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Louisiana See And Do

Aquarium of the Americas
1 Canal Place
French Quarter
New Orleans , Louisiana
Tel: 504 565 3033

At the end of a mighty river and near the rich fisheries of the Gulf of Mexico, New Orleans is a natural place for aquatic exploration. This state-of-the-art aquarium, built on the banks of the mighty Mississippi, features waterbound creatures from every corner of the globe—green anacondas and much-maligned piranhas from the Amazon, playful sea otters in a simulated kelp forest, emperor penguins from the Antarctic, and Caribbean stingrays, to name a few. The Gulf of Mexico exhibit, which mimics an oil rig substructure, has plenty of native fish species—graceful pompano, sand tiger sharks, glittering tarpon—circling in a hypnotic aquatic ballet. The complex also features an on-site IMAX theater for huge-screen wildlife and undersea documentaries.—Pableaux Johnson

Audubon Insectarium
423 Canal Street
French Quarter
New Orleans , Louisiana
Tel: 504 581 4629

The unique Audubon Insectarium exhibits an important but distinctly less cuddly selection of animals. Built inside the carriageway of Canal Street's historic Customs House, the museum seeks to present the six-legged-animal kingdom as fascinating rather than creepy and/or crawly. Since most insects lack human-scale interest, many of the exhibits rely on oversize sculptures to make their points—foot-long termite models or butterflies sporting six-foot wingspans, for example. The various exhibits lead you through a simulated cypress swamp, an oversize living ant farm, and a stunning Japanese garden and koi pond where exotic butterflies flutter free.—Pableaux Johnson

Audubon Park and Zoo
6500 Magazine Street
New Orleans , Louisiana
Tel: 800 774 7394

If you're looking for an afternoon away from the French Quarter, hop on a streetcar to this beautiful Uptown park, where you can stroll for hours through the semitropical public gardens of a former sugar plantation shaded by oak and magnolia trees. The zoo, across from the park, is one of the city's hidden treasures, with all of the installations (Mayan-themed jaguar display, expansive African savanna section) nestled in an ancient, moss-draped oak forest. Not surprisingly, the best part of the zoo is the Louisiana wetlands exhibit, for its re-creation and deft joining of Louisiana's native wildlife (alligators, black bears, otters, and raccoons) with the bayou traditions of human swamp folk, such as trapping and hunting.—Pableaux Johnson

Besthoff Sculpture Garden
1 Collins Diboll Circle
New Orleans , Louisiana
Tel: 504 658 4199

This open-air gallery of the New Orleans Museum of Art showcases a broad range of three-dimensional artwork in the beautifully landscaped Mid-City park. Meandering paths lead guests through the eclectic sculpture collection featuring classics from Rodin and Magritte to a towering Oldenburg safety pin. Landscapers used the park's natural beauty as a foil for the artwork—many of the pieces are tucked away in manicured hedgerows and framed by centuries-old oaks or stark reflecting pools and ponds. Families looking for energy-burning activities should consider an afternoon in the garden—there's plenty of running room for kids in between the masterworks.—Pableaux Johnson

French Quarter
New Orleans , Louisiana

Evocative, romantic, and mysterious, the French Quarter (also known as the Vieux Carré) is the literal footprint of historic New Orleans. Hugging the high ground on the banks of the Mississippi, the Quarter is a mix of tourist schlock (bead shops and overpriced "Cajun-style" eateries) and historical treasures, such as cathedrals and centuries-old Creole restaurants. Weekenders tend to stay in the area, sipping café au lait and munching sugary beignets (flash-fried square donuts) at the perpetually packed Café du Monde (800 Decatur St.; 504-525-4544; or wandering Jackson Square (St. Peter St. at Decatur). Don't miss these standards, but also spend a few hours giving yourself over to the hidden treasures: art galleries on Royal Street, antiques shops on Chartres Street, or the quiet residential stoops away from the commotion of Bourbon Street. A good guideline for avoiding tourist traps: Go away from the light. Bright neon signs seem to attract sloshed frat boys like moths to a flame.

