New Orleans has long been known as a high-octane party town. But this is also a city of leafy neighborhoods, outdoor cafes, succulent food and perhaps the best concentration of live music in the United States.
The city has clawed back from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina — the population is 343,829 versus 484,674 in 2000 — and New Orleans no longer has the hobbled-town vibe that followed the 2005 storm. Its post-Katrina economy is stable, thanks to rapid job growth. Louisiana likes retirees: The first $6,000 a year withdrawn from a private retirement plan is free of state taxes, and all withdrawals are free for retired government workers and military personnel.
Beyond Mardi Gras and the clubs and restaurants, New Orleans has accessible outdoor play space and a range of educational options. The metro has 534 miles of coastline, plus fishing and boating on Lake Pontchartrain. Audubon Nature Institute, at the west end of Magazine Street, has a complex of museums including a zoo, an aquarium, an “Insectarium,” and a nature study center. Schools include the public University of New Orleans (enrollment 11,276), Delgado Community College (19,000), Tulane University (11,464), and smaller private, technical and professional schools.
OK, back to what makes NOLA special: You can experience it at Jazz National Historical Park in the French Quarter (look past the grime to the music and food), the emergent Faubourg Marigny neighborhood and Casamento’s restaurant, where an unassuming decor masks the best oysters in the city (really).
In a 2007 CNN poll, Americans ranked New Orleans tops among 25 U.S. travel destinations for flea markets, antique shopping, cheap food, cocktail hour, live music, going out at night, “wild weekends” and “girlfriend getaways.” Residents of the Big Easy were also ranked the most fun. But New Orleans was also ranked the dirtiest and most unsafe destination, and its residents were judged to be the least athletic.
Fortunately, then, the metro area has a high concentration of physicians, cardiologists and hospital beds. Violent and property crime rates are both very high. More residents are walking, cycling and using mass transit — another hopeful sign in a city that often runs on positive emotions.