Alex Brandon  /  AP
Midge Jones stands next to a tomb as he gives a Haunted History tour of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans, La.
updated 2/12/2007 12:19:36 PM ET 2007-02-12T17:19:36

Uptown & the Garden District
If you can see just one thing outside the French Quarter, make it the Garden District. It has no significant historic buildings or important museums. It's simply beautiful. In some ways, even more so than the Quarter, this is New Orleans. Authors as diverse as Truman Capote and Anne Rice have been enchanted by its spell. Gorgeous homes of superb design stand quietly amid lush foliage, elegant but ever so slightly (or more) decayed. You can see why this is the setting for so many novels. Though a little battered around the edges post-Katrina, its beauty remains.

Floating Across the River to Algiers Point
Algiers, annexed by New Orleans in 1870, stretches along the western side of the Mississippi River and is easily accessible via the free ferry that runs from the base of Canal Street. Take note: The ferry is one of New Orleans's best-kept secrets. It's a great way to get out onto the river and see the skyline. With such easy access (a ferry leaves every 15-20 min.), who knows why the Point hasn't been better assimilated into the larger city, but it hasn't. Though it's only about a quarter-mile across the river from the French Quarter, it still has the feel of an undisturbed turn-of-the-20th-century suburb.

The last ferry returns at around 11:15 p.m., but be sure to check the schedule before you set out, just in case. While you're over there, you might want to stop in at ...

Trolling St. John's Bayou & Lake Pontchartrain
St. John's Bayou is a body of water that originally extended from the outskirts of New Orleans to Lake Pontchartrain, and it's one of the most important reasons New Orleans is where it is today. Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, was commissioned to establish a settlement in Louisiana that would both make money and protect French holdings in the New World from British expansion. Bienville chose the spot where New Orleans now sits because he recognized the strategic importance of "back-door" access to the Gulf of Mexico provided by the bayou's linkage to the lake. Boats could enter the lake from the Gulf and then follow the bayou until they were within easy portage distance of the mouth of the Mississippi River. Area Native American tribes had used this route for years.

The early path from the city to the bayou is today's Bayou Road, an extension of Governor Nicholls Street in the French Quarter. Modern-day Gentilly Boulevard, which crosses the bayou, was another Native American trail.

New Orleans grew and prospered, and the bayou became a suburb as planters moved out along its shores. In the early 1800s, a canal was dug to connect the waterway with the city, reaching a basin at the edge of Congo Square. The basin became a popular recreation area with fine restaurants and dance halls (as well as meeting places for voodoo practitioners). Gradually, New Orleans reached beyond the French Quarter and enveloped the whole area.

The canal is gone, filled in long ago, and the bayou is a meek re-creation of itself, though it did overflow its banks during the post-Katrina flooding. It is no longer navigable (even if it were, bridges were built too low to permit the passage of boats of any size), but residents still prize their waterfront sites, and rowboats and sailboats make use of the bayou's surface. It's one of the prettiest areas of New Orleans, full of the old houses (most of which survived the flooding) tourists love to marvel at but without the hustle, bustle, and confusion of more high-profile locations. A walk along the banks and through the nearby neighborhoods is one of our favorite things to do on a nice afternoon.

Getting There
The simplest way to reach St. John's Bayou from the French Quarter is to drive straight out Esplanade Avenue about 20 blocks. Right before you reach the bayou, you'll pass St. Louis Cemetery No. 3 (just past Leda St.). It's the final resting place of many prominent New Orleanians, among them Thomy Lafon, the black philanthropist who bought the old Orleans Ballroom as an orphanage for African-American children and put an end to its infamous "quadroon balls." Just past the cemetery, turn left onto Moss Street, which runs along the banks of St. John's Bayou. If you want to see an example of an 18th-century West Indies-style plantation house, stop at the Pitot House, 1440 Moss St. (more about Pitot House later in this chapter).

To continue, drive along Wisner Boulevard, on the opposite bank of St. John's Bayou from Moss Street, and you'll pass some of New Orleans's grandest modern homes -- a sharp contrast to those on Moss Street. At this point, you can take a Katrina-damage tour through the flooded neighborhood of Gentilly, all the way to Lake Pontchartrain. Stay on Wisner to Robert E. Lee Boulevard, turn right, drive to Elysian Fields Avenue, and then turn left. That's the University of New Orleans campus on your left, which didn't have as much flooding as some of the other major campuses in the city (such as Dillard), though it did have a great deal of wind damage, and underground electrical systems took on water. Classes have resumed and the campus is coming back to life. At any point, you can take a street off to the left or the right if you wish to go through the neighborhoods in more detail, though by the time you read this, there may be less to see, depending on what sort of plans have been made for reconstruction. Regardless, please remember these are neighborhoods, and not sights, and treat whatever you see, even if it's abandoned desolation, with respect.

