An Itinerary for a Perfect Day in the New Orleans Arts District
The New Orleans Arts District, also called the Warehouse District, is the heart of downtown New Orleans activity. This bustling neighborhood holds its own with art galleries, world-class museums, and some of the best restaurants in the city. In the 19th century, the Warehouse District used to be a hub for the port of New Orleans, where some heavy industries that supported the port were thriving, and many goods that came through the post were stored before were they were transported elsewhere in the United States.
The area’s past lends the Warehouse District its own distinct architecture and personality. And because some of the most important New Orleans museums and galleries are located here (with a lot of activity tied to the arts and culture of the city), the Warehouse District is interchangeably called the Arts District. Here’s our one-day itinerary for hitting the neighborhood highlights and making the most of your stay at the Lafayette Hotel.
The Arts District has quite a few great coffee shops near the hotel. The bagels and the pastries are made daily at Between the Bread, located across from Lafayette Square, and Revelator Coffee is a good spot to linger over a cup of fancy espresso and your laptop. Both the CBD outpost of the French Truck Coffee and the Mammoth Espresso have high-quality coffee both companies are known for. The French Truck Coffee also has all-day breakfast and lunch menus. Craft coffee takes a spin around the world to include Vietnamese iced coffee and cafe con leche at the chic Drip Affogato, which creatively pairs ice cream and hot drinks.
If you would prefer to linger over a serious Southern breakfast or brunch, Willa Jean is a gem of a place, and unsurpassed when it comes to a Southern menu of baked goods paired with excellent coffee (check out the “Biscuit Situation” section of the seasonal menu; the desserts are great as well). The quaint and colorful Two Chicks Café near the Convention Center serves fresh-squeezed juices with artisan sandwiches a varied breakfast menu. Or head to the CBD location of the locally owned and beloved mini-chain, the Ruby Slipper (BBQ shrimp and grits is just one of their popular specialties).
Once properly fueled, you can explore Piazza d’Italia, a postmodern marvel adjacent to the American Italian Cultural Center. It was designed by renowned architect Charles Moore and is hard to miss, with its cascading fountains and classical architectural details. Another option is to explore the area’s museums and galleries. Walk in the direction of the Lee Circle to hit The National WWII Museum, the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC), or the Ogden Museum of Southern Art.
The sprawling campus of the World War II Museum is one of the top military history museums in the country. It was designated by the Congress as the official National WWII Museum since 2003, and for very good reasons. Don’t miss the award-winning 4-D film narrated by Tom Hanks, Beyond All Boundaries, which packs a ton of special effects and takes you from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the war’s end in 50 minutes. Close your visit with a stop at the gift shop or the on-site, 1940s-themed American Sector Restaurant & Bar.
The Ogden features a four-story atrium with a rooftop terrace, and holds some of the largest and most comprehensive collections of Southern art in the U.S. spanning from the 18th century to the present. Almost directly across the street from the Ogden, the 10,000-square-foot CAC has been expanding and revitalizing the New Orleans arts district since the late 70s with its four floors of art, which includes paintings, video projections, sculpture, performance pieces, photography, and more.
If you’re in the mood for some gallery-hopping, the museums are within walking distance from the Gallery Row of Julia Street. Over 25 galleries dot the street and the adjacent area, and most are open during the day. They also throw coordinated openings on the first Saturday of each month and two large annual art events: Art for Arts’ Sake in October and White Linen Night in August. Our gallery picks include Martine Chaisson Gallery, Degas Gallery, and Octavia Art Gallery. But, really, take a stroll and find your own treasures — Julia Street is packed with them.
Getting hungry again? It’s lunch time! The Harrah’s a pedestrian thoroughfare, Fulton Street, is packed with bars and restaurants, and the casino features a few as well, including the upscale The Steakhouse and the visitor favorite, Acme Oyster House. We also highly recommend the St. James Cheese Company. This downtown outpost of the popular cheese shop has amazing sandwiches and cheese and charcuterie boards. Speaking of cheese and charcuterie, Cochon Butcher‘s platters feature housemade jellies and meats. If you’re a vegan or vegetarian, then Carmo is a must. Its menu spans the globe and focuses on tropical flavors.
The James Beard Award winner Balise Tavern is only a block away from the hotel. It offers such Louisiana staples as gumbo and crab cakes in a gorgeous townhouse setting. Also a block away, on St. Charles Avenue, is Marcello’s Restaurant & Wine Bar, with Sicilian and Northern Italian fare and ample outdoor seating.
Why not spend the afternoon shopping in an air-conditioned mall? You could spend a whole day browsing the three levels of The Shops at Canal Place. It has a soaring atrium and food options ranging from casual to upscale (like Café Canal or Morton’s). Canal Place houses a slew of upscale national chains like Saks Fifth Avenue, Michael Kors, Anthropologie, but also local boutiques like LA Crafts Guild. The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk, located by the Mississippi River, is a sprawling discount outlet mall with all the popular labels like Gap and Guess plus the king of beignet and visitor favorite, Café Du Monde.
One of the most notable CBD boutiques is Stone Free on O’Keefe Avenue. And if you head across Canal Street toward the French Quarter, N. Peters Street at the foot of Canal boasts such popular national chains as H&M and Sephora. A handful of unique boutiques on Chartres Street in the Quarter is a must shopping destination if you’re looking for something distinctly New Orleans and locally made.
By now, it’s probably happy hour. Herbsaint and Peche are both nearby and have incredible craft cocktails, both iconic and its modern, New Orleans-centric renditions. Donald Link’s Peche is also a good spot to sidle up to the counter for the raw oysters that will be shucked right in front of you. The popular Seaworthy also got you covered with the locally sourced oysters and other seafood from the Gulf and the East and West coasts.
The Lafayette Hotel is in close proximity to some of the best New Orleans restaurants, which is great news if you want to grab dinner nearby. In addition to its classic steakhouse menu, Lafayette Hotel’s own Desi Vega’s is a good choice if you want to try the classic Southern fare like shrimp remoulade and fried green tomatoes. The two newcomers, the Link Restaurant Group’s latest called Gianna, and Sofia (named after Sofia Loren) are both located downtown and serve Italian-inspired menus. A sister restaurant to Cochon Butcher, Cochon is all about fine-dining new Cajun cuisine, and you can’t go wrong with Emeril’s flagship outpost in the Warehouse district.
Some of the best spots for dessert are located within walking or biking distance from the Lafayette Hotel too, including Bittersweet Confections (there’s sidewalk seating) and Bakery Bar, with New Orleans staples like Doberge cake and bananas Foster bread pudding.
The two live music venues nearby, The Howlin’ Wolf and Republic NOLA, regularly draw sizable crowds, and The Howlin’ Wolf hosts the famous Hot 8 Brass Band every Sunday. For a unique New Orleans experience, head to the Circle Bar at the Lee Circle. The divey long-timer has strong drinks and the live shows that are a medley of everything from heavy metal to rock and funk. The earlier shows (7-9 p.m.) are usually free. The two notable late-night hangs in the area (that also serve food) are the Caribbean-themed Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar and the over-100-years-old St. Charles Tavern.
Here are our area guides to give you more options to try when you stay at the Lafayette Hotel: