My New Orleans: Surviving the French Quarter


Admiring the architecture in the French Quarter of New Orleans;
Admiring the architecture in the French Quarter of New Orleans; only possible once you escape the cesspool that is Bourbon Street

There are certainties when it comes to visiting New Orleans. Go to the French Quarter, walk Bourbon Street and hit the highlights of shops, sights and dining options. And, yeah, I’ve done that. But I’ve also learned that those “highlights” come up short versus what I think is the best way to enjoy the Quarter and get a feel for the city (and, yes, you should also go beyond the French Quarter to get a true feel for New Orleans, but that’s a different post).

Jackson Square v Louis Armstrong Park

Looking to hang out with artists, buskers and fortune tellers? Then, by all means, go to Jackson Square. It is the perfect location to be surrounded by such. We saw Darth Vader lip syncing to Meatloaf and one guy posing as a “statue” by lying down on the sidewalk, apparently playing the part of “passed out drunk” spectacularly accurately. The north side of the park was packed end to end with fortune tellers and psychics. I don’t even know how to choose which one I’d visit; do I go where I can feel my aura strongest?

Relaxing in the shade at Louis Armstrong Park in New Orleans
Relaxing in the shade at Louis Armstrong Park in New Orleans with nary another soul around

Or you can take refuge a few blocks north of Jackson Square in Louis Armstrong Park. It is quiet, relaxed and peaceful. There are statues scattered along the walkways if you want the art and culture. Or just sit on one of the many benches or under a tree and relax with other families who use the park for recreation rather than business. Construction of a new Street Car line creates a few challenges in terms of access but crossing the street isn’t all that hard and the pay-off is worth it. As an added bonus, you’re forced to navigate the quieter part of the Quarter to get there, seeing some of the more beautiful homes and classic architecture rather than strip clubs and bars. Shops along the way offer up antiques and art more than t-shirts and shot glasses.

Acme Oyster House v Felix’s

There is something of an ongoing battle between these two longstanding shops sitting across from each other in Iberville Street, just south of Bourbon. Acme consistently has longer lines and receives more praise; I have no idea why. Maybe because it is a little cleaner or a bit more formal inside, but that’s not what I’m looking for when it comes to freshly shucked oysters. I want to see the same guys working the counter year after year and to sit at that counter, chatting with them (even though I know they don’t remember me) about how the city has changed and know that they’ve seen it all, not just that they’re telling others’ stories. There can still be a line at Felix’s but it seems to always be half that of Acme. Plus if you’re willing to sit at the bar you can often skip the wait and slide right in.

Order a dozen raw at the bar. Watch as the guys just slide them across – no need for the formality of a plate of ice – and enjoy as you slurp them down. Pretty good chance you’ll end up with a few extra even, assuming you’re at all able to carry on a conversation. The gumbo is solid, too.

Café du Monde v Beignet Café

Café du Monde is THE place to go for beignets in New Orleans. You can tell by the lines which stretch down the sidewalk and can easily be over an hour long at peak times. Even the take-out line was 20ish minutes last Saturday afternoon. And, yes, there is plenty of history in the shop, but they are not the best beignets in town. They are dense rather than fluffy, flat rather than round. We walked in to Beignet Café and were able to get in more quickly and get better beignets as an added bonus. It has been suggested to me that the crab beignets at Bar Revolution are a good choice for a savory option. I didn’t get to try them this trip but I hopefully will next time I’m in town.

Bourbon Street v Pretty Much Anything Else

Bourbon street is a disgusting mess. Littered with strip clubs and bars which rarely seem to wash the floor off between the nightly rounds of idiocy, there is almost nothing redeeming about it. Though I suppose it does help concentrate all the people I do not want to deal with on any given trip in one place, so that’s something positive about it. Dauphine and Royale get hurt by spillover traffic falling off of Bourbon but they’re better. Just another block away and things are actually decent. Like real history and architecture and shopping that doesn’t involve t-shirts, shot glasses or sex toys.

Admiring the architecture in the French Quarter of New Orleans;
Admiring the architecture in the French Quarter of New Orleans; only possible once you escape the cesspool that is Bourbon Street

In talking about this with some of the guys from Dots, Lines and Destinations I posited that maybe I’m the outlier and that these “classic” parts of the city really are great. Either they’re just being nice to me or they agree for real. Either way, I’m standing by my assertion: the French Quarter can be a lot of fun, so long as you actually visit it rather than get caught up in the mob scene.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

5 Comments

  1. Nice tourist review of the Big Easy. Having lived there in the past it is a fun area however crime can be a problem.
    You should go visit The Quarter during the gay pride parade or on Fat Tuesday if you want to experience N.O. at it’s peak.

  2. Cafe du Monde has never us let down. Their beignets are far superior to Beignet Cafe. We went to the Beignet Cafe location on Royal St. At that time, it was convenient for us. Our friends insisted to try it, I should have put up a bigger fight. The beignets were awful. Not hot, very greasy. Never again! Cafe du Monde only serves beignets nothing else. Cafe Beignet serves a whole menu. Cafe Beignet, never again.

  3. +1 for cafe du monde.
    And they’re not supposed to be round or light or fluffy.

  4. I was fortunate enough to get an invite to a couple of houses in the quarter a bit further down Bourbon Street. While the drunks stagger outside fighting the roaches ERRR palmetto bugs for sidewalk supremacy, behind those rickety doors and iron gates you’ll find some of the most palatial interiors this side of the Atlantic. Some of those places are used to entertain high rollers that come to town during Mardi Gras, and many have been in the same family for generations.

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