Is is possible to experience a city in only three hours? No.
However… if three hours are all you have, you can still have a great time. This article will show you how to have the maximum amount of fun in a limited period of time, using New Orleans as an example.
#1: park your vehicle, because you’re going to walk the town. Choose your parking space carefully. I chose to park near the place I wanted to visit the most (Red Truck Gallery). The streets are narrow in New Orleans, so fold in your driver-side mirror, so a truck doesn’t knock it off your car.
#2: if you’re going to drink, do that first, so you’re sober by the end of your improvised tour of the city. I recommend Muriel’s (801 Chatres Street). This bar/bistro serves amazing fancy drinks (or regular drinks, if you’re not into fancy drinks). It is also an opportunity to use a clean bathroom (so rare when you’re on a multi-city road trip).
#3: Observe everything. As you walk around the town, notice everything quirky, unusual and unique about the city. Record it all in your memory, and put photos of it on Instagram, Flickr & Facebook (if you use those sites). In New Orleans, be on the lookout for: drain pipes that look like fish, koi fish painted on the sidewalk, fleur-de-lis symbols, ornate drains along the foundations of buildings, the occasional Mardi-Gras bead embedded in a sidewalk crack, random things like wreaths made of snow cones, and of course the amazing New Orleans architecture. Remember: you might never get another chance to return, so soak it all in, so you have no regrets later on.
#4: Pick a primary destination, and spend an hour there. You might chose to check out some jazz music, or maybe your thing is to feast on gumbo and muffuletta, or maybe you just want to chill in a park and watch some street performers. Again, notice every detail — every sight, smell and sound. Soak it all in, and participate if you can. Tip performers.
My primary destination was the Red Truck Gallery (938 Royal St). The art they feature really resonates with me. I’ve met them at art fairs like Scope in NYC, but to visit their gallery in person, was really something special. I made sure that I connected with the people working in the gallery, I took a free card advertising their latest show, and I soaked every detail in. I got to meet artist Bryan Cunningham, and bought one of his paintings.
A wall of art by Bryan Cunningham in the Red Truck Gallery:
Generally speaking, if you like one destination in a neighborhood, you’ll enjoy others near by. Royal Street in New Orleans has many unique galleries and shops, and I made sure I visited as many as I could.
Art by Jill Ricci at Orange Gallery (819 Royal St.):
Art by Chris Roberts-Antieau at Antieau Gallery (927 Royal St.):
#5: Connect with people. Smile. Make sure you talk to people. Try to get an interesting story or two from them. Even if you’re in a city for only three hours, don’t be a ghost.
#6: Eat Something! Eat something unique to the city. My “food” of choice was pralines. America’s greatest art forms include music and food — New Orleans has both, so make sure you experience them.
#7: Visit the touristy side of town, and load up on souvenirs. In New Orleans you specifically want to get boxes of pralines, beads (and get the fancy ones), and hot sauce, in addition to the standard t-shirts, magnets, stickers and shot glasses. Get plenty of stuff with the color scheme purple, green & gold; stuff with the fleur-de-lis on them, plenty of alligator heads and jesters.
#8: Have some fun people watching. Checkout the performers, musicians, shopkeepers & barkers. Check out the tourists. Check out the locals. Check out the locals checking out the tourists. Don’t be surprised when a women on stilts, wearing a purple, green & gold bikini, hands you a flyer for an exotic revue or for a nearby poorboy shop.
Once you’ve achieved all these steps, you are free to go. Unless you are not sober — if so, hang out until you are.
Remember: you only live once, so experience all you can without harming others, and without regrets.