Travel

10 Must-See Museums in New Orleans

Explore world-class art, unique history, musical wonders, and more at the best museums in New Orleans.

Photo by Justen Williams, courtesy of NOTMC
Photo by Justen Williams, courtesy of NOTMC
Photo by Justen Williams, courtesy of NOTMC

New Orleans is practically a museum in itself, with neighborhoods, buildings, and sites all chock full of history. Fortunately there are museums dedicated to exploring the unique history of the city and the state, as well as a range of other amazing cultural institutions.

From world-class art to some of the quirkiest and most unique collections you’ll find anywhere, New Orleans museums cover all the bases. Not to mention that many offer essential background info for exploring the city-insight that will surely enhance any visitor’s experience. These are the best museums in New Orleans, including scenic spots perfect for a local’s date night or must-see spots for tourists. And because this is New Orleans, most of these museums feature great food and/or fun events to round out the experience.

Dr. Victor Wong/Shutterstock
Dr. Victor Wong/Shutterstock
Dr. Victor Wong/Shutterstock

National World War II Museum

Warehouse District
This world-class complex attracts thousands of visitors each day. Through interactive exhibits, films, and a stunning collection of objects, all ages have the opportunity to learn about-and learn from-those who served in WWII and on the homefront at the National World War II Museum. The sprawling campus consists of a series of pavilions and theaters exploring the different facets of the war. Get up close with restored jeeps, planes, and Higgins boats. The Solomon Victory Theater shows Beyond all Boundaries, an exclusive 4D experience, and the Stage Door Canteen hosts a variety of theatrical performances. The museum’s newest attraction, Expressions of America, is an immersive nighttime sound and light show offering an inspiring glimpse into the lives of the people who served.

What to know: Given the size of the museum, you’ll want to spend a whole day here. The museum is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm, though times vary for certain special exhibits and experiences. Tickets are timed, available in 15 minute increments. A slew of packages are available, from general campus admission ($32.50) to guided tours and behind-the-scenes experiences. Grab a bite to eat at American Sector or the Soda Shop, and be sure to check out the gift shop featuring 1940s-inspired gifts and clothing.

Photo courtesy of New Orleans Museum of Art
Photo courtesy of New Orleans Museum of Art
Photo courtesy of New Orleans Museum of Art

New Orleans Museum of Art

Mid-City
Located in City Park at the edge of the Big Lake, the New Orleans Museum of Art houses more than 40,000 works of art spanning the 15th to 20th centuries. Stroll the neoclassical, Beaux Arts-style building and take in works from Impressionist masters, plus Surrealist works, glass, ceramics, pre-Columbian art, and an extensive photography collection. The museum hosts film screenings and lectures in conjunction with special exhibits as well as a variety of cultural events throughout the year. The adjacent Sydney and Walda Bestoff Sculpture Garden is a beautifully landscaped showcase of the museum’s sculpture collection.

What to know: The museum is open 10 am to 5 pm from Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is $15. Wednesdays are free for Louisiana residents. The sculpture garden is open from 10 am to 6 pm daily, admission is free. Cafe NOMA by Ralph Brennan is a lovely spot for lunch and park views. Check the calendar for events like Music in the Garden and NOMA at Night. After a visit to the museum, stick around to explore City Park or rent a boat to paddle around the lake.

Photo courtesy of Ogden Museum of Southern Art
Photo courtesy of Ogden Museum of Southern Art
Photo courtesy of Ogden Museum of Southern Art

Ogden Museum of Southern Art

Warehouse District
Based on the founding donation of more than 1,200 works from the collection of Roger H. Ogden, a New Orleans businessman and philanthropist, the Ogden Museum has become the most comprehensive collection of Southern art in the world. Showcasing works from 15 Southern states and the District of Columbia, the museum celebrates the art, history, and culture of the region through displays of paintings, watercolors, drawings, prints, photographs, sculptures, woodworks, and crafts. Artists represented include Walter Anderson, Benny Andrews, Clementine Hunter, George Dureau, William Dunlap, Ida Kohlmeyer, Will Henry Stevens, Kendall Shaw, and George Ohr. The building features a stunning atrium and a rooftop terrace with views of the city.

What to know: The museum is open 10 am to 5 pm daily. Admission is $13.50. Thursdays are free for locals. Check out Ogden After Hours on the third Thursday of each month. This evening program features a diverse lineup of music and programming. The gift shop is packed with unique gifts, books, home goods, jewelry, and more from local and regional artists and makers.

Photo by Rebecca Todd, courtesy of NOTMC
Photo by Rebecca Todd, courtesy of NOTMC
Photo by Rebecca Todd, courtesy of NOTMC

Historic New Orleans Collection

French Quarter
The Historic New Orleans Collection is a museum, research center, and publisher dedicated to the study and preservation of the history and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf South region. Its public galleries are situated in the heart of the French Quarter, making it easy for you to stop in and learn a bit of history while enjoying the Quarter of today. Explore artifacts and cultural traditions from pre-colonial to modern times, get the stories behind buildings and sites in the Quarter, learn about architecture, the city’s preservation movement, and much more. HNOC is a perfect complement to a Vieux Carre outing.

What to know: The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm, and Sunday from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm. All HNOC galleries are free, guided tours are available for $5. The museum shop is a great spot for high-quality souvenirs. Download the HNOC’s app French Quarter Tours to continue your journey into French Quarter history-it can serve as your personal tour guide, highlighting important sites and stories, as you walk around.

