB TIP: Take a look out the bathroom window.
La Boulangerie is the home of the perfect almond croissant, and after a long day of shopping, the lovely bakery offers the perfect respite. It can be crowded at lunch as they prepare wonderful tarts and salads. Renowned Chef Donald Link purchased the bakery from the original owner, so guests will be treated to world-class sandwiches with meat from Cochon Butcher.
On your way back to the hotel, grab a drink at the Swizzle Stick Bar at Cafe Adelaide. As a sister restaurant to Commander’s Palace, Cafe Adelaide was inspired by the Brennan’s beloved Aunt Adelaide. A part of the late ’50s and ’60s cocktail culture, Adelaide loved a good cocktail (don’t we all?!). The Swizzle Stick Bar offers a lovely setting with hand-chiseled ice cubes chipped from a giant block of ice. And yes, the swizzle sticks are glorious!
If you want to experience a true neighborhood restaurant for dinner, head to Katie’s, one of New Orleans’ most popular gathering places, especially on the weekend. Katie’s opened as a neighborhood lunch place in 1984, got walloped by Hurricane Katrina and then reopened five years later. What’s great is that it is filled with locals, and the owner, Scot Craig, meanders around the tables to speak to loyal patrons. On a recent visit, we ordered a crawfish beignet, eggplant fries and catfish meuniere.
You may be tempted to sleep in, but don’t. You may not be hungry after Saturday’s food stops, but don’t let that deter you. Head to Elizabeth’s in the Bywater neighborhood. Most tourists don’t get there, but it offers a picture of a true New Orleans neighborhood. Strolling there, you’ll see jazz clubs, small restaurants and funky shotgun homes. Elizabeth’s has the feel of a neighborhood dive that serves up some delicacies, like their praline bacon, bananas foster-stuffed waffles, duck waffles and a drop dead eggs benedict. Elizabeth’s serves a worthy array of cocktails with equally colorful names — Ghetto Fabulous Mimosa, Bywater Crutch, Corpse Reviver or a plain ol’ boring Brandy Milk Punch! Their motto says it all: “Real Food Done Real Good.”
After breakfast, head back to the French Quarter to take a stroll and soak in the gorgeous homes and gardens. You’ll pass The French Market filled with vendors who sell everything from the typical New Orleans tourist stuff to guys hawking alligator kabobs on a stick. It’s always fun to see the hustle and bustle of the market.
But the real jewel to end your trip is Faulkner House Books located on at 624 Pirate’s Alley in the heart of the French Quarter. Faulkner House Books duly notes it is a sanctuary for fine literature and rare editions, including many works by William Faulkner. The charm and depth of its collection are often noted by collectors everywhere.
Unfortunately, all great things comes to an end. But, as you head home know that your next visit to New Orleans will offer you something new and magical!
When you’re ready to start planning your New Orleans getaway, be sure to check out the New Orleans Visitors Center website.
Ready to travel? Check out our travel archives, and start planning your next escape!