Long famous for its easy-going, live-and-let-live personality, and for placing a high value the good things in life—food, drink, and music, to name a few—New Orleans was shocked by the destruction that followed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. No doubt the Big Easy will take some time to recover from the $200+ billion worth of damage, but no one who knows and loves New Orleans can have any doubt that the city will get its groove back before too long.
With deep roots going back to the earliest days of European settlement in North America, New Orleans is very proud of its multicultural heritage: Its people, its ornate buildings, and especially its food all reflect a uniquely diverse and resilient culture. The focus of New Orleans, for visitors and locals alike, is the Vieux Carré, in the French Quarter, which sits on the highest ground in the city and thus escaped the worst of Katrina’s floods. Centering on Bourbon Street, lined with tacky souvenir stalls and strip clubs catering to conventioneers, this square mile is full of wrought-iron balconies on picturesque brick buildings. Yes, it’s a huge tourist attraction, but it’s also the heart of old New Orleans. At the center of the quarter is Jackson Square, where a statue of the victor of the Battle of New Orleans, Andrew Jackson, stands in front of St. Louis Cathedral, which was rebuilt in 1850 on top of an original foundation dating back to 1724. The nearby Old U.S. Mint (daily; $5; 504/568-6968), at 400 Esplanade, has the famous “Streetcar Named Desire” on display in the courtyard, and holds excellent collections tracing the history of two New Orleans institutions: jazz and Mardi Gras.
After dark, there’s live music aplenty in all styles and modes, but one stop you have to make is at Preservation Hall (nightly from 8 pm; $5), 726 St. Peter Street, for the redolent ambience and the live traditional Dixieland jazz.