Off the Beaten Path in New Orleans: Traveling with Compassion

New Orleans from the sky
New Orleans from the sky

Last week, I had the wonderful opportunity to explore the effervescent city of New Orleans, Louisiana during the transformative StartingBloc leadership institute. While I got to do some usual touristy activities, like visiting the picturesque French Quarter, walk the flower lined streets in the Garden District, and enjoy live jazz and party on Frenchman Street, I also purposefully spent time exploring the local history and art scene to better understand the inspiring and beautiful communities that make up NOLA.

It was my first time visiting the city and I was completely charmed! In fact, I found that the city reminded me of Baltimore, the original Charm City, in many regards– like the demographic makeup of the city and strong connection to neighborhoods/place, which contributes to a unique culture developing throughout the city .

Note: This itinerary is achievable in one day, but I ended up exploring in two days.

Lower 9th Ward Living Museum: Roots Run Deep Here

Lower 9th Ward Living Museum
Front view of the museum with the sign: Roots Run Deep Here

Exploring the city is accessible with Lyft drivers, all of mine happened to be from the city and were kind enough to share their stories with me. First stop was the Lower 9th Ward Living Museum, a small yet emotionally moving museum dedicated to sharing the history of the ward. I think this should be any new visitor’s first stop because it establishes a foundation for understanding the historic racial oppression that exists in the city, which led to the current situation in the post-Katrina era where the Lower 9th Ward is still severely under-resourced and lacking the support to rebuild it’s community. Pre-Katrina, the ward had over 17,000 residents. After the levees broke and residents were forced to leave the area, only 3,000 residents remained. Only one of seven public schools has reopened since the hurricane. The museum also recounts the lesser known history of the Native American tribes that lived on that land prior to New Orleans establishment during colonization in addition to the history leading up to hurricane Katrina, including really interesting stories about slave revolts and emancipated Black slaves owning land— plus all of the really amazing people who have come from the Lower 9th Ward! To this day, the numerous injustices experienced in the ward have yet to come to an end; however, the people who make up the community remain extremely strong and well-rooted. It’s worth planning about 2-2.5 hours to visit the museum to have enough time to get to the Lower 9th Ward, approximately 10-15 minute Lyft ride from the city center.

Address: 1235 Deslonde St, New Orleans, LA 70117

Hours: 12pm-5pm, Thurs-Sat

Studio Be

Brandan Odum's mural in Studio Be in New Orleans
Brandan Odum’s mural on the side of the warehouse at Studio Be in New Orleans.

“She was wild and she was very beautiful and sometimes she was a tree strong and rooted

that piece of shelter that never asks for anything in return.”

After visiting the Lower 9th Ward Living Museum, I crossed the canal and ventured into the Bywater neighborhood, home to Studio Be. The warehouse was transformed by local artist Brandan Odums who paints murals and builds interactive exhibits about the intersection of neglected and under-resourced neighborhoods with the beauty and pride residents’ feel. Odums’ work was especially powerful after visiting the Lower 9th Ward museum because much of his work is centered on telling the story of the neighborhood and one of his first exhibits was in 2013 on a building there. His work also clearly expresses empowerment in seeing larger-than-life images of black empowerment. Apart from the messages emitted from his work, Odums is such a talented artist and I personally loved seeing his work in person. The warehouse studio is a short ride from the city center or about 25 minutes to walk. It’s a beautiful neighborhood to walk through! Depending on how long you enjoy looking at the artwork, expect to spend about 1-2 hours at the warehouse appreciating and exploring the artwork.

Address: 2941 Royal St, New Orleans, LA 70117

Hours: 2pm-8pm, Weds-Sat

Branan Odum's mural in Studio Be in New Orleans
Brandan Odum’s mural in Studio Be in New Orleans

Zèle New Orleans Local Artisans Shop

A departure from the previous two stops entrenched in the history of New Orleans, Zèle New Orleans is a permanent store with rotating local artists. Zèle is located in the trendy Garden District, specifically on Magazine Street, which is lined with art, antique, and thrift shops. I ended up purchasing a delectable coconut wax candle by MILK and a beautiful pair of earrings from ZEKO Jewelry. Highly recommend stopping by the shop to support local artists and take home some unique gifts!

Address: 2841 Magazine St, New Orleans, LA 70115

Hours: 10:30am-6pm, M-Sat; 12pm-5pm, Sun

Where to Stay?

Sign says "neighborhoods are only real when you have real neighbors" as a response to gentrification and AirBnB pushing out residents from the city
Found this sign on a house in the Bywater neighborhood while walking around after visiting Studio Be

Try a locally owned Bed and Breakfast. Full disclosure, I stayed in AirBnb’s during my trip, but looked into their ownership by NOLA natives. This was not my preferred method for staying in the city because the AirBnb market makes the housing shortage even worse in the city. For most of my trip, I stayed in the Mid City neighborhood, which was a really enlightening way to see the city because it is located outside of the main touristy areas. The neighborhood is clearly still struggling from the post-Katrina redevelopment. Many houses were still being rebuilt. Even if you don’t stay outside of the Garden District or the French Quarter, I highly recommend exploring the other areas of the city.

Other Touristy Things

I did get to do a few touristy activities, like taking a Bike Taxi and getting a tarot card reading from Claudia in Jefferson Square. Karl was my Bike Taxi driver, he was very kind! While not a native of the city, his wife is from New Orleans and he relocated from Sweden because of how much he loves it (504.891.3441). Both of these were really fun novelty activities!

If you have other fun, off the beaten path activities in New Orleans, please share below in the comments!

Brandan Odum's mural in Studio Be in New Orleans
Brandan Odum’s mural in Studio Be in New Orleans

Note: All of the photos in this post are from me, so if you would like to use them, please link to this page.

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