Like a Local: New Orleans

Let the Good Times Roll!

Ditch the guidebooks and let a New Orleans native lead the way.

By Millie Ball

I was born in New Orleans, and have mostly stayed in my eccentric hometown because I can’t find another that’s more interesting. Squeezed between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, New Orleanians don’t care much about national trends, because we’re too busy being ourselves, devoted to our food, music, culture, festivals, history, neighborhoods, and football team. In the end, we’re buried above ground. But until then, amid the complexities of life, we know how to “pass a good time.”

Tourist Tips

Most visitors start — as they should — in the French Quarter around Jackson Square, the park between the Mississippi River and the St. Louis Cathedral. Tourists typically roam outside, watching street entertainment. But go inside the cathedral and slide into a pew to look around. Also visit the Cabildo and Presbytere, twin buildings flanking the cathedral. The Louisiana Purchase transfer ceremonies took place in the Cabildo in 1803; filled with Louisiana history, it also showcases a Napoleon death mask. The Presbytere has an outstanding exhibit of Carnival costumes and memorabilia, and another on 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. Cross Jackson Square to Café Du Monde (skip the queue; scout for tables from another side), where people watching is as worthwhile as the café au lait and beignets. Then walk beside the Mississippi River. If someone bets you $5 he can tell you where you got your shoes, say, “I got them on my feet on this street in the city of New Orleans.”

Off the Beaten Path

Audubon Park, Uptown, between the river and St. Charles Avenue, is a mecca for runners and walkers (with or without pooches), who follow a 1.8-mile circular path between oak trees and a lagoon. Families flock to the park’s renowned Audubon Zoo. The Audubon Clubhouse Café is my go-to spot for breakfast or lunch, with views of the golf course and oaks from tables on the veranda (closed Mondays).

If It’s Free, It’s For Me

The lovely Besthoff Sculpture Garden, adjacent to the New Orleans Museum of Art in City Park, is a haven of art in nature, with 64 sculptures set in five acres among oaks, a lagoon, and a pine and magnolia grove.

How Not to Look Like a Tourist

Learn the lingo. We call a street median a “neutral ground.” Streetcars are never trolleys. We cringe at movies that depict us as drawling Southerners; we really sound more like Brooklyn natives. We fracture French; Chartres Street is simply “Charters,” and Esplanade’s ending is the same as lemon-ade. Also, no one uses north/south/east/west in directions. We say Uptown, Downtown, riverside, or lakeside. Seriously.

Eat Around the Town

Try gumbo, catfish, redfish, oysters….

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