By Diana K. Schwam
New Orleans should come with a warning label. Not about hurricanes, but about the city's seductive powers, and the never lefts -- the people who came for Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, or a convention, fell prey to the city's magic -- and never left. They danced in Frenchmen Street clubs. They kissed in the French Quarter, ate beignets at Café du Monde. Then they ignored their tickets home. They came for a vacation -- and never left. You, too, should go, see, hear, and taste for yourself. Just don't blame us if one day you discover that you, too, never left.
Things to Do
Check out the artists, fortune tellers, and street performers in the French Quarter's Jackson Square. Stroll the tranquil walkway along the Mississippi River toward Audubon Aquarium. City Park, an oasis of towering mossy Spanish oaks, offers Storyland Amusement Park and the Museum of Art. Nearby are the picturesque, above-ground cemeteries. A short ride from town you can tour stately plantation homes or scout for alligators on a swamp tour.
Gift hunt for Mardi Gras trinkets, voodoo dolls, or fleur-de-lis jewelry at the French Market. Across town, art fans browse the galleries along Julia Street in the Warehouse District. The quirky-to-elegant boutiques lining Magazine Street will satisfy fashion and home decor fans, while the terrific shops in Canal Place and Riverfront Mall are blessedly air-conditioned. Don't leave without stocking up on pralines and Creole spices.
Nightlife & Entertainment
The birthplace of jazz still swings hard. There's old-time tradition at Preservation Hall, while Rebirth Brass Band rocks the Maple Leaf. Get your Bourbon Street revelry on with a Hurricane at Pat O'Brien's and a set at Irvin Mayfield's stylish Jazz Playhouse. A Frenchmen Street club crawl must include d.b.a. and the Spotted Cat, and it's a quick cab ride to famed Tipitina's or the backyard repose of Bacchanal.
Restaurants & Dining
The rich, flavorful Creole fare is famed for inventions like Antoine's baked oysters Rockefeller and Brennan's rum-infused bananas Foster. Spicy Cajun is represented by gumbo, a muscular stew combining seafood, poultry, or sausage. Freshly shucked Gulf oysters at Acme Oyster Bar, po' boy sandwiches from Parkway Bakery, or turtle soup at Commander's Palace should not be missed, while contemporary cuisine -- like that at Herbsaint, Emeril's, Cochon, Green Goddess, and Coquette -- riffs on culinary tradition in delectable new ways.