Out and About: New Orleans Must-See Sites
new orleans

With Voodoo Fest coming up at the end of the month, you’re probably already putting together an itinerary of all the incredible sights, sounds, and experiences New Orleans has to offer. We’ve spoken to some of our favorite local artists from the Big Easy to get the insider’s scoop on the things to see and the places to be seen, so you won’t want to finalize your plans until you’ve seen this list.  New Orleans truly is a city like no other, and with centuries of history, an unparalleled music tradition, and some of the most exciting nightlife in the world, you’ll have no shortage of activities to keep you busy when you need a break from the fest scene at Voodoo.

Spanish Custom House / photo Infrogmation of New Orleans; Flickr
Visit the Historical Sites – recommended by The Revivalists, Anders Osborne, and Tank and the Bangas

New Orleans will be celebrating its tercentennial anniversary next year, so suffice to say, the city has a lot of history behind it.  Listing out every significant historical site in the Big Easy would be an absurd undertaking (no one has the attention span for all that), so here’s a few recommended by our friends in the local music scene.  NOLA alt-rockers The Revivalists recommend checking out the Old Spanish Customs House, also known as the Lorreins Plantation House.  The Old Spanish Customs House was originally the main building of an early indigo plantation, and is one of the oldest surviving structures in the classic French Colonial architecture style.  For those of you who love drama as well as music, local artist Anders Osborne recommends you catch a performance at Le Petit Theatre.  Built in 1916, Le Petit Theatre is the oldest theater in the area still in operation.  They have performed thousands of dramas, comedies, and musicals over the course of their century-long history.  Finally, for the history buffs out there who enjoy a little luxury with their lesson, Tank and the Bangas suggest you visit the Le Pavillon Hotel.  Opened in 1907, Le Pavillon is one of the oldest hotels in the area and is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places.  Even if you choose to stay somewhere else, Le Pavillon is worth seeing for its history and superb architecture, as well as its many attractions like fine dining restaurants and a rooftop pool.

Tipitina’s / photo Louisiana Travel
Go Enjoy some Cajun Dancing at Tipitina’s – recommended by Honey Island Swamp Band and Tank and the Bangas

Since opening in 1977, Tipitina’s has become a bona fide New Orleans institution.  Tipitina’s was opened in a former brothel by a group of dedicated music fans known as The Fabulous Fo’teen, who wanted to create a neighborhood juke joint where New Orleans music legend Professor Longhair could perform in his final years.  Longhair (AKA Henry Roeland Byrd) played there until his death in 1980, and the venue continues to support local jazz and roots music in his memory.  Tipitina’s is still a destination for traveling acts as well, and artists like Phish and The Neville Brothers have recorded significant live albums there.  If that isn’t enough, the Tipitina’s family also run a nonprofit charity foundation that supports local music education and culture, so you know you’re supporting good people who care about their community.  Tipitina’s remains one of the most authentic jazz bars in the Big Easy, and is one of the best places in the city to enjoy the local music traditions.

Louisiana Music Factory / photo Robbie Mendelson; Flickr
Hit up the Funky Local Record Stores – recommended by Anders Osborne, Honey Island Swamp Band, Galactic, Mutemath, and Tank and the Bangas

New Orleans’ rich music history is no secret, so it should come as no surprise to learn that the Crescent City is also home to some of the most interesting and well-curated record stores in the country. The Louisiana Music Factory is probably the most renowned record store in the area, and is well regarded among jazz and blues collectors around the world.  LMF focuses on local music, carrying a diverse array of vintage jazz, blues, R&B, zydeco, and Cajun music on various formats, much of which was released by local independent labels and can be near impossible to find outside of Louisiana.  Mushroom New Orleans may not be quite as internationally known as LMF, but with 40 years under its belt, this record shop is the longest running store of its kind in the city.  Beyond the usual music store fare of CDs, records, and a mélange of various merchandise, Mushroom also happens to have a huge variety of tobacco and vaporizer products, so if you need something like that to enjoy your festival experience, maybe stop in here.  Last but certainly not least, there’s Peaches Records.  Opened in 1975, Peaches gives Mushroom a run for its money in the old NOLA record store debate, and like Louisiana Music Factory, Peaches is tightly woven into the local music history.  Peaches proprietor Ms. Rea is much loved by local musicians, not just for carrying their music, but also for employing them in the store, hosting concerts, and spreading the gospel of the New Orleans scene.  Peaches is one of those special record stores that truly has to be seen to believe, so make sure you schedule some time to get over there and do some digging!

Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop / photo Yair Haklai
Grab a Drink at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar – recommended by Galactic

Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar is a cozy little neighborhood dive in the French Quarter with a near-mythical backstory.  The bar is named for the privateer Jean Lafitte, who, according to legend, used to maintain a business in the nearly-300-year-old building where he planned his exciting (and often illegal) escapades.  Though he spent most of his life as a smuggler and bootlegger, Lafitte is remembered in NOLA as a hero for his role in helping General Andrew Jackson defeat the British during the Battle of New Orleans in 1814.  These days, locals like to enjoy a cold drink in his honor at this old hangout of his.  And some say you can even enjoy that drink alongside the old privateer himself, as Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop is considered to be one of the most haunted locations in the entire French quarter.

Lafayette Cemetery no 1 / photo Michael McCarthy; Flickr
Hang out with the locals at one of New Orleans’ many historic cemeteries – recommended by Christian Scott, Galactic, Anders Osborne, The Revivalists, Tank and the Bangas, and Mutemath

New Orleans is perhaps the only city in the world where cemeteries have become a tourist attraction in their own right.  Due to the swampy nature of the area the city resides in, New Orleanians were forced to bury their loved ones not underground, but in ornate above-ground crypts and mausoleums.  As a result, over time the city’s cemeteries have grown into these labyrinthine “Cities of the Dead.”  This unique aesthetic of tightly packed sculptures and tombs attracts untold numbers of morbid tourists.  These cemeteries are also popular amongst locals for much of the same reason, and the really cool thing is that everyone seems to have their favorite graveyard haunt.  Christian Scott’s favorite is the St. Roch cemetery, while local jam band Galactic prefer the Lafayette Cemetery Number 2.  NOLA music veteran Anders Osborne likes the relative quietude of St. Louis Cemetery Number 3, but The Revivalists are more partial to Carrollton Cemetery Number 1, and even claim that most of the members met there initially.  And if you want to get spooky with Tank and the Bangas or Mutemath, you’ll have to find them hanging around the tombs of Lafayette Cemetery Number 1.

photo by: Scott Johnson / Flickr