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New Orleans has the deepest and most unique culture of any city in the United States, hands down.  The only outsider New Orleans really has to fear is Mother Nature – and maybe oil companies.  Neither have managed to extinguish the Big Easy's lovely, peculiar flame just yet.  On the same token, the flood of tourists who visit each year tend to barely scratch the surface, and generally end up staying within their assigned districts.  They drink their hurricanes, toss their beads, and adopt ridiculous Margaret Mitchell accents.  Boy, are they missing out on a whole lot.  The entire city is a fantastic place to explore, not just the old French Quarter.

But even in the Quarter there are some overlooked spots.  While the great majority of foot traffic tends to congregate around Bourbon Street and Jackson Square, most people never get to fully appreciate Rampart Street.  Marking the Quarter's border with pretty much the rest of the city, the shops along Rampart are geared as much toward natives as they are toward tourists.  Nowhere does blues and jazz history run so deep.  J&M studios, where many of the greatest seminal R&B recordings were made, is right on the corner of Rampart and Dumaine.  Ray Charles, Lee Dorsey, Dr John, Fats Domino, and Little Richard all cut some of their best records here, including Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti."  A little ways south on Rampart, across Canal St. and away from the Quarter, is the old Eagle Saloon building, widely considered the birthplace of jazz.

Another place to check out if you're young and adventurous is the Dragon's Den on Esplanade, just off the Quarter.  The Den is one of the more interesting music and drinking joints in town, dedicated seemingly to every alternative lifestyle extant.  Sunday night in particular is great for people-watching; just don't let any of the vampires bite you.  The downstairs is a super-chill cafĂ©, offering sundry vegetarian items.  If you get a late night hankering for po'boys, the singular, indescribable Quartermaster is just a couple of blocks from here, and well worth the few bucks you drop on a massive sandwich.

Another fun excursion down here is riding the streetcars over on Canal St.  This is the perfect way to familiarize yourself with the whole area, and also great if you're just looking for a random jaunt.  Once you've gotten away from the tourists, and sit and listen to the locals, you'll hear some of the strangest, prettiest accents you've ever heard.  There are actually several different native dialects spoken here.  Some parts of the city, people sound like they're from Brooklyn.  The more famous French-Creole lilt is indeed prevalent, although each generation it wanes just a bit more.

Music is so important to New Orleans, it's like a language of its own.  The best known musical venue to outsiders is Preservation Hall.  But the savvy pilgrim would do well to make a stop and see what is being created at the Maple Leaf Bar, in the Uptown neighborhood of Carrolton.  Ironically situated on Oak St., the Maple Leaf probably has the most vital music scene in the entire city, if not the region.  Super-famous musicians have been known to drop in, including Bruce Springsteen and Bonnie Raitt occasionally.  A real treat at the Leaf is the Rebirth Brass Band, gigging every Tuesday Night.  Rebirth combines, Jazz, Second Line parade style, R&B, and Hip Hop into a very unique and fun style.  You'll feel like a genius when you avoid the drunken throngs and enjoy New Orleans' scene like a local.

Visit the New Orleans Hotels page for more information.