Is There a Wrong Way to Visit New Orleans?

I spent most of Easter weekend in Gulf Shores, Ala., for an old fashioned family vacation. It was a wonderful trip that included great conversation, tasty seafood, a few sunburns and even a celebrity sighting (AJ McCarron and Katherine Webb at the Flora-Bama). When my parents had to return to Missouri on Saturday, my brother, Tyler, came back to New Orleans with me so he could see the city for the first time.


I was really excited about showing my brother around my new home, even though he was only going to be in the city for about 36 hours. However, like I have said before, I get nervous when guests come to visit. I’ve always been a worrier, so I tend to worry about what I should do with guests when they come to New Orleans to make sure they have a quality visit. It’s pretty hard not to have fun in New Orleans, but I still try to give guests the best visit ever so they have a good time and I can selfishly feel good as a hostess.


Tyler left early Monday morning, and he said he had lots of fun while he was here. Most people would leave it at that, but since I am a worrier and a constant second-guesser, I have since been wondering why I was so nervous that he would have a good time. I wanted to take him to the best possible restaurants, the best streets and the best bars, even though his visit was brief. This made me wonder: Is there really a bad way to see New Orleans? In a city with so many food options and so many great attractions, is there actually one quintessential New Orleans experience? Is it possible to do New Orleans wrong?


After Tyler and I came back from Gulf Shores, Chris and I talked about where we should go for dinner and entertainment for Tyler's first night. We wanted a funky and not-too-fancy place and we wanted to save the Quarter for Saturday, so we decided on dinner on Magazine Street then drinks and music on Frenchmen Street. "Great! So New Orleans!" I thought. But then when it came time to actually pick a place to eat, Chris and I couldn’t decide. We knew we wanted to take Tyler for pure Louisiana cuisine, but Chris wanted to try a place where he and I had never been. When he said this, I could feel myself getting tense because I wanted to take Tyler to eat at a place I had tried before and would put under my “okay to bring guests here” mental list. I didn’t want to take Tyler to a mediocre restaurant I had never heard of.


Chris and I couldn’t come to an answer and Tyler really didn’t care, so we hopped in the car and drove towards Magazine, hoping an eatery would jump out at us. We decided on Mahony’s for poor boys, a spot we had eaten at before and enjoyed. I was happy with this decision because Mahony’s has great outdoor seating, interesting poor boy options and addictive onion rings. But while we were eating I thought to myself, “I hope Tyler likes this. I wonder if this is the best place I could take him. Is this place New Orleans-y enough?”


Of course, these were stupid questions. What 20-something guy doesn't like sandwiches? And of course Mahony's is New Orleans-y! It's a poor boy shop and what could be more New Orleans than that? But these thoughts kept creeping into my mind and I kept wondering if Tyler was having a good time.


We continued toward Frenchmen Street but first stopped at a bar on Royal Street for a quick bathroom break and a chance to show Tyler the wonderful concept of go-cups. When we got there, we decided to stay to watch the Ohio State-Wichita State game, which made me think my crazy thoughts again. “Is this really a quintessential New Orleans experience? Why are we watching basketball? Is this really the best use of our time?”


My worrying subsided a bit that night when we went to Frenchmen Street and the next day when we wandered around the French Quarter, visiting Jackson Square, eating jambalaya and catching throws at the Chris Owens French Quarter Easter Parade. “This is good,” I thought. “This is classic New Orleans. I'm so glad Tyler got to see this.”


We ended Tyler's trip with some more basketball-watching at home then chargrilled oysters at Acme Oyster House in Metairie and gelato at Sucré. I dropped him off at the airport at 5 a.m. on Monday so he could get back to work in Kansas City. I was sad to see him go, but he did reassure me that he had fun and I was glad that I got to share my new city with him.


I don’t know why I was so worried about my brother having the perfect New Orleans experience. Maybe it’s the fact that I work at a magazine and I read about the hippest restaurants and events all day. Maybe it’s because I write this blog and I want to share good stories. Or maybe it’s just my neurotic worries that kept me questioning all the decisions I was making while Tyler was here.


The truth is, as long as Tyler had a good time, why does it matter what we saw or where we went? It's true that every city has those quintessential touristy spots that everyone has to go to. You have to see the Eiffel Tower in Paris. You have to see Fenway Park in Boston. You have to see the Statue of Liberty in New York. New Orleans has places like that, too, like Jackson Square and the French Quarter, and I did bring Tyler to see those. But we also saw the Frenchmen Street Art Market, and I showed him where I work and we looked at houses that still have Katrina damage. These attractions might not be the typical "tourist attractions" but they were aspects of the city I wanted to show my brother, because they're places I enjoy or places I wanted him to see. We may have not made it to Commander's Palace or the New Orleans Museum of Art or the National WWII Museum, but Tyler did get to see a good amount of New Orleans for such a brief visit.


It's impossible to plan the "perfect visit" because everyone has their own idea of what's perfect. For Tyler, it was getting to see the city, but also hanging out with Chris and I and keeping up with March Madness. There really is no bad way to visit New Orleans. The city is famous for attracting visitors, so for those of us playing host, there's nothing to worry about. 


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