History, culture, and delicious Cajun goodness! That about sums up my trip to New Orleans, Louisiana. My 4-day trip was jam-packed, but we soaked up all the southern Louisiana culture and spent our days eating the best food, learning about the plantation history, and even checking out a swamp and seeing baby alligators. It was my first time in New Orleans and yes, Bourbon street was popping! We went a few weeks before Mardi Gras, but everyone was getting into the carnival spirit already! Check out our day by day guide to exploring New Orleans, Louisiana.
Day 0: Arrival + Hotel Check In + Dinner
We were up bright and early to drop the dogs off at the pet hotel, drive to SFO, and then head south for our first trip to New Orleans, Louisiana! The flight was semi-quick, but with the time change, it felt like we had flown overnight arriving in Louisiana in the pitch-black night, but it was only 6:30 pm.
We made our way to the hotel, which was located in the French Quarters (one of the districts/regions of New Orleans) about 30 minutes from the airport (MSY). The hotel was called the Dauphine New Orleans. It had some recommendations but had some mixed reviews online. We decided to book it anyway knowing to keep an open mind about it.
The hotel itself looked antiquated and looked like it came from a movie period piece of some sort. The rooms were small, the furniture looks worn, and it definitely wasn’t the Marriott or Sheraton on the other side of town, but it was historical. That’s probably the thing I took away from this trip. New Orleans isn’t a luxurious place to take a trip. It’s known for its history and that starts with the buildings and our hotel too!
Tip 1: Do not expect luxury in New Orleans. Expect a city full of southern hospitality and American history!
Once we got settled, we were pretty hungry, so we made our way a few streets over to Bourbon Street, which in my opinion is a smaller Las Vegas strip. It was LOUD. And CROWDED. Now, I’m not the biggest partier and I was feeling exhausted, so I was not into this scene when we arrived. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the ideal time to go to New Orleans during their carnival / Mardi Gras season. But we found a restaurant pretty quickly called Mambo’s and we got seated right away. We ordered alligator nachos as an appetizer and I had a mambo burger for dinner. A mambo burger is essentially a regular hamburger with barbeque sauce. I’m not normally a hamburger person, but it was delicious.
Tip 2: Bring cash. I was shocked by how many places only took cash. There were ATM machines all around the city (basically in each shop), but I for one do not carry cash so this was a surprise for me.
After we ate, we walked to the end of Bourbon Street and back and then headed back to the hotel for some much-needed sleep.
Day 1: French Quarter + Natchez + Café Du Monde
Our first full day in New Orleans started with us walking down Bourbon Street and we found a simple breakfast place to start the day. I don’t remember the name, but I just got a Florentine omelet and some fresh fruit. After we ate, we walked around the French Quarter and went into a few touristy shops. We didn’t exactly have a plan for today other than to explore.
As we were exploring, we stumbled upon a shop that sold different tour packages and we went inside because we knew we wanted to do some sort of tour but didn’t know which to pick. We decided to do a swamp tour and a plantation tour and scheduled it for the following day. As the lady was getting us signed up, I was walking around the shop, which was incredibly empty and walked out of her backdoor into this courtyard. In the courtyard was a small patch of bamboo that was massive. Not thinking too much about it, I asked my mom to snap a picture of my outfit in front of the bamboo. After getting the picture, we went back inside and as we were finishing up, I saw a plaque that stated the bamboo was haunted…yep, haunted by the previous owners who were deceased. The plaque said something that the building was abandoned and rented out to temporary tenants because too many tenants had said they heard a strange noise coming from the bamboo and it would sway back and forth without any wind. Needless to say, I have not looked at the photo since…let’s look at this unhaunted photo of me in front of St. Louis Cathedral – stunning on the inside and out!
Once we booked the tour, we headed down to the Mississippi River and decided to do a dinner cruise on the Natchez. It was extremely popular, but the boat was pretty massive. The dinner was traditional Cajun food and was pretty good. There was fried chicken, fried fish, jambalaya, bean, and andouille sausage. Dessert consisted of bread pudding, which was a heavier dessert, but so delicious! We ate and sailed for about two hours. We sat on the inside to eat, but once we had finished, we went out on the deck. It was pretty cold and started raining a bit, but it was the perfect amount of time and the fact that we got dinner was an awesome deal.
