What It's Like to Live in New Orleans

Indulge in the rich history of the Creole culture and find out why locals love the Big Easy.

FINDING FUN

New Orleans isn't a city where it's difficult to find fun. In fact, it's much harder to avoid it than it is to find it. You may find yourself sitting in your home office when you hear a drum, then a trumpet, and realize you're listening to the students at a nearby high school practicing for marching in a Mardi Gras parade. Frequently, en route to an appointment, you'll have to detour to avoid the brass band, social aid and pleasure club, Mardi Gras Indians procession, "second-line" or jazz funeral in the street ahead.

If you love music, dining out, art and the outdoors, there is always something to occupy you — often for free.

Dance to a Different Beat. Aside from the music of street parades, there are dozens of options for hearing music in the city, free or for a fee. Churches, including St. Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square, are regular sites for Sunday afternoon music concerts, ranging from classical to contemporary. Dozens of street fairs take place throughout the year, with free admission and an ample musical — and culinary — menu. Even schools get into the act when they have fairs, showcasing the best of the city's musical talents. The universities (Tulane, Loyola, Dillard and others) contribute, too, hosting recitals and other musical events.

For the nightclub set, there is the iconic Preservation Hall in the French Quarter, where you'll hear Dixieland played the way it is supposed to be. The Maple Leaf in Carrollton, Tipitina's Uptown, Howlin' Wolf in the Warehouse District, Snug Harbor in Faubourg Marigny and Vaughn's in Bywater are just a few of the places that locals go and take visitors.

Wining and Dining. It might sound odd to count "dining out" as a recreational pursuit, but in New Orleans, that is exactly what it is. The city has more restaurants now than it did before Hurricane Katrina (when the population was larger) so that tells you a little bit about the locals' desire to get out of the house and try a new place or revisit a favorite.

Locals like to joke that only in New Orleans do diners sit at a table in a restaurant, talking about the restaurant they visited last week and comparing notes on the one they want to try next.

New Orleans has long prided itself on offering dining options across a full spectrum of prices and still does. You can't get red beans and rice at Buster Holmes' in the French Quarter for .32 cents as you could in the 1970s, but gumbo, po-' boys and other local specialties are plentiful and affordable at almost any neighborhood dining spot. When you're ready to spend lavishly on a special evening, nationally known chefs like Susan Spicer, John Besh, Emeril Lagasse and others serve up their versions of traditional and contemporary cuisines at the city's finest restaurants. And don't forget the city's old line purveyors like Galatoire's, Antoine's and Commander's Palace — that's where you'll get the best insight into the ways of old New Orleans.

See and Be Seen. The French Quarter was once the epicenter of New Orleans' art scene, but since the 1990s has been joined by additional locales where art galleries are plentiful. The first to join, the Warehouse District, blossomed in the 1980s along with the establishment of the Contemporary Arts Center in the 900 block of Camp Street. Galleries now stretch the length of Julia Street and invade side streets throughout the district.

Beginning in the 1990s, Magazine Street became a favorite location for new galleries. Today they mix with fashion boutiques, tapas restaurants, coffee houses and shoe repair shops along a vibrant, urban corridor that stretches from Canal Street upriver almost to Audubon Park.

In the past few years, the St. Claude Avenue area — downriver of Canal Street — has become the focal point of the city's most experimental arts culture, complementing the non-conformist feel of bordering neighborhoods like St. Roch, Bywater and Faubourg Marigny. Free opening exhibitions often include complimentary wine, enhancing the experience without costing gallery hoppers a penny.

In addition to these permanent venues, monthly arts markets have sprung up in a variety of neighborhoods. The Freret Street, Palmer Park and Bywater markets are the longest established and offer food booths in addition to paintings, fiber art, ceramics, jewelry and more. Don't be surprised to find a local band or puppet troupe performing when you arrive — it's all part of the free experience.

The Great Outdoors. Some New Orleanians prefer outdoor pursuits to the urban offerings of the city and many more like to balance the two. Lake Pontchartrain and the area's abundant green spaces provide ample opportunity for their pursuits.

Lake Pontchartain — 26 miles across — is the perennial destination for those who enjoying sailing, water skiing and all kinds of aquatic activities. Marinas on the lakefront provide berths for hundreds of vessels, both small and grand. Ever since the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation began monitoring and improving the quality of water in the lake, locals have flocked back to this beautiful spot, if only to enjoy a picnic along the seawall or in-line skating along its edges.

For more serious fishermen, the areas bayous, Lake Borgne, Lafitte and other prime spots are close enough to leave in the morning and eat your catch at home in the evening.

If canoeing and rowing crew appeal to you, Bayou St. John offers the perfect venue. You can even rent canoes and other boats in City Park and paddle its many miles of waterways.

But that isn't all that City Park has to offer. Joggers, walkers, skaters and cyclist all take advantage of its many roads and paths, including the newest one circling "Big Lake." The park also features a golf course, tennis courts, stables, a botanical garden, a children's amusement park complete with a 100-year-old carousel, and acres upon acres of oak-shaded groves. The Couturie Forest and Scout Island offer hiking opportunities within the park's borders.

From jazz festivals to outdoor activities, there is never a shortage of things to do in New Orleans.

TALLYING THE COST OF LIVING

Before Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans was arguably the best bargain to be found as far as housing and dining go. But the storm altered that to some extent. With much of the housing stock compromised, apartment rents went up, raising the cost of living along with it.

As in any city, housing costs (whether for enters or buyers) vary by neighborhood and location within the neighborhood. You can expect to pay as little as $500 a month renting a one bedroom in a sub-prime part of town to more than $1200 in a prime location. Likewise, prices for renovated houses range from about $100 a square-foot in some neighborhoods to as much as $300 a square-foot in others (and the Quarter is higher still).

Sales taxes are 9 percent, high by national standards and meant to make up for the fact that New Orleanians benefit from a "homestead exemption": The first $75,000 of the value of your home isn't subject to real estate taxes. Unlike in some other places, groceries and clothing are not exempt from sales tax.

With festivals, fairs and neighborhood restaurants offering great prices on local food, it isn't necessary to spend a lot of money dining out — unless you want to. In the best restaurants, expect to pay $18 to $30 for entrees.

The expense of schooling has long been a consideration for parents in New Orleans. Given the fact that the city was founded by the French, Catholic schools have long been a part of the educational environment in the city. Parents can spend as much as $10,000 a year sending their children to parochial schools or $20,000 a year sending them to elite independent schools. Fortunately, the school reform movement has significantly improved the quality of the public and charter schools, so parents have more options than at any time since the 1960s.

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