Last week, I landed in Chicago from New Orleans after a much-needed four day-long girls’ trip. You know how they say traveling with young kids is a “trip” while traveling without young children is a “vacation?” Well, I will say that as much as I love traveling with my kids, it is true that it never quite feels like a vacation. New Orleans has now served as my “vacation” away from kids for the third time since I’ve had kids. So, is NOLA not kid-friendly? I wouldn’t quite say that. But I would say that it’s the sort of place that is probably best enjoyed when the little ones aren’t toting along.
The first time I traveled to New Orleans was just with Billy and it was a wonderful trip, but we did the things that most people read about doing in New Orleans before going (City Park, Magazine Street, Bourbon Street, etc.). The last two visits have been girls’ trips, staying with my friend who now owns a home in NOLA, and I’ve been very grateful to be able to see NOLA through the eyes of someone who lives there. Here I am sharing not only what I’ve learned through these three trips to my favorite American city, but also the spots that are a bit off-the-radar. You know, the kind that won’t necessarily pop up when you google “what to do in NOLA.”
The vintage/thrift scene in NOLA is interesting. In some ways, it’s thriving, and in other ways, it falls a little short of expectations. What I would say, as far as my experiences within the city limits, is that there is plenty of incredible vintage to be found in NOLA. What is a bit lacking is great secondhand/vintage at affordable prices. If you don’t mind having suffering a bit of sticker-shock, these are the spots I’d recommend (all spots are linked in the headers when possible)
This spot is right on Magazine Street and has some really great vintage clothing, but is also speckled with some amazing curated vintage housewares. The shop also carries some newer handcrafted pieces, particularly in the jewelry/pipe departments. Blue Dream is so beautifully curated and for the small-scale of the shop, I was quite impressed with the breadth of offerings. An A+ shopping experience that makes you happy to pay the somewhat inflated prices because (especially for those of us who have been in the vintage-selling world) you know the owner(s) of this shop are working super hard behind the scenes to bring such an engaging experience to their storefront.
THE BARGAIN CENTER
This might be my favorite vintage spot in NOLA, mostly because it’s exactly what a thrift shop should be: messy, overstocked and CHEAP. If you were following my trip on IG stories, you may have seen my glass apple I scored at The Bargain Center for $6. This place is fairly large and will require a bit of digging, but an absolute must-stop. Besides, the Bywater neighborhood where this shop is located also has some of my favorite restaurants/homes and a really amazing vibe and happens to be a bit off the beaten path of most tourists. Hit up Alma (detailed in restaurants below) while you’re there as it’s just around the corner.
MAGAZINE ANTIQUE MALL
The first thing I want to say about this spot is that it is overpriced. The second thing I will say is that it is large, fully stocked, and has lots of amazing finds. Probably the most important point I will make about the Magazine Antique Mall, though, is that you will likely be very close to it at some point on your NOLA trip. Magazine Street in general is a must-stop area, so keeping your likely proximity to this spot in mind, it is absolutely worth popping in. I’ve been here three times, and only ever bought something once (mostly because of pricing), but it’s definitely a great spot.
This is a spot I didn’t end up popping into this year as it is a bit heavy on the furniture (and I wasn’t really in the market for any – especially pieces I’d have to ship). But Merchant House does also carry smaller housewares with decent pricing all around, so especially if you’re on Magazine Street, be sure to pop in.
This place is definitely NOT inexpensive, but the vintage couture they have in here is definitely worth checking out, even if it only feels like a museum for most of us. If I had a really special occasion and needed something unique, this would be my first stop in NOLA.
This place is just MAGICAL. While the ambience is one of the best I’ve ever experienced and the French-inspired cuisine is also delicious, the best part about N7 is the act of walking into N7. From the outside, it looks like a garden wall in a residential neighborhood, but when you open the unassuming gate to walk in, you feel like you’ve been fantastically transported into the pages of The Secret Garden. Be sure to make a reservation and, if you expect the weather to be good, make the res for the garden area.
MOLLY’S RISE & SHINE + TURKEY & THE WOLF
I’m listing these under the same tab (though the links are different) because they have the same owner (the highly acclaimed local, Mason Hereford) and both have a very similar vibe. Molly’s is the better spot for breakfast, Turkey & The Wolf the better spot for lunch. Both spots are imbued with a very gritty/hipster sensibility, and you’d probably feel less out of place in your pajamas than you would in a cute sundress. All of that is to say, both of these Hereford-owned locales are the perfect spots to grab some hungover grub. The menu in both restaurants is mostly heavy and far from healthful, but it really is just so damn good. When in NOLA!
The Country Club doesn’t have the best food, but the interior (and exterior, actually) is just so well-designed. If you’re looking to pop in a pool to cool off, the Country Club also offers day passes to their pool. While the Country Club does offer memberships, anyone is welcome to walk-in to their restaurants for some food and/or drink (I’d recommend this as a great pre-dinner spot to have some drinks + apps). This is located, again, in the adorable Bywater neighborhood, far from the crowds of the French Quarter.
