Here’s What It’s Really Like to Move to New Orleans

Here’s What It’s Really Like to Move to New Orleans

(Image credit: Tara Donne)

My husband and I have our own outrageous life bucket list—big stuff like visiting all seven continents, going to a Super Bowl (him), touring Dollywood (me). Also on the list was to live in New Orleans—and after eight years of bustling city life in NYC, we drove a U-Haul filled with 800-square-feet worth of furniture along with one fat cat to the Crescent City. Check!

Moving to New Orleans, a Guide

There's just something about New Orleans that gets to you. My husband and I visited often and volunteered here after Hurricane Katrina—but being a resident is a totally different story. We had to get regular jobs and are often working on our home instead of partying on Bourbon Street. But even when you're adulting, New Orleans is a weird and wonderful—and very fun—place to live.

Case in point: There are few New Orleanians who don't have a costume closet. This city likes to dress up and there's no better time than Carnival season when NOLA is dripping in beads and dotted with colorful wigs, and the air is filled with the sounds of marching bands. And while the Mardi Gras season may only be a couple of weeks long, preparations run year-round. The best part: You can meet instant friends by joining a krewe or dance troop. Yes, adult dance troops exist here and they're marvelous.

Aside from that big ol' party, the city is known for exceptional food and music year-round. New Orleanians are passionate about their cuisine and often talk about what's for dinner while they're eating lunch. Dining out in the city runs the gamut from divey po-boy shops to historic jacket-required restaurants—and each are beloved in their own way. Eater New Orleans is a great resource to find out what's new and noteworthy—and I love Ian McNulty's food writing for The Advocate. Music can be found every day, all over the city and WWOZ, the city's (incredible!) listener-supported radio station, announces the live music schedule every odd hour. In addition, there's a festival for just about every occasion (po-boy, whiskey, beignet, barbecue, blues, you name it) and most of them are free to attend.

NewOrleans.com is a great resource with updated festival schedules, new restaurant openings, and general information on what's happening around the city. The Convention and Visitors Bureau here is made up of super fun, fresh, and well-informed locals who know NOLA inside and out. I also love Babes & Beignets, a go-to blog for all-things NOLA, like where to find the best bottomless brunches, festival hacks and restaurant guides.

And the one thing people always ask: Yes, it's hot. In fact, it's downright miserable in August, but come March, I love wearing sandals and sundresses when the rest of the country is still shivering in a puffy coat. People say that there are four seasons in New Orleans: carnival, crawfish, sno-ball, and football.

New Orleans Cost of Living

According to the Zumper National Rental Price Index, New Orleans ranked as the 21st most expensive city to rent in the U.S. with a one-bedroom apartment averaging $1,360 in April 2018. We bought our two-bedroom, two-bathroom shotgun-style home (the classic long and narrow NOLA style) after renting for many years in New York City; a desire for homeownership was one reason that we moved to New Orleans.

(Image credit: Jacqueline Marque)

Our home was built in 1900, so while it's beautiful and historic, the insulation is poor. Utilities in the summer often skyrocket to about $300 per month, but this eases up when our mild winters roll in and the prices drop to about $100.

More expenses to consider: Public transportation in New Orleans is doable, but patience is required. Like all things in this city, folks here aren't in much of a rush. You can ride the bus or streetcar for $1.25 each way or purchase an unlimited monthly "Jazzy" pass for $55. But I prefer to ride my bike: New Orleans is flat and it's free.

This city is big on happy hour, even at the fanciest of places. Restaurants even encourage you to order from the happy hour menu, so you don't feel like a Budget Betty asking for one. A well-made sip at a high-end cocktail bar will average about $10-$15, but can be scored for just $5 during happy hour (Bouligny Tavern, Cavan, and Cure are fine options) and a dive bar will often serve $2 beers. For some of the best bites, you can eat a po'boy for about a 10-spot and indulge in an incredible three-course lunch special at Commander's Palace for $39 (Bonus: lunch martinis are just a quarter). I'm completely obsessed with the new Jack Rose restaurant at The Pontchartrain Hotel, which offers a bottomless Veuve Clicquot brunch for just $25—and their upscale but unfussy dinner menu is fantastic, too. After moving from NYC, dining in New Orleans—especially with such great food and an emphasis on hospitality—made us feel like royalty.

