There is no shortage of things to see, do, taste, and experience in New Orleans. It’s a melting pot of different cultures and one of the most unique and charming cities in America.
Of course, we always love bringing home a little piece of a memorable vacation -- both for those we love and for ourselves. Here are a few fail-safe, authentic New Orleans items that are sure to delight whether you give them as gifts or keep them as souvenirs.
Cajun Spices And Sauces
One of the things New Orleans is best known for is its fabulous food. Once you’ve had your fill of etouffee, gumbo, jambalaya, and the like, you might feel inspired to try your hand at preparing it at home. For the best prices and selection, simply head to the closest grocery store. Hands down, my favorite spice mix is Tony Chachere’s, which can be liberally sprinkled on everything from soups and stews to eggs and grits for an extra zing. While you can now find Tabasco sauce everywhere, its lesser-known Louisiana counterpart Crystal is also worthy of take-home consideration.
Best enjoyed with an order of beignets, chicory coffee is 100 percent New Orleans, and you’ll find this unusual take on coffee all over the city. Chicory, with its small blue flowers, can be spotted on the side of the road. The plant’s root served as a cheaper, more plentiful stand-in for coffee beans during the Civil War, and the additive never really left New Orleans. It lends a distinctive, earthy taste to coffee that, in my opinion, is best cut with milk. A brick or two makes a great, inexpensive gift to take home to your favorite caffeine fanatics. Consider the Cafe Du Monde or Community Coffee brands; both are local.
If you or your loved ones have a sweet tooth, New Orleans is a great place to satisfy it.
King cakes -- the large, donut-shaped coffee cakes stuffed with cream cheese, pralines, or fruit fillings -- are enjoyed during Carnival season and aren’t as easily packed, but they can be shipped back home to enjoy. Manny Randazzo, located in the suburb of Metairie, is beloved by locals and tourists alike for its takes on this New Orleans classic. Extra points if you find the plastic baby in your slice!
Yes, they’re kitschy and a little creepy, but these little dolls, usually constructed of wood, fabric, and Spanish moss, make fun, inexpensive little gifts to take back to your friends in the office. You can find them in every souvenir store in the French Quarter, as well as in the market there. Keep in mind that New Orleans was home to voodoo queen Marie Laveau; it’s no wonder her miniature modern-day minions are still found all over the city.
New Orleans’s most famous symbol, the fleur de lis, looks incredible in jewelry, and will look even better on you when you wear it home! One of my favorite local designers is Mignon Faget, who uses fine silver, gold, and gemstones in her handcrafted pieces, many of which feature Louisiana symbols, architectural styles, and even animal residents. For a luxe, unforgettable souvenir, you can’t go wrong with a stop here.
If you’re looking to take home a piece of New Orleans history, a shopping trip along Royal Street in the heart of the Quarter won’t disappoint. Several high-end stores in this stretch feature a wide range of fabulous items from days long past, including jewelry, artwork, light fixtures, and fancy accoutrements for the table. A perfect example: intricately painted oyster serving platters with little divots for each individual half-shell. Prices will vary depending on the treasure you find.
It’s understandable that you’d want to take home a little bit of Mardi Gras. Our advice: Skip the beads (they’re a bit tacky, anyway!) and keep it classy with a handmade Carnival mask. There are a few good spots to find these in the Quarter. Maskarade is worth a look for its carefully crafted options in a wide range of colors and styles; the artists there can even create one just for you. Expect to pay $50 and up for a souvenir that’s made to last a lifetime.
New Orleans has inspired world-renowned writers for generations. One of our favorite spots to snag everything from rare first editions to novels by Southern scribes is Faulkner House Books. As the name suggests, this Pirates Alley walk-up was once the dwelling of Nobel Laureate William Faulkner, who rented the first floor in the 1920s. It’s now one of the most charming bookshops I’ve ever had the pleasure of stopping by, and it’s a must-visit for bibliophiles heading to New Orleans.
Planning a trip to New Orleans? Check out these eight little-known attractions and these 12 totally free things to do in the city. If you want to hear some great jazz music while you're there, be sure to stop by some of these venues.