Oak Alley Plantation — Photo courtesy of RenoMark/iStock
Mardi Gras, jazz clubs, the French Quarter, Bourbon Street and John Tesh restaurants are all headliners for New Orleans visitors wanting to explore this legendary destination. That’s well and good, but sometimes you want to distance yourself from the beaten path.
Away from the hubbub and star attractions, there are plenty of places to see in NOLA that sidestep the insanity and offer a true taste of Louisiana tradition. Here are 10 alternatives to the typical New Orleans itinerary.
Breakfast at Café Beignet
Cafe Beignet at Musical Legends Park — Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton
New Orleans is stuffed with famous restaurants serving fine Cajun and Creole-inspired fare. Probably first on your list is Café du Monde for beignets and coffee with chicory. Try instead Café Beignet, slightly less famous, but also al fresco with perfect beignet pastries.
There are two locations, and the one on Bourbon Street lives within Musical Legends Park, featuring monuments to New Orleans greats. And it features live music to help you wake up.
Lunch at Mother’s
Join the locals and in-the-know transients at Mother’s Restaurant, a city dining tradition since 1938. It specializes in baked ham as well as a beef dish of its own invention – now iconic throughout New Orleans – known as debris, which is the roast beef that falls into the au jus as the meat cooks in the oven.
At lunch, you’ll also find a selection of other famous local cuisine: jambalaya, crawfish etouffee, red beans and rice, and po’ boys.
Dinner at Salon
Salon Restaurant by Sucre — Photo courtesy of Crocker Photography
If you’re looking for a fresh departure from Louisiana eats, check out Salon by Sucré in the French Quarter. Tariq Hanna puts his pastry chef talents to savory use in confections like goat cheese and beet salad with granola and shaved chocolate, or pomegranate duck with caramel, watercress and soft egg.
Cocktails at Sazerac
Skip the Hand Grenades, Hurricanes and other gimmicky, sugary Bourbon Street tipples. Instead, duck into the sanctuary of the Sazerac Bar in The Roosevelt Hotel. Named for the world’s oldest highball (and the city’s official cocktail), the bar serves classics in a grand historic setting where the infamous Governor Huey Long was said to sip Ramos Gin Fizzes while chatting up constituents.
Southern Food & Beverage Museum
Southern Food & Beverage Museum exhibit — Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton
New Orleans has no shortage of museums and historic sites, but after all that eating and drinking, you might want to venture to the Uptown/Garden District and have a look inside the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. Here you can explore the culinary traditions of every Southern state, with emphasis on Louisiana, neighboring Mississippi and barbecue. It’s also home to the Museum of the American Cocktail.
On Saturdays, SoFAB hosts cooking demonstrations and other events.
New Orleans Plantation Country
Oak Alley Plantation — Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton
Instead of touring around the famed Anne Rice-esque mansions of the Garden District, take to the trail through New Orleans Plantation Country. Ten beautifully preserved manors welcome visitors, and each tells its unique story.
Laura: A Creole Plantation, for instance, bases its tour on the diary of a young girl who grew old there. Whitney Plantation concentrates on slaves’ stories throughout the region. And top-visited Oak Alley Plantation offers meals, accommodations, slave hut exhibits and a peek into the drama of the “Big House.”
Tremé Walking Tour
Along the Treme Tour route — Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton
Cemetery, voodoo, cocktail and music tours abound. For a completely different perspective, sign up for the Tremé Walking Tour with French Quarter Phantoms Ghost Tours company. It takes you into the streets where jazz and rock were born, and black Creole culture developed its richness. Fans of the post-Hurricane Katrina HBO series, Tremé, won’t want to miss it.
Rock ‘n’ Bowl
Instead of the famed weekend jazz clubs, hit this bowling alley on Thursday nights for a taste of roots music. Some of the greatest zydeco bands from across Southwest Louisiana Cajun country hit the bowling alley every week for rocking accordion music and spirited dancing. You won’t find anything else like this in the city.
NOLA’s backyard bayou serenity — Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton
Discover a different meaning to “wild life” in New Orleans while kayaking through town, bayous, and bird and alligator habitats. Kayak-Iti-Yat tours range from beginner to advanced levels and offer an entirely different perspective on New Orleans.
Cajun Country Mardi Gras
Cajun Mardi Gras in Iowa — Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton
Okay, so this is technically Mardi Gras, but not the way you’re probably picturing it. Head to the backcountry where practically every community has its own version of this annual celebration, complete with pageantry, partying and parading.
For a true Mardi Gras roots tradition, make your way to rural Iowa (pronounced I-oh-WAY), for a Fat Tuesday Cajun tradition known as Courir de Mardi Gras. It involves characters in traditional wire masks and old-time costumes, riding flatbed hay wagons, zydeco dancing in exchange for gumbo ingredients, chasing live chickens and feasting on gumbo.