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Shows a statue of three musicians on Bourbon Street in New Orleans

New Orleans, Hidden Gems

New Orleans is mostly associated with Mardi Gras, women flashing their breasts for beads and drunken debauchery. However, New Orleans has much more to offer such as museums, river cruises, nearby plantations, and distilleries. A few years ago we stopped here as part of an extended road trip. Join us as we recap our 4 days in the wondrous city of New Orleans.

sculpture of four nude men in the sculpture garden at New Orleans Museum of Art
Sculpture Garden at NOMA

Day 1 Arrival in New Orleans

shows the front of the New Orleans Museum of Art

New Orleans Museum of Art

shows a painting of some nudes on the ground displayed in the New Orleans Museum of Art

Initially, we arrived in New Orleans too early to check into our hotel. Instead, we found the New Orleans Museum of Art through Trip Advisor and had a picnic lunch on the lawn. Afterwards we perused several floors of art work. Then we headed out back to admire the sculpture garden.

After all that culture we drove to our hotel for a little r&r. We checked into the Royal St. Charles Hotel at 135 St. Charles Avenue. Then we left our car with the valet. With the exception of a day trip to local plantations, we wouldn’t be needing it. Subsequently, we booked a comfortable queen size room for a reasonable price through Groupon. We chose this hotel due to the location since we didn’t want to drive everywhere.

New Orleans Steamboat Company

shows a close up of a ship from New Orleans Steamboat Company
Steamboat Natchez

Consequently, we checked our phones for navigation and walked to Jackson Square. We reserved spots on a 7pm cruise aboard the Steamboat Nachez. To begin, we ordered some drinks from the bar and proceeded to find seats on deck. As we watched the sun set over the Mississippi River we listened to the energetic music of a jazz band. Then we took a tour of the engine room to learn the workings of the ship. Now it was time to eat. We found our assigned table for two in the dining room. Then we enjoyed a buffet dinner with all the fixings along with a Sazerac, a traditional drink in New Orleans. In addition, the crew sang to us for our anniversary and dessert, which made a grand finale to the evening.

Day 2 Plantations

shows the front of Destrehan Manor House with people on antebellum dress

Destrehan Manor House

We woke up early and walked to Central Grocery to order a famous muffaletta. In case you haven’t heard of this, its a large round sandwich layered with olive salad, salami, ham, Swiss cheese, provolone, and mortadella. Then we ordered our car from the valet and embarked on our journey to River Road.

Along River Road you can find numerous plantations. You will have to choose carefully as you can’t see them all. Our first stop was the Destrehan Manor House. Here we toured the Blacksmith Shop, smokehouse, and the kitchen house. If you would like to get a feeling for what life was like during this time, I recommend reading The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. It is historical fiction, but tells a story of what went on behind the scenes often at these plantations.

Oak Alley Plantation

shows the outside of Oak Alley Plantation with people on the second floor veranda

Our next stop was the more famous Oak Alley Plantation. Our guide shared his knowledge of the the plantation life of the slaves and really honored the men and women who did the majority of the work to built up this country. We toured slave quarters as well as the inside of the plantation. Outside again, we bought some refreshing mint juleps and found a picnic spot. Then we unpacked our muffaletta and enjoyed our lunch.

San Francisco Plantation

depicts the unique peach, blue, and yellow exterior of the San Francisco Plantation

After lunch, we drove to our final destination, the San Francisco Plantation. I chose this plantation because I heard that it was decorated with a lot of hand painted art work. It did not disappoint. Numerous cypress fireplaces were painted to look like marble. Also, the ceilings and door panels were all hand painted with cherubs and items from nature. In addition, a clothing chest on display had the ability to fold up into a trunk for traveling. This plantation even housed a state of the art flushing chamber pot!

Bourbon Street

up close shot of musicians playing in a small bar on Bourbon Street, New Orleans
Live band

We returned to New Orleans and handed our car back to the valet. After a shower and a short nap, we struck out to Bourbon Street for the night. There are many popular bars and clubs here along with trendy frozen concoctions. However, we chose some more classic venues. A must see is the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone. There are many seating options in this bar, but we opted to wait for a seat at the carousel. The bar is made to mimic a carnival carousel and makes a complete rotation every 15 minutes. I highly recommend the wait for a seat. Next we found a dive bar called Sing Sing where we were able to sip our drinks up close to the live bands.

Day 3 French Market, Rum, and Ghosts of New Orleans

archway entrance to the French Market in New Orleans

French Market

This morning we walked over to the French Market. We skipped the famous beignets in favor of indulging in shrimp po boys later. While we waited for our ride to the rum distillery we browsed the market. This proved to be a great place to buy souvenirs. The market houses everything from clothing to homemade food products. To sum up, I bought a strappy dress, some coasters, and a few other kitschy souvenirs.

The Old New Orleans Rum Distillery

displays rum barrels at Old New Orleans Rum Distillery
Barrels of Rum

Next our tour guide arrived in a van to drive us to the distillery. After arriving, we sipped rum cocktails while waiting for the other tour participants. Once the tour began, our guide taught us the history of the distillery and how rum is made. The tour ended with us sampling some different types of rum. Of course we bought some to take home with us.

