New Orleans may be internationally known for its French Quarter party, bar and incredible food scene, because whether it’s Fat Tuesday or just Tuesday, we tend to laisse les bon temps rouler. But this city has so much more to offer than just its famous nightlife — it’s a city with a deep and rich history, a city full of interactive art and culture. And, perhaps most unexpectedly, New Orleans is a city with spectacular outdoor spaces. Situated on the banks of the storied Lake Pontchartrain and the great Mississippi River, and just a hop and a skip from the balmy Gulf of Mexico, you can easily spend a lazy day fishing, boating or playing on the beach — bringing whole new meaning to the expression, “The Big Easy.”
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If you’ve never tried Southeast-Asian-Creole cuisine, your mouth should expect a serious party. Marjie’s Grill has a cult following, and with good reason. Inspired by the flavors of the street foods found in Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, and using open-fire cooking techniques and fresh, seasonal and local ingredients, Marjie’s is known both for dishes like Chili Butter Hard Crabs, and for pitchers of fun, shareable cocktails. They offer takeout and delivery, and provide patio dining.
For one of the most imaginative meals you’ll have in the Big Easy, stop by Palm&Pine on Rampart Street. With flavors hailing from the Southern states all the way down to the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America, you’ll likely find your mouth doing a happy dance. Where else can you try their version of a quarter pounder burger with cheese — garnished with banana ketchup — or their hushpuppies with pickled collard tartar sauce? These are the kinds of inventive flavors you will quite literally want to write home about. Palm&Pine offers dine-in by reservation, takeout (including plate-lunch specials), to-go drinks or pantry staples.
Arguably the first bar in New Orleans to spotlight a strong cocktail program, Cure knows how to make a cocktail. All of the classics are present and accounted for, and you know your gin martini will be flawlessly executed here, but delve farther into Cure’s menu for intriguing treasures like the Rosita, made with two kinds of vermouth, Reposado tequila and Campari. Cure also serves beer and wine, if spirits aren’t your style, in addition to a gourmet snacking menu. Cure is open for seating by reservation only, and offers a limited to-go menu.
If you’re looking for a bottle of wine to take home (or to drink back at the hotel), stop into Keife & Co. on Howard Avenue. With shelves of bottles reaching to the ceiling, and a rolling ladder you can climb to reach the uppermost selections, you might feel like Belle in “Beauty and the Beast” when she’s plucking out books for her little village, only the books are wine, and the wine is only for you. Keife & Co. also sells a unique and delicious selection of charcuterie and other specialty foods from around the world, including many pantry goods you can take on the plane, or snack on while you’re road tripping back home.
Fontainebleau State Park, on the north shores of Lake Pontchartrain, once the site of a large sugar mill built by Creole planter and senator Bernard de Marigny in 1829, is now home to 2,800 acres of beaches, trails, campsites, playgrounds and fishing areas. Most famous for its waterways, rent a kayak for the day and paddle past native fish and cypress trees in Fontainebleau’s placid streams. Or rent a bike and check out the 31 miles of paved trail — don’t worry, you don’t have to ride all 31 miles — you’re on vacation.
Just an hour’s drive from New Orleans, Pass Christian, Mississippi, is a small beach town on the Gulf of Mexico. Or head to Henderson Point to walk the 1,700’ Enchanted Nature Trail, a forested wetland hiking trail loop with plenty of kid-friendly (or playful adult-friendly) stations along the way, like insect hotels and vine tunnels.
About an hour and a half away from New Orleans proper is Denham Springs, a quaint little town near Baton Rouge. Denham Springs, though only about seven-and-a-half miles square, is home to a spectacular antique village that is absolutely brimming with amazing finds.