I nearly passed out on my flight to New Orleans. I know—that’s not the most exciting entry point into a piece about traveling to NOLA for Essence Fest, but that’s what happened. In the process of planning my trip and working, I think my body was just extremely anxious, overworked and overwhelmed. Something that Black women sip a combination cocktail of daily.
This year was my second time attending the festival and I was ready to experience it all: the food, the music, the networking opportunities, the products and free goodies. I originally planned on attending as many events as possible, but that plan changed (in part due to the scorching Louisiana heat). After my “come to Jesus” fiasco on the plane, I thought about ways that I could take in NOLA at a much lighter, slower pace. I wanted my travel to focus more on my well-being above any and everything else—and that’s exactly what I did.
That doesn’t mean the quality of experience had to be compromised. One of my biggest travel tips is to head to the city’s tourism board site. They always have the ins and outs of what’s happening across the city and frankly, New Orleans & Co. never disappoints. This was my second year using their guidance to map out places to eat and activities to engage in, in addition to the smorgasbord of Essence events. I had made the deliberate decision to venture beyond—eager to explore the rich tapestry of experiences that this captivating city had to offer. Here are just a few:
Brunch Culinary Delights
New Orleans is renowned for its culinary prowess, a fusion of flavors that entices both the local community and self-proclaimed foodie visitors like myself. As a food enthusiast, I sought out establishments that would provide a robust taste of this city’s culinary heritage. And, of course, I was not disappointed.
Ruby Slipper Cafe
A lively setting and a creative menu that puts a fun spin on traditional breakfast and brunch dishes. It’s known for its Eggs Cochon and its Bananas Foster French Toast, but I went for the Shrimp and Grits (hold the pork!).
Surrey’s Cafe & Juice Bar
This cafe came as a true surprise and I am so glad I went. When I arrived, the restaurant was full but the wait was only about 10 minutes. I got there at a good time because before I knew it, there was a line outside the door. I was told their claim to fame was the Bananas Foster French Toast, so I ordered that and the Crab Meat Omelette. Both left me completely speechless because they were so savory and delicious. I also got a fresh-squeezed orange juice with ginger—and I highly recommend it.
Black-Owned New Orleans
Whenever I come to New Orleans, I’m always intentional about patronizing Black, local businesses. It’s important to me, especially with all that this community has been through post-Hurricane Katrina and is still recovering from.
Baldwin & Co.
I spent an entire day at this amazing Black-owned bookstore. My intention was to come, patronize, then head back to my hotel—but it turned into a full day. It’s quaint and brimming with culture. In the hours I spent talking to patrons, I also got to witness Big Freedia and their new Bold Beats Makeup Collection launch. I was also in for a treat, because although the event page said it was sold out, I was early enough to be able to sit through a live taping of the Earn Your Leisure Podcast, featuring New Orleans native and mogul, Larry Morrow.
By the end of the afternoon, I purchased $100 worth of children’s books for my son and had a chai latte with a slice of quiche. Overall, the environment was extremely communal with some people coming for the events, others doing work, and many looking to purchase books and enjoy a beverage.
There are three sights that I strongly suggest taking a trolley through or, if the weather permits, taking a stroll through. When you need a break from the hustle and bustle of the city, head to New Orleans’ Garden District or Magazine Street. While Magazine Street is known for its variety of boutiques, restaurants and galleries, the Garden District is known for its historic houses and attractive gardens.
If you’re into a more energetic and loud city vibe, the French Quarter and Jackson Square capture the soulful character that is New Orleans. The vibrancy of the jazz scene combined with the historic buildings and bright streets of the French Quarter makes for a truly unforgettable experience. Jackson Square gives visitors a taste of the city’s creative side with its famous St. Louis Cathedral and local artists. I enjoyed listening to live musicians on the streets, who were playing their instruments with pride and singing with their whole hearts.
In the moments where I was promising myself stillness, I stayed in my hotel, The Westin New Orleans. Its placement offered me a beautiful view of the Mississippi River and is also a stone’s throw away from the French Quarter. The hotel has a grand lobby area with a circular encapsulated bar, spacious seating and music in the evenings. I thoroughly enjoyed talking to the doormen throughout my weekend as they were always my litmus test to see how best to get to where I needed to go. I appreciated the overall care from the staff and the promptness of always coming back to a well-cleaned room that allowed me solace and a bit of a pause.
Overall, going to New Orleans was a great way to celebrate culture, music and art in a lively way. When I left the Essence Festival grounds, I found a city filled with delicious food, charming landmarks and interesting people. It was a trip that left a lasting mark on my soul and showed me that you don’t have to fill every bit of space in your schedule to have a good time; just fill it with soulful experiences and plenty of rest.
Featured Image: TONL