Our main reason for visiting New Orleans was the French Quarter Festival—a four-day extravaganza of music and food that takes place in mid-April. We arrived on Saturday, just in time for the final day of the festival on Sunday. This was the best of New Orleans—the music, the food, the fun, the color, and the festivities—without the sleaze factor. Well, except for Bourbon Street—it’s always sordid, but that’s its job, right?
The French Quarter Festival
Twenty-one stages of incredible talent (blues, jazz, Cajun, gypsy, samba, zydeco) were scattered throughout the French Quarter, with music from more than 280 groups. Despite the fact that we were given a beautiful fold-out map of the stages and a detailed line-up of the performers, we quickly gave up trying to be anywhere at any particular time, and just wandered the French Quarter from 10:00 in the morning when the festival opened until 6:00 that evening, just in time to catch the last ferry back to Algiers. It was all good. We realized that it wasn’t possible to make a mistake, because every bit of music that was happening was amazing.
The French Quarter Festival is free—the only thing you pay for is food and beverages. And believe me, you don’t want to be carrying in a picnic, not when your choices are offerings from the finest restaurants in New Orleans—Antoine’s, Brennan’s, Court of Two Sisters, Galatoire’s, Muriel’s…more than 60 food and beverage vendors set up tents throughout the French Quarter. It was tough to choose, but we settled on crawfish and goat cheese crepes, crab and artichoke salad, and a savory crawfish and alligator sausage cheesecake, a New Orleans specialty that we both agreed is one of the best things we’ve ever eaten. Our beverage of choice was locally brewed IPA from Abita.
Surprisingly, the festival didn’t feel crowded at all, despite the fact that 700,000 people attended over four days. I know that sounds like a scary number, but it was remarkably low-key and relaxing. The only time we felt crowded (and it was seriously wall-to-wall bodies) was along the riverfront at the main stages late in the day. We bailed on those venues, wormed our way through the crowd, and made our way back to the smaller stages, which continued to have a relaxed vibe. We enjoyed the festival so much that we’re planning to do it again—next time for more than one day.
Exploring More Of New Orleans
Two days after the festival, we returned to New Orleans—it’s such an easy trip from Bayou Segnette, and we couldn’t resist. If there’s any place that’s a melting pot, this is it. The French moved in and established New Orleans in 1718, and since that time people from nearly every country, ethnic group, and religion have migrated to the area. The resulting mix has created a culture of music, food, and tradition unlike any other.
We started our morning with a wonderful breakfast in Algiers at a funky little neighborhood café (delicious crawfish etouffee, grits, and perfectly poached eggs), and again caught the ferry to New Orleans. We wandered the French Quarter, explored the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park/French Quarter Visitor’s Center for a quick overview of the history of New Orleans, and visited the Jazz National Historic Park—how cool is that, to have a National Park dedicated to jazz?
Even on an ordinary weekday, there are musicians on every other street corner, and the sounds of saxophones, trumpets, accordions, and violins accompanied us as we strolled the neighborhoods.
Late afternoon, we ended up at Herbsaint on St. Charles Avenue for a delicious meal of shrimp, artichoke, and maitake mushroom risotto.
Once again, we caught the last ferry back to Algiers—the only downside of the ferry is that it doesn’t run into the evening. But apparently, that will be changing soon.
Our only regret is that we didn’t make arrangements for a tour of the city. We usually avoid tours, because we like to explore on our own and do things at our own pace, but we both agreed that a couple of hours spent with a tour guide would have enriched our experience. There are plenty of options for free or low-cost tours of the French Quarter and the Garden District (I’m especially intrigued by the highly-rated tours offered by Free Tours By Foot), but it’s something you need to plan for in advance. It gives us something to look forward to on a future visit. That, along with the music on every street corner and the fabulous food!