Photo by Paul Broussard, courtesy of NOTMC
Photo by Paul Broussard, courtesy of NOTMC
Photo by Paul Broussard, courtesy of NOTMC

Southern Food and Beverage Museum

Central City
The Southern Food and Beverage Museum celebrates the food, drink, and related culture of the South. Collections, exhibits, lectures, and demos explore the history and influences that have contributed to New Orleans cuisine, the city’s dining scene, and the related cuisines of the region. From recipes and restaurant menus to product histories and kitchen collections, SOFAB takes you through the stories behind the foods of the South. Learn about everything from the evolution of jambalaya and the life of famed Popeyes chicken king Al Copeland to the cultural traditions surrounding red beans and rice. There’s always something tasty going on at the museum-keep an eye out for cooking demos and tastings, cookbook signings, cocktail events, and maker markets.

What to know: The museum is open Thursday through Monday from 11 am to 5 pm. Admission is $10.50. SOFAB also offers cooking classes and a culinary entrepreneur program, so budding chefs can expand their knowledge in this city that’s oh-so rich in culinary culture.

Backstreet Cultural Museum

Tremé
While second lines and Mardi Gras Indian processions are best experienced live on the street, the Backstreet Cultural Museum lets you dive into the colorful history of these and other cultural experiences of African Amecans in New Orleans. Displays of elaborate, hand-beaded Mardi Gras Indian suits and regalia dazzle, while memorabilia from neighborhood Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs plus photos of jazz funerals and second lines illuminate the collective spirit and triumphs as celebrated through community-based processions and masking traditions. The museum hosts programming ranging from guided tours to sewing classes and an oral history project.

What to know: The museum is open daily from 10 am to 4 pm. Tickets are $20, $15 for locals. Mardi Gras Day at the museum brings the exhibits to life as you can catch Indians, the North Side Skull and Bone Gang, Baby Dolls, music, and more.

Photo by Rebecca Todd, courtesy of NOTMC
Photo by Rebecca Todd, courtesy of NOTMC
Photo by Rebecca Todd, courtesy of NOTMC

The Cabildo

French Quarter
This elegant Spanish colonial building sits next to St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square. Formerly a government building built by the Spanish in the 1790s, the Cabildo showcases the rich and colorful history of New Orleans and Louisiana through rare artifacts and original works of art from the Louisiana State Museum. From one of Napoleon’s death masks and Sidney Bechet’s saxophone to memorabilia from Pontchartrain Beach, the collection explores the region’s historical influences and Louisiana’s place in American history. Learn about the Battle of New Orleans, the Louisiana Purchase, and all the famous and infamous characters that made the city and the state what they are today.

What to know: The museum is open every day except Monday from 9 am to 4 pm. Admission is $10. The Cabildo is one of four Louisiana State Museum properties in the French Quarter-the Presbytere, 1850 House, Old U.S. Mint, and Madame John’s Legacy also explore the diverse history and culture of Louisiana.

Photo courtesy of The Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience
Photo courtesy of The Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience
Photo courtesy of The Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience

The Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience

CBD
Learn about a different side of the South at The Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience. MSJE traces the history of Jews in the American South from Colonial times to the present and explores the ways Jews in 13 Southern states influenced and were influenced by the culture of these communities. Exhibits, collections, and public programming uncover this unique history, from immigration stories and the foundations of Jewish life in the South to modern Southern Jewish life. Learn about Southern Jews in popular culture, how Southern and Jewish culinary traditions merged out of necessity, and much more. With these stories, the museum aims to encourage a new understanding and appreciation of identity, diversity, and acceptance.

What to know: The museum is open every day except Tuesday from 10 am to 5 pm. Admission is $15. The shop carries a range of items from quirky Southern Judaica and gifts to apparel, jewelry, and books. If you’re looking for a mezuzah made from a Kentucky Bourbon barrel or a Mardi Gras kippot, you’re in the right place.

Germaine Cazenave Wells Mardi Gras Museum

French Quarter
The historic Arnaud’s restaurant is a top destination for classic Creole cuisine, but some may not know it comes with a bonus attraction. Head upstairs to the Germaine Cazenave Wells Mardi Gras Museum for a look into the lavish world of Mardi Gras balls. The museum is named for the daughter of Count Arnaud, the restaurant’s founder. Germaine reportedly reigned as queen over 22 Carnival balls, and the collection includes 13 of her gowns. In addition to these elaborate outfits, king’s costumes, children’s costumes, Carnival masks and faux jewels, and dozens of vintage photographs are also on display.

What to know: The museum is free and open to the public during restaurant operating hours. You don’t need to dine at Arnaud’s to visit, but it does make for an excellent New Orleans culture combo. You can also stop in the French 75 Bar before or after a visit.

Abita Mystery House

Abita Springs
Worth a drive to the Northshore, the Abita Mystery House (formerly known as the UCM Museum) is a weird and wonderful roadside attraction filled with vintage arcade machines, odd folk art, crypto-taxidermy, and thousands of found objects and home-made inventions. Highlights include Darrell the Dogigator (half dog, half alligator), Edmond the Allisapien (half alligator, half homosapien), several mini towns with push-button animations, a comb collection, and a trailer purportedly hit by a UFO. It’s a labyrinthian structure consisting of an old gas station, a Creole cottage, and a house covered in mosaic tiles-each building packed with treasures.

What to know: The museum is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm. Admission is $5. While it does require about an hour’s drive from New Orleans, it’s well worth it, and you can make a day trip of it with a visit to Abita Brewery, the Tammany Trace, and a stroll through downtown Covington.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat.

Gerrish Lopez is a Thrillist contributor.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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