New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Disney, please step aside because there's a new "Happiest Place on Earth." Welcome to the stage, the one and only city full of life, love, happiness and the best fried chicken I've ever had: New Orleans.
I had dreamt of going to New Orleans ever since I learned how to say the word "beignet" (it unfortunately wasn't my first word, but I think it was a close second) and I was lucky to work with the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau to make that dream come true. For 4 days, I got to immerse myself in the most soulful culture I've ever experienced. I also got to taste some of the most delicious food I've ever had. Needless to say, New Orleans was a great time for me. You know how people have spirit animals...well if there were spirit destinations, New Orleans would be mine.
Where I Stayed
THE RITZ CARLTON
Let's be honest. The Ritz is always a great place to stay. I loved the New Orleans location because there was so much flavor (pun intended). The antebellum mansion inspired decor was stunning and the dining was on point. I was lucky enough to get a little donut gift upon arrival (strawberry, pumpkin and cookies and cream....yep.) and then I went downstairs to get a few snacks. I also indulged in room service. You know what they say...what happens at the Ritz stays at the Ritz...unless you Instagram it.
Where I Went
Every part of NOLA is full of energy. People here genuinely love living. Each person I talked to while I was there was "born and raised and never leaving." That speaks volumes to the way of life. The city itself is also bright and warm, with beautiful buildings and cute little touches, like the street names written in blue tile on the corner of each sidewalk. While we were there, we toured everywhere from the cemeteries in the Garden District to the heart of Bourbon Street, to the outdoor night market on Frenchmen Street. Each area has it's own character and emits an aura of life and a rich history.
This is the place to go out drinking. Not Bourbon Street. I repeat, not Bourbon Street!!! Frenchmen Street is adorable with a cute night time art market, live music in the streets and super fun bars. It does get really crowded, but it's not as sketchy as Bourbon Street and it's just one giant party. Definitely go to a jazz bar while you're here and drink a daiquiri!
Ok. Shamelessly crushing all your NOLA dreams right here. Sorry, but Bourbon Street gets way too extra and feels like an OD frat party at all times of the night. It's not the place to go out. If you're going to Bourbon Street, walk around during the day and witness drunk people in their natural habitat (and, let's face it, become one) but I don't recommend it at night.
The Garden District is a charming area in New Orleans with beautiful architecture, big mansions and lots of history.
There are lots of beautiful cemeteries in New Orleans because the geography of the city (it's literally built on a swamp) called for graves to be built above ground. These cemeteries date back to as old as 1789. How crazy is that? I went to Lafayette Cemetery where Marie Laveau was buried and had a guided tour.
The National World War II Museum
Even if you're not into history, this museum is a must. It's extremely moving, informative and interactive.
Fried Chicken Festival
Ok this doesn't happen all the time, but wow, screw Mardi Gras and book your tickets to NOLA for the Fried Chicken Festival. Talk about a great hangover cure from going out on Frenchmen Street the night before! This was the second annual Fried Chicken Festival (apparently the one last year did so well that the vendors ran out of chicken and 40,000 people showed up, causing complete, greasy chaos) and it was a big hit. What was really exciting was looking around and seeing everyone so happy and living in the moment. I barely saw anyone scrolling on their phones...just people enjoying each other and the fried chicken on their hands and faces. There were 35 vendors this year and a projected amount of over 100,000 attendees. WOW.
Where I Ate
This was our first dinner in New Orleans, and it was incredible! Carrollton Market is located outside of the center city in an area called Carrollton (obv) and is run by Chef Jason Goodenough (yes, that is his last name, and yes he is good enough). He is great. If you go to Carrollton Market, I recommend sitting at the bar so you can get the full experience with the open kitchen and interact with Chef Goodenough himself. Here's a little taste of our dinner.
Shaya is one of those restaurants where you tell someone you're going to New Orleans, and the first words out of their mouth are "oh my God, you have to go to Shaya!" And that's how Shaya fell on my radar. Modern Israeli fare in Louisiana.... I never pictured the two together, but boy, was this tasty. The pita here was the best I've ever had. I ate 5 pieces, and I'm not ashamed.
On the other end of the spectrum, we got to go to Arnaud's, the largest restaurant in New Orleans. Arnaud's has also been around for over 100 years! That's impressive. The menu boasts classic Creole dishes and deadly delicious cocktails.
Another Creole fine-dining NOLA staple. Brennan's has an absolutely incredible brunch and a beautiful atmosphere. No matter what you're craving, there's something on the menu to satisfy it. I highly recommend the New Orleans BBQ lobster. And also, if it's your birthday, you get a really cool cotton candy nectar ice cream dessert. So plan accordingly.
I think District Donuts invented food porn. Seriously. I've been following them for years now and I'm a huge fan of their delicious work. Before you say "well it's just a donut shop," I want to let you know that District Donuts is more than that. Yes, they have insanely delicious donuts, but what's also cool is that they make all their ingredients (including sprinkles...which is hard) from scratch! And they've got an indulgent savory breakfast menu as well for those of you who don't want a peanut butter cup donut at 7AM.
Cafe Du Monde
This French market is a staple in NOLA and is known for its beignets.