Is there an ideal time of year to visit? Think spring: The madness of Mardi Gras is a memory, the weather is mild, and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is a beacon for those who value diversity—in music and other cultural offerings. If you can’t make it this year (April 28 to 30 and May 4 to 7), plan for a 2018 trip. Another reason to go in spring—the only hurricanes you’re likely to encounter will be served in tall glasses with rum. It is a city that takes great pride in its cocktail culture and dining scene. If you need a break from tastings, there’s an abundant supply of architecture, history, music, and art that can fill the hours not devoted to chasing indulgence.
Take a tour of the Garden District, home to scores of beautiful houses and some of the city’s best shopping, much of it on Magazine Street (vintage jewelry collectors should check out Jezebel’s or Magpie). Explore the French Quarter, where the cobblestone streets, elaborate ironwork, and quiet courtyards are reminders of the city’s French heritage. With all due respect to local haters, a stroll down Bourbon Street is a must for urban anthropologists doing field research on the rituals around 21st century to-go cups. Stop by the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, where an “After Hours” entertainment series offers a chance to sip cocktails and listen to local musicians, such as Alex McMurray and the Unfortunates ($13.50).
The Westin Canal Place ($250 and up) is adjacent to the French Quarter, near Harrah’s Casino, and an easy walk to the Warehouse Arts District. Those who want to immerse themselves in history might try the luxurious Hotel Monteleone ($239 and up) at the foot of Royal Street in the French Quarter. Five generations of Monteleones have owned and operated the hotel since it opened in 1886.
Gastronomes in pursuit of traditional Creole fare often head to the French Quarter, but in the past 15 years, a series of chefs and restaurateurs working to expand the boundaries of Southern cooking have moved into other neighborhoods. Donald Link opened his award-winning food emporiums—Herbsaint, Cochon, Cochon Butcher, and Pêche—within walking distance of each other in the Warehouse Arts District. Try the shrimp toast ($7) or the grilled tuna ($27) at Pêche. Dana Point-raised Justin Devillier runs the show at La Petite Grocery, known for dishes such as turtle Bolognese ($24) and panéed rabbit ($26). It’s in the Garden District, across the street from Shaya, an Israeli-influenced restaurant. Both establishments won James Beard Awards in 2016.