What to Do and See in New Orleans During AOTA

by Shannen Marie Coley OTR/L
Mar 26, 2019
20 min read
1k views

The Big Easy is famous for its tasty food and colorful nightlife. Make sure you know where to go, what to do, and most importantly, where to eat when you visit this April.

What to Do and See in New Orleans During AOTA.png

New Orleans holds a special place in my heart.

Although not as equipped to articulate the wonders of New Orleans as a true Louisiana Cajun, I feel honored to share insight on the culturally rich city of NOLA .

Why I'm excited to share NOLA with you

Raised on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where the Big Easy was only an hour and fifteen-minute drive away, I can recall vivid memories from my childhood and early adulthood in the city. I remember going on a 6th grade field trip to the Audubon Zoo (which fell on my 12th birthday), tailgating in preparation for a Saints win (#whodat), attending Mardi Gras parades, and as an adult trying on engagement rings with my boyfriend (now husband). I’ve spent time devouring King Cake and beignets, attending one of my OT school friend’s weddings in the St. Louis Cathedral, and everything in between. New Orleans has something for everybody, and I am ecstatic to share her charismatic beauty with all of you!

New Orleans is one of those places where you can spend weeks at a time and still find new places to explore and appreciate. The Big Easy is truly a city that reflects tradition, celebration, and resilience. Not even “The Storm” –Hurricane Katrina—could bring the city, or its people, down.

Imagine jazz sounds humming in the streets and savory (sometimes overwhelming) smells floating through the air. Picture historic shotgun houses ornately paired with rustic iron details hiding beautiful courtyards. Think of the blended culture deeply rooted in Caribbean influences and Eastern traditions. They’re all waiting to invite you to experience the mystery of the city.

That’s why we at CovalentCareers are excited to share our top places to explore, eat, and drink. Cheers to a list that maximizes your power to prepare for your visit to one of the most enthralling and unique destinations in the country! So let's gear up for the AOTA conference in New Orleans.

As you set your sights on the city, don't forget to spend some time networking with your amazing fellow OTs!

Exploration Galore

There isn't a doubt in my mind that you'll find yourself enamored by the beautiful city. Here are some fun things to do around town!

The French Quarter

The oldest section of the city, also known as “Old Square." Head on over to Canal Street and mingle around the six blocks of shops, cafes, music, and enjoy the riverfront.

Jackson Square

This is a must visit and the location of open artist colonies. This is where artists show off their artwork along the aged iron fences. The name Jackson Square is coined from a statue of Andrew Jackson located in the square center.

St. Louis Cathedral

The oldest active Roman Catholic Cathedral in continual use in the United States (located in the French Quarter overlooking Jackson Square). I attended one of my best OT school friend’s wedding here in 2017! Her beautiful white dress paired with the triple steeples and stained glass elements of the cathedral were truly breathtaking!

Magazine Street

Carnival season galore with clothes, shoes, décor! You can treat yourself to king cake treats and all the black and gold #WhoDat essentials you can buy.

Audubon Zoo

Picture a diverse spread of creatures from around the world and hands-on animal experiences.The Louisiana swamp and Jaguar Jungle showcases are amazing to attend, or you can sit back and enjoy unique animal presentations.

Audubon Aquarium of the Americas

If underwater immersion is what you’re looking for, you’re in the right place. Complete your trip with a walk-through tunnel showcasing the colors of the Great Maya Reef in addition to the beautiful 400,000 gallon Gulf of Mexico exhibit.

Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium

Imagine being “bug size” and exploring how insects impact daily life. Prepare to be captivated by hundreds of thousands of butterflies!

City Park

A magical outdoor oasis of picturesque historic oaks and canopies. This is a good place to go the day before conference, curl up under a tree, and plan out your schedule via AOTA’s Conference Mobile App.

World War II Museum

A historical museum that portrays the “war that changed the world.” One of the purposes of the museum is to “inspire people, young and old, to embrace the lessons of the monumental global conflict from its stories of heroism, human tragedies, voices of liberation, and the fruits and responsibilities of victory.”

Mardi Gras World

If you're curious how the exquisite and ornate Mardi Gras floats are created then this is the spot for you; this is a working public studio that gives a behind-the-scenes look into how the spectacular floats and costumes come to life!

New Orleans Museum of Art

Journey to the home of almost 50,000 majestic works of art

New Orleans School of Cooking

These are a must do if you find yourself falling for Cajun foods and tastes. The cooking classes are taught by Cajun/Creole experts and are taught with a “primary ingredient of fun.”

