Pass by the neon to find the real Cresent City.

By Pableaux Johnson
October 23, 2003
Ralph Anderson

While most tourist meccas do their best business during the summer months, New Orleans lays low during its tropical hot season and springs to life as the days get shorter. Convention planners book the hotels for professional gatherings as snowbirds and other off-season travelers wander the city streets.

As New Orleans' historic center and prime tourist destination, the French Quarter maintains a delicate balance between its distinctive character and the expanding hospitality infrastructure. During Mardi Gras press blitzes, hard-drinking Bourbon Street eclipses the city's other charms and attractions, despite the fact that superb restaurants and stylish boutiques share the same neighborhood as high-octane shot bars.

One rule of thumb to keep in mind as you wander around the Quarter: Avoid neon. Souvenir shops, T-shirt stalls, and barkers promising flammable cocktails all tend to proliferate in close proximity to the bright, colorful lights. Luckily, this makes spotting them a cinch. Look for the more subdued areas, and you'll be able to experience the Quarter's true charms.

During the colder months, it's possible to ramble down Royal Street for antiquing, then back up Chartres Street for fine art and photography galleries. You can marvel at the intricate ironwork balconies, the brightly painted Creole cottages, and the active sidewalk culture―the Quarter in all its naturally lit beauty.