I knew I’d landed in the right hotel when I spotted the 3-foot chocolate alligator with a red Christmas bulb clasped in its jaws in the lobby.
That’s the New Orleans during the holidays, and it’s magic.
I married a guy from Louisiana, so I occasionally get to sneak down to the Crescent City to get my fix of beignets, jazz, po-boys, and wrought iron balconies. This year, we stayed at the Windsor Court, 300 Gravier Street, where a giant twinkling tree (and that chocolate gator) added to the festive atmosphere.
From Austin, it takes 8 hours to drive to New Orleans. We were tired and slightly cranky when we arrived, but within an hour I was nursing an Old-Fashioned cocktail and looking down on the Mississippi River from a window-side seat in the hotel’s Club Lounge.
That was just the start of a terrific 18 hours in New Orleans.
Here were the highlights:
- Walking around the French Quarter on a crisp, chilly morning. The Windsor Court is located just two blocks off Canal Street, so it’s easy access to the French Quarter. I love Royal Street best, with its antique stores and museum shops. Jackson Square always looks lovely decked out for the holidays.
- Stop by The Shop at the Collection, 520 Royal Street. The French Quarter has its share of touristy souvenir shops, and this is not that. The store sells an assortment of Louisiana-themed gifts, from books and jewelry to cards and art. I’m still pining for a spoon rest shaped like an oyster shell.
- Dinner at the Grill Room, located in the Windsor Court, will go down as one of the top 10 meals of my life. From the mushroom soup that tasted like velvet and earth swirled into a single sublime brew, to pan-roasted carrots and an 8-ounce filet mignon, it was impeccable. Also noteworthy? The steelhead trout on beluga lentils, and for dessert the mango passion mousse with coconut ganache.
- The Polo Club, also inside the Windsor Court, poured me the perfect Grasshopper, which I sipped while admiring décor that made me feel like I’d detoured over to a polo match in Great Britain. The bar is known for fine cocktails – plus live jazz.
5. On the way out of town, we zipped over to Parkway Bakery and Tavern, 538 Hagan Avenue, where we lucked out with seats at the bar and ordered shrimp po-boys. Trust me when I tell you these are the best you’ll ever have – the bread is impossibly airy, but retains a crusty exterior, and the shrimp are numerous and fried without being greasy. A small is probably big enough, unless you think you can down a sandwich the size of a standard loaf of bread.
6. Make plans for traditional afternoon tea in Le Salon at the Windsor Court. We saw babies dressed in red and green dresses next to grandmothers in their finery, daintily sipping tea and nibbling scones and tiny sandwiches. Reservations are required, and tea service is available Friday through Sunday. Cost is $55 for adults; $40 ages 12 and under.
7. For beignets, skip Café du Monde and head to Café Beignet, 334 Royal Street instead. It’s cozy, the beignets are hot, dense, and doused in powdered sugar, and the low arched ceiling is painted the most amazing shade of mint green. I also like Morning Call, which closed its long-time Metairie location in 2018 but now operates a sleek new building at 5101 Canal Street.
8. The National WWII Museum, formerly known as the D-Day Museum, 945 Magazine Street, is a great place to learn about the contributions of Americans to the Allied victory. The Higgins boat, designed and built in New Orleans, gets plenty of attention, along with other exhibits that focus on everything from the combat experience of service members to the Normandy invasion.
9.Take some time to admire the Mighty Mississippi River, the second longest river in North America. It starts in northern Minnesota and flows into the Gulf of Mexico just past New Orleans. Look for paddleboats, barges, and the occasional pleasure boat.
10. Immerse yourselves in tiny white lights and a forest of Christmas trees at the Roosevelt New Orleans, 130 Roosevelt Way, where you’ll find couples and families posing for photos in the main entry hall.