Some of the most popular classes taught focus on Gumbo, Jambalaya, and Pralines! If you don’t choose to take a class, you can visit the store and pick up their famous “Joe’s Stuff” seasoning

Haunted History Ghost Tours and Cemetery Tours

Not my cup of tea, but I have had many friends enjoy these haunted tours that takes you on grim and ghastly tours led by licensed guides. One of the typical experiences of the cemetary tours is to visit the infamous Voodoo Queen or to check out tomb architecture

NFL Saints

Who dat said they gonna beat dem Saints? #therefsaid Oh well there’s always next year... But really, if you ever are in town during a Saints home game you are in for a treat. The whole city backs up their New Orleans Saints!

NBA Pelicans

(Anthony Davis please don’t leave the Pelicans). The New Orleans Pelicans are so fun to watch. Also, during Mardi Gras time they bring out the seasonal “King Cake Baby” mascot which is simultaneously creepy and awesome.

Good Eats and Sweet Treats

There are so many fantastic food places! Here is just a slice of the delicious food wonders of New Orleans! If you go to any of these, comment below with your favorites! Be warned: your mouth will water as you daydream and plot your food picks. Sorry not sorry!

NOLA Favorites

Napoleon House

Old World New Orleans feel with European charm. The environment consists of older photography, quotes across the walls from guests from around the world and patterned walls. At one point this building even hosted a grocery store.

Recommended food and drink include: The Pimm’s Cup, specialty Italian muffaletta, café charcuterie, bruschetta, jambalaya, red beans and rice, gumbo, and po’boys (take your pick of grilled gator sausage, turkey, Italian sub, fried shrimp, roast beef).

Parkway Bakery & Tavern

Po’boy choices include: Parkway Surf and Turf, home cooked BBQ Beef, home cooked turkey breast, charbroiled hamburger, steamed corned beef, and the parkway gravy.

Vegetarian options include: Italian caprese and golden fried sweet potato. I'd also recommended the butter rum cake or fresh banana pudding

“Best Po’boy in Louisina” in USA Today’s Readers’ Choice Contest 2016

Traditional New Orleans Bites

Antoine’s

Fine dining and well-respected French-Creole cuisine established in 1840, complete with unique dining rooms that represent the history of the city. It’s not the easiest on your wallet, but but it is iconic nonetheless.

Menu options include: poulet aux champignons, filet de boeuf nature, Creole de légumes grillés, crabes mous frits, épinards sauce crème, crumble aux pommes, mousse au chocolat, crème glacée.

“The oldest French-Creole Fine Dining Restaurant in New Orleans”

Diners’ Choice Award 2018

Brennan’s

Creole menu with influences from France and Spain

Top originals include: egg yolk carpaccio, New Orleans BBQ lobster, artisanal eggs benedict, vanilla scented French toast, Louisiana bouillabaisse risotto for breakfast and lunch, and seared scallops, shrimp Creole kimchi, raviolo of chevre & sheep feta for dinner.

Wine Spectator’s “Award of Excellence 2017;” Wine Enthusiast’s “America’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants 2016;” Fine Wine’s “World’s Best Wine Lists 2016”

Galatoire’s

This restaurant is legendary! Traditions and recipes from France from over a century ago will welcome you with an original palette of foods to this internationally-renowned restaurant

Signature choices include: souffle potatoes, Galotoire goute, seafood okra gumbo, eggs sardou, crabmeat au gratin, black drum redfish, filet mignon, mocha panna cotta, Key Lime tart, The Blushing Pig

Commander’s Palace

Since 1893, this restaurant has served the community Haute Creole cuisine which reflects the ambiance of true New Orleans. Chef Tory and his team use the philosophy “dirt to plate within 100 miles” demonstrating their commitment to using local ingredients. Brunch, lunch, dinner, dessert, wine, and cocktails await! Pricy but delectable!

Choices include: King Cake beignets, Commander’s Creole gumbo, grilled veal tenderloin, Commander’s Turtle Soup, New Orleans barbecued shrimp, pecan roasted Gulf fish, Mardi Foie, Louisiana wild white shrimp, café au lait “Dome”, and the classic Bloody Mary

Southern Living’s “The South’s Best Restaurant;” Gambit’s “Best Restaurant in New Orleans;” The James Beard Foundation’s “Who’s Who Food & Beverage” 7 time winner.