The French Quarter and Ghosts

Once back in the French Quarter, we walked to the Royal Sonesta Hotel where we entered the Desire Oyster Bar. We had purchased a Groupon for a dozen oysters and drinks for two. After indulging on grilled oysters and drinks we went to explore the French Quarter. In short, we found the Museum of Death. This museum houses a collection of serial killer artwork, crime scene photos, mortician and coroner instruments, and Manson family memorabilia. This is a self-guided tour which takes approximately 45 minutes.

shows a sign for French Quarter History and Ghostbuster tours
Our meeting place for a Ghost Tour of New Orleans

After eating some po boys, we located the real estate office that doubled as the office for French Quarter History and Ghost Busters. We then embarked with a group of others on a walking tour of New Orleans. During the tour we learned the creepy history of New Orleans and the infamous Jean Lafitte. The tour ended at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, the oldest bar in New Orleans built between 1722 and 1732. As a result we tried the famous Voodoo drink, a frozen purple concoction. I was not impressed. I am not one for these pre-made drinks from a mix. Give me some good old Bourbon any time.

Day 4 The Garden District

a giant jester head used in a parade float at Mardi Gras World
One of the Creations at Mardi Gras World

Mardi Gras World

Today we spent the morning at Mardi Gras World. Finally we had mastered the Streetcar system here, because this was too far to walk. Here is where they make all of the displays for parade floats around the country. The artists fuse layers of Styrofoam together for the base of these sculptures. Sometimes they add layers of plywood to give the forms strength. Then they paint the sculptures to make them 3 dimensional. The parade floats themselves are several stories high and contain bathrooms because the parade participants are often on the floats for many hours.

Prior to our tour of the facility we watched a quick film telling the history of the floats and the hierarchy involved in being granted the privilege of entering a float in a parade. We even got to try on some of the costumes. Parades are a New Orleans tradition. Mardi Gras is the most widely known celebration, but smaller parades are found in New Orleans daily.

Another tradition is that of the King Cake. King cakes are used during celebrations in New Orleans. The baker hides a plastic baby in the cake. If you get the piece with the baby, then you are responsible for buying the cake for the next celebration.

Garden District

picture of an old home in the Garden District of New Orleans

Next we hopped the street car again and traveled to the Garden District. Famous for its beautiful 19th century homes, the Garden District was originally part of the Livaudais Plantation. New Orleans incorporated the plantation in 1852 and is now considered a historic landmark. Stroll down the well known Magazine Street and stop in the shops. Some of the more popular restaurants fill quickly and waits can be long. I challenge you to walk a little further and find a less popular alternative. We like to sit at the bar and chat with the bartender. Usually, you get insider information about the area which consequently leads to a much better experience.

picture of a multperson tomb in Layfayette Cemetery in New Orleans
mass crypt in Lafayette Cemetery #1

Of course, a visit to the Garden District isn’t complete without a trip to Lafayette Cemetery. Don’t forget to book a tour ahead of time. Here many of the tombs date back to the 1800s. Due to New Orleans actually being below sea level, these tombs are all built above the ground. Because of the heat in New Orleans, the tombs act as kilns, therefore cremating the bodies. This allows families to use the same tombs over and over again.

depicts many jars of crushed powders and herbs to make potions in Voodoo Authentica in New Orleans
Potion Ingredients

Jackson Square

After we took the street car back to the French Quarter, we walked to Jackson Square for the evening. We started by shopping for souvenirs in the many shops lining the streets. Then we found Voodoo Authentica, a traditional voodoo shop. Here we browsed collections of voodoo dolls, potion oils, and gris gris bags. Eventually we chose to buy some candles. The shop also offers readings.

We ended the evening with dinner at Jax Brewery. We sat at the bar which had an open area facing the street. While we were eating a random parade went by. I don’t mean some rinky dink parade either. Included were floats from Busch Gardens, Disney, Sea World, and the Smurfs, to name a few. All of them threw beads and candy to observers. I ran out to grab some beads. Typically, this is an every day occurrence here.

a Busch Gardens float moves down the street during a random parade outside Jax Brewery, New Orleans
Random Parade

Sadly it was time to say good bye to this magical city. Time to finish our road trip and head home.

New Orleans skyline at night as seen aboard a boat of the Mississippi River
View of New Orleans at Night as viewed from aboard the Steamboat Nachez

Any links to tours or bookings in New Orleans through Get Your Guide are sponsored links. However, we chose these links based on activities we recommend from our trip.

4 thoughts on “New Orleans, Hidden Gems

  1. Nice Job Donna Marie!
    I say this cause I live here in NOLA in the Irish Channel which is right along Magazine Street across from the Garden District!
    When people visit me, I have to say most of my tour is based on History, Alcohol, & FOOD! So, when I read that you went to Central Grocery for a muffaletta and you also took a spin on the Carousel at the Hotel Monteleone, I was very happy! It was really cool that you also went to City Park and explored NOMA. It wouldn’t have been my first choice of museums for visitors to New Orleans but it is really cool! I would have only switched that for the World War 2 museum…even if you aren’t a War History person, the experience is amazing!!!
    Next time you come back, let me know and Darcee & I will show you all of our local favorite spots too!!

  2. Great list of things to do in New Orleans. The walking ghost tour sounds very interesting and something I would love to do! A dinner buffet cruise on the Mississippi River would be a must and the perfect way to end a day of exploring. I hope to make it to New Orleans in the near future, it has been on my list for quite some time!

    1. We crammed a lot of fun things into a short amount of time. It was really a plus staying right in the French Quarter so we could walk or take the trolley to most places

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