For Meyer, the Sugar Bowl berth means a chance for a third national championship and his first as the coach of the Buckeyes. For me, it means an extra week of vacation at home and the chance to spread the gospel of New Orleans to the massive amount of Buckeye fans who will be making the trip to the Crescent City.
My first piece of advice: shelve any misgivings you might have about the city based on either a hurricane that happened almost a decade ago or the factually incorrect words of a chronically misinformed bloviator. The rebuild has been pretty remarkable in the years since, and New Orleans has committed itself to not only repairing the damage but also to improving various aspects of the city.
I’ve broken down the list of must-do things and advice into three separate categories – food, attractions and lagniappe. We’ll start with the category New Orleans does better than anyone else in the world.
Life is all about managing expectations, and when it comes to a trip to New Orleans it’s best to walk out of Louis Armstrong International Airport (MSY) with the knowledge that you’ll gain some pounds and lose some money. A particular sign in the airport provides an immediate warning when it comes to alcohol intake.
What follows is a guide to a handful of restaurants that I'd recommend.
Commander’s Palace (Website)
Choosing a favorite New Orleans restaurant is an impossible task, but this is one that always seems to impress. No matter the outlet, it always seems to be at or near the top when the annual “Best Restaurant” lists come out. With options like turtle soup, shrimp and grits and pecan crusted gulf fish on the menu, it’s hard to go wrong with anything you choose. It’s on the more costly side and the dress code reflects that (jackets for men, no jeans or open-toe shoes). Call 504-899-8221 for reservations.
Parkway Tavern (Website)
Much like pizza is the signature dish of New York City, po’boys are the go-to food in New Orleans. Po’boys are similar to sub sandwiches, but with amazing French bread crammed with either roast beef or seafood and all the necessary trimmings. One of the best places to get po’boys, in my opinion, is Parkway. The only negative is that they’re closed on Tuesdays, but you still have six other days to try one of the best meals in the city.
Sticking on the topic of po’boys for a second, there’s another highly sought-after place to get them, and that’s Mother’s. It’s legendary for the debris (essentially the flecks of roast beef and gravy that are left over) they put on po’boys and is worth a trip for first time visitors. The downtown location makes it easy to get to, but there’s also a catch: I’ve never seen a line at Mother’s that didn’t extend well beyond the door. It’s a good place to say you tried if you’re adamant about it, but there are better places when you take into account just how stretched thin they are by the constant demand.
Deanie’s Seafood (Website)
With a French Quarter location, Deanie’s should be pretty easy to get to. More importantly, though, is the menu – some of the best seafood in the city. You can get shrimp, oysters, catfish, flounder… all delicious.
Cooter Brown’s (Website)
If you’re looking to take in some of the Big Ten bowl games before the Buckeyes play, Cooter Brown’s is one of the best places in New Orleans to watch sporting events. They have a ton of TVs and it’s a great atmosphere. The bar service has been great every time I’ve been, and it’s in an accessible location.
Café du Monde (Website)
Do not under any circumstances leave New Orleans without getting beignets from Café du Monde. Beignets are basically the best thing in the world and might be the thing I miss most about Louisiana (sorry, Mom and Dad). It’s a very touristy thing to do, but that’s because it’s one of the best things in New Orleans.
Some of the best pizza in New Orleans, and their happy hour is a pretty legendary deal. You can get any pizza, cocktails or beer for half price from 2-5 p.m. any day of the week. It gets crowded during happy hour because a lot of people are interested in getting real pizza for the price of Papa John’s, but it’s definitely worth the inconvenience.
Dat Dog (Website)
You’ll see Lucky Dog stands throughout the city and that’s some solid drunk food, but the best hot dog in the city is Dat Dog. Their assortment of gourmet dogs is amazing. Last time I went I had the duck sausage, but the alligator sausage is also a winner. You can see a full list of options at http://datdognola.com.
Other good places that you’ll want to check out but that I’m too lazy to write about in-depth:
Port of Call (Website)
Honey Island Swamp Tours (Website)
When my beloved Yankee friends have visited Louisiana over the last few years, one of the first things they always ask is where to find alligators. If that’s your thing, head over to Honey Island Swamp Tours in Slidell. It’s a bit of a drive, but it’s definitely worth it for what you get out of the trip. I’ve done this tour before, and it was a great time. You’ll see plenty of alligators, but there are also a vast array of birds in addition to other animals. My trip, for example, included a cameo by a family of feral hogs. As you can see in my picture below, the alligators swim right up to the boat. Both cool and mildly terrifying.
Aquarium of the Americas (Website)
If you don’t want to make the half-hour trip out to Slidell, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas is a pretty great experience. It’s located near the French Quarter and has a nice selection of attractions – most notably the 400,000-gallon Gulf of Mexico exhibit that includes sharks, sting rays and sea turtles. The otter exhibit is a personal favorite.
