What is New Orleans’ cultural scene like?

The Big Easy is known worldwide for its culture, from Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest to the New Orleans Saints and Emeril Lagasse. With upwards of 50 museums showcasing its gems, New Orleans is more than just wild parties and unique food; it’s the Museum City. But if you want to experience the Crescent City rather than just learning about it in a museum, the real culture lies within its music and festivities. We all heard about the devastating Hurricane Katrina that plowed through the city, leaving New Oleanians to pick up the pieces. Though much of the country was unsure if the Big Easy would ever recover, the city is back and in full force.

What might be the most famous aspect of New Orleans hits the town every year without fail, you guess it, Mardi Gras. Courtesy of the French history that Louisiana fully encompasses, a ranting and raving tradition has been born. Mardi Gras is both a carnival and a holiday, the day before Ash Wednesday and the Lent, the season of fasting and repentance. And contrary to what is commonly believed, Fat Tuesday is more than the salacious frat-boy party you might imagine. It is a bash — a huge bash — but there are plenty of different ways to celebrate in New Orleans, especially when the party is as big as Mardi Gras. January 6 usually marks the end of the 12 days of Christmas, a time when the winter holiday season traditionally ends, but in New Orleans, Twelfth Night kicks off a season of merriment. Festivities reach fever pitch 12 days before Mardi Gras and peak on the Saturday prior to Fat Tuesday, when the city celebrates with four days of nonstop jazz, food, drink and masquerade balls. Perhaps most closely associated with the celebrations — aside from mayhem in the French Quarter — are the colorful parades where marchers in elaborate costumes toss plastic purple, green and gold beads to onlookers. Be sure to taste a king cake (a large circular cake coated with purple, green and gold sugar with a tiny plastic baby hidden inside). Traditionally, whoever gets the slice with the baby provides the king cake for the next party.

And what is most likely the second most famous festivity in New Orleans boogies into the Crescent City every spring. You can’t mention New Orleans without mentioning jazz and you can’t mention jazz without bringing up Jazz Fest. As the soul of the Big Easy, it’s no wonder that jazz has sparked a festival that has been grooving for more than 40 years. Truly a celebration of the city and Louisiana culture, the festival showcases local talent, arts and crafts, parades and food. With 12 music tents and two food stages lined up next to each other. You can catch the melodies of everything from gospel to headliners like Lionel Richie. Of course to fully represent soul, you’ll need some homecookin’ and trust us, Jazz Fest has plenty of that. It’s a great way to sample local culinary delights such as crawfish, mango freezes, gator sticks (alligator meat covered in fried dough) and cochon de lait po-boy (the Cajun term for a roast suckling pig sandwich).

As the city came back in full force, so did the beloved New Orleans Saints — so much so that the NFL team captured the title of 2010 Super Bowl Champions. Whether you are at a game in the Superdome or watching the game at one of the local dives, you’ll be surrounded with Saints pride. From cheering for quarterback Drew Brees to yelling “WHO DAT,” a New Orleans Saints game is a cultural experience to be had.

  • On June 25, 2013
    Karen Dalton Beninato answered the question: Karen Dalton Beninato

    What are the best summer events in New Orleans?

    The heat doesn't slow down the option of summer activities in New Orleans. In 2013 alone, check out Go Fourth on the River – the Independence Day Fireworks at the Mississippi Riverfront on July 4. The event is one of the most widely attended Independence Day celebrations in the United States. Essence Music Festival in early July includes top R & B acts (Beyonce for 2013), and empowerment seminars.

    July winds down with Tales of the Cocktail, a huge summer economic driver taking over the New Orleans food and music scene. For 2013, Tales runs from July 17 to 21 based at Hotel Monteleone.

    August stays cool with Satchmo Summerfest the first weekend of the month at the Old U.S. Mint. Food, music and Louis Armstrong-themed exhibits make the weekend a must-attend for lovers of all things jazz.
  • On June 25, 2013
    Karen Dalton Beninato answered the question: Karen Dalton Beninato

    What are the best summer activities in New Orleans?

    The best summer activities in New Orleans all involve creatively beating the heat. The Cool Zoo at the Audubon Institute is the only waterpark-like site in the city where temperatures hover in the upper 90's.  It's a family-friendly locale as most of the park's activities are kid-centric, but who doesn't like a mid-summer splash? Applaud back at the sea lion exhibit on your way out.

    The Audubon collection of museums also includes the Aquarium of the Americas in the French Quarter. Cool off at the penguin feedings, watch the sharks circle in accurately recreated Gulf of Mexico exhibits, and expand your mind as you beat the heat.
  • On June 25, 2013
    Karen Dalton Beninato answered the question: Karen Dalton Beninato

    What are some things to know before visiting New Orleans?

    Some things to know before visiting New Orleans are the nature of its evolving neighborhoods. Whereas 10 years ago Bourbon Street was the first place a visitor would think of for music and revelry, Frenchmen Street is the new cultural hot spot with the most popular bands in the city showing their chops in nightly concerts. The crowd ranges from world travelers to local hipsters taking in the scene.

    The Bywater is another neighborhood on the ascend if you're a lover of the arts and pop culture. Galleries abound, alongside pop-up restaurants and food trucks. New Orleans is an ever-changing city with an old soul, so do your research in advance if you want to visit a new New Orleans no matter how many pilgrimages to the Crescen City you've logged.
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  • On June 4, 2013
    Karen Dalton Beninato answered the question: Karen Dalton Beninato

    What’s happening this weekend in New Orleans?