(Image credit: Tara Donne)

Moving to New Orleans, Where to Live

Before moving, we visited New Orleans often and found that staying in Airbnbs was the best way to discover which neighborhood worked best for us. Here, most of the hotels are in the French Quarter and Central Business District (though they're popping up in more neighborhoods every month) and we wanted to expand our search beyond the more popular tourist zones. We stayed in the super hip Bywater, far Uptown in Carrolton, and the Garden District. Ultimately, we settled on the Irish Channel. This neighborhood allows us to easily walk up or downtown, and we're right across from the beautiful homes in the Garden District and one block off Magazine. Being in a busy and central location eased the transition from New York City to New Orleans as we very rarely use the car. In fact, I've only driven a handful of times since moving to NOLA. Louisiana ranks as the second most expensive state for car insurance, so we share a vehicle. One requirement for our home: a porch, which isn't hard to find. "Porching" is a verb in NOLA, and having a coffee or cocktail al fresco is a fine way to chat someone up.

(Image credit: Tara Donne)

Once settled, Nextdoor and Facebook are great resources for your neighborhood happenings. Our Irish Channel Facebook page is often filled with new residents who are on the lookout for friend groups; neighbors are happy to meet up at a local watering hole. Last summer, the group organized "pothole parties" when the notorious NOLA infrastructure grew so out of control that the holes were filled with chairs, tables, a baby pool, and various decorations. This kind of thing is the very definition of what it's like to live New Orleans.

Moving to New Orleans, Advice

Don't wait around for an invitation—host a party for a bunch of strangers! We put an invite on every neighbors' door that said, "Hi, we're the new couple who moved into 2424, and we'd love to meet you. Come for drinks and small bites." Unlike major cities like NYC or San Francisco (where I went to college), people in New Orleans are quite friendly with their neighbors. But know this: New Orleanians love nothing more than a party, so buy more wine than you think you'll need. And then buy one more "just in case" case. That small get-together resulted in some of our dearest friends that live just a few steps away.

Moving to New Orleans Alone

Someone once told me to always leave your house 10 minutes early to arrive on time because everyone you see in New Orleans does the "stop and chat." NOLA feels more like a small town, and everyone is super friendly. After just one week of living here, I met my now-great friend at a press dinner. She was also a transplant and had made a huge network of buddies in New Orleans and offered to introduce me to her group. It almost felt like a first date: Would she call? Would we have anything in common? The next day, she emailed and invited me to a book club, a wine club, and a yoga class with her group of girlfriends—all of whom have now become my friends. I hope to return the favor. My lesson: Be open to invitations, and they will come. Go on friend dates, Tinder dates, mom friend dates, or dog park dates—people in this city live to socialize. Volunteering is a great way to meet new people, too (the Junior League is especially popular and powerful in the South), but folks here work to live, not the other way around, so there is always something fun to do.

Moving to New Orleans Without a Job

New Orleans has racked up a slew of accolades for economic development including the #1 Growing Metro Area for Employment, #2 Boomtown in America, and #3 Big City Winning the IT Jobs Battle (after San Francisco and Silicon Valley). It also ranks at #7 on Monster's Best Cities for Women in Tech. And according to a 2012 study by City Lab, New Orleans ranks No. 1 in the number of bars per 10,000 households. If you know how to mix cocktails, this is your city. And if not, New Orleans has loads of restaurants and hotels—it's centered around tourism. And because it's such a creative city where artists can thrive, you'll find that a lot of creative types—think musicians, artists, and writers—often supplement their income by driving Uber.

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