Once we docked again, we were in need of some caffeine. Café du Monde came highly recommended, so we made our way to the closest one and found a table. It was incredibly packed, and the tables were so close together. It was quite uncomfortable seating, but the food/beignets came quickly. I order a café au lait and some beignets to share as a table. In all honesty, it was good, but it was overhyped. I do think that if you go to New Orleans you should definitely stop by for a coffee and snack, but for us, visiting the place once was good enough.
Once we finished our coffee, we walked around a few more shops in the area and headed back to the hotel as it started sprinkling and the sun was setting.
Day 2: Laura Plantation + Swamp Tour + Deanie’s Seafood
We woke up at the crack of dawn to get ready for a long day on our two tours. We started by hitting up the continental breakfast at our hotel and let me start by saying I’m not a big fan of continental breakfasts. I’m glad to say that the breakfast was actually pretty decent! Eggs, bacon, assorted pastries, bagels, and oatmeal were the choices alongside coffee and orange juice. It was a pleasant surprise and we left for the day pretty stuffed.
Tip #3: Bring a snack! If you plan a tour, you’ll want to bring a snack inside the bus because it is a long day! I didn’t realize we’d be so far out of the city either. Most of these places have small shops where you can get food, but we brought food just in case.
We left the hotel at 8 am and what’s awesome is that the bus picked us up right outside our hotel. We had a few stops before we headed out of New Orleans. Our bus driver was pretty chatty and had some interesting facts about the city to share with us. It was interesting to see more of New Orleans as up until this point we had only stayed in the French Quarter. Once you’re out of the city, there’s not much to see besides marsh and swamp.
The drive to the plantation was about an hour and the plantation we decided on was called Laura. The lady who sold us the tour told us that the Laura plantation was the most traditional and authentic of the plantations and the other plantations were too “Hollywood” for her liking. Once we got off the bus, the tour started immediately. It was an hour-long tour and our tour guide was highly knowledgeable so everyone on the tour seemed to enjoy it.
From the plantation, we drove another hour or so to our swamp tour. We were on an airboat and were whished around the swamplands for an hour looking at the various creatures like baby alligators and then we also saw turtles and different birds. Our tour guide was also incredibly knowledgeable about the area; it definitely wasn’t what I expected, but it was still an incredible tour. I was expecting a dirtier, swampier, not as a fun tour, so my expectations were definitely exceeded. As I had thought we were. That might be different if it’s raining on your tour, we were fortunate that the rain has passed by the time we have gotten to the start of our tour.
We are done with our tour, we headed back to New Orleans. The trip back was an hour-long, and once we got to the hotel, we were starving. Our driver told us about a delicious restaurant called Deanie’s where you could get a massive seafood platter so we looked up the restaurant and it was within walking distance from our hotel, so we quickly changed and made our way over to the restaurant. We were seated right away, and we ordered the seafood platter, and it was definitely enough food for the entire table of four. Which I believe was catfish. It definitely was living up to our expectations. I highly recommend the restaurant and it was also super affordable.
After we finished eating and were stuffed once again with the southern goodness, we headed back to the hotel and were exhausted from our day trip. We ended the night early wanting to be refreshed for day 3.
Day 3: Daisy Duke’s + WWII Museum + Harrahs Buffet
On day 3 we were still pretty exhausted from our tours the day prior, so we had a slow start. But one thing was for sure and it’s that we were HUNGRY and I mean hungry for a good southern breakfast. We had read about the Daisy Duke’s diner and walked about 20 minutes to check it out. It’s a 24/7 diner so you can get breakfast anytime you want. I opted for the catfish breakfast, which was more like brunch when we arrived around 11:30 pm, so instead of grits (I’m not the biggest fan), I ordered fries, which were the best fries I had on this trip. The menu had everything though from southern staples to classic breakfast meals and everything in between.
We ate until the last fry was consumed and then headed another twenty minutes to hit the World War II museum. I’m personally not the biggest fan of museums, but it was a cold day to be walking around outside and we heard rave reviews about it, so we checked it out. It’s a pretty large museum with a bunch of different exhibits and it was pretty crowded when we were there.
Tip 4: If you’re a student, bring your ID for a discount on your entrance ticket.