    The level of activity in New Orleans this weekend proves there's never an off-season for attractions drawing tourists to the Crescent City. Catch popular blues, soul, and rock guitarist Marc Stone on Thursday, June 6, at the Ogden After Hours Series hosted in one of the city's finest museums. Stone brings his acoustic and slide guitar set to the Ogden, accompanied by pianist Joshua Paxton.

    The weekend keeps hopping with the French Market Creole Tomato Festival, held simultaneously with and adjacent to the Cajun-Zydeco Festival at the Old U.S. Mint on Saturday and Sunday, June 8 and 9. Chefs will be creating tomato-based magic in the French Market, and offering samples while the strains of BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet  and other popular Cajun bands provide a soundtrack to those inclined to cut a rug.
  • On June 4, 2013
    Karen Dalton Beninato answered the question: Karen Dalton Beninato

    Where can you get the best view in New Orleans?

    The highest natural spot in New Orleans is Monkey Hill in Audubon Zoo, but for for fresh air and quality views, stroll the Moon Walk, named for former mayor Moon Landrieu, to the best view of the French Quarter's Jackson Square seen from Washington Artillery Park. The area on the river side of Decatur Street is one of the most popular locations for photographs of both the Mississippi River and, at its opposite, the St. Louis Cathedral at the heart of Jackson Square.

    For alternate spectacular views, don't miss the Hilton Riverfront Hotel, Hotel Monteleone and the Forbes Four Star Hotel Windsor Court for romantic Mississippi River vistas from your own room.
  • On June 4, 2013
    Karen Dalton Beninato answered the question: Karen Dalton Beninato

    What’s the weather like right now in New Orleans?

    The weather in New Orleans is on the warm side, crawling above 90 degrees as summer begins in earnest. High humidity is the New Orleans gift of a permanent facial. As good as it can be for your skin, it can be tricky to dress for and best accomodated with loose, white clothing.

    Afternoon showers are an almost daily occurrence. Pack a small umbrella for most outings so you'll be prepared, and dodge balconies in the French Quarter if you head out without one. Evenings are cooled down to around 75 degrees, and that's when you can enjoy night blooming jasmine, magnolia, sweet olive and every other intoxicating scent that summer in New Orleans brings.
  • On June 4, 2013
    Karen Dalton Beninato answered the question: Karen Dalton Beninato

    What are the best food gifts to buy in New Orleans?

    Bring a little bit of the Crescent City home to friends and family after a trip to New Orleans. Options abound, from pralines (secret ingredient: sugar) to chicory coffee from the French Market to beignet mix from Cafe DuMonde.

    King Cake around Carnival season is a favorite. It's a large round frosting and sugar-coated pastry with a tiny toy baby inside which indicates that the recipient of that slice buys the next king cake.

    Seafood is a little tricker to send as a gift, but most outlets will ship frozen seasonal Gulf of Mexico seafood to the recipient of your choice for a shrimp boil back home, or a Louisiana style crawfish boil. Spices are another popular gift, with hot sauce of every variety in most grocery stores and the French Market to bring a little New Orleans zing to your favorite armchair traveler.
  • On June 4, 2013
    Karen Dalton Beninato answered the question: Karen Dalton Beninato

    Should visitors rent a car in New Orleans?

    Visitors, especially those coming to New Orleans for the first time and staying in the French Quarter, would be well advised to skip the car rental and take advantage of the streetcar system for points of interest from cemeteries to the aquarium. Many hotels offer free shuttle service to and from the airport. If yours does not, a taxicab from Armstrong Airport will run roughly $25 one way. A new ordinance requires taxis all to be equipped to take credit card payments.

    Once you arrive at your hotel, ask the concierge for a clearly marked map of the French Quarter grid. He or she will get you started with local points of interest and neighborhood recommendations.

    New Orleans has one of the finest streetcar systems in the United States. Pedicabs, carriages, and other unique modes of travel are also excellent options. Traversing the French Quarter on foot is a great way to take in street musicians, shopping, food and culture.
  • On June 1, 2013
    Karen Dalton Beninato answered the question: Karen Dalton Beninato

    What is New Orleans’ restaurant scene like?

    The New Orleans restaurant scene is more cutting-edge than it has been in years. Classics high end establishments like Restaurant August, Commander's Palace, and Forbes Four Star Rated Bayona and The Grill Room anchor the local dining scene and are strong national ambassadors of the city's food chops.

    But Root, Restaurant R'evolution, Crillo, SoBou and many, many other recent high-end additions to the restaurant scene abound.

    In addition to the classic New Orleans seafood dishes in cream sauce the city is known for, you'll find gastronomic innovators developing feats of culinary daring with locally sourced ingredients, making the Crescent City more of an adventurous foodie's paradise than ever.
  • On June 1, 2013
    Karen Dalton Beninato answered the question: Karen Dalton Beninato

    Where are the best places to hear live music in New Orleans?

    Mahalia Jackson Theatre is the best place to hear concert-level live music in New Orleans. The New Orleans Arena brings stadium rock to town, but the acoustics aren't at theater level and the Superdome is also not the optimum place for concerts.

    For more intimate venues, Irvin Mayfield's Jazz Clubs in the French Quarter are well designed and feature top New Orleans  jazz and rhythm and blues talents. Snug Harbor on Frenchmen Street also books top level musicians. Look for clubs with a cover and you'll know the management is supporting the musicians they book. The House of Blues primarily sticks to national touring bands so it's worth a look to see if your favorite band is in town. Uptown, Carrolton Station is a cozy location for roots rock. 

    An online search and a few questions to your favorite locals and you'll easily find a musician worth  venturing out to hear.
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