As an added bonus, you can either snorkel or SCUBA dive (with proof of certification) on Friday-Sunday if you’re into that. SCUBA costs $250 for a two-hour experience, while snorkeling costs $175.
Audubon Zoo (Website)
For fans of land-based creatures, the Audubon Zoo is for you. The zoo is located in uptown New Orleans and has a great selection of animals – elephants, white tigers, giraffes, orangutans, white alligators, komodo dragons and dolphins. For families with kids who won’t be staying out late to ring in the new year, the zoo also offers a New Year’s Eve celebration from 10:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 31.
National World War II Museum (Website)
An amazing way to spend a day if you’re even slightly interested in history. I’ve been several times and it never disappoints. It used to be the National D-Day Museum, but that was so well done that it was expanded and turned into a place to learn about all of World War II. You’ll need several hours to see everything. The museum is open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. all seven days of the week. Admission is $23 for adults but World War II veterans get in for free.
New Orleans Fair Grounds (Website)
If you’re into playing the ponies, the New Orleans Fair Grounds is one of the oldest horse racing sites in America and is still a great way to kill an afternoon. General admission is free, but it costs $10 for clubhouse admission. Races will be held every day from Dec. 26-31 with the exception of Dec. 30.
More traditional gamblers can head over to Harrah’s, a casino built right in the middle of downtown New Orleans because the truth is stranger than fiction. Big-time events (like the BCS title game, Super Bowl, Final Four and in this case the CFB playoff) generally make for a larger crowd and a bigger hassle for those looking to lay down some bets, but it’s still a fun place to be and the people watching is top-notch. There are a ton of tables for roulette, craps, blackjack and the like, but there are also 20 poker tables for people interested in that. There’s also a hotel there.
New Orleans Spirit Tours (Website)
New Orleans is a really good city to do some walking, and New Orleans Spirit Tours offers a variety of tours for those hoping to experience some of the more unique aspects of New Orleans. There’s a cemetery tour, ghost tour, Garden District tour and French Quarter tour. You can book a spot online if you so desire.
Maple Leaf Bar (Website)
If I can impress one thing on y’all, it’s this: don’t leave New Orleans without seeing some live jazz music. There are plenty of choices for this, but there’s only one best option. That would be Maple Leaf Bar, where the Grammy-winning Rebirth Brass Band plays every Tuesday. Rebirth is one of the best live acts I’ve ever seen, and that’s a fairly common sentiment among others, too. I highly recommend heading over there on Dec. 30 to check them out.
Frenchmen Street (Website)
Great collection of bars that all have really good music. Kind of hipstery, but also really entertaining.
New Orleans Pelicans (Website)
Anthony Davis is incredible and you should see him play when the Phoenix Suns visit the Murderbirds on Dec. 30. You can probably get tickets for $10 or cheaper on Stubhub as the game gets closer. Pretty solid value right there.
TPC Louisiana (Website)
How often can you say you played golf in shorts in December? That’s a legitimate possibility with the weather this week. TPC Louisiana is where New Orleans’ PGA Tour event is held, and you can get a free club rental if you use the TPCBOWL code when booking a tee time online.
Mid City Yacht Club -- OSU Alumni (Website)
Here's a list of OSU-related things happening at the bar where Buckeyes gather in New Orleans.
Here’s a little lagniappe (a colloquial term for “a little extra something”) for y’all.
One thing to watch out for on Bourbon Street are the promo girls who roam bars with these colorful test tube shots filled with garbage liquor. They’ll come up to you and start talking to you and then throw a shot down your gullet before gleefully informing you that you owe them something like $5.
This sounds silly, but unless that’s your idea of a good time just walk away from them as soon as possible. Two friends from Iowa ended up losing $8 apiece this summer by not heeding that advice.
One of the best things about New Orleans is the general lack of open container laws, meaning that you can roam about with whatever alcohol you want wherever you want and whenever you want. Two drinks are more prevalent than others in the Bourbon Street area – hurricanes and hand grenades. I prefer hurricanes, but both are pretty good. As far as I can tell, the general ingredients for both involve every bit of alcohol behind the bar, but they’re flavored to the point that you don’t taste it. Be wary of how many of these you consume.
When it comes to getting around the city, do not depend on taxis. My understanding based on years of experience is that general incompetence appears to be a requirement to operate a cab in New Orleans. I recommend either walking places nearby (downtown has a ton of fun things to do in walking distance of the major hotels) or renting a car or using the Uber ride-sharing app. Otherwise, prepare to be driven around in circles by someone with a worse understanding than you of a city you’ve never visited.