NEW ORLEANS -- New Orleans is the perfect weekend getaway, a city that can rise to whatever your occasion, be it a romantic tryst, partying with pals or a chance to delve into a culture unlike any other in America.
As famous for its food as its music, New Orleans (say noo-OR-lenz to blend in with the locals) is heaven for foodies, a hotbed of traditional Creole French fare and creative chefs using Gulf seafood and local ingredients in innovative ways. If you're serious about food, plan to nosh multiple times a day while you're in this town, which has come so far since Hurricane Katrina, eight years ago this month.
3 p.m. Settle in: The newly renovated W in the French Quarter (316 Chartres St., 504-581-1200, www.wfrenchquarter.com) marries urban chic with traditional Vieux Carré architecture in a stellar location, the best of all worlds. Spacious jazz- or tarot-themed rooms are decked out with bold art and niceties like Bliss spa products and comfy bedding. The central pool is a chill lounge scene. Rooms from $279.
4 p.m. Stroll Royal: Parallel to Bourbon Street and a block closer to the river, Royal Street is a beehive of shops, galleries, street artists and musicians performing around Jackson Square and in front of Rouse's grocery store. The Rodrigue Studio (730 Royal St.) with its iconic Blue Dog paintings and the Painted Alive gallery (827 Royal) with artist Craig Tracy's adoration of the illustrated human form are a few galleries that enliven the streetscape. There's a culinary antiques store, a shop proffering military hardware and jaw-dropping antiques to peruse.
7 p.m. Start cocktailing: In a city with no open-container law, it's just fine to order your cocktail to go and start walking. But you'll want to sit a spell at the bar at SoBou (310 Chartres St., 504-552-4095, www.sobounola.com), where bartender/alchemist Abigail Gullo concocts brilliant craft cocktails using fresh herbs, tinctures and homemade bitters. Try her Faubourg Tall Boy ($10), a sprightly combo of Tom Collins and Kir Royale. Don't be surprised if she breaks into song -- Gullo is a former off-Broadway chanteuse. Move into the dramatically lit dining room for chef Juan Carlos Gonzalez's playful menu of modern Creole bites such as airy cracklings with pimento cheese fondue ($5) and smoky baby back ribs ($12) served with a side of sweet-and-spicy ghost-pepper cotton candy. SoBou is the latest venture from the Commander's Palace branch of the Brennan family.
10 p.m. A dose of music: Catch some live jazz at the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone (214 Royal St., 504-523-3341, http://hotelmonteleone.com), the newly spiffy venue that includes a revolving carousel as its centerpiece. Sip a Sazerac ($9), a drink invented here in the 19th century, and watch the action out front, or stay focused on the stage, where Lena Prima (daughter of Louis) and others belt out standards.
9 a.m. Beignets by the river: Line up at Café du Monde (800 Decatur St., 504-525-4544, http://cafedumonde.com), for café au lait ($2.42) and beignets ($2.42), deep-fried fritters dusted with copious powdered sugar, three to an order. Open 24/7. There is often a wait. Or take out, and enjoy your chicory-laced coffee and sugary doughnuts by the mighty Mississippi.