It’s easy to get overwhelmed by everything NOLA has to offer, and it’s even easier to get lost in tourist traps. To ensure that my friends and colleagues experience my city as only a local can, I’ve compiled a few suggestions for how to get the best out of your time in this beautiful and historic city.
Much like any other city, you should always be aware of your surroundings. Never leave a drink unattended and keep an eye on your personal belongings. In addition to these basic precautions, NOLA has a few unique features of which to be mindful:
Dress comfortably: NOLA’s historic charm is paved with cobblestones. Dress for the streets with comfortable and supportive footwear. The city’s relaxed vibe, particularly in neighborhoods like the French Quarter, lends itself to a laidback dress code. You’ll never see a local out on Bourbon Street in three-inch heels. I’d even suggest leaving the fancy jewelry at home.
Mounted police units: You’ll see both walking and horseback cops on the streets of New Orleans. Walking cops are monitoring the area to keep everyone safe, so avoid distracting them unless you need help. The horseback cops, however, work as public relations for the city. They’re usually happy to chat or to help with directions, and they might even encourage you to pet their horses.
Street performers: Take your time to stop and enjoy the street performers. They’re a lively part of NOLA’s visual tapestry. I try to stay conscientious about children performers who entertain when they should be in school, but other than that I encourage tipping. Street characters—from painted human statues to trained animals—permeate the city. They’re a fun cultural nuance, but be aware that they do expect a gratuity in return for photo opportunities.
Step away from the convention center crowds and enjoy some of NOLA’s excellent culinary achievements. You might be tempted to try out some of the celebrity chef enterprises available in New Orleans, but I always put more stock into history and experience. When planning your days, keep in mind that the Big Easy rolls just like that…big and easy. Schedule your time for laidback service. Order another drink, stand in your comfortable shoes, and enjoy the architecture while you check out a few of my favorite restaurants.
Want to eat out before the conference? It’s got to be Mothers. Located three blocks from Lafayette Square, they have the best prices for a hearty southern breakfast. The restaurant’s doors opened in 1938, and their po’boys have only gotten better. Stop by the famous Café Du Monde later in the day; their breakfast line takes up too much of your time.
There are multiple Café Masperos locations today, but for excellent Creole/Cajun comfort food and sandwiches, stop by the Original Pierre Masperos off Jackson Square. It used to be the Old Slave Exchange building back in the late 1700s, and it’s the site where Andrew Jackson plotted the Battle of New Orleans.
I knew members of the Brennan family growing up, and their roots are some of the deepest in New Orleans. They’ve been opening restaurants across the city for years now, and each place offers a new setting with the best food. My favorite of their restaurants is Bourbon House. Nestled one block from Canal Street (at Bourbon Street), this New Orleans staple serves a great meal. Be sure to try their famous Milk Punch.
For the best fried chicken, head to Willies Chicken Shack. There are five locations throughout the city, but I recommend the three on Bourbon Street. The hours between midnight and 3am are primetime, so if you’re out looking for a quick bite in the French Quarter, don’t be shy about the late hour.
Other quick but notable food options:
If you’re checking out these suggestions, you’ll need to get around. There are multiple options for traveling the city:
Uber: Whether you’re traveling from the airport or you just need to get across the city, Uber is a reliable and affordable option. At the airport, Uber picks people up in the same location as the hotel busses. If your friends don’t already have an account, ask them to sign up so you can earn free rides. This article explains how.
Regional Transit Authority (RTA): This is the most common choice to get across the city in a timely fashion. The information on pricing, routes, and their mobile app can be found here.
Trolley cars: These authentic trolley cars run on lines that take you along the river, with stops in all the main tourist areas. Pricing information and routes can be found here. They offer a great look at the city’s history, but they’ll be crowded and slow with the conference traffic. Take one out for the experience, but then Uber back.
Petty cabs: These cabs are a quick and fun way to navigate the French Quarter, with the added benefit of being very affordable. They’re ideal for short distances.
Don’t get blinded by the free swag at SHRM and forget that the city itself offers great souvenirs to take home. Be sure to keep your eye out for these NOLA treasures:
The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk: The location was originally used for the 1984 World’s Fair. It was later redeveloped into an upscale mall, and in 2014 it became the nation’s first downtown outlet center. The outlets offer a lot of the same shopping options you’d find in a typical mall, but the scenic location is great for people watching and sightseeing.
Muse: Located in Jackson Square, this is my favorite store in all of NOLA. They specialize in eclectic clothing and jewelry. The artsy atmosphere has options for both men and women, and I really appreciate the personal assistance they offer their customers.
Royal Street: In addition to being one of the oldest streets in the city, Royal Street is known for its antique shops, art galleries, and high-end shopping. If opulence isn’t your style, then go to the section of Royal Street between St. Louis and St. Ann. In the afternoons, this portion of the street is closed to traffic, allowing street performers and jazz bands to set up and entertain pedestrians.
Magazine Street: Peruse the stores and art galleries while walking along this picturesque shopping destination that follows the course of the Mississippi river.
In addition to eating and shopping, try to set aside time outside of the conference to visit at least one of NOLA’s museums. These three are a few of my personal favorites:
The National World War II Museum: This military history museum is a national attraction that’s well worth the trip. You’ll find it in the Central Business District. The exhibits change, so revisit the museum even if you’ve been here before.
Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World: Nothing says NOLA quite like Mardis Gras, and this museum offers a true taste of NOLA history. In addition to the added benefit of being only a couple steps away from the convention center, you’ll be afforded the opportunity to see the floats and decorations up close while learning what goes into putting on such a cultural spectacle.
Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium: For my nature lovers, the Audubon Insectarium is my favorite stop on Canal Street. Resting on the edge of the French Quarter, their spectacular butterfly garden pales only to their extensive beetle collection. They spotlight species from across the world, creating a kaleidoscope of colors to lose yourself in.
More than anything, it’s the people of New Orleans that we all have the most to learn from. Their resilience is nothing short of a force of nature, and channeling just an inch of their resolve into my business tactics has strengthened my company. I hope you seize every chance you get to interact with the people of this city. Even when it rains, they tip their heads back and laugh. Every chance to visit NOLA is a chance to learn, both for veterans and for first-time visitors. I hope you enjoy your time in the Big Easy.
I’d love to hear about your NOLA experience. Connect with me on social media:
In 1989, Cohen founded InfoMart, a multi-million dollar pre-employment screening company that provides services to Fortune 500 companies nationwide. InfoMart has numerous “Best Place to Work” awards from various organizations. As a recognized expert in the employment screening industry, Cohen is often referred to as “The Queen of Screen” and was influential in the founding of the screening industry’s first trade association, the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS). Cohen is actively involved in a number of business and civic organizations and has received numerous personal honors, including a commendation in the 152nd Congressional Record, the Entrepreneur of the Year award from YWCA of the USA, an Enterprising Woman of the Year Award from Enterprising Women, and the Phenomenal Women Award from the Siegel Institute.
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