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Ask anyone who knows me about how much I love New Orleans and they’ll tell you my eyes light up and I can talk about the magic of the city for a solid half hour without taking a breath. Can you blame me, though? There’s no other destination in the world quite like it.
In November, musician and world traveler Noelle Scaggs went south to explore New Orleans and film the Purpose Project series created by Capital One and Tastemade. During the trip, Scaggs reunited with her friend and celebrity chef, Marcela Valladolid. It was Valladolid’s first time to the city, and she instantly fell in love with the Big Easy. For Scaggs, it was more like coming home.
“I feel [a] heartbeat every time I come to this city,” Scaggs said. “That’s why I love New Orleans so much.”
Yeah, tell me about it.
See the full episode on Tastemade Watch.
For Scaggs and Valladolid, discovering the culture and history of New Orleans took her from the Louisiana Delta for a fishing charter to the French Quarter to have her tea leaves read at Bottom of the Cup.
But to have a meaningful trip to New Orleans, you don’t have to replicate Scaggs’ itinerary. After all, just stepping foot in this resilient, diverse and collaborative city can give you a deeper sense of purpose and belonging. It’s a city that’s upbeat and steeped in tradition, playful and downright delicious. It’s New Orleans, after all.
If you know, you know — and if you haven’t been, well, you’ll probably end up booking your flight before the end of this article. Here’s why I’m so obsessed with the vibrant city of New Orleans.
1. The Food Is Incredible
Scaggs tucked in to fresh caught seafood at Dickie Brennan’s Bourbon House and cornbread focaccia at the Pythian Market. But I could write an entire novel just about how amazing the food is in this city. From the classics like jambalaya and po’boys to more modern crazes from Turkey and the Wolf, you’re going to want to bring your stretchy pants. It’s not a trip without beignets from Café du Monde or Morning Call, and don’t you even think about leaving without a muffuletta. Some of my other favorite restaurants include Galatoire’s, Restaurant R’evolution, Willa Jean and GW Fins, among others. Like I said: A novel.
2. The People Are so Welcoming
I have yet to find another place on the planet where the people welcome you into their city with open arms (and probably a steaming cup of gumbo). Everyone is so happy to have you here and to celebrate all of the things that make you unique. Come as you are and be unapologetically yourself.
3. It’s Full of Opportunity
Scaggs and Valladolid met at Café Reconcile — you might have heard of it before, and for good reason: It’s where young adults can participate in an eight-week program to develop new skills, get delicious meals and learn to recognize their goals. In short: It’s a built-in, supportive community for those who need it most. But NOLA is full of opportunities to give back to the city that gives so much of itself to everyone who’s ever been there. In fact, my alma mater, Tulane University, has a built-in service learning element in their curriculum. Every student must complete community service hours before they graduate. For me, it was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the city and the people who made it so amazing, especially in the years after Hurricane Katrina while the city was rebuilding. As a student, I tutored students in English in a nearby charter school. If you’re interested in more opportunities like this, I would recommend looking into other notable programs like Grow Dat Youth Farm and Habitat for Humanity.
4. The Music Moves You
If you haven’t heard how incredible New Orleans’ music scene is, well, where have you been all this time? With venues like Tipitina’s, Maple Leaf and virtually all of Frenchmen Street — not to mention street players on every corner — there’s music floating around pretty much everywhere. New Orleans is music. You can catch a cheap show any night of the week, but if you’re really a music fanatic, head there for Jazz Fest. It’s more than two weeks of nonstop music ranging from rock to jazz and everything in between from some of the biggest names in the business to New Orleans’ locals. (This year, it’s April 26 to May 5.) Oh, and please, whatever you do, don’t forget the Crawfish Monica.
5. The Cityscape Is Beautiful
Find me a park more beautiful than Audubon or City Park and I’ll buy you a plate of the “World’s Best Fried Chicken” from legendary Willie Mae’s Scotch House. If parks aren’t your thing, have a picnic on the water with your friends at The Fly and watch the sun set. It doesn’t hurt that the weather rarely drops below 40 degrees here, so you’ll definitely be able to sit outside all year long. The architecture, too, is stunning. Walking around New Orleans is like taking a stroll in Europe — and also the Caribbean. You almost forget you’re still in the US. The French Quarter is the original part of the city and has a striking mix of French and Spanish design elements. Head uptown to the Garden District by taking the streetcar along St. Charles and feel like you’re in a classic film.
6. And Yes, There’s Mardi Gras
Come one, come all, to the greatest show on Earth. Mardi Gras is even more fun than you’ve heard, but you’re going to want to pace yourself. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, as any Tulane grad will instantly remind you. It’s five days filled with parades, music, food and yes, copious amounts of booze, and don’t even think about picking beads off the floor. Get out your craziest outfits and join the fanfare for a week.
7. You Can’t Beat the Mindset
There’s a feeling you get when the plane lands at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International (MSY) that you’re just supposed to be here. In NOLA, life slows down a bit and the world becomes a little more colorful. Life is meant to be celebrated here, so stop and smell the crabmeat — and have a Sazerac while you’re at it.
See you at the airport.
Featured photo by f11photo/Getty Images
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