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08/20/2002 - Updated 11:45 AM ET

New Orleans photo album

By Maria Montoya for USATODAY.com

New Orleans prides itself on throwing some of the world's best parties, but when the playing is over there is much more to the Crescent City (a nickname derived from the city's crescent shape as the Mississippi River curves around it) than beads and burlesque. The 1,302,697 residents who make-up the greater metro area of New Orleans actually pride themselves in having a small town atmosphere despite the city's size. New Orleans proper is 199 square miles and the larger metro area covers 363 square miles. From the interstate, visitors will instantly know they are downtown once they spot the moon-sized roof of the Louisiana Super Dome. The city's largest grouping of hotels and guesthouses are also located in downtown. Despite the fact that the city welcomes millions of visitors each year, New Orleans has never been known as a booming business town. But if you're there for business, once work is done, the city is rich with opportunities for music, food or history.

Browse the valuables of the Vieux Carre (that's French Quarter) — For bargains and beads, be sure to stroll the three blocks that make up the French Market in the heart of the French Quarter. The market runs along Decatur Street, from St. Ann (by Jackson Square) to Ursulines Street, where it then follows North Peters, from Ursulines Street to Barracks Street. From fresh fruit to T-shirts, this flea market is a shopper's paradise. Go with an appetite and pig out on the free food samples such as fresh kettle corn, sugar cane and shrimp. The market is open daily 7a.m.to 7 p.m., weather permitting.

Take a gamble — You don't have to break the bank to enjoy the 24-hour Harrah's New Orleans Casino. The first land-based casino in the city opened in October 1999. There are 10 varieties of table games, 125 tables rage and 2,900 slot machines that vary in denomination from 5 cents to $500. Non-gamblers can enjoy the newly built casino's atmosphere that offers occasional concerts and daily live jazz music. 4 Canal St.; (504) 533-6000; www.harrahsneworleans.com

Ride through the French Quarter — In the last two decades dozens of buggy businesses have continued to creep into the French Quarter. It's best to catch a buggy ride with one of the many drivers parked across the street from the famous Caf้ du Monde near historic Jackson Square (buggy drivers park at the front gate to the square on Chartres Street). Carriage rides start at $5 for children and $10 for adults. Other attractions in the square include the St. Louis Cathedral and the Louisiana State Museum. For the best buggy ride skip the group rides for privacy and ask for a residential tour of the French Quarter neighborhood. Grab your buggy at 731 Chartres St.; (504) 568-6968.

Gallery gaze — Julia Street (in the Warehouse District a five block area bordered by I-10, the French Quarter and the New Orleans Convention Center) and Royal Street (inside the French Quarter) offer visitors the best mixture of antiques and art. Both streets are lined with galleries, shops and coffeehouses. Plan on spending at least one day enjoying all the sites and sounds. Royal Street is often closed to vehicles during the day so visitors can walk in the middle of the street. Gallery guides are available at most hotels and visitor's booths.

The best jazz in town — The Preservation Hall Jazz band — with members ages 25 to 88 — plays some of New Orleans' best jazz six nights a week. Preservation Hall, a 250-year-old building that was a tavern during the War of 1812, has been home to the band since 1961. The hall is just a few blocks south of Bourbon Street. Get there early because there are only a few seats in the hall (seats don't cost extra); 726 Peter St.; (504) 523-8939. After you catch a few tunes, stroll three blocks South to Decatur (then walk toward Canal Street) to the House of Blues, which offers a wide variety of concerts from local bands to alternative acts like Marilyn Manson. It's also a good idea to enjoy dinner and drinks in the ultra-hip atmosphere because guests with a dinner receipt get to enter the concert first at showtime, which is a major plus considering there is often a limited amount of seating. 225 Decatur St.; (504) 529-2624; www.preservationhall.com

Neighborhood stroll and roll — Don't leave the city without taking a streetcar tour. There are 35 cars operating along the city's riverfront and along St. Charles and Carrollton avenues. Perhaps the best of the tours is of New Orleans' Garden District. The district, on the National Register of Historic Places, has one of the best-preserved collections of historic mansions in the South, from Antebellum to Greek Revival, from Italianate to Victorian, most built between 1840 and 1900. The neighborhood is also known for its profusion of flowers and foliage. The district runs from Magazine Street to St. Charles Avenue and from Jackson Avenue to Louisiana Avenue. Among the more distinctive homes in the area is the 8,000-square-foot Short Villa at 1448 Fourth St. and the George Washington Cable home at 1313 Eighth St. At 2340 Prytania St. is Toby's Corner, the oldest home in the district, built in 1838. Visitors staying in the French Quarter can catch a ride at the corner of Canal and St. Charles and take the 90-minute loop through the city. For $2.50 you'll see interesting spots like vampire author Anne Rice's house, Tulane University, Loyola University and Audubon Park. Pick up a map at your hotel or call (504) 242-2600 for route information.

