Our First Mardi Gras: Tips & Tricks for the Biggest Party of the Year

The following post is from a sponsored trip with New Orleans & Company. Head over to their page for all the Mardi Gras info you can need, including the Mardi Gras bucket list, Mardi Gras like a local, FAQs, etc. Hope we see you there next year!

Mardi Gras.

It’s an iconic event that we’ve had on our bucket list for years. Parades, beads, glitter, costumes, dancing - Mardi Gras is one of the biggest parties in the world, and we finally understand the hype.

We just returned from a trip to New Orleans where we got to experience our first Mardi Gras parade, and it was everything we could have dreamed it would be! We had the TIME OF OUR LIVES - and the joy on our faces say it all!

But that being said, navigating the celebrations can be overwhelming. Choosing which parades to attend, knowing what to wear, where to stand… it’s a lot for newbies like us! So here are some tips and tricks that we learned from our first (and definitely not our last!) Mardi Gras:

PLAN YOUR TRIP ACCORDINGLY

We decided to visit New Orleans the last weekend in February, which happened to overlap with the very beginning of the Mardi Gras celebrations. The city was abuzz with preparations and Mardi Gras decor was everywhere, but crowds were minimal and hotels weren’t at capacity. The deeper into Mardi Gras that you get, the more crowded the city becomes and rates for hotel rooms can reach an all-time high. Mardi Gras “season” starts 12 days after Christmas, and then culminates the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. If it works with your schedule, we suggest planning your trip for early in the season, then you can explore a more mellow New Orleans, but still get to join in with the Mardi Gras festivities.  

In terms of hotels, we recommend staying somewhere within walking distance of all the excitement. We stayed at Le Pavillon, a beautiful four star hotel in the Central Business District that is a 5 minute walk to the French Quarter (We’ll share more about our hotel in our next post!). It’s an even shorter walk to St. Charles Avenue, where many of the Mardi Gras parades roll through! We find it crucial to be close to all the action, but then be able to retreat to a cozy, quiet, and relaxing hotel.

KNOW WHICH PARADES YOU WANT TO SEE

Mardi Gras clubs (officially called “Krewes”) put on dozens of parades, and each one has a different theme. There’s “The Krewe of Iris”, which is the oldest all-female krewe, “The Krewe of Chewbacchus”, which is for lovers of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, and “The Mystick Krewe of Barkus”, a parade for pets, and so much more. (Head here to see a full list!)

We saw “The Krewe of Cork” parade, which celebrates food, wine, and a good time - three of our favorite things! The Krewe members wear wine-related costumes, toss necklaces with their cork logo, and are even accompanied by “wine police”, whose motto is “To serve and pour”!

THERE IS NO DRESS CODE

While we highly recommend dressing up for the theme of whatever parade you are attending (something we will definitely do next time), there are no rules when it comes to Mardis Gras! People wear whatever they want, and it makes for some glorious people watching.

Wear comfortable shoes, and if your parade is in the daytime, double check the weather. When we were there it was warm (and humid), so light, loose layers were perfect. Since the timing and weather of Mardi Gras changes year to year, it could chilly and cold, so be prepared! We also suggest stopping by the French Market beforehand, and purchasing some beads to throw around - that’s half the fun! And while we’re on the topic of throwing beads...

MARDI GRAS IS FAMILY FRIENDLY!

That’s right -  there were kids everywhere! Mardi Gras can have an “adults only” reputation, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. At The Krewe of Cork there were all ages, and the little ones were having a blast watching the parade go by. We were incredibly impressed with how family friendly the entire afternoon was - it felt like one big neighborhood block party! (There are a few adult themed parades, most notably the “Krewe de Vieux”, so just be aware of the themes ahead of time - if your kiddos are in tow.)