Gallery of Fine Photography
241 Chartres Street
French Quarter
New Orleans , Louisiana
Tel: 504 568 1313

This tiny Chartres Street storefront contains an unrivaled collection of artistic photography. Owner Joshua Mann Palait exhibits limited-edition prints from the old masters (Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams, Diane Arbus) and newer stars (Sebastio Salgado, Richard Sexton). You can also find unique pieces like antique daguerreotypes, jazz photographs of Herman Leonard, and a few of E.J. Bellocq's classic New Orleans "Storyville portraits" from the early 1900s.—Pableaux Johnson

Lucullus Culinary Antiques
610 Chartres Street
French Quarter
New Orleans , Louisiana
Tel: 504 528 9620

Step into this French Quarter boutique and jump a couple of centuries into New Orleans's past—without the trouble of a fancy time machine. As a purveyor of 19th-century culinary antiques, Lucullus presents a wide range of kitchen- and dining-related objects, from period glassware and porcelain to intricate absinthe spoons and oyster plates. The showrooms are laid out like dining rooms—antique tables and chairs are set with antique china and matching flatware—and filled with accoutrements (damask napkins, glass rolling pins, Champagne flutes), with an understandable emphasis on French antiques.—Pableaux Johnson

Mardi Gras
New Orleans , Louisiana

Usually associated with half-nude debauchery and flammable rum drinks, Mardi Gras gets a bad—if not completely undeserved—rap. Despite its Girls Gone Wild reputation, Mardi Gras is more than simple "boobs for beads" transactions; if that's your goal, head for Bourbon Street with the out-of-towners. Locals congregate in neighborhood bars on hidden side streets and along the parade routes on Uptown stretches of St. Charles Avenue. Fat Tuesday itself always falls on the day before Lent begins—in late February or early March—though the Mardi Gras season starts on January 6, the 12th night of Christmas. But the carnival spirit never quite leaves the city. Head over to the recently relocated Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World, near the Convention Center, for a tour of the studios where artists sculpt the famous sparkling parade floats. The tour also includes time to roam the warehouses, where larger-than-life visages of Louis Armstrong sit next to 15-foot papier-mâché bullfrogs (1380 Port of Orleans Pl.; 504-362-8211;

National World War II Museum
945 Magazine Street
Warehouse District
New Orleans , Louisiana
Tel: 504 528 1944

A project that began as a museum dedicated to the Allied invasion of Normandy has become an ever-expanding exploration of World War II's causes and lasting impact. The original exhibit brings mid-20th-century history to life through immersive multimedia presentations, restored WWII weaponry, and interviews with participants in Operation Overlord (the official name of the D-Day invasion). Additional galleries examine the Pearl Harbor attack and the ensuing war in the Pacific. A new building features a 1940s-style musical canteen with live music, a state-of-the-art theater (featuring the WWII documentary Beyond All Boundaries), and the American Sector, a restaurant by local celebrity chef John Besh.—Pableaux Johnson

New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
New Orleans , Louisiana

After Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest is the city's biggest celebration, when dedicated music fans pack the infield of a local horse-racing track for hundreds of national and local acts performing on half a dozen stages. Jazz, funk, rock, and world music groups rule the stages, while soul-soothing power choirs rock the gospel tent. Over the years, national touring acts (Al Green, Foo Fighters, Bonnie Raitt) have infiltrated the lineup, which routinely showcases New Orleans legends (the Meters, Dr. John, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, miscellaneous Marsalises). The concession booths take festival food way beyond funnel cakes and nachos, with transcendent roast-pork po'boys and creamy Crawfish Monica. As always, Jazz Fest falls during the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May.

The Ogden Museum of Southern Art
925 Camp Street
Warehouse District
New Orleans , Louisiana
Tel: 504 539 9600

Although the name might imply a distinctly traditional focus, the Ogden's collection features an impressive collection of modern works from artists who work in New Orleans and other parts of the Deep South. With the collection of Roger Ogden at its core, the museum curates exhibitions that range from Alabama painter Walter Anderson to photographer Sally Mann to multi-artist ceramic exhibitions celebrating the cup as a functional and artistic form. The museum's Thursday night music series blends live New Orleans music with the visual arts in the building's spacious atrium.—Pableaux Johnson

Warehouse Art District
New Orleans , Louisiana

Abutting the convention center, this reclaimed industrial area crackles with energy and is home to hip restaurants and contemporary art galleries. Repurposed warehouse space has given birth to a mini museum district. The newly constructed Ogden Museum of Southern Art is its showpiece; affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, the Ogden has the largest collection of Southern art in the world, dating from the 1730s to today (925 Camp St.; 504-539-9600; Across the street is the comprehensive National D-Day Museum, founded by the late historian Stephen E. Ambrose as "America's National World War II Museum" (945 Magazine St.; 504-527-6012; The cavernous Contemporary Arts Center hosts a hodgepodge of events, including dance, theater, and music (900 Camp St.; 504-210-0224; Currently, most museums maintain a partial exhibition schedule—the better to maximize weekend visitors—so call ahead before hopping in the cab.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.