I have had the opportunity to visit New Orleans only once a few years ago, and by coincidence, it was for also for an annual conference, albeit for my wife’s profession. While she was spending most of her days at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center for her conference, I was able to explore the city and found it to be exciting, vibrant, and with so much to offer visitors with its history, culture, music, and of course…food!
For my upcoming visit to the 2022 SHRM Annual Conference & Expo, I plan to try and again experience as much of New Orleans as I am able outside of the full conference schedule. For those visiting New Orleans (also called “The Big Easy”, “Crescent City”, or simply “NOLA”) for the first time, I wanted to share my top seven recommendations for what to experience beyond the convention center:
- French Quarter – This is an obvious “must see” as most people associate the sights and sounds of the French Quarter as uniquely New Orleans. This is the oldest neighborhood in the city and is also the most visited tourist destination. While the district covers less than ¾ of a mile in size, there is so much to see and experience in the French Quarter that you will not be able see it all. My suggestion would be to start at the St. Louis Cathedral at Jackson Square, walk a few blocks to Bourbon Street, sample some of the best Cajun and Creole cuisine around (gumbo, jambalaya, etouffee, po-boys, red beans and rice, etc.), grab an adult beverage and just soak up the sights and sounds (New Orleans is after all, the “birthplace of jazz”) that are uniquely New Orleans. (30-minute walk or 10-minute drive convention center.)
- The National World War II Museum – Many are not aware that the National World War II Museum is located in New Orleans. Since opening on the anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 2000; the museum has expanded with exhibits and over 250,000 artifacts that tell the story of World War II from the perspective of the United States. As the son of a World War II veteran who served in the Pacific Theater, I am especially interested in the “Road to Tokyo” permanent exhibit and plan to revisit this in June. Plan for about 2-3 hours to experience this museum. (10- minute walk from the convention center.)
- Audubon Aquarium of the Americas – On the shore of the Mississippi River, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas is considered at “top five aquarium” in the U.S. by USA Today and features over 3,600 animals from more than 250 species. From penguins to sea otters to sharks and alligators, you are sure to enjoy seeing these animals from around the world. My favorite exhibit is “Shark Discovery” which is a 13,000-gallon tank and home to various species of shark and rays. (15-minute walk from the convention center.)
- New Orleans Museum of Art – As the oldest art institution in the city, the New Orleans Museum of Art has been welcoming visitors for over 110 years. The museum currently hosts a permanent collection of over 40,000 works of art in a variety of mediums from around the world. My personal favorite are the pieces by Louisiana native George Rodrigue who is best known for his “Blue Dog Painting” which has appeared in many versions in both art museums and in pop culture. (15-minute drive from the convention center and is also accessible via the Canal–City Park streetcar line.)
- RTA Streetcars – The streetcars in New Orleans are moving pieces of history that have been continuously operating since 1835. The four routes take riders to through the French Quarter, Downtown, Riverfront, and the Garden District. At only $1.25 per ride, the RTA Streetcars are a wonderful way to experience the city and give your feet a rest after a long day at the conference. (Riverfront Streetcar line has a stop at the convention center.)
- Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World – Although the SHRM Annual Conference is taking place several months after New Orleans’ annual Mardi Gras celebration, you can still view many of the same vibrant and elaborate costumes and floats that appear in the Mardi Gras parade that are stored at this 300,000 square foot warehouse. On a self-guided tour, you can learn about the history and traditions surrounding Mardi Gras since the first horse-drawn floats made their way through the streets of New Orleans starting in 1837. (15-minute walk from the convention center. Free shuttle pick-up is available from various hotels.
- Café du Monde – I have already mentioned some of the amazing cuisine that New Orleans has to offer, but this establishment deserves a specific reference on this list! Café du Monde was established as a small coffee stand in 1862 in the New Orleans French Market and operates as a 24-hour café today. Besides traditional and unique coffee drinks, the draw for most visitors are their beignets. Beignets are small, deep fried, square donuts (with no hole), which are lavishly covered with powdered sugar. At Café du Monde, they are served in orders of three, and they pair great with a cup of chicory coffee. (30-minute walk or 10-minute drive convention center.)
I hope that everyone that is attending the 2022 SHRM Annual Conference & Expo enjoys all that the conference offers but also finds some time to experience New Orleans. While I do not think that I will be able to check off all seven of my suggestions on the list during this visit, I will find some time to check off a few. I am looking forward to some great networking, new memories, and my fill of coffee and beignets in New Orleans. See you in NOLA!
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