FIND A BALCONY

Ask any seasoned Mardi Gras attendee, and they’ll say that the best way to view a parade is from above! It’s people watching at its finest, and throwing beads from a balcony is so much fun. We watched The Krewe of Cork from the balcony at Arnaud’s, but we’ve also heard great things about the event space Bourbon Vieux on Bourbon Street. A ticket will get you access to their large wrap-around balcony, gourmet cuisine, and a premium open bar. In our opinion, that is truly the way to go!

Loving the views with our new pals!

Mardi Gras can feel overwhelming for a first timer, but it doesn’t have to. Order a Mint Julep to go from Napoleon House, throw some glitter on your face, and get ready for the biggest, most eclectic block party you’ve ever seen… chances are you’ll want to make it a yearly tradition!

Distilleries, Speakeasys, Historic Hotels... Oh My! Our Guide to Drinking Your Way Around Downtown Louisville

Affectionately called “Bourbon City”, Louisville, Kentucky is home to some of the most unique and innovative distilleries and bars in the US. From modern and stylish tasting rooms, to underground prohibition-style speakeasies, to charming hotel bars that are dripping with history… Louisville’s drinking scene has something for everyone. Here’s a few of our favorites from every category:

DISTILLERIES:

OLD FORESTER

While Old Forester is famous for being America’s first bottled bourbon, their 70,000-square-foot distillery is one of the newest hot spots on Whiskey Row! They just completed a $45 million renovation on their original building, and the result is nothing short of breathtaking. Tickets for the Old Forester Distillery tour are $16/person, and the tour includes and extensive look inside the history and distilling of bourbon, the bottling process, a tasting, and more. More specifically, you’ll learn about George Garvin Brown, a visionary in the world of whiskey who was one of the first to distill a quality bourbon. You’ll also find out how Old Forester was able to keep producing whiskey during prohibition. Their are the only bourbon continuously distilled before, during, and after prohibition. They must know what they’re doing.  (Reservations are recommended, you can do so here.)

MICHTER’S

Founded in 1753, Michter’s is considered to be America’s first whiskey company, and to this day they make some of the finest single barrel and small batch whiskeys on the market. Their distillery is also new to downtown Louisville, as it just opened its doors after an 8-year renovation in January, 2019! Tickets for the Michter’s Distillery Tour are $20/person, and the tour includes an inside look into the whiskey production process, a whiskey tasting, and a cocktail demonstration in their second-floor bar, “The Bar at Fort Nelson”. Our recommendation is that you spend some time sipping on the Sour Mash - it is fantastic!  (Reservations are recommended, you can do so here.)

EVAN WILLIAMS

Having opened Kentucky’s first distillery on the banks of the Ohio River in 1783, Evan Williams has been around for many years and many whiskey barrels. They produce a quality bourbon that is a fantastic introduction for those that aren’t whiskey drinkers. The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience will offer the history of how Louisville was settled and became the bourbon mecca that it is today, knowledgeable guides that will share the process of distilling bourbon, and a whiskey tasting at the end of the tour. The 1 hour tastings are $14/person, and you can make reservations here. Enjoy!

ANGEL’S ENVY

What we love about Angel’s Envy is that they have taken the bourbon tradition and combined it with their expertise to create a phenomenal whiskey. They hand blend small batches and taste every barrel as it ages. What makes them different is that they finish their bourbon in ruby port casks, and their ryes in rum barrels. Angel’s Envy whiskey emerges with a complex aroma, sophisticated taste, and long, lingering finish. Sorry if that was too much, but Angel’s Envy is special. If you would like to visit,  they have tours by reservation only. It’s worth visiting to see their process and taste some of their fine whiskeys. (You can make reservations here)

SPEAKEASYS

PIN & PROOF

A modern speakeasy hidden behind a moving painting is cool on its own… but throw a bowling alley into the mix, and now we’re really talking! Pin & Proof is located in the luxurious Omni Louisville, tucked away behind a modern painting near the Library Bar. From the moment you step inside you feel as though you’ve entered into a dimly-lit labyrinth. Whether or not you decide to bowl, the bar alone is worth a visit. Try their 1881 Old Fashioned!

