(This is a second attempt to write on this subject, with some areas repeated and some new ones added.)
So, you’re headed down to the Crescent City? Good. We’ll be glad to welcome you.
What, you wonder, should you see?
All you know about New Orleans is the French Quarter, and you’re not sure you want to venture there. Perhaps you are staying downtown, near Canal Street, the main boulevard that dissects this city and splits the French Quarter (on the downriver side) from the CBD (Central Business District) on the upriver side. Bear in mind that terms like north and south or east and west can be confusing here since the river takes some nasty turns right where this city was located. We still call the downtown area (including Metairie and Kenner) “The East Bank” and when you cross the river going south “The West Bank,” even though it’s all north and south.
I’ve lived here a total of 25 years, and do not begin to be an authority on the city, its cuisine, history, culture, people, or anything else. However, I love the city and treasure its people. That, I might add, took some doing and also took a few years.
All right. That said, here are Places You Must See in New Orleans.
1. The National World War II Museum.
Located officially at 945 Magazine Street, only a few blocks from the Morial Convention Center, this incredible facility, which began life as the National D-Day Museum, keeps expanding. It is becoming the number one tourist destination in the city and for good reason. (www.nationalww2museum.org)
If you have time, pay the admission and see the entire museum. Pay a little extra and see the 45 minute 4-D movie (yep, 4-D) at the Victory Theater. Bring your children along; they’ll never forget it.
If you don’t have time to tour the museum, at least browse the visitors center where an amazing display of WW2 planes, jeeps, motorcycles, and other memoribilia is on display. Next door is a gift shop you will love.
2. The French Quarter.
You knew I was going to say this, did you?
This is the original New Orleans. In 1718, when Lord Bienville was looking for a site to found a city as the capital of the Louisiana Territory, he saw this was high ground–the first he had encountered after 100 miles of the Mississippi River–where the Indians camped in the winter. A trail from the river to the end of Bayou St. John (get a map) existed then. Indians coming in from the Mississippi Coast would enter Lake Pontchartrain through the Rigolets Pass, then come down Bayou St. John to the point where it goes underground (present day Jefferson Davis Parkway). They would pick up their canoes, tote them the two miles to the river, and then head north, thus cutting out the 100 miles downriver.
When Abraham Lincoln visited this city twice–as an 18 year old in 1827 and again two years later–this is where he walked the streets. At several places in the Quarter, he saw slave auctions and never got over the emotional impact.
The strip joints that gave the city such a bad name are primarily located on Bourbon Street, and only for a few blocks. Most of the rest of the Quarter, you’ll find world-class restaurants, antique shops, lots of coffee shops and cafes, and the ubiquitous t-shirt and souvenir joints. Don’t miss Cafe du Monde and the French Market on the river side of the French Quarter. Nearby is Jackson Square, Artists’ Alley, and famous St. Louis Cathedral, the Catholic church whose image is almost synonymous with this city.
(By the way, the standard offering in Cafe du Monde is cafe au lait and beignets. The first is local coffee with hot milk and sweetened. Beignets are deep-fried, hollow pastries eaten with massive amounts of powdered sugar. Wear light-colored clothing or you will regret it.)
3. A Sno-Ball Stand.
This is not to “see” so much as to partake of. Throughout metro New Orleans, you find these colorful tiny stands (kiosks, sheds, buildings, whatever) that offer what the locals call sno-balls but are called snow-cones everywhere else. Look over the various flavorings and be adventuresome.
On a hot day, there’s nothing better.
4. What Katrina Hath Wrought.
If you have several days in our city, you will want to see at least a little of the remnants of Hurricane Katrina’s effect. (Date: August 29, 2005. The hurricane did its worst damage east of us into Mississippi, but our Corps of Engineers-built levee system broke in several places, causing massive flooding and devastation.)
To get to the famous or infamous, depending on what you’ve heard, Lower Ninth Ward, from downtown, first get a map. From Elysian Fields Avenue, turn downriver (south?) onto Claiborne Street. Once you have gone over the ancient steel bridge, you are in the Lower Ninth. Turn left and drive through these deserted streets where many thousands of citizens called home. Fats Domino lived here. A few houses and churches have been rebuilt. It remains one of the lowest areas of the city and thus the most vulnerable.
To see what the hurricane’s flooding did in other areas, from I-610, take either Canal Boulevard or Elysian Fields Avenue northward toward Lake Pontchartrain. After a few blocks, turn to the right or left for several blocks, it doesn’t matter. Notice the vacant lots (where flooded homes were demolished and not rebuilt), the new homes (constructed recently), elevated homes (older homes which were raised above what some call “flood levels”; good luck with that); and once in a while, a house that has not been touched in the 7 years since Katrina.
5. One of our Southern Baptist Churches.
We’ll be writing later (in advance of the Southern Baptist Convention’s meeting here next June) of several churches in particular messengers may wish to visit.
Baptists are said to be the second largest religious group in the New Orleans area, with Catholics being first, of course. Even so, we’re still a handful compared to the population of a million or so in the metro area. Jack Hunter is the executive of the New Orleans Baptist Association, numbering perhaps 105 churches and missions.
We have a Southern Baptist church in the French Quarter, one block over from Bourbon Street. And you think your church has a hard field! Vieux Carre’ Baptist Church in the 700 block of Dauphine Street has a 50 year history of witness to the residents, workers, and homeless of this district.
If you are staying in Metairie or Kenner or on the West Bank, find a Southern Baptist church in that area and worship with them on Sunday. They will appreciate the encouragement of your presence. When you return home, you will be better able to pray for this congregation and their challenging ministry.
6. Baptist Friendship House.
This is a ministry to troubled women and their children. Kay Bennett and her staff have one of the most amazing and inspiring outreaches ever. Located on Elysian Fields near the river, this puts them exactly behind the French Quarter and in the middle of the inner city with all which that implies.
This ministry is always receptive to encouragement, donations, volunteers, and church groups coming to minister. I’ll find their web address and list it here.
If you have time, go inside and meet Kay and some of the women who work there. Be prepared to be inspired and have your heartstrings strummed. This is a vital ministry which God has used in mighty ways for many years.
7. The Audubon Zoo and Aquarium.
Our world class aquarium is located downtown, right on the river at the end of Canal Street. If you are attending a convention in the Morial Convention Center, you’re within easy walking distance.
Affiliated with the aquarium is the Audubon Zoo, located on Magazine Street several miles upriver. Incidentally, the 5-mile drive on Magazine Street (starting at Canal Street) is one to remember. You will pass a hundred quaint shops and eateries which tourists usually miss. At the end of Magazine Street, just where it deadends at the River, the zoo is on your left. You will love it, I promise. And don’t forget to drop into the gift shop; it’s another one worth visiting.
Come to see us. And stay as long as you can. Drive up St. Charles Avenue–or better yet, take the street car–and enjoy the lengthy display of fine old mansions. There are still so many things to tell you about this city, but these 7 will get you started.