Bourbon Street (Photo: Joshua Brasted)
New Orleans sometimes gets the reputation of being a decadent Disney World for adults or a less flashy Las Vegas where you leave smelling of sugary cocktails and regret. In order to avoid common New Orleans tourist traps this fate on your next visit, here are five alternatives and some of the city’s best-kept secrets to help you experience New Orleans like a local.
Avoid the crowds on Bourbon Street
While Bourbon Street was known for its classy burlesque and jazz clubs in the ’50s and ’60s, the thoroughfare has since become synonymous with sensory-overload and typical tourist fare. Overpriced, cocktails that have been festering in plastic vessels for who knows how long; strip clubs that leave absolutely nothing to the imagination; chain restaurants and overrated local eateries; and a constant quagmire of people, ready to party.
Try this instead: Frenchmen Street is an alternative, less farcical stretch densely populated with bars, restaurants, and music clubs with actual good music that is known as the “locals’ Bourbon Street.” But, be warned that even some locals are starting to grumble about the crowds—another street with several bars and music clubs that is not as dense is St. Claude Avenue.
Try a local favorite New Orleans’ tour vs. French Quarter tours
Sure, a French Quarter ghost tour might give you some embellished trivia to put in your back pocket, but you will also earn the eyerolls of locals who would prefer to go about their business without the booming voice of a gothy, over-dramatic tour guide. You might as well just watch an episode of “American Horror Story: Coven.”
Try this instead: For a ghost tour that is more historic and less dramatic, try “A Cynic’s Ghost Tour” from Two Chicks Walking Tours. Or forgo the supernatural aspect completely and check out author Elizabeth Pearce’s Cocktail Tours that allow you to drink your way through New Orleans’ history.
Say no to costly steamboat dinner cruises
Don’t want to commit to a full tour with potentially mediocre buffet food?
Try this instead: Take the Algiers Ferry, which offers gorgeous views of the Mississippi River for $2 to Algiers Point, a charming hamlet with cozy bars and restaurants.
Enjoy beignets at a local favorite in New Orleans
Locals actually like this well-known purveyor of New Orleans’ signature beignets. The crispy fried donuts topped with mounds of sticky powdered sugar are delicious, but the cafe’s located in probably the worst part of the French Quarter, crowded with tourists (no offense), mule-drawn carriages (another tourist racket) and street performers trying to squeeze some money out of you. You’ll be waiting a long time for those beignets during peak periods.
Go here instead: Morning Call, another beignet café, is located in the much quieter City Park, where you can eat under live oak trees.
Avoid any store selling Mardi Gras beads outside of Carnival season
Carnival season begins on January 6 (Twelfth Night) and ends on the Tuesday before the Lent. During any time that is not Carnival, you should not be wearing Mardi Gras beads, let alone purchasing them in one of the French Quarter’s many tourist-targeting gift shops that typically also carry “I Got Bourbon Faced on Sh*t Street” shirts. Don’t you know we get beads thrown at us for free for several weeks out of the year?
Try this instead: Find literally any New Orleans local and he will probably have heaps of beads he’d be thrilled to unload. If you want a New Orleans souvenir T-shirt, go to Dirty Coast, which sells locals-approved apparel.