HELL OR HIGH WATER

If you’ve ever wanted to step inside a time machine, head to Hell or High Water, a speakeasy located underneath Whiskey Row. Accessible through a little curio shop with no signage, it can be easy to miss - so keep a lookout. The interior is designed to feel like a real 1930’s speakeasy, and they did an incredible job. It’s surprisingly spacious, with hidden rooms and an upper level that’s every bit as picturesque as the bar below. Make a reservation in advance, as it does get busy. (You can do so here.)

HISTORIC HOTEL BARS

THE LOBBY BAR

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, The Brown Hotel is famous not only for its glamorous architectural features, but for its iconic Lobby Bar as well! You’ll find classic comfort food like Lobster Mac and Cheese, The Hot Brown, and Derby Pie, and you’ll find handcrafted cocktails and bourbon flights that’ll please anyone’s palette. We suggest trying their Mint Julep, featuring Jim Beam bourbon, simple syrup, and lots of fresh mint. The Lobby Bar has been named One of 150 Best Bars in America for 2019, and it’s easy to see why!

OLD SEELBACH BAR

This restored early 1900’s bar not only has an impressive bourbon collection, but some celebrated craft cocktails too! Located in the famed Seelbach Hilton, The Old Seelbach Bar has been visited by many a famous face over the years - most recently Billy Joel was spotted playing the bar’s piano! Try their popular “Seelbach Cocktail”, made with Old Forester Bourbon, cointreau bitters and sparkling wine!

The 5 Most Instagrammable Spots in Louisville

Sure, Louisville is home to the Kentucky Derby, the Louisville Slugger, Bourbon Distilleries, and more… but it also has some picture-perfect spots for your Instagram feed! From quirky street art, to historic hotels, to underground speakeasies, you won’t be hurting for Instagram content when in this vibrant and colorful city. We’ve broken it down to what we consider to be the 5 Most Instagrammable Spots in Louisville, and here they are!

MURALS OF THE HIGHLANDS

Highland Park is an eclectic neighborhood in Louisville that’s home to trendy restaurants, bars, and an endless amount of small shops and boutiques. It’s also where you can find some of the best street art in town!

The Spirit of the Highlands” mural (1529 Bardstown Road, on the side of Ole Town Liquors) is not to be missed - notice that each letter showcases a unique feature of Louisville!

The Highlands - Weird, Independent, and Proud” (1158 Bardstown Road) is another mural to add to your list. It’s right down the street from Spirit of the Highlands, and it’s so large you won’t be able to miss it!

THE SEELBACH HOTEL

From the moment you step into the Seelbach Hilton (a historic hotel in downtown Louisville), you feel as though you’ve stepped into an old metropolitan hotel in Paris. Its French Renaissance design lends perfectly for photos… and their famous grand staircase looks as though it’s out of a fairytale!

Venture underground and you’ll find their “Rathskeller”, which features magnificent archways and intricate details, making for a perfect photo opp. Spend some time researching the history too, as it’s had its share of notable visitors, like Al Capone and F. Scott Fitzgerald!

HELL OR HIGH WATER

You may find it odd that a speakeasy is on this list, but one look inside Hell or High Water and you’ll understand why it made the list. Make a reservation in advance (you can do so here), and we suggest making it for when they first open, at 4pm. Chances are you’ll have the place (at least mostly) to yourself, and you’ll be able to get some prime pictures as you explore the the surprisingly spacious underground bar. Just try not to disturb anyone, and make sure you order one of their fabulous cocktails (or two)!

VICTORIAN HOMES

Did you know that Louisville has the biggest collection of historic Victorian houses in the US? Well, now you do! These restored, colorful homes are extraordinary on their own, and some of our favorites were located in the Old Louisville neighborhood! Head south on 3rd Street, and after crossing over Broadway you’ll be in an area that used to be known as “Millionaire’s Row”. You’ll quickly know why… enjoy!

