I stood outside of a jazz bar on Frenchmen Street, chatting with a few musicians who had just played a set and were smoking some well-earned cigarettes. I was alone that night in New Orleans due to inclemate weather that had grounded my flight back to San Diego. I shouldn’t have been there, but I felt lucky I was.
My cup of beer was sweating in the hot evening air, and droplets of water ran down my hand. One of the musicians asked me if it was my first time in the city.
“Yep, and this is actually my first trip to the South.”
He chuckled. “Honey, this isn’t the South.”
It wasn’t the first time I had heard this. The city did have a certain southern charm, but it also had a wild, offbeat vibe that made it seem totally autonomous from the rest of the region—and maybe even the rest of the U.S.
The geography may still be a little fuzzy for me, but what I can be sure about is that the Big Easy is a city with a beat, a city with a soul, and a city that doesn’t stay within the lines. And so standing there in the sticky night air listening to a dozen different jazz tunes pour out of open doors along the street, I realized I was definitely glad for an extra night in the city.
I wished my two sisters, who had been my travel companions for the last few days, could be there with me, but they were likely tucked into their own beds back in their respective cities. Still, I viewed the lightning storms over Atlanta that had cancelled my flight as more of a blessing than a curse. When life gives you a cancelled flight, you go out, have a drink, and listen to some damn good jazz.
After checking into my fleabag hostel, I immediately rushed down to Frenchmen Street to hear a band that came highly recommended by a friend called Meschiya Lake and the Little Big Horns. I just happened to notice their name scrawled onto a whiteboard calendar in the lobby, so I felt like the cancelled flight was fate.
And I also figured that if I timed things just right, I could avoid having to sleep at all in my actual hostel (the beds inspired visions of earwigs and skin infections) before having to leave at 5 a.m. for the airport. Win-win.
The night was one of the best I spent in the city. The band was fantastic, and I ended up meeting a few Coushsurfers from Australia and Germany and listening to even more good music with them.
I would have had to spend much longer than just four days soaking in the weirdness that is New Orleans to give my definitive list of favorite things, but because I do what I can with the ol’ two weeks of vacation every year, here is my short list:
Music seems to pervade every nook and cranny of New Orleans. The fact that music of all kinds is constantly being played by all sorts of people everywhere was one of my all-time favorite aspects of the city.
In the French Quarter it was commonplace to see a man wandering down the street outfitted in a tuba, or a troupe of middle school kids jamming out on their trumpets and trombones on a street corner. On more than one occasion we witnessed wedding parades, complete with marching bands, dancing down the street.
Frenchmen Street was always bumping, even on weeknights, and I couldn’t help think that equivalent shows in San Diego would require a ticket purchased weeks in advance, probably at $20 a pop, or more.
My favorite jazz bar on Frenchmen St.: The Spotted Cat
Favorite bands: Meschiya Lake and The Little Big Horns; The Jazz Vipers
One Uber driver told me and my sisters our focus should be on “getting food drunk” and eating everything in sight, advice I definitely used to justify total gluttony the entire trip.
Not only does Cajun and Creole food have fun names (jambalaya, crawfish etouffee, po-boy), it is also all delicious. Even the bland sounding dishes like red beans and rice were wonderfully flavorful.
However, because most of my food photos look a lot like this, I’ll spare you the agony.
Best meal of the trip: It’s a toss up between the muffaletta I had from Central Grocery Co. and the fried chicken and gumbo from Coop’s Place (I swear our server at Coop’s almost had an aneurysm when my older sister told him she was vegan. He covered his face in his hands for a good five seconds and then just muttered incoherently to himself).
The gorgeous architecture
I adored the houses in the French Quarter with their wrought iron balconies—er, galleries; the everyday houses in the Mid-City district with their inviting wrap-around porches and peeling paint; and the breathtaking white-columned mansions of the Garden District.
Favorite street for a stroll: Leafy 1st Street in the Garden District was full of stunning houses that looked straight out of a movie set (maybe a horror flick?)
I received little bits of advice and opinions here and there before leaving for the trip (“New Orleans is like Vegas on steroids!” or “Make sure to get off Bourbon Street!) but nothing could have prepared me for me for the raucous, vomit-soaked sidewalks of Bourbon Street (clearly didn’t take the advice), the voodoo vibes, or the absolute quirkiness of the French Quarter in general: A lady with a pet piglet, that guy painted from head to toe like a ninja turtle, that woman dressed up like a ghost buster, the countless half-naked older people dancing with strangers...the list goes on and on. Oh, and don't forget the poet for hire who wrote me a poem about Korea "in less time than it takes to smoke a cigarette." Best souvenir ever!
Not many places rival Hongdae on a Saturday night, but Bourbon Street made me take pause. People party pretty hard there, and ish gets weird.
No Open Container Laws
This no doubt contributes to the madness on the streets, but there is definitely something to be said about strolling around outside with a cold drink on a hot day. One of life’s small pleasures.
Favorite stroll with a drink: Around the French Quarter on our haunted New Orleans tour, obviously.
The Otherworldly Landscape
Of course it poured non-stop on the day me and the sisters booked a non-refundable swamp tour about 40 minutes outside of the city. And of course we were put on the one uncovered boat. Initially I was upset—how would I take any photos? How would we see any wildlife? But being pelted with rain on a boat going 30 mph was just hilarious, so we laughed. And then the rain slowed to a drizzle—and then we saw tons of alligators!
Favorite landscape: The swampland was amazing, but so was New Orleans City Park. The enormous oak trees draped in Spanish moss and the placid, murky ponds were creepy and beautiful.
I might not be moving to Nola anytime soon, but at least I can dream sweet dreams of beignets and muffulettas and Spotted Cat jazz, right?