French is only part of it
Getting to know the famous French Quarter area of New Orleans
NEW ORLEANS—Also known as the Vieux Carré orsimply "The Quarter" to locals in the city, this area that serves as the culturalhub of New Orleans is not overwhelmingly "French," despite its name. Certainly,the French colonists and their descendants provide it with the name, but its architectureis a mix of Spanish, French, Creole and American styles.
Walled courtyards, for example, owe mostly toSpanish influences, and also factor in to Creole styles for enclosed gardensover the generations. Cast-iron balconies were added to many of the masonry-based buildings after the mid-1800s,reportedly due to the influence of Baroness Pontalba, who included them on her rowhouses near Jackson Square. The plastered walls and single chimneys you will sooften see reflect laws enacted after fires virtually destroyed the city in 1788and 1794, rather than any specific cultural influence.
While the architecture is beautiful, and toursabound in various landmark building in and around the Quarter, there is justabout everything for everyone and every budget in this neighborhood, from artto music and food to drink.
First off, let's get Bourbon Street out of theway. This 13-block long street is one of the first things many people think ofwhen they think of New Orleans in general or the French Quarter specifically.Yes, it is probably the most tourist-trap-style area in the city. Yes, it isreplete with drinking establishments, giving it is both infamous and alluringappeal—and also making it smell funny when partiers are in full force. And,yeah, there are "burlesque" establishments in abundance, too. But it also hasplentiful food options and some very charming-looking buildings, so it isn'tjust about nightlife (or daytime partying). In addition to some of the morepopular and accessible eating and drinking establishments like Jean Lafitte'sBlacksmith Shop and Pat O' Brien's, the famous and upscale restaurant Galatoire's (see our articles about eating in New Orleans) is also here as is the reportedly luxurious Royal Sonesta Hotel. The intersection of Bourbon Street and St. Anne Street is said to be the portion of this area that most caters to New Orleans' gaycommunity, and Lafitte-in-Exile is reportedly the oldest gay bar in the country.
From there, we'll move on to another famous FrenchQuarter locale: Jackson Square. The grassy green heart of the Quarter, JacksonSquare is known in part by the historic architectural company it keeps—flanked asit is by the Pontalba Buildings (for more about the Baroness Pontalba, who werementioned above, clickhere), the Cabildo, the Presbytere and St. Louis Cathedral—and also by thestreet artists, musicians, fortune tellers and more who bustle through the areaand set up space among the tourists and locals.
Once the seat of colonial government in NewOrleans, the Cabildo is now a museum.The Cabildo, operated by the LouisianaState Museum—as is the Presbytere and three other French Quarter properties:1850 House, Old U.S. Mint and Madame John's Legacy—is located adjacent to St.Louis Cathedral and since 1994 has housed a comprehensive exhibit focusing onLouisiana's early history. Its sister property the Presbytere, originallycalled the Casa Curial (Ecclesiastical House), gets its name from being builton the site of the residence, or presbytere, of the Capuchin monks. Thebuilding had a number of used over the years, most recently as a courthousefrom 1834 to 1911, when it became part of the Louisiana State Museum.
As long as we've mentioned them already, whatabout the 1850 House, Old U.S. Mint and Madame John's Legacy? Well, the 1850House is a historically accurate depiction of what we might consider middle-classfamily life during the most prosperous period in New Orleans' history. The OldU.S. Mint is the only building in America to have served both as a UnitedStates and a Confederate mint and features a number of exhibits, monetary orotherwise, including one that features instruments played by significant jazzmusicians as well as sheet music and other memorabilia chronicling the historyof jazz music. As for Madame John's Legacy, it is one of the few French Quarterstructures that escaped the great fire of 1794.
St. Louis Cathedral is considered by many to be asiconic a building to identify the city as Mardi Gras is an event that does soand the French Quarter is an area that does so. The Cathedral-Basilica of St.Louis King of France, the building was established as a Catholic parish in 1720and is the oldest Catholic cathedral in continual use in the United States. Thecathedral operates a gift shop with items primarily spiritual but also morekeepsake in nature, and celebrates Mass daily—and twice each day of theweekend.
Continuing with the Francophile vibe that gives theQuarter its full name, there is the French Market,stretching from Jackson Square to Barracks Street and said to be the country'soldest continuously operated public market. It combines open-air shopping,dining and music in a manner that is said to be both uniquely New Orleans yetstill reminiscent of traditional European markets. Near the French Market isalso the The New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, which was created tohonor a form of music born in the United States in the city that is consideredto be the birthplace of the art form. In addition to hosting performances ofjazz music, the park's purpose is to preserve information, resources, and sitesrelated to the beginnings and progressions of jazz in New Orleans.