One thing you’ll definitely want to do is watch the movie. When you purchase your entrance ticket, they’ll ask you if you’re interested and then get you a ticket for the next available time. I was pretty impressed by the quality of the movie. It’s kind of like the movies where your seats move and shake and it’s the iMax style with the massive screen. The movie was about 50 minutes long, but it gives you a good foundation for understanding the time frame and important aspects/dates of the war. I highly recommend doing the movie first and then go to the exhibits.
In addition to the movie, there is a submarine simulation. In the simulation, you take the role of a crew member as your character and you’re supposed to do their job on the submarine…in theory, it sounds cool, but *spoiler alert* the submarine sinks in the end. I didn’t quite get what was happening, but what I did gather is that the submarine was sunk and a certain number of crew members were able to escape and were rescued…there was a short clip after the simulation to explain what we experienced, but again it wasn’t all that clear to me, but history always blows my mind and I thought it was really cool. As you exit, you could see if your character survived.
I’m not going to go into too much depth here, but if you find history interesting or like learning about this period of war, then you’ll enjoy this museum for sure! There were sections dedicated to each different ally in the war and there were tons of artifacts on display. We were there for probably 4 hours, but you could have definitely spent an entire day there if you took your time in each exhibit.
The museum closed around five and we left feeling…hungry! Who knew learning could make you so hungry?!?! We decided to go to Harrah’s Hotel buffet for dinner. We’ve been to the Harrah Hotel buffet in Las Vegas several times before, so we were pretty certain that the food would be good. I’m not going to say it was delicious, but it was decent and for the price, it was worth it. If you love crawfish, there is endless crawfish! You can try all the southern staples here, but if you’re looking for something not southern, there is definitely something for you here!
Tip 5: To access the Harrah’s Hotel buffet, you need to be 21+ because it’s in the casino area. There is an area of the hotel that accommodates groups with kids and young adults.
Day 4: Cafe Beignet + French Quarter Market + The Court of Two Sisters
Our last day in New Orleans was pretty mellow. I felt that we had covered a lot of ground and had seen pretty much all we had set out to see. Our day started with a craving for some coffee! We headed to Cafe Beignet as it was a pretty popular place! I ordered an Americano and a chicken croissant sandwich. I didn’t expect much, but I really enjoyed my sandwich. The coffee was STRONG! My kind of coffee though 🙂
With our stomachs full and to-go coffee in hand, we set out to just walk around. I had a few last-minute gifts I wanted to pick up, but mostly we just wandered. As we were wandering, I picked up the following souvenirs/gifts that I think are good ideas if you take the trip and want to bring something home: Cafe Du Monde coffee, Aunt Sally’s pralines, voodoo doll keychain, gator/crawfish gummies.
As we were wandering deeper into the French Quarter, we came upon the French Quarter Market. I would describe this as an artisan market/flea market where there were a bunch of stalls set up with individuals selling stuff. Around the perimeter, there were also food stands which would be a great spot for a quick bite!
Tip 6: If you visit this market, I recommend walking around first. If you’re interested in purchasing something look around first because lots of the stalls sell similar things so you might get a nice and/or cheaper version of whatever you’d like to buy a few stalls down.
After picking up a few last-minute souvenirs, we headed back to the hotel to clean up for a late lunch at The Court of Two Sisters. It was a semi-fancy, but casual attire was completely acceptable. Once again, good ‘ole southern cooking – turtle soup, jambalaya, gumbo, catfish, bread pudding, sweet potatoes, etc.
The food was good, but at this point, I was getting a little tired of the same food, but I do think that this food tasted better than most of the food we had eaten previously. The ambiance was nice as well with a beautiful outdoor seating area around a fountain.
Once we wrapped up our late lunch, we walked around and took in our last sights of New Orleans before heading back to the hotel to pack and get an early night since our flight was the first one out.
Day 5: Coming Home
We left the hotel bright and early around 4:30 am to get to the airport and head back to California.
Overall, I really enjoyed the trip. It was not really what I expected, but regardless, the trip was a nice getaway to someplace I always wanted to visit. I personally do not think I would go back to New Orleans for a while, but I am glad we planned that trip and had this experience. If you’ve never visited before, I definitely recommend a few days!
PS: A few things we did not do, but might be interesting: Mardi Gras World and a cemetery tour.