If you had asked me one year ago, I would have scoffed at the idea of a “staycation.” Why would I pay $300-plus to stay somewhere five miles from home for a night, when I already pay $1,500 a month for an apartment? Until recently, I didn’t even think it was a real word, just some truncated millennial gibberish. (Fun fact: the first known use of the word appeared in 1944 as part of a national travel campaign; this was also the year the terms “dead presidents,” “fan fiction,” “perv,” and “vegan” entered the modern lexicon.)
Earlier this spring, mounting deadlines and a drought of vacation days left my wife and me scrambling to book a weekend trip as we neared our one-year wedding anniversary. With the prospect of extensive travel eating into our limited hourly budget, I warmed to the compromise of a getaway in our own backyard. The idea was to recreate our matrimonial weekend in the French Quarter, sans the inundation of social constraints.
What I learned from this experience is that a vacation is a vacation, no matter how close to home you are: what matters is that you are mentally and literally unplugged from your everyday grind and are indulging in experiences you would typically pass on during a normal weekend. While this account recollects destinations from our two-day departure, my goal is not to provide a paint-by-numbers outing for the reader; rather, it is to impress how a hometown holiday can open new doors of exploration down roads often traveled.
Even Off-Season is In-Season in New Orleans
The first thing you will want to do is book your hotel: nothing unplugs the ongoing treadmill of responsibility quite like a luxurious change of surroundings where someone else vacuums, cleans the bathroom, and fluffs your pillow. However, as our—and I’d imagine many others’—staycation was ad hoc, we discovered, to our dismay, that nearly every hotel and Airbnb was booked. There were no festivals, no Mardi Gras, and no conventions in site—simply put, every day is a good day to visit New Orleans. Sure, there were rooms available for $500 or more, but that’s a bit out of our price range, even for international room-and-board, much less somewhere I can jog to from my doorstep in under 30 minutes.
Thankfully, the internet has a few Hail Mary throws in its playbook for you. Hotel Tonight is a mobile app available to iPhone and Android users that lets you find discounted hotel rooms made available up to seven days in advance. While this program offers some amazing deals, the prospect of waiting until a week out seemed a bit risky to us. Enter Hotwire. Hotwire.com offers unsold hotel rooms (as well as airline tickets, rental cars, and more) at steeply discounted prices, oftentimes in a roulette style format. Here’s how it works: for a fixed price, you are guaranteed a luxury room at one of four hotels all within a few blocks of each other in a specified part of town. Personally, I found the unpredictability to be a rush, particularly since all of the lodging possibilities were exceptional. Taking the pressure of choice out of the equation already makes you feel like you are on vacation.
Ultimately, we booked a room at the same hotel where we spent our wedding night: Chateau LeMoyne (301 Dauphine St.). The hotel has an authentic French Quarter feel; our room was complete with brick walls and wood furnishings for a vintage vibe that perfectly placed us in a distant state of mind.
The first thing we did after checking in was to enjoy Happy Hour just down the street at Salon by Sucré (622 Conti St.). The second-floor balcony offers a gorgeous view of the French Quarter on a clear Saturday afternoon, and what goes better with a glass of wine than chocolate?
From there, we wandered down Royal Street, visiting various galleries before perusing the artwork in Jackson Square. We usually only venture into the French Quarter for festivals and other organized social gatherings. It was delightful getting to leisurely explore without being rushed by having to go somewhere. It’s also inspiring to observe just how many—and how talented—the artists and musicians in our city are. I recommend buying a souvenir, if even just a postcard to put on your refrigerator, to remember your trip. If you’d like something unique and quirky, check out Bricks & Boards LLC, located at the Secondline Arts and Antiques Courtyard Markets (1209 Decatur St.), to commission a personalized Lego sculpture.
From Jackson Square, we took a carriage ride back through the French Quarter. The last time I took a carriage ride was probably about the last time I took a streetcar—which is to say, I can’t remember. However, when you are on holiday with nowhere to be, it is as charmingly rustic as it is romantic. Slowly riding through the streets, you truly appreciate the vibrance and beauty of New Orleans’s architecture as the setting sun fades out between rooftops.
The most important meals of the day on any vacation are brunch and dinner, and as with hotels, the struggle is real to get reservations for either, no matter when you go. Folks are less likely to take the time to cancel reservations as they aren’t required to pre-pay, so expect fewer last-minute seats to appear on Open Table than with the hotel apps.
Fortunately, we were able to book reservations at Brennan’s (417 Royal St.), the same place we held our wedding and reception. On top of being one of the city’s finest dining experiences, Brennan’s lovingly welcomes you into their extended family following your special day at their establishment. We regularly receive invitations, anniversary cards, and holiday ornaments throughout the year, all of which whisk us back to our wedding night. To be honest, the main reason we wanted to revisit Brennan’s was to order their famous Bananas Foster and bread pudding—neither of which we got to enjoy on our wedding night amidst the maelstrom of excitement. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at May Bailey’s (415 Dauphine St.) for a nightcap. Housed in a once-famous bordello built nearly 200 years ago, the bar is filled with historic relics from its erotic yesteryears, as well as homages to its haunted history, recollected on most city ghost tours. It is the kind of charmingly low-key find we would only explore while wandering the streets with no agenda.
After sleeping in the next morning, we enjoyed Irish Coffees, pancakes covered in vanilla ice cream and syrup, and Bananas Foster French Toast at Stanley Restaurant (547 St. Ann St.), overlooking Jackson Square—because calories don’t count when you’re on staycation.
One of the brilliant things about a one-night getaway is that you can pack light. I fit my change of clothes in a small book bag, making it easy to carry this with me as we explored the Quarter for the remainder of the day, after checking out and before Ubering back home.
Everyone who loves living in New Orleans should staycation Downtown at least once; you can book a trip any time of year, and proximity is never a deterrent.
We’d love to hear about your staycation adventures in NOLA: share your tips, go-to destinations, and pictures with us on social media by tagging us @WhereYatNOLA or via #WhereYatNOLA. Enjoy.