New Orleans is a great place for a short getaway. While there is plenty to do, so much revolves around eating and drinking that you might not fit into your clothes after a few days! Since it is only an hour flight from Houston, it is my go-to destination for a quick getaway. In fact, I decided to make a quick day trip to Nola in June for my birthday.
Southwest Airlines offers many daily flights out of Houston Hobby Airport; which is much easier to navigate than Bush Airport because there is only one terminal (currently – they are expanding) and affordable onsite parking. So here it goes, the best way to spend a weekday in New Orleans:
New Orleans Cemeteries
First we begin with a little bit of culture, especially if it is your first trip to New Orleans! You will find many cemeteries that can be very interesting to explore. In New Orleans, the deceased are buried above ground in tombs and mausoleums that are sometimes quite elaborate. These cemeteries are known by the nickname of “Cities of the Dead” and have become quite the tourist attraction. New Orleans cemetery tours have become very popular.
Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 is the oldest and one of the best of seven municipal cemeteries in New Orleans. The Lafayette Cemetery was established in 1832, so there is so much history that can be seen. I usually enter it from the entrance on Washington. I have walked the rows and looked at the tombs and mausoleums many times. Next, right by the cemetery, there are some great shops in a little building at Prytania and Washington. I have spent more than a few minutes perusing the goods at Loomed (hand-woven textiles made in Turkey), Garden District Book Shop, and Judy at the Rink (a fabulous gift shop).
Weekday Lunch at Commander’s Palace
Next up is lunch, and luckily the best weekday lunch in town is at a restaurant right across the street from the cemetery. Every time I am in New Orleans, I make time for at least one meal at Commander’s Palace. Reservations are strongly recommended (make them early). I would highly advise dressing appropriately sine some jeans may prevent you from getting a seat in the main dining room.
Generally, I go for a weekday lunch, but they also have a wonderful dinner menu and great jazz brunch. Yes, initially I was drawn in by the 25 cent martinis that are only available during the week at lunch, but the food and atmosphere are amazing. I have even been there for lunch two days in a row.
If you would like to partake in the 25 cent martinis, you must order an entrée. This has caused me to change what I might normally order – an appetizer with a cup of soup and a delicious dessert would be plenty of food, but that would mean that I could not have 25 cent martinis. Turtle soup (yes it has real turtle in it) is one of their specialties and is absolutely delicious, so I would recommend adding a cup to your order.
The desserts are very large so I would recommend sharing. Also, remember to pace yourself on the martinis since there is a three martini limit at the 25 cent price. I have been to Commander’s Palace on many occasions for midweek lunches and it is so relaxed in the main dining room. I can tell by people’s accents that they are locals, but they too are enjoying a leisurely lunch. Also, this is quite a popular place for special occasions – and the birthday girl (or boy) gets to wear a special hat.
Explore the Garden District in Nola
After enjoying lunch, it is time for more sightseeing. In the reception area at Commander’s Palace, you can pick up a flyer for a self-guided walking tour that highlights some buildings in the Garden District. The homes in the Garden District are amazing to see from the street and the brochure provides some nifty facts. We followed this last time as we were making our way to St. Charles to catch the streetcar. If you want to skip the self-guided walking tour, you can instead walk straight down Washington and catch the streetcar. The streetcar is very convenient and only costs $1.25 (you need exact change). This will be your transportation back to the French Quarter.
World War II Museum
If you have time, you can get off the streetcar at the World War II Museum. The World War II Museum has an incredible amount of information and I would highly recommend a trip, but you may want to save this for when you have more than one day in New Orleans.
The French Quarter
To go to the French Quarter, get off the streetcar at Canal Street and then walk down Royal Street (perhaps stopping in an antique shop if something catches your eye) and head to Jackson Square. The St. Louis Cathedral is on one side of Jackson Square and you will also find street performers and artists. After seeing this, if you are ready for another cocktail, head to the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone. The bar and stools around it move slowly around in a circle – just like a carousel. This bar is the perfect spot for an afternoon break.
If you are ready to keep the party going, head to Bourbon Street. Right off Bourbon Street, on St. Peter, is Pat O’Brien’s, a bar that has been in the French Quarter since 1933. Originally a speakeasy and located a block away from its current location, Pat O’s was converted to a legitimate drinking establishment at the end of prohibition. Pat O’s signature drink is the Hurricane (which was invented here), so give it a try. It is made from fruit juices, rum, and grenadine, so it is a bit too sweet for me (but I am fond of tart drinks).
One of my favorite bars is the Cat’s Meow. For my birthday, we sang karaoke song after karaoke song. We were such talented singers, so they kept on inviting us to sing more songs (or it could have been that it was 5 pm on a Tuesday and there were only five other people in the bar). Later on in the evening, Cat’s Meow can get packed like many places on Bourbon Street.
Dinner Restaurants in the French Quarter
If you’re hungry there are several great options for dinner in the French Quarter. My favorites include Acme (casual restaurant generally with a long line that has delicious oyster poboys – a New Orleans speciality), K Pauls (Paul Prudhomme’s restaurant), NOLA (an Emeril Lagasse restaurant), and Palace Café (also good for happy hour). After dinner, Bourbon Street is always a good choice, but if you have done most of the items mentioned here, it may also be time to call it a night!
That’s my itinerary for a day trip to New Orleans. If you have more time to explore, check out these recommendations for things to do in New Orleans. Whether it’s your first trip to New Orleans, or you have been several times like me, it will be fun! Have you visited New Orleans? What would you see if you only had one day in Nola?
Expert Tips for One Day in New Orleans
- If you are having weekday lunch at Commander’s Palace, make sure you make your reservations in advance. Order an entrée if you would like to partake in 25 cent martinis.
- If you are looking for more recommendations, check out this list of New Orleans restaurants.
- Use the streetcar to get around New Orleans – it’s only $1.25.
- Tell your friends when you will be performing at the Cat’s Meow, there is a live feed of the karaoke stage (or don’t – depending on your karaoke abilities).