HOTSPOT NEW ORLEANS

The Baltimore Sun

Tuesday, New Orleans celebrates Mardi Gras - Fat Tuesday - with parades, costumes, floats, King cake, beads and more beads. The New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau expects most of the area's more than 30,000 hotel rooms to be filled for the festivities. Since Hurricane Katrina, the city has struggled to propel tourism back to where it was before the devastating storm. Much of tonight's Oscar-nominated movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was filmed in the area. Here are five things to do in the Big Easy:

1

Frolic in the French Quarter : Easily the most popular neighborhood in New Orleans, the Vieux Carre is blooming with historic and modern hot spots. Hit up Bourbon Street, the most famous artery there, for live music and jazz, bars and clubs.

2

Take a ride : The St. Charles Streetcar is a nostalgic way to tour part of New Orleans. The streetcars travel a 13-mile route on St. Charles Avenue, past such sites as the Arts District, Tulane University and Audubon Park. The $1.25 ride is a perfect way to take in a view of the city and immerse yourself in its history.

3

Hear the saints : Looking for a place to pick out that soulful souvenir? The Louisiana Music Factory, across the street from the House of Blues, is stocked with wall-to-wall favorites of jazz, Cajun, zydeco and other albums. If you're lucky, you might even catch an in-store performance by one of the locals.

4

Go wild, child : Escape the city for a while and head out into the wild. The Audubon Nature Institute offers a whole host of activities, from museums to parks, that are family-friendly. Take the kids to the Audubon Zoo, Insectarium or Aquarium of the Americas, or just stroll through Audubon Park.

5

Tour history : Experience Louisiana's cultural and worldly past through its architecture. A walking tour of the Garden District takes visitors through a neighborhood of antebellum mansions and distinguished homes. An alternative is a Hurricane Tour, which looks at the tragic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, led by survivors and witnesses.

More information: neworleanscvb.com

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