DAY 1: The French Quarter
Start the day with beignets, NOLA's famous warm French doughnuts caked with powdered sugar. Caf? du Monde in the French Market is the best known spot to indulge, but the aptly named Caf? Beignet (334-B Royal St.; 504-524-5530; $6-11), which has a full menu of tasty breakfast and lunch dishes as well, is less touristy. Plus, they make a mean cappuccino.
Jackson Square (Chartres Street, bordered by St. Ann, St. Peter and Decatur Streets) is the French Quarter's heart, for it is here that much of the city's historic events took place -- perhaps most important, the signing of the Louisiana Purchase at the Cabildo (701 Chartres St.; 504-568-6968) in 1803, now an historical museum. The square is presided over by the simple and elegant St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in the United States (although the current structure is the third to occupy the site).
Also on the square is the Cabildo's Spanish colonial twin, the Presbytere (751 Chartres St; 504-568-6968), which houses a fascinating exhibition on the history of Mardi Gras that includes information on the contributions from gay krewes. Around the corner at 632 St. Peter Street is where Tennessee Williams finished penning A Streetcar Named Desire.
Local gay historian Roberts Batson's Gay Heritage Tour (504-945-6789) thoroughly covers the events and personalities that have shaped the modern queer community in New Orleans.
For a casual lunch, visit Coop's Place (1109 Decatur St; 504-525-9053; $8-17) , a local haunt, with pure, honest bayou cuisine at reasonable prices.
There are a number of restored homes in the Quarter worth peeking into for their period antiques and furnishings. The Beauregard-Keyes House and Garden (1113 Chartres Street; 504-523-7257), built in 1826, is an example of the Greek Revival style, and was home to Civil War general Pierre G.T. Beauregard and, later, writer Frances Parkinson Keyes. Gallier House (1132 Royal Street; 504-525-5661) is so accurately restored to its Victorian finery that it's literally like stepping back 100 years. Built in 1831, the Hermann-Grima House (820 St. Louis St.; 504-525-5661) is a Federal mansion with courtyard garden, horse stable, and the only functioning outdoor kitchen in the Quarter.
Stroll down Royal Street to find those rows of stucco apartments with wrought-iron balconies you've always pictured when you think of the Big Easy. Between Bienville and St. Peter Streets are some of the city's best antique shops.
Stella! (1032 Chartres St.; 504-587-0091; $29-56), with its menu that changes daily, outstanding friendly staff, and white-glove service, is perfect for an upscale romantic dinner. Chef/owner Scott Boswell serves up some of the city's most inventive culinary twists, blending local foods with international flourishes. A less formal but still delectable option is Eat (900 Dumaine St.; 504-522-7222; $12-23), a gay-popular BYOB with a pale-blue modern dining room and menu of perfectly seasoned New Orleans staples, like red beans and rice, that rise above the pack.
When it's time to dance off the rich NOLA cuisine, head to OZ (800 Bourbon St.; 504-593-9491) and The Bourbon Pub/Parade (801 Bourbon St.; 504-529-2107), which face each other across Bourbon Street and continually cross-pollinate. Drinking on the street is legal and prevalent, and carrying your drink from one bar to another in a plastic to-go cup is acceptable.
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More New Orleans
New Orleans: Introduction
New Orleans: Where to Stay
New Orleans: Where to Eat
New Orleans: Where to Play