I always say that everyone, once in life, should walk the length of Bourbon Street. No matter what time of day you do it, you’ll almost certainly see veering drunks, laughing schoolchildren, service industry people heading to or from their shifts, lost foreigners, and half-naked partiers. This single stretch is probably one of the best people-watching spots in the country.
But New Orleans’ human scenery isn’t confined to Bourbon. All over the city, random assemblies of interesting people gather to let their freak flags fly. There are all sorts of fun games to play when people-watching here; among my favorites are “Daughter or Mistress?”, “Celebrity Look-Alike”, and “Spot the Kids on a Leash/Entire Family in Birkenstocks.” I can very easily spend hours playing these games. And because this is one of my favorite pastimes here, I’m happy to share some of the best places in New Orleans to people watch. Just be sure to get a go-cup drink first; the human parade is even more fun with a cocktail.
This historic covered market is a huge draw for tourists, who crowd among the stalls selling hot sauce, pralines, souvenirs, and fedoras. All walks of life come to this market, which is open every day, to wander around searching for gifts to bring back home; some of the vendors are as interesting to look at as the customers.
Because of the rules set in place by the Vieux Carre Commission, almost no restaurants and cafés in New Orleans are allowed to serve guests on the sidewalk. This place on Canal Street, just across from the French Quarter, is an exception to that rule—and a sublime place to watch the crowds over a Planter’s Punch.
As one of the most celebrated destinations in the city, this historic and luxurious hotel is always full of interesting people. Come during the day and sit at the rotating Carousel Bar, manned by the excellent local bartender Marvin Allen. If the spinning is too much, try to score one of the tables by the window for a great view over Royal Street.
Bourbon Suites at Arnaud’s
Make sure to book this space well in advance—if you do, you’ll get to experience one of the most quintessential dining—and people-watching—spots in the city. Each of these special suites comes with a private bar, dining room, and balcony overlooking Bourbon Street; you can sip cocktails and order from a rarefied menu while you watch the debauchery unfold below.
Jackson Square Park
Set right in the center of the French Quarter, this park is the locus of New Orleans’ most lively neighborhood. Walk the perimeter to see the statue of Andrew Jackson, St. Louis Cathedral (one of the oldest churches in New Orleans), and the many street performers and canvas-dabbing artists who set up their easels here. Afterward, head over to nearby Café Du Monde for some chicory coffee and beignets.