PLEASE & THANK YOU

So much more than a traditional coffee shop, Please & Thank You has some of the most Instagrammable backdrops in town! Grab a seat on their cozy leather couch that sits in front of a colorful tiled wall, or venture to the room next door that has bright blue retro bench seating. It’s sure to add the perfect pop of color to anyone’s IG feed!

48 Hours in Louisville

When you think of Louisville, Kentucky, chances are you think of the world famous Kentucky Derby. This legendary horse race run at Churchill Downs has put this town on the map, but it’s just one of their many attractions. Louisville is home to incredible culture, museums, restaurants, distilleries, and so much more. While you could easily spend a week in this booming town, 48 hours is enough time to be charmed and dazzled - and leave wanting more.

Here’s what we think you should do, if you only have the weekend in Louisville:

FRIDAY

EVENING

Kick off your weekend with dinner at Neighborhood Services, one of Louisville's newest culinary hot spots. They take a modern twist on old Kentucky favorites, like “Hot Brown Tots”, “BBQ’d Shrimp & Cheddar Grits”, and their signature “NHS Fried Chicken Sandwich”. Wash it all down with some Kentucky Bourbon or one of their house cocktails (we loved the Barrel Aged Old Fashioned), and you’re off to a great start!

If you’re in the mood for another drink, walk a couple blocks down to the Haymarket Whiskey Bar, where you’ll find one of the most extensive whiskey lists in town (nearly 400 whiskeys, and 250 bourbons)! Set in a building that dates back to 1885, this lively bar is a favorite among locals, and has been named a top whiskey bar by Thrillist and Travel + Leisure.

STAY

Located in the heart of the downtown, Omni Louisville is our pick for a central and stylish place to stay. From the grand and opulent lobby of this 612-room luxury hotel, to the spacious rooms and stunning rooftop pool, it’s an urban oasis. Not to mention they’re home to some incredible restaurants (including Neighborhood Services) and even a speakeasy bowling alley (but we’ll share more about that later)!

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SATURDAY

MORNING

Louisville knows good coffee, and one of the best spots in town for a strong cappuccino or oat milk latte is Please & Thank You. It’s the perfect pick me up after a night on the town, and the eclectic ambiance doesn’t hurt either! (We suggest grabbing one of their famous chocolate cookies for later, too.)

Across the street from Please & Thank You is Wild Eggs, a breakfast institution that’s famous for their egg dishes (obviously) and decadent breakfast options. Grab a table or a spot at their circular breakfast bar, and be sure to try their “Everything Muffin”, it’s like the bagel - but better!

No trip to Louisville is complete without a visit to Churchill Downs, even if it isn’t racing season! The Kentucky Derby Museum gives a comprehensive look at the history of the Kentucky Derby, through hands-on exhibits, a 360 degree video experience, and a walking tour around the property. You’ll leave inspired and in awe of this iconic sport, and if you’re like us, you’ll be adding the Kentucky Derby to your bucket list!

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AFTERNOON

One of the newest distilleries in downtown Louisville is Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery. Their Discovery Tour is $20 and lasts about an hour, and gives guests the ability to see the whiskey production process first-hand, and enjoy a whiskey tasting and cocktail demonstration. Their facility is state-of-the-art, their guides are knowledgeable, and the whiskey is strong… what more could you want? (You can make a reservation in advance here.)

Just down the street is the Mussel & Burger Bar, where you can grab a late lunch of some of the finest burgers in town! We recommend the “C.E.O”, a burger topped with Gruyere cheese, truffle aioli, caramelized onions, baby arugula, and oven roasted tomatoes. It’s served with some of the largest fries we’ve ever seen - and it’s finger-lickin’ good!

Walk off your lunch with a tour of the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory - where you’ll learn about the history and the making of the famous Louisville Slugger Baseball Bats! You can hold bats used by baseball superstars like Mickey Mantle and Derek Jeter, see the world’s biggest bat, and take a swing for yourself in their batting cages!

