For us, a trip to the French Quarter can start with either a walk or a car ride. Since we live so close to the French Quarter, we have options: 2 miles toward the river down Esplanade Avenue, and we’re there. When it’s lovely weather and we’re out for a day trip, we typically walk. When it’s hotter or we’re heading down there for nighttime activities, driving is usually our choice.
For us, visiting the Quarter (how it’ll be referred to hereon) typically isn’t about getting drunk with the tourists. We’re more often out and about to experience the sights, sounds, and tastes of the Quarter. And yes, we visit the bars too, but that’s not as common for us as you would think. Most of our time in the Quarter is spent on our feet, walking.
Walking is an integral part of any Quarter experience, and we make it the central part of ours. Even when we drive down to the Quarter, we park in the Marigny, a few blocks away from the far end of the Quarter’s “downriver” Esplanade Avenue edge. We enjoy the walk to the Quarter as much as we enjoy our walk within it. It’s a great place for a walk, and we take full advantage of that, especially in the months between October and May.
When the weather is nice, we are usually heading to the Quarter for a walk and a coffee. Our favorite place to visit is Spitfire Coffee, located on St. Peter Street, somewhat behind St. Louis Cathedral. They serve pour over coffees and espressos in a tiny retail space. The baristas are friendly, and it’s never really too busy in there since there isn’t any real sitting space, save for the thin plank on the wall lined with two stools. It’s a “to go” place, but they do serve the best coffee in the Quarter, hands down.
The coffee is usually our first destination in the Quarter, and then it’s wide open from there. If it’s during the day, we’ll normally walk up to the river and check out the sights and sounds it has to offer. I’m a huge fan of the steamboats that now ferry tourists up and down the river for an authentic old school riverboat experience. These floating entertainment pads still hold appeal for me because they allow me to imagine what this waterway was like 100+ years ago when steamboats ruled the Mississippi River and port trade happened right on the shores of the French Quarter, where tourists and locals alike now stroll through present day Woldenberg Park.
Something else we love doing in the French Quarter is taking pictures of lovely buildings and homes. Jeremy and I are both working at developing our eye for photography so we use the Quarter as research grounds. By paying attention and being mindful of our surroundings, we catch all types of cool architectural and natural details that surround us. The other advantage to being mindful is that new scenes appear. Along the sidewalks, in open doors and in the streets something is always going down. Keeping our eyes (and ears) open exposes us to the breadth of experiences in the Quarter. Even if we don’t know where to look, each time we visit, we stumble upon some new angle, new view, or new scene that we’d not noticed before.
Nighttime visits to the Quarter are more centered on the people watching. We’re much more likely to take our coffees onto Bourbon Street and enjoy the spectacle unfolding before our eyes. We don’t typically go into bars or linger on Bourbon Street, but we both enjoy walking through when it’s not insanely busy just to experience the wilder side of the French Quarter. It’s always good for a few laughs and head scratches.
When it’s dark we’re also more likely to roam up and down Royal Street as well, since it’s well lit. At night we spend more of our time toward the riverside of the Quarter, avoiding it’s quieter back streets and blocks. It’s not that it’s inherently dangerous, but there’s really nothing to do back there and there’s no point in being in the dark, quiet part of the Quarter at night when you have no business there. It’s just smart Quarter visiting strategy.
And yes, from time to time we do go down the the Quarter to drink. Our favorite places to drink will be addressed in a separate post, later, but for now, suffice it to say that there are plenty of non-touristy places to drink. Look carefully and survey the scene before committing to anyplace. In the Quarter, your bar experience will be at least in part be dependent on the other patrons around you. We only have a few places we typically visit, and we aren’t shy about leaving after one drink if we just don’t like the scene that day.
Actually, if we’re looking to drink in the Quarter, we’re much more likely to stop by Sidney’s (on lower Decatur Street) or Unique Grocery (upper Royal Street) to get to-go beers, since New Orleans allows open containers on the streets! To-go beers are cheaper, and they allow us to keep walking, which is what we prefer to do anyway. Pro-tip: bring your own go cup to the Quarter if you prefer bottled beers. Sidney’s charges for them, and Unique Grocery doesn’t even offer them. Of course, you can just get canned beer, too, like we usually do. Your choice. Isn’t that great?
To close, the French Quarter is a great place to walk around and experience sights, sounds, and tastes. Paying close attention to the details of the place is a great way to experience something new each time we visit. Day or night, there’s much to experience in the Quarter, and we love to take full advantage of both. Either way, we walk on, drink in hand, open to what comes our way.