Turn left onto the broad concrete highway, Lake Shore Drive. It runs for 5 1/2 miles along the lake, and normally in the summer, the parkway alongside its seawall is swarming with swimmers and picnickers. On the other side are more luxurious, modern residences. Thanks to higher ground, these and other houses nearby did not flood, though they did sustain incredible wind damage. Further, the road buckled, and, at this writing, part of the lake wall is gone. About 2 miles down the road to the west is the fishing-oriented Bucktown neighborhood, which was totally devastated by the 17th St. Canal breech, including the marina, where expensive yachts were piled on top of each other by the power of the storm. Commercial fishing fleets (terribly hard hit by the storm) of some kind have been working out of Bucktown since the late 1800s (some local families have been living and working here just about that long) but that seems to be coming to an end; engineers need to reclaim the area for a temporary floodgate for the canal, work that may be completed as early as June 2006. Fishermen, some of whom have been working this area for decades, will need to move elsewhere, and this also means the likely end of the beloved Sid-Mar's restaurant.

Lake Pontchartrain itself is some 40 miles long and 25 miles wide. Native Americans once lived along both sides, and it was a major waterway long before white people were seen in this hemisphere. You can drive across it over the 23 3/4-mile Greater New Orleans Causeway, the longest bridge in the world. Oddly, it was not damaged by the storm, and has reopened.

When you cross the mouth of St. John's Bayou, you'll be where the old Spanish Fort was built in 1770. Its remains are now nestled amid modern homes. Look for the Mardi Gras fountain on your left. If you time your visit to coincide with sundown, you'll see the fountain beautifully lit in the Mardi Gras colors of purple (for justice), green (for faith), and gold (for power).

For a complete listing of what to see and do in New Orleans, visit the online attractions index at Frommers.com.

Frommer’s is America’s bestselling travel guide series. Visit Frommers.com to find great deals, get information on over 3,500 destinations, and book your trip. © 2006 Wiley Publishing, Inc. Republication or redistribution of Frommer's content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Wiley.

Photos: Big Easy returns

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  1. Katrina's mess

    A junked car lies near empty houses in the Lakeview neighborhood near the site of the levee breach on the 17th Street Canal, August 29, 2005. More than five months after caused by Hurricane Katrina made landfall, there was little progress in some areas of New Orleans. Today, tours are offered to visitors to have a better understanding of events pre and post Katrina. (David Rae Morris / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Big Easy blues

    Costumed revelers dressed as blue roof tarps pose at the annual MOMs Ball, thrown each year by the Krewe of Misfits, Orphans and Mystics in New Orleans. Many of this years Mardi Gras floats and costumes reference the blue tarps that still protect broken roofs across the city after Hurricane Katrina. (Matthew Cavanaugh / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Soul sounds

    Jen Pearl (L) and Michelle Loughnane stand under an umbrella with a reference to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, April 2006. Jazz Fest '07 will be held on April 27-29 and May 4-6. (Lee Celano / Reuters via Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Dancing in the streets

    A member of the Young Olympia Aide and New Look Social Aid and Pleasure Club dances in a second line parade at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. (Lee Celano / Reuters via Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Jeweled celebration

    Members of the Krewe of Thoth throw beads as they travel down St. Charles Avenue where thousands of revelers showed up to enjoy 2006 Mardi Gras festivities. Mardi Gras (French for "Fat Tuesday") is the day before Ash Wednesday, and a celebration of the last the day before the beginning of the Christian season of Lent. Mardi Gras 2007 will be observed on Feb. 20. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters via Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Eye candy

    Revelers ogle a woman exposing herself on Bourbon St. during Mardi Gras festivities in the French Quarter of New Orleans. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters via Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Closing time

    Orleans Parish mounted Police Officers march down Bourbon Street in the French Quarter announcing the official end of Mardi Gras 2006. (Sean Gardner / Reuters via Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A shout for freedom

    "Big Chief" Victor Armstrong wears an elaborate Mardi Gras Indian costume. The Indian tradition of Mardi Gras pays homage to the relationship between Native Americans and escaped African slaves of the 1700s. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters via Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
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