Get friendly with fish — The Aquarium of the Americas is worth a visit to see the seahorse and shark exhibits. Where else can you see re-creations of an Amazon Rain Forest, Caribbean Reefs and parts of the Mississippi River?; 1 Canal St. at the Riverfront; (504) 861-2537; www.auduboninstitute.org

Stroll through the zoo — Get in touch with your animal side at The Audubon Zoo, where more than 2,000 creatures including Komodo dragons and stunning peacocks live. Since the zoo is in the New Orlean's Garden District, you can take the free shuttle from the St. Charles streetcar at the Tulane University stop. Admission is $9; 6500 Magazine St.; (504) 861-2537;

Urban oasis — City Park's 1,500 acres, located in Mid-City off of Carrollton Avenue, offer an escape for the young and old. Enjoy fishing, carousel rides, train rides and an ice cream parlor. Visitors may boat across the lagoons around the park or just sunbathe in one of the picnic areas. Every year from Thanksgiving through early January the park hosts Celebration of the Oaks, where Christmas lights adorn most trees;1 Palm Drive; (504) 482-4888.

Shake it up at Rock 'n' Bowl — Visitors wanting to hear some good music and have a rockin' time will want to stop by this Mid-City dive frequented by hundreds of people each weekend. Throughout the week you can bowl or dance to the beats of local Zydeco swing, rock or R&B; bands at this New Orleans hot spot. Call ahead to reserve a lane; 4133 S. Carrollton Ave., New Orleans, La.; (504) 482-3133.

Watch the horses run — From Thanksgiving to mid-spring, some of the fastest thoroughbreds and quarter horses in the business race the one-mile oval track in the Gentilly area of New Orleans (just minutes from downtown via I-10). The distance of the track, 1,346 feet from last turn to finish line, makes the Fairground track the second-longest stretch in the country. It's also the nation's third oldest racetrack. Fans can grab a seat in the grandstands or stand on the main level to get an up close view of the horses. At the end of each racing season (end of April) the grounds are host to the city's annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival which features musical artists from all backgrounds and draws a crowd over 600,000 music lovers. For more information on Jazzfest use www.nojazzfest.com. Visit the Fairground at 1751 Gentilly Blvd.; (504) 944-5515; www.fgno.com

Take a spin — At Top of the Mark at Club 360, ride 33 flights to the top of the New Orleans World Trade Center, which towers over the Mississippi River at the end of Canal Street, and enjoy a drink while taking in the spectacular view. No food is served. The lounge makes a complete 360-degree rotation every 90 minutes; 2 Canal St.; (504) 522-9795.

Must be voodoo — In the French Quarter, the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum, dedicated to late voodoo queen Marie Laveau, is the place to stop. The eclectic gift shop sells love potions, voodoo dolls and money powder. The museum offers several tours. Admission is $3-$7 for adults. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily; 724 Dumaine St.; (504) 523-7685; www.voodoomuseum.com

New Orleans Museum of Art — A multimillion-dollar expansion has turned NOMA into one of the top art museums in the South. The permanent collection contains more than 40,000 objects, valued in excess of $200 million. Both history and art buffs will enjoy the third floor, which is devoted entirely to non-Western art. One of the truly unique features of the permanent collection is the work of Peter Carl Faberg้, the master jeweler to the last czars of Russia. The collection features three of the extraordinary Imperial Easter Eggs as well as the famous jeweled Imperial Lilies-of-the-Valley Basket. After your tour stop by the gift shop, which is full of art, jewelry and memorabilia at decent prices. Admission is $6 adults, $5 seniors and $3 for children ages 3-17. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays; in City Park in Mid-City New Orleans; 1 Collins Cir.; (504) 488-2631; www.noma.org

Travel City Guides - What is worth doing in New Orleans

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Unless you're planning to spend time outside downtown, there's probably not a reason to rent a car. Many hotels charge more than $15 a day for parking. It's better to walk or just grab a cab.

   
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