EVENING

One of Louisville’s most iconic culinary specialties is the “Hot Brown”, and while many-a-restaurant serve it, the best and original Hot Brown sandwich can be found at The historic Brown Hotel. Their Lobby Bar is elegant and classy, and makes for the perfect setting to enjoy this classic comfort food. What’s a Hot Brown, you ask? It’s an open-faced turkey and bacon sandwich, baked in a heavenly Mornay sauce. It’s rich, and hearty, and the portions are large. We highly suggest sharing one!

Head back to the Omni Louisville for drinks and late night bowling at their in-house speakeasy, Pin & Proof. We won’t tell you where it is (that’s part of the fun), but we will say that they make a mean old fashioned. And it’s definitely one of the most unique and innovative bowling alleys we’ve seen in awhile!

SUNDAY

MORNING

Brunch and sunday morning is like peanut butter and jelly. It just makes sense. So start your Sunday morning at Porch Kitchen & Bar, where they dish up a delightful mix of decadent comfort food and fresh and healthy cuisine. Order a glass of the Lean Green to counteract their “Everything” Cake Donuts, and then try their Egg White Omelet or Quinoa & Green Veggie Scrambled Eggs… all of it is delicious!

Let your food settle for a bit, then make a b-line for the Louisville Mega Cavern, home to the world’s only fully underground zip line - the Mega Zip! You’ll fly through six underground zip lines, scale two challenge bridges, and learn the history of this man-made cavern. There’s over 17 miles of underground passageways deep beneath Louisville, and it’s truly a marvel to witness - especially by zip line!

AFTERNOON

Chances are you’ll have worked up an appetite after braving the Mega Zip, and we know the perfect spot! Indulge in some fried chicken and fixings at The Eagle, in the trendy and eclectic Highlands neighborhood. Make sure you try their Spoon Bread and Mac & Cheese, and if it’s a nice day, sit outside on their patio!

After you’re done with lunch, take a walk along the Highlands neighborhood, where you’ll find several murals, local bars and shops, and picturesque tree-lined streets with colorful (and historic) homes.

Make your way back to downtown Louisville, for an Old Forester Distillery Tour. Not only will you learn about their distilling and bottling process, you’ll also see first-hand how their oak barrels are made. And, of course, you’ll get to taste some of their award-winning craft bourbons for yourself! (You can make a reservation in advance here.)

EVENING

We can’t think of a better meal to end the weekend, then good ol’ Southern BBQ at Doc Crow’s! They have everything from BBQ ribs, brisket, collared greens, hushpuppies, grits, and more… and it’s a lively and casual environment no matter what night of the week it is! “The Perfect Old Fashioned” is not to be missed here, but make sure you save room for at least one more cocktail at...

Hell or High Water is a speakeasy located around the corner from Doc Crow’s, and it’s definitely worth a visit. Look for a small Curio Shop (there’s no signage), and knock on the door. You’ll be escorted into an underground labyrinth that will have you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time. It’s a cocktail experience unlike anything else in town, and reservations are strongly recommended. (You can do so here.)

This 48-hour itinerary is barely scratching the surface of all that there is to do in and around Louisville, but it’s a great place to start. Leave a comment and let us know what we’ve missed, and what we should do when we return!

Looking For Your Next Weekend Escape? Head to Idaho!

It’s prime ski/snowboard season. Your friends are heading to tourist-filled spots like Lake Tahoe and Breckenridge, but you’re looking for something different. Somewhere that’s accessible, but off the beaten path. Somewhere that has great food, stunning views, great skiing, but less crowds. Somewhere that truly feels like an ESCAPE. Well friends, we’ve got the perfect place for you.

Idaho.