This Honduran gem, also located in Bywater, is an absolutely delicious brunch spot. The portions are large, and the menu is incredibly creative. Alma has both indoor and outdoor seating on fairly quiet corner, but the restaurant itself is quite popular (unless you plan to go quite early, I’d recommend a reservation here as well).
I probably should have listed Jewel of the Sea first because it is definitely my favorite spot in NOLA. I have only dined here once, but it really did hit on all cylinders. It has the ambiance of N7, the food creds of Mason Hereford’s restaurants, and the cocktails are not only inventive, but dangerously delicious. Do I have anything bad to say about Jewel of the Sea? Well, it’s expensive, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing (outside of the fact that price tags are often, unfortunately, exclusionary). Still, the experience is really so on-point that this gem of a restaurant deserves every penny it’s bringing in. The outdoor eating area here is magical, but so is the interior, so you really can’t go wrong. Either way, do be sure to make a reservation.
WHERE TO STAY
The last two times I’ve stayed in NOLA I’ve been lucky enough to be able to stay at my friends’ house, in Bywater (a great neighborhood to find an airbnb), but I also wanted to mention the bed & breakfast that Billy and I stayed in when we vacationed in NOLA together because it really was noteworthy. As far as neighborhoods to stay in, Marigny and the French Quarter (though not too close to Bourbon St) are also both fabulous in that they are right in the thick of everything, and are easily walkable to a lot of great spots. The Garden District is also quite beautiful, with Magazine Street being a big draw, but it’s a little far from everything else.
This incredibly charming small hotel not only delivers homemade hot biscuits, jam and top-notch hot coffee to your door every morning (without asking, on the house), but it also feels like you’re a house guest in a beautifully outfitted southern mansion. The Soniat House is currently being renovated (by esteemed interior designer/new owner, Ken Fulk) and is slated to reopen in late 2023. I will also add that while it is quite close to Bourbon Street, the Soniat House is on a much quieter street and I did not find noise to be an issue while staying here. In fact, it feels like a total escape from the mayhem that is Bourbon Street.
There are so many places and ways to play in New Orleans, but I’ll start by saying that one of my favorite things to do in NOLA (as in most of my favorite cities) is to just walk and take it all in. The colorful, distinct architecture of New Orleans is so intoxicating and what better way to take it all in than by foot? Aside from this very free and very rewarding activity, some of my favorite experiences in NOLA have been:
City Park is a wonderful spot, just a quick ride from downtown NOLA. There are beautiful botanical gardens and a lovely restaurant, as well as rides and open spaces for kids (if you do happen to be traveling with them). It’s a very pleasant escape from the hustle and bustle of the French Quarter.
There are many different tour companies that run these air boat tours, but we hopped on one hosted by Ragin’ Cajun and it really was so much fun. While you will need car transportation to reach most of these spots (if not all), it’s worth the quick trip outside the city and into the bayou. We spied on lots of wonderful birds and saw tons of alligators (we even got to pet one and feed some others). I’m not NOT afraid of alligators, but I did feel totally safe and very much enjoyed this excursion. I’d maybe skip it with very young children, but the 8+ age range would really get a kick out of this, too, I’d imagine!
Studio BE is a wonderful and powerful exhibition of mostly graffiti, but also other forms of street art. The exhibition is located inside an old warehouse and both through the locale and the art, expresses a powerful narrative about the racial and socio-economic disparities, told through a hyper-local lens. All artists whose work is displayed at Studio BE are New Orleans locals, and I love how inclusive the studio is of artists of different ages. You’ll experience work by seasoned artists, exhibited alongside some poignant works by local teenagers.
Frenchmen Street is really iconic New Orleans in that pretty much every single spot on this street has live music every day of the week. Some spots are a bit divey, most are quite loud, but still the vibe is really lively and fun and I would highly recommend this vivacious New Orleans street over the Bourbon Street experience.
This is a spot I have only walked past while a live performance was taking place, but it’s a spot my NOLA friend highly recommends, and definitely a spot I will make a point of going to on my next trip. You will need a ticket to enter a Marigny Opera House performance, so be aware and prepared before you go and purchase those tickets! It’s an absolutely magical and unexpected venue.
Do you have any NOLA spots you would add to my list? Please do drop them in the comments below!
02 comments on “New Orleans Hot Spots: Where to Thrift, Eat, Stay + Play”
I was in Nola this past December with friends and we stayed in a great Airbnb located above the restaurant Alma. Loved it! We ate there 3 times – such a wonderful spot with great ambience and fabulous food. We really enjoyed the Bywater neighborhood as well. We had a fun night at the Country Club, and I agree with your suggestion to make it a pre-dinner stop for cocktails. Thank you for this Kate, we’ll use it the next time we return!
Oh that sounds amazing! Alma really is so delicious – NOLA is just the best, right?