How is it that the guys can love a dirty disgusting city so much? As you drive into the God-forsaken town you immediately notice how dirty it is. The streets are lined with houses that should have been condemned and bulldozed years ago after hurricane Katrina.
There is a contrast – a distinct smell of tourist piss and vomit on many corners of the French Quarter, but a block over a tear may come to your eye from amazement of all the local culture and art.
Many parts of the town reek of tourist hell. Areas like Bourbon Street are so dirty and disgusting that the city has to literally wash the streets with soap and water every mornting – what else can they do when every tourist takes a giant metaphorical (sometimes literal) dump on the city in an alcohol induced rage until 4am before finally packing their bags and heading home?
I think that’s all part of the glorious dichotomy that is NOLA. It’s dirty, grimy, trashy, largely broken, touristy, but amazing. We still love New Orleans like almost no other place – and you should too!
It really is a unique experience to walk down a street and witness a full-grown man singing his heart out like no one but God himself is listening. Then there are the local bakeries and eateries – the local bakers and cooks gossiping in a southern/Cajun twang making it uniquely New Orleans. Everyone loves their craft and the tourist just pass through on their way to Bourbon street sometimes giving little recognition.
It’s the bartender who has lived in the city his entire life and can handle anything a drunken tourist can throw his way. It’s the artist that should have their art in a museum, but sells it on the street because that’s just what they do. It’s the conglomerate of artists, tourists, and a city of poverty and opportunity all living and working together – one barely acknowledging the other’s existence.
Tips to Avoid being just another tourist
I won’t lie or pretend that drinking, enjoying the sites, and gawking at street performers isn’t all part of the experience, but there are a few things you can do to make your trip to NOLA all the more satisfying – and maybe even absorbing a little extra culture along the way.
1. Absorb the local art
The local art may be my single favorite part of New Orleans. I may even go as far as to say that the French quarter and surrounding area might be the most artistic place in the United States per square foot. If you are a smart tourist you will kindly purchase an authentic piece of street art (for pennies compared to department store prices)!
The best place to buy an authentic piece of street art is off Jackson square. There are literally dozens of people sitting around selling their works. The best part is that most of the art is extremely affordable and high quality.
Helpful tip: generally, avoid the art shops off Royal Street. The art is essentially the same as what is in Jackson square, but with “you didn’t buy it on the street” prices. Most of the shops commission the local artists to put their work in the shops anyways. So it really is the same thing, just in a setting for rich people with too much cash.
2. Street Performers
Maybe this tip is a little cliché and not a best kept secret, but the street performers during the day on Royal Street are amazing. If you are lucky, you might also catch a glimpse of a wedding procession coming through too.
Royal Street is expensive, so keep your cash in hand and spend it a little further out like on Frenchmen St. where the atmosphere is a bit more authentic and affordable.
3. Find some Authentic NOLA style cuisine
For a place with such good food I don’t think I have ever had such a hard time finding a decent restaurant. Most of the places around the French quarter come right out of tourist trap hell with tourist trap prices to boot. In general, avoid most of them.
A good rule of thumb is the further you get from Bourbon Street the more authentic and less expensive the food becomes. Shane and I found a couple of great restaurants on Frenchman street called Maison, and The Praline Connection, and another across the river in Algiers called the Dry Dock Cafe (take the free fairy across the river).
4. Get Wasted, Responsibly
If you came to New Orleans to party – you came to the right place. Sheer supply and demand has driven prices down on drinks. You can generally get a “Huge Ass Beer”, Hurricane, or hand grenade almost anywhere. Don’t forget to try a Bloody Mary and the local beer too. If you are looking to party, of course the best place to do that is on Bourbon Street.
Be prepared, however, for belligerence, nudity, vomit, and crowds. This is not a street that you would like to take your family to – not at any time or any day. There are a plethora of strip clubs, intoxicated tourists, and women willing to expose their breast for the mere cost of a string of beads. If you aren’t looking to binge drink or if you are looking for the “real” New Orleans – then you probably want to stay clear of Bourbon Street. You have been forewarned!