A guide to a New Orleans vacation of your dreams

When it comes to quick getaways, many San Antonians have stayed close to home in recent years. Of course, living in South Texas means there is an abundance of road trip options, ranging from Hill Country getaways to beloved beach towns, but sometimes we want something else — a different vibe, a different view, a different state. Sometimes, we want a little less Come and Take It and a little more Big Easy. Sometimes, we want New Orleans.

After all, the city’s motto is “Laissez les bon temps rouler,” which is French for “let the good times roll.” And the following curated guide for an enjoyable jaunt to New Orleans will tell you exactly how to do just that. 

How to get from San Antonio to New Orleans

It takes about eight and a half hours to drive from San Antonio to New Orleans, so it’s possible to make the trip in a day. But be forewarned: it’s eight-plus hours of a pretty boring drive. It starts off nice. The journey on I-10 out of San Antonio is somewhat picturesque, but the rest of the drive is all highway. The only other highlight of the trip is driving through Houston, and if driving through Houston is considered a high point, well then, that’s all we need to know. 

A quicker option is flying. Southwest Airlines (yes, we said it despite its holiday travel cancelations) offers direct, nonstop flights five days a week from San Antonio International Airport to Louis Armstrong New Orleans Airport. Keep in mind you’ll get the best fares if you visit during off-peak times. Visiting during Mardi Gras or Christmas will be pricier.

Considering fluctuating gas prices, a round-trip flight might even be the less expensive option depending on your vehicle and road trip snack budget. The flight itself is less than 90 minutes, just enough time to slam a package of Haribo Goldbears and read a tabloid magazine. The New Orleans airport is nice because it’s both manageable and charming, and there’s often a jazz band onstage in the baggage claim area. 

The French Quarter in New Orleans.

The French Quarter in New Orleans.

Nathan Steele / EyeEm/Getty Images/EyeEm

There are a few options to get from the airport into the French Quarter. Lyft, Uber and taxis are all available right outside the terminal. The Airport Shuttle is available from the airport to downtown, the French Quarter, certain downtown and uptown hotels (find a list here), the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and cruise ship terminals, according to New Orleans & Company, a nonprofit that promotes the Big Easy as a tourist and business destination.

Shuttles run every 30 minutes, 365 days per year, and are priced at $24 one-way and $44 round trip. The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) also offers the 202 Airport Express, a public transit bus between downtown and the airport. It operates nine times per day and is priced at $1.50 each way.

The Roosevelt New Orleans, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

The Roosevelt New Orleans, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

The Roosevelt New Orleans, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel via Yelp

Where to stay in New Orleans

Where you stay depends on the trip you want to have. Traveling during the holidays with cash to spare? Book a room at The Roosevelt New Orleans, a Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Each November through New Year’s Day, the iconic lobby is transformed into a twinkle-light paradise. While it does get crowded in the early evening as tourists descend to take holiday pictures, the rest of the time is relatively low-key. If you’re feeling extra fancy (or have an extra fancy occasion to attend), the hotel’s luxe on-site spa offers everything from massages and facials to beauty treatments. 

Carousel Bar and Lounge in Hotel Monteleone.

Carousel Bar and Lounge in Hotel Monteleone.

Greg P. via Yelp

Another classic New Orleans experience is the Hotel Monteleone, a 137-year-old hotel in the French Quarter best known for its rotating Carousel Bar and long history of ghost sightings. The Monteleone is a bit shabbier than the Roosevelt, but what it lacks in luxury it makes up for in charm. 

If you’re not jazzed about staying in the French Quarter for the entire trip (and with so many wonderful neighborhoods to explore, no one should stay in just one spot anyway), consider an Airbnb. Book a classic Creole Townhouse in the Garden District or a Creole Cottage in the Marigny and live like a local for a few days (or at least feel like one). 

If you really want to do it in style, however, book a room at the Hotel Saint Vincent, housed in a former children’s asylum in the Lower Garden District. Impossibly beautiful landscaping, thoughtfully appointed rooms, an on-site pool and delicious dining and drinking options make this one of our favorite stays in any city ever. 

Fun things to do in New Orleans

Before you go, download the Blue Bikes Nola app to streamline quick bike trips to and from different parts of the city. (It will also avoid the feeling of frantically trying to enter credit card information in the middle of a sidewalk).

Starting off in the French Quarter, head toward Baldwin & Co., a bookstore and coffee shop in the Marigny. After perusing the beautifully curated shelves (though Baldwin & Co. is more than just a bookshop; read about its mission here), ride over to St. Roch Market for lunch, where an ever-rotating cast of restaurant stalls roll out delectable dishes and cocktails. 

After all that biking, it’s time for a glass (or bottle) of wine at Bacchanal. Hopefully during your visit the sun will be shining and there will be good music playing in the courtyard, but even if it’s dreary and quiet, it’s worth the stop. Instead of going for your usual pick, ask one of the very knowledgeable staffers for their wine recommendations.

Cathedral of St Louis and General Andrew Jackson Statue in New Orleans, Louisiana erected in 1856.

Cathedral of St Louis and General Andrew Jackson Statue in New Orleans, Louisiana erected in 1856.

ra/Getty Images

On the way back to your hotel or Airbnb, take in the street performers at Jackson Square, one of the rare tourist attractions that actually lives up to the hype. Jackson Square has been around since 1721, and walking around its stately grounds is a reminder of New Orleans’ rich though brutal history.

Over the past three centuries, the square has hosted executions, the Louisiana Purchase, and it’s where Andrew Jackson fortified troops before the Battle of New Orleans. (The Place d’Armes, the square’s original moniker, would eventually be renamed for Jackson. His history of owning enslaved people has made the square’s name a recent point of contention).

Finish your day with a ghost city tour, which is an excellent and spooky way to learn about a city’s history while also getting a sense of a neighborhood’s layout.

Where to dine on great food in New Orleans

It’s hard to have a bad meal in New Orleans. If you’re looking for high-end, celebrities-eat-here hot spots, Saba and Shaya are divine. A quick lunch at Turkey and the Wolf is a must (we’re still craving the collard green melt). Coquette boasts a tasting menu brimming with delights and a funky wine list full of hidden gems. Bywater American Bistro is also on the foodie’s short-list for top New Orleans eateries.

A fried shrimp Po' Boy sandwich from Parkway Bakery & Tavern.

A fried shrimp Po’ Boy sandwich from Parkway Bakery & Tavern.

Minh K. via Yelp

As for classic NOLA spots, Commander’s Palace, which has been a New Orleans landmark since 1893, serves up cuisine described as “modern New Orleans cooking meets … Haute Creole.” The Pelican Club is great for dressing up and people watching. For a po’ boy, head to the Parkway Bakery & Tavern, which is credited with having one of the best po’ boys in town, according to Eater New Orleans. And for classic fried chicken, Lil’ Dizzy’s Cafe is among the best. 

It’s impossible to write a travel guide that touches on everything about a city, especially a place as enchanting and layered as New Orleans. So the best advice one can get is to be curious. Get lost, make a wrong turn and keep on walking, driving and biking. Talk to your Lyft driver. Ask sales people for their favorite spots. Strike up a conversation with the bartender. Ignore all recommendations and find your own. No matter what you do, it will be fun because … it’s New Orleans.