You might also be interested in Le Petite Theatredu Vieux Carre, a community theatre tracing its inception to 1916, when a group of amateurtheatre-lovers began putting on plays in the drawing room of one of themembers. Freshly renovated in 2004, the theater features a wide range ofcomedies and dramas each year.
There is also the Beauregard-Keyes House,the historic home of Confederate Gen. Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, a NewOrleans native who ordered the first shots of the Civil War fired on FortSumter, S.C., in April 1861. It was also the home nearly a century later ofFrances Parkinson Keyes, a noted author of more than 50 books and short storycollections.
For museums that are less focused on architectureand places people lived, there is the Musee ContiWax Museum, where you can see life-sized, costumed wax figures of thepeople who made New Orleans and Louisiana famous, including a number ofhistoric figures like President Andrew Jackson, Jean Lafitte and musicians PeteFountain and Louis Armstrong. Various costumes also sit on display, includingsome striking Mardi Gras attire, and there is also—for the more eerie-minded—theHaunted Dungeon.
Also on the more unique end of the museum circuit,and well-suited for those in the drug discovery and development field, is the New OrleansPharmacy Museum, which features an apothecary shop and courtyard medicinalherb garden.
Or, getting back to one of the things that makesNew Orleans so famous, food, there is the New Orleans School ofCooking, where one can learn the basics of Louisiana cooking in daylong classes or just shopthe selection of cookbooks, mixes and spices there. Although there is more tothe French Quarter, we'll just give you one more example of its offerings, inyet another tradition so strongly connected with the Crescent City: the New OrleansVoodoo Museum, which provides what is said to be a historically accuratelook at voodoo as both a religion and culture rather than a lurid orsensational one.
Other sites around New Orleans
NEW ORLEANS—Outside of the French Quarter, thereis still plenty to see, and more than we could possibly cover. Below is just asampling, but hopefully enough to spur your adventurous spirit to perhaps findeven more when you're in the Big Easy.
NewOrleans African American Museum
1418 Governor Nicholls St.
The New Orleans African American Museum is locatedin the Treme, said to be the oldest black community in the United States (yes,we've noticed, too, that New Orleans seems to claim "the oldest" of a lot ofthings—we're not historians so we'll take their word for it). The museum isdedicated to protecting, preserving and promoting the history and art ofAfrican Americans not just in New Orleans but throughout the United States andthe larger African diaspora.
AudubonAquarium of the Americas
1 Canal St.
Steps from the French Quarter and ranking amongthe top aquariums in the nation, the Audubon features a large collection ofsharks and jellyfish, as well as a rare white alligator, penguins, otters and anexhibits gallery that changes regularly.
1 Canal Street
Right next to the aquarium is a theater with a5.5-story-high screen for two- and three-dimensional fare and featuring morethan 350 "front row" seats.
1 Canal Street
Take a ride on the Mississippi River on anauthentic replica of an old riverboat that provided passenger service along theAtlantic and Gulf Coasts during the late 19th century.
6500 Magazine St.
The site of the World Cotton Centennial in 1884, whatis now Audubon Park—named after artist and naturalist John James Audubon, who beganliving in New Orleans in 1821—opened in 1898 to provide visitors with access tomajestic oak trees, lagoons and an expansive green space—and today it offers tomillions of visitors the chance for picnics, relaxing, walking, running,cycling and special events. Just minutes from downtown New Orleans on the St.Charles Avenue streetcar line in the Uptown/Garden District area of the city, AudubonPark is located near Tulane University and Loyola University and houses withinits space both the Audubon Trail Golf Course and the Audubon Zoo.
1 Palm Drive
Located in the Lakefront/Lakeview neighborhood ofNew Orleans, New Orleans City Park sees some 11 million visitors a year forpicnics, sports, wandering through its gardens or taking boat rides. Here youcan also find the New Orleans Botanical Gardens, the New Orleans Museum of Art,The Sydney and Walda Bestoff Sculpture Garden, and what is reportedly thelargest collection of mature live oaks in the world (we assume that they mean outside of an oak forest), with trees inthe oldest grove that are more than 600 years old. City Park also is home toThe Bayou Oaks Golf Facility, one of the largest municipal golf facility in theSouth and to Storyland, a children's fairy tale playground featuring twenty-sixlarger than life storybook exhibits. Kids—and adults, for that matter—might enjoyfeeding ducks at the many lagoons or visiting the Hines' Carousel AmusementPark.
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