If you’re headed to New Orleans for Mardi Gras weekend, you’re in for a real treat. I can tell you from personal experience that I sincerely doubt there’s a friendlier place or happier time on the face of the planet.
By this point you probably already know the two dozen parades that roll through the city’s streets between now and Fat Tuesday are the big attraction here (if you need parade info, check out my friend Arthur Hardy’s Mardi Gras Guide). What you might be wondering, however, is what to do with yourself in the hours before or after all those floats roll by.
With that in mind, I thought I’d share my own highly subjective and slightly idiosyncratic list of my favorite ways to kill time between Mardi Gras parades:
Eat, Eat, Eat
- Personally, I think it should be against the law for visitors to eat at a national chain restaurant or fast food franchise in New Orleans. But if you’re not sure where to go, here are four can’t miss recommendations you can string together to create a day-long feeding frenzy:
- Breakfast at Café du Monde (hint: get your beignets and café au lait to go and scarf ‘em down watching the river traffic from atop the nearby Moonwalk).
- When lunchtime rolls around, grab a muffaletta from the Central Grocery and then pull up a bench on Jackson Square for some first-rate people-watching.
- The sheer number of great restaurants here makes recommending a dinner spot tough, but I’ve found you can’t go wrong with the crawfish etoufee or shrimp creole at the Gumbo Shop.
Music, Music, Music
If there’s anything that can rival these local delicacies on the list of New Orleans’ greatest pleasures, it’s the local music scene. There are dozens of popular venues (check out Offbeat magazine for a full listing), but here are my two favorites:
- While a bowling alley may sound like an odd place to go looking for live music, Mid City Lanes—the originator of the Rock-n-Bowl concept—is known as much for its jumpin’ bands as it is for its 18 lanes.
- The stage at Tipitina’s has played host to a long line of New Orleans’ home-grown legends, from Professor Longhair to Dr. John to the Neville Brothers, and it’s always a safe bet for great local music.
Help, Help, Help
While New Orleans has made an admirable recovery when it comes to all those things that make it a world-class tourist destination, there’s still an awful lot of work to be done to help local residents undo the devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. You can do your part—and earn some serious good karma in the process—by volunteering with one of the dozens of local organizations working to rebuild the hardest hit areas of the City That Care Forgot.