More specifically, Boise and McCall. But shh… don’t tell too many people. Here’s why we love it:



IT’S EASY TO GET TO

If you’re based in Southern California (like we are), Boise is a dream to travel to. You can find 3+ daily nonstop flights out of LAX that will have you there in just over two hours. We left at 7:10 am, and we were sitting at our favorite Boise pizza spot for lunch (The Wylder - add it to your list). The ease of getting there gives you more time to explore and enjoy Boise!



BOISE IS UP-AND-COMING

Boise is COOL. Mark our words, this city is on the ups! From a thriving craft brewery scene (Woodland Empire, Cloud 9 Brewery, and Bittercreek Alehouse to name a few), to trendy, innovative restaurants (check out Diablo & Sons Saloon, Fork, and Capitol Cellars), to fun coffee shops (Form & Function was our favorite), lush parks (Camel’s Back Park has panoramic views of the city), historic buildings with stunning architecture (the Boise Train Depot is a MUST), and more! We stayed at the Inn at 500 Capitol, a lovely hotel that has comfortable (and quirky) rooms with a ton of great food options within walking distance. We definitely needed more time in Boise to sample more of the restaurants and breweries… next time!

Woodland Empire has some great beer!

Get the burger at Diablo & Sons. You’re welcome.

Form & Function has some yummy coffee!

Camel’s Back Park looking out over Boise

The view from the Boise Depot. Go to the top of the bell tower!

Inn at 500 Capitol


MCCALL IS A SNOWBIRD’S DREAM

McCall is one of those little mountain towns that we’ll be raving about for awhile. It’s quaint and rural and stunningly beautiful… and it’s an easy 2-hour drive from Boise! Because it’s relatively under the radar, it’s rarely crowded, and they have snowboard/skiing terrain for all ages and skill levels at the nearby Brundage Mountain Resort. If snowshoeing or cross-country skiing is more your style, there are plenty of tree-lined trails around Ponderosa State Park.

Exploring Ponderosa State Park by snowshoe

We had fun :)


YOU CAN SNOWMOBILE TO RUSTIC HOT SPRINGS

We went on a full-day snowmobile excursion with Brundage Mountain Resort that might have been the highlight of our entire trip. We rode snowmobiles for over 80 miles of snow-covered hills and trails. It was breathtaking. We stopped at the rustic Burgdorf Hot Springs, which is only accessible by snowmobiles in the winter months. We soaked, we ate, and we marveled at the views… Words honestly don’t do justice to this incredible place, so we’ll let the pictures do the talking.

In our opinion, it’s worth a trip to Idaho just for this experience.

Here’s Alli pushing the pace. She wants to get to the hot springs!


IT’S INCREDIBLY ROMANTIC

I mean, Burgdorf Hot Springs ALONE is incredibly romantic. Beyond that, the Shore Lodge in McCall is perfect for a couple’s getaway. It sits right on Payette Lake, the rooms are spacious and luxurious, and they’re home to one of the best restaurants in Idaho, The Narrows. We had the dreamiest date night there, sipping on craft cocktails, dining on Double R Prime Beef Wet Aged New York Striploin (melt-in-your-mouth delicious), and ended the night with s’mores by the Shore Lodge’s outdoor bonfire. Does it get any more romantic than that?!

Big, cozy room with a view!

Payette Lake with a winter coat :)

Bobby likes the fireball, while Alli is a slow toaster


IT’S AFFORDABLE

Because McCall isn’t commercialized, it’s significantly more affordable than other popular ski towns. You’ll find lakeview rooms at the Shore Lodge for a fraction of the price of other places. When it comes to dining, restaurants in McCall are reasonably priced and almost all are family owned and operated.

Boise too, is just as reasonable - with hotels, dining, and breweries offering cheap deals and incentives. (Take advantage of it before the word gets out!) You can find nonstop flights to Boise out of LAX for under $200, making the whole trip totally attainable.

We need views like this more often!


So, what are you waiting for?! Idaho is calling! Head to visitidaho.org for more travel inspiration, as the options to explore and adventure are endless in this stunning state. Leave a comment and let us know which part of Idaho we should explore next!