The Crescent City - where do I start?
*New Edit June 28 2009* One tip for people driving in New Orleans for the first time - You are NOT allowed to make left turns at many intersections, especially boulevards (streets with a canal or green space in the middle).
You will see a special U-turn lane either just before the light, or just after the light. Watch for the U-Turn symbol to spot those lanes. It's an upside down U with an arrow. You will also see some intersections where U-turns are not allowed. Nothing is consistent in New Orleans.
In Metairie, especially on Veterans Blvd., the lanes are usually just before the lights. In New Orleans itself, there is a mixture, but the lanes are usually after the lights.
Another warning about New Orleans drivers: They are terrible. And they are proud of the fact that they do not use turn signals. They don't want any other drivers to have advance notice of their intentions. They like to run red lights, too - so don't hurry to go through the intersection when your light turns green.
A is for Angelo Brocato ice cream shop. Mid-City, on Carrolton just east of Canal Blvd. intersection. A is also for Audubon Institute, including the Zoo, in uptown New Orleans on the site of the 1884 World Cotton Exposition, the Aquarium at the foot of Canal St., and the Insectarium, in the historic Customs House on Canal. ** Note: They have made changes to ferry service - I don't think the Algiers Ferry carries vehicles any more, pedestrian only. Check before you set out. ***The Algiers Ferry at the foot of Canal St. will give you a unique view of the city. It used to be free for pedestrians, not sure if it still is. Since New Orleans is really all about the river, riding the ferry will give you a river experience. You can get off in Algiers, or you can just stay on for the round trip. A is also for art - New Orleans has many museums. You can start at New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) in City Park. There's also the Ogden Museum of Southern Art close to Lee Circle on Camp St. Google for New Orleans museums to find more.
B is for beignets at the Cafe' du Monde. Across from Jackson Square in the Quarter, you can sit under their open-air pavilion, be served cafe au lait and beignets, and watch the people go by. I think the Cafe' is still open 24 hours a day. Before Katrina, if you walked around to the river side of the building, you could look in a window and watch them make the beignets. Not sure if it's still like that.
B is also for Bed and Breakfasts. I've always wanted to stay at Degas House on Esplanade, and my contacts in New Orleans say they have relatives that stay there when they visit, love it. I also have gotten recommendations for Oakview Bed and Breakfast on City Park Ave. I have also gotten a recommendation for Rose Manor in Bucktown. It says it is in Lakeview, but it's at the border of Lakeview and Bucktown (the old lakeside fishing district of Metairie) at the West End, close to the lake. There are also a variety of B&Bs on Prytania, Uptown. My mom stayed in a nice one when Ray was working at the World's Fair, but that was in 1984. Google on B&Bs on Prytania to scope out what's there now.
C is for Central Grocery at 923 Decatur St. in the French Quarter. Plan on popping in for a muffaletta (pronounced "muffa-lotta"). At lunch time, they make them ahead, and you just tell them you want a half or a whole. Two people can split a whole one and be stuffed. A quarter will leave you hungry before suppertime. Last time I was there, they had a few places to sit inside the store but you can buy a drink and take your sandwich to Jackson Square or to the levee to eat it. Also, you don't bargain about what goes on it. You just say, "a half" or "a whole". They will wave you out of the line if you start to tell them what you want on it. Cash is good here, I can't remember if they take cards now. Back in the day, they didn't take cards.
E is for expensive. Some other famous, more expensive, places are: Antoine's, Galatoire's, Delmonico's, and Commander's Palace. These are places that require more than the casual dress you usually see in New Orleans restaurants, plus a good bit more money. I have actually never eaten at any of these places. They are destinations in and of themselves.
J is for jazz. Preservation Hall has music 7 nights a week in the Hall on S. Peter St. in the French Quarter. Check out the shows on their web site. Snug Harbor, on Frenchmen Street in the Marigny, is also a fantastic jazz venue; music 7 nights a week I think. Ray highly recommends the Palm Court Jazz Cafe, at 1204 Decatur St. He has fond memories of going there during the years he worked about 2 blocks away, on Royal St. in the French Quarter.
M is for Maple Leaf Bar on Oak St., not far off Carrollton. Ray used to play music pretty often at the Maple Leaf in the 1980s. Check out their calendar, it is a genuinely funky New Orleans music venue. It's where the locals go. I remember when it had the laundromat; my first visit was with my New Orleans-bred college roommate in the 1970s.
Also, Mandina's Restaurant on Canal, close to Carrollton. I haven't been since early 2005 before Katrina, but they used to have these old surly waiters who would tell the daily specials in a thick New Orleans accent spoken too fast for me to understand. Even though they were speaking English, sometimes I felt like I needed English subtitles. It makes them surlier when they have to repeat themselves. The last time I was there, I got a young courteous waiter and it wasn't the same. I used to love the marinated crab claw appetizer, and the softshell crab amandine. Everything is good there, you can't go wrong. Don't forget - cash only, no cards, no checks of any kind, even traveler's checks. One of my favorite evenings was to eat at Mandina's then cross Canal, walk a little ways down Carrolton, and get gelato at Angelo Brocato's.
N is for the neighborhoods. New Orleans has many of them. Tourists mostly see the French Quarter, the Central Business District (CBD), the Foubourg Marigny, Bywater, the American Quarter (mansions on St. Charles Avenue, Audubon Park, etc., also sometimes called Uptown or Garden District). Uptown has many sub-neighborhoods. There is also Mid-City, Broadmoor, Jefferson (old), the Irish Channel, Holly Grove, Algiers, Lakeview, Lake Vista, Gentilly, City Park, the 9th Ward, and the list goes on. The areas closest to the river did not flood during Katrina, but just about everywhere else did.I'm not sure if any maps exist showing the neighborhoods, and I'm not sure if they have exact boundaries. When people give directions, they often include the neighborhood name to give an idea of the location.
S is for streetcar. *** Note added February 10, 2014: They have been doing lots of work on the streetcar lines, and substitute buses when there is streetcar construction going on. Consult the RTA web site to confirm schedules and operational status. *****
A fun, inexpensive thing to do is ride the St. Charles streetcar. The link has details of fares. You will ride down the American Quarter, also known as the Garden District from the Central Business District (downtown). You will ride by Loyola and Tulane Universities, and pass Audubon Park. I'm not sure what the status of the Canal Street streetcars. They had re-worked all the line down Canal St. to Mid-City before Katrina, but there was extensive damage to both the line and the cars during Katrina. Ask a local about the Canal Streetcar. If it's active, you will see a much different city on that ride to Mid-City than you would on the St. Charles streetcar.
T is for Tujague's (old Creole restaurant in French Quarter) and Tipitina's music Uptown. Tujague's always has lunch specials, and great atmosphere.
W is for West Bank. I have recently had a restaurant in Crown Point highly recommdended, as well as the Bayou Segnette state park. There is also the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park Barataria Preserve which is a wetland environment. Lafitte the town is another destination.