Above is my official recap video of this year’s Essence Festival, specifically my time at the convention center where a lot of the magic took place. Hope you enjoy and I’ll be sharing more experiences very soon from my time at Essence.



All around the country this week, girlfriends are on FaceTime, in group texts and on the gram getting their plans together for what’s sure to be an epic week of togetherness and celebration in the Big Easy. Y’all saw the movie Girls Trip, you know what’s up! It’s Essence Festival time in New Orleans and we’re gearing up for what’s sure to be one of the best festivals yet! Every year I get the questions:

  • What day do you all get into New Orleans?
  • Where are you staying?
  • Girl, what you wearing for the day parties?
  • Where are we going to eat?
  • What nights are we hitting the Superdome for the concerts? 

Essence Music Festival is such a special gathering for me. Each year I look forward creating new memories with my girls, checking out icons in music and entertainment, plus the buzz worthy new-comers that grace the many festival stages is such a sweet bonus.

After enjoying Essence over the last few years I wanted to share my guