Last visited: July 2013 (4 days)
Things to do:
You have a lot of options both inside and outside of the city. Within the city, visiting the French Quarter would be an obvious choice. You can explore on your own, do a self-guided walking tour, or take any one of a number of guided tours. Haunted tours, historical tours, cocktail tours, voodoo tours - you name it, it's available. Further out is the Garden District, which is easy enough to visit on your own (and a fun ride on the streetcar trolley) or to visit as part of a tour. This area has a lot of nice older homes, an easily accessible cemetery (yep, cemetery tours are also available), and a number of interesting nearby shops. You can also go on tours which take you into a Mardi Gras workshop. Outside of town, if you haven't been into swampland before and want to see some alligators, there are a number of swamp tours that will pick you up in the city and take you out for a day. If it's your first visit, I'd probably try to cover the French Quarter, a Mardi Gras workshop, and voodoo (it's pretty easy to find a tour that combines all three - that's what we did when I first visited as a kid). If you've been before, maybe check out the Algiers Ferry for a free ride across the river.
The streetcar trolley is handy if you're just sticking to the main tourist areas but in general you're looking at either walking around or taking a cab. Keep the number of a cab company handy if you're going to an unfamiliar area so that you can call one to pick you up if necessary.
Where to stay:
We stayed at the Marriott on Canal, between Decatur and Chartres, which was quite a good location. You're at the edge of the French Quarter so have easy access to the chaos without actually being in it. For atmosphere, you'll want to look for a place that's actually inside the French Quarter itself, or maybe someplace out in the Garden District, which would be quieter.
Eating and drinking:
Cafe du Monde or Cafe Beignet - You want a beignet. It's fried dough covered in powdered sugar. Don't wear black and don't put anything down on the tables (sticky). You might also want to check out New Orleans chicory coffee.
Cochon Butcher - Really good sandwiches. If you want to try a muffaletta, I can't imagine that other places could outdo what's being served here. I didn't have a chance to try Cochon, the attached sister restaurant, but have heard good things about it.
Galatoire's (Friday lunch) - I didn't go but this sounds pretty ridiculous and therefore fun. Google it, I don't really know how to explain. It's like, a weird posh lunch with locals.
Hansen's - You want a sno-ball, especially when it's hot. I asked a woman in a shop where to get a sno-ball because it was ridiculously hot out and she pointed me to Hansen's. I stood in line, got the 2nd smallest cup, ate my sno-ball, got back in line and got a small cup. The owners are incredibly nice and noted that I am certainly not the first to get multiple sno-balls. These are like, the best sno-cones ever. There are other good sno-ball places around town, this just happened to be the one that I was happily pointed to.
Bacchanal - Hop a cab, it's a bit out of the way in relation to where you'd likely be as a tourist. This place is awesome! Step in and it appears to be a little wine shop - order some wine and/or cheese if you feel like it, then step out into the massive back patio with your wine/cheese to grab a table and listen to some music (dixieland jazz when we went). Feel like eating more? Head to the walk-up window on the side to order from a ridiculously good menu with your dishes brought out to your patio table. Not feeling the wine? Head upstairs to grab a tasty concoction from the cocktail bar. There need to be more places in this world like Bacchanal. Seriously.
Some other restaurants I've heard good things about: SoBou, Sylvain, Commanders Palace. Mr. B's had a good brunch too. Basically, there's a ton of good food in New Orleans. Po'boys are readily available, as are things like jambalaya, gumbo, miscellaneous crawfish dishes, and soul food. However, the downside of all this is that I find food to be pretty heavy in New Orleans so you may not actually get to eat as much as you plan to. It's ok, you can skip a meal and grab a drink instead. As the birthplace of the cocktail, you owe it to yourself to destroy your liver at least a little during your visit.
Sazerac Bar - Order a Ramos Gin Fizz! This is by far the best rendition I've ever had (normally I don't even like this). It's sort of like drinking an orange julius. The bar is posh and old-timey (as is the hotel it's in). We went early on a Thursday night and the place was basically empty, which was perfect.
Carousel Bar - If you're lucky, you get to sit at a revolving bar! Most people will not be lucky because this place seemed to always be crowded. Not a bad place to get a sazerac if you want to try one.
Dickie Brennan's - Frozen Bourbon Milk Punch! Wandered into this place randomly and chose this drink randomly. It's sort of like an alcoholic frappucino. Bourbon milk punch isn't a bad cocktail order to keep in mind for New Orleans, it's a pretty mellow drink.
Bourbon Street - It's pretty gross but you're probably going to wind up here at some point. Just remember to drink water at some point.
Frenchmen Street - Live music everywhere, super-busy and popular but without the raging insanity of Bourbon Street. The photo above was taken at an evening street market on Frenchmen. You're likely going to need a cab to/from here.
Vaughan's - Definitely more of a lower-key, local vibe. It's around the corner (walkable) from Bacchanal so best bet is to do a 2-for-1 and hit both places on the same night since you're most likely hopping a cab out to Treme.