Upperline

Classic New Orleans dishes intermixed with evolving and innovative inspirations that reflect the culture of the city

Four course dinners complete with options such as Creole duck & andouille gumbo, fried green tomato with shrimp remoulade, spicy shrimp with jalapeño cornbread & garlic aioli

Times Picayune’s “2017 Restaurant of the Year;” Southern Living said “If you can eat at only one fine restaurant in New Orleans, make it Upperline.”

Jacques-Imos'

“Real Nawlins food“ in a quirky environment

Menu items include: fried grits, crabmeat stuffed shrimp, Creole jambalaya, garlic snails, smothered chicken, shrimp etouffee, vegetarian delight, blackened lamb sirloin, and alligator cheesecake

USA Today’s #1 restaurant on their “10 Best List” of 2014

Breakfast and Coffee

Café Du Monde

About as iconic as it gets. This is the cliché coffee and beignet place in New Orleans that you see all over social media. It is the original French Market coffee stand and has been around since 1862. It’s even open 24 hours a day! Now there are 8 locations, but the original is at the French Market on Decatur Street.

District Donuts

Known for their “100% scratch, 100% fresh” donuts in addition to other menu items such as sandwiches and sliders in conjunction with their Stumptown coffee roasters

Cafe Beignet

“Beignet…Done That” offers rich coffee and its happy pair of golden squares known as beignets, plus indoor and outdoorseating. A tasty and favorable option if you are short on time and can’t withstand the long lines of Café Du Monde.

PJ’s Coffee

Founded in 1978 and known for its savory flavored coffee sourced from the “top 1% of Arabica beans.” Whether you drink their coffee and eat their pastries right in the city or at their other locations, you are in for a treat.

Elizabeth’s

I have never been here but I NEED to go! I’ve heard all great things, especially about their brunch menu: fried grit cakes, fried boudin balls, praline bacon, eggs Elizabeth, shrimp and grits, and most importantly, Banana’s Foster french toast.

Flamingo A Go Go

This is the restaurant that makes you think it’s a party all day long. It’s a destination for day drinking (envision bottomless brunch, sparkling rose, mimosas, etc) and happy hours that really make you want to “Flock this way, y’all.”

BBQ

Blue Oak

Snacks, BBQ plates, sandwiches, specialty, sides, happy hour

“In the beginning God created meat, the next day he built a smoker”

Central City BBQ

Starters, combo plates, pit house salads, BBQ sandwiches, ribs, pit house plates, meat by the pound, chicken

“Where there’s smoke…there’s Central City BBQ”

Dat Dog

Irish Guinness sausage with andouille sauce and all the fixin’s

Vegan, vegetarian, and fish options all available

“Jazz improvisation in a bun”

Indian

Saffron

Picture Indian heritage colliding with inspiration from New Orleans, France, Thailand, Singapore, and China. The menu designed for sharing. Menu from seasonal and locally-sourced ingredients. Lux interior.

Features delicious dinners, wines, cocktails, and after dinners. A few select options include: Bombay shrimp, crabmeat pudha, curried seafood gumbo, oyster bed roast, charcuterie, Khyber lamb chops, Nriyal Gulf fish, Puddin’ Naan the Ritz, amd their saffron NOLA chai

Nominated for James Beard “Best New Restaurant 2018” and New Orleans Magazine “Restaurant of the Year 2017”

Italian

Vincent’s Italian Cuisine

Blend of New Orleans and traditional Sicilian/Italian cooking. Comfy atmosphere that feels like it belongs in a homey neighborhood.

Top picks include: veal & spinach stuffed cannelloni, seafood stuffed pork chop, corn & crab Bisque, chicken parmigiana, eggplant salsiccia, burrata caprese, spaghetti and meatballs, sauteed Italian oysters, veal marsala, roasted duck breast, filet mignon

Known as the “little Italian place on the side street”

Venezia’s

Happy little pizzeria / Italian restaurant that’s been open since 1957 and located on North Carrollton Avenue.

Food creations include: fried eggplant sticks, stuffed artichoke, wedge salads, spaghetti with Italian sausage, eggplant parmigiana, fettuccine alfredo, veal panne, fresh fish almondine, muffaletta, and hand tossed pizzas

Irene’s

An endearing little spot with complimentary bruschetta, aromatic experiences, and a feeling of family tradition. Self proclaimed “Civilized Decadence” that started as a tiny family restaurant the size of a parking space

Fan favorites include: duck St. Phillip, chicken rosemarino, parma prosciutto, crabmeat au gratin, salmon en croute

OpenTable Diner’s Choice Award of “Best Italian Restaurant, Best Service, Best Value”

Mediterranean & Middle Eastern

Saba

Food influences from the Middle East, Israel, Europe, and North Africa reflect evolving cuisine. Some choices include the following: Salatim (Tabbouleh, Beets, Pickled Vegetables), hummus, shishlik (Hanger Steak, Lamb Kebab), caviar and potato chips (Paddlefish, Trout), small plates (Moroccan Carrot Salad, Falafel), family style (Harissa Roasted Chicken, Short Rib), and sides (Rice Pilaf, Crispy Potatoes)

In Hebrew “saba” means “grandfather” ; “Grandfathers have many stories to tell about a life’s worth of experiences; Saba wants to tell them through food and drink.”

Lebanon’s

Apart from the supreme Eastern cuisine, the experience and atmosphere, including hand painted murals and lovely oak trees, add to the pull to visit here. It’s also priced very reasonably

Extensive menu options include the following: Rosemary lamb chops, kabobs, chicken shawarma, lamb with hummus, falaflel, a gyro plate, vegetarian grape leaves, Greek salad, lentil soup, and baklava

Where Y’at Magazine readers voted “Lebanon’s Café as New Orleans’ Favorite Middle Eastern Restaurant”

Mexican

Felipe’s Mexican Taqueria

Fresh ingredients, authentic recipes, craft cocktails, fast casual Mexican, and hospitality in a comfy welcoming environment

French Quarter location picks include: Super Burrito, Chimichanga, Baja Style Tacos, Tinga Chicken Breast Nachos, Grilled Vegetable Quesadilla

El Gato Negro

An authentic Mexican restaurant with an indoor/outdoor dining experience that’s inspired by family traditions and recipes from Michoacán

The guacamole is made fresh at the table and pairs well with several fun (and pretty) cocktails including muddled fruit mojitos and pineapple cilantro margaritas. The list of drink options is actually overwhelming.

Dishes include: stuffed Hass avocado, pulled pork fajitas, El Mega burrito, aged skirt steak quesadilla, gulf shrimp tacos, Acapulco salad, seared salmon, and carne asada.

Gluten free and vegetarian menu available

“A Mexican Kitchen: Taste the Difference”

Seafood

Felix’s

Locally owned and known for being the place where oysters can be shucked in front of you! Has been serving Oysters in new and unique ways since the 1940s.

French Quarter menu sample includes: oysters (buffalo, chargrilled, Rockefeller, du jour, Bienville), fried crawfish tails, Louisiana alligator, crawfish etoufee, fried fish platter, po’boys (Felix Special, roast beef, fried fish, hot sausage, and more), Creole pecan pie

“The first name in oysters”

Red Fish Grill

Vibrant, casual seafood restaurant complete with a “raw” bar and located on the infamous Bourbon Street

Food and drink picks include: oysters (BBQ Shrimp, Gulf Oysters, The Peacemaker), redfish bisque, alligator sausage & seafood gumbo, redfish ravigote, yellowfin tuna, sauteed Gulf shrimp & grits, mini Carnival King cake, s’mores style double chocolate bread pudding, and drinks (Bourbon Street Car, Cat 5 Hurricane, Orleans Street Car)

“Friends don’t let friends eat frozen fish”

Desserts

Sucre

A signature sweet boutique known for their delicate, almond-flour based wafer sandwiches (macarons– not too be confused with macaroons which are different, people!)

Seasonal sweets, French macarons, chocolates, gelato, confections, wedding cakes, King cakes, gifts, merch

Vegan and gluten free options

Creole Creamery

Fountain classics, creamery specialties, by the scoop, cakes

Their delectable flavors include, but are not limited to: café au lait, chocolate amaretto cheesecake, cookie monster, creole cream cheese, nectar cream sherbert, petit four, black and gold crunch, champagne violette

“Eat ice cream. Be happy.”

Angelo Broccato’s

Family owned and operated for over 100 years.

Steeped in Sicilian traditions from the 19th century

Pastries, specialty biscotti (to die for—count me in for the almond macaroon biscotti), famous gelato, granita, Italian fruit ice, cannoli

Plum Street Snoballs

Hits the spot even though it is a little bit of a drive to get there. This place is a part of New Orleans’ vibe and authentic culture and has been serving since 1945.

Snoballs created from patented ice machines feature a variety of fruity and sweet syrups along with condensed milk

Nawlins Nightlife

New Orleans likes to stay up late, y’all. Sundown means out on the town, and there near unlimited options. It's impossible to know, let alone list out all of the nooks and crannies of NOLA, so here is a sample of the scene you may find in the city that barely sleeps. You can always walk on Bourbon Street (with a friend or two, we at NGOT do not want you to go out alone) and find many, many bars to choose from. #staysafefriends

Pat O’ Brien’s

Very popular restaurant bar. Home of 3 bars with different feels

Main Bar with a neighborhood style

Patio Bar with an open sky feel

Piano Lounge with “dueling pianos” and song requests

Cat’s Meow

Top Fun Karaoke Bar, great Happy Hour selections, excellent variety of music, and you’ll see people of all ages and backgrounds here! A mix of live music, people singing karaoke (some great, some terribly), and fantastic show hosts that “keep the action non-stop and offer good, clean fun for all to have a great time, and to keep things a step above Bourbon Street”

I’ll be very honest:This place is my FAVORITE and I’m terribly awful at karaoke.It is a must visit!!

Carousel Bar

Located inside of the Hotel Monteleone

Includes a whimsical Merry-Go-Round revolving bar! This hotspot is a must visit! Local, classic specialty drinks run about $12-15 each. Well known for their Sazerac, Pimm’s Cup, Reverend Stiggin’s Pineapple Daquiri

Preservation Hall

The center of jazz revival and is a well loved place of NOLA music and culture that provides jazz concerts most nights of the years

Maple Leaf Bar

Music club that features live music shows and bar

Barrel Proof

Basically created for whiskey lovers. Hidden away on Magazine Street.

Bouligny Tavern

Wine lovers may find joy here. Cool furniture, classic to modern music.

Hot Tin Rooftop Bar

Located atop the Pontchartrain Hotel

Craft Cocktails and a lovely view of downtown New Orleans

Mid-City Lanes Rock ‘N Bowl

Live entertainment, bowling, rock and roll music, Bar/pub food

Manolito

Cuban flair drinks mixed with NOLA style

Known for their frozen cocktails

The Maison

3 in 1 restaurant, bar, and music venue nightclub scene. Good for sensory seekers.

Second Line Brewing

Go-to brewery spot in a friendly setting

They’re pet friendly!

Celebrates the tradition of Louisiana’s second line parades from jazz funeral customs that date to over 100 years ago

Urban South Brewery

Laid back atmosphere pairs well with a multitude of tasty beers that combine the heritage of Europe with American styles

Bayou Beer & Wine Garden

Features rotating beers and wines on tap. A bridge connects the courtyard of Bayou Beer Garden to the Wine Garden providing multiple suitable options as well as light food options

House of Blues

Good eats and live music to “feed the soul”.

Home of concerts, foundation room VIP club, food sets, and the world famous Gospel Brunch.

The Tchoup Yard

Outdoor patio bar spot

Pet friendly, fun atmosphere, bar food, draft beer, and tasty drinks

More reasons to go to #AOTA19

1. The energy of the conference reminds us of what we are a part of.

Picture a bunch of occupational therapy practitioners, ready to learn and share their knowledge and excitement for the profession. Now pair that with exploring the streets and charisma of New Orleans while you share conversations over beignets.

2. It gives you motivation to push through and can decrease feelings of isolation.

If you're feeling burned out then this conference is calling your name.

3. There’s so much networking potential and so many job booths.

Who knows? You just might run into a future coworker or even a Program Director looking to hire you!

4. Conferences have endless opportunities for continuing education and lifelong learning.

If the aforementioned does not sound good enough for you, how does gaining up to 24 hours of continuing education sound?”

5. You can pick up so many free tidbits and trinkets.

Self explanatory but just envision the little freebie gadgets and unique AOTA member discounts

What are you waiting for? Let the good times roll! Or as the Cajun French say, "Laissez les bons temps rouler!"

Special thank you to a few of my Louisiana friends for providing me with their insights and go aheads with some of the recommendations. What are you excited to see in the city or at the conference? Shout it out in the comments!

Are you looking for some tips on how to navigate the wilds of the conference? Check out this guide to making your way through!

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About Shannen Marie Coley, OTR/L

Shannen Marie Coley graduated from the University of South Alabama in December 2016. She currently works at an acute inpatient rehabilitation hospital in Alabama and enables clients with multiple diagnoses and neurological, orthopedic, and cardiopulmonary conditions to achieve functional independence. She strives to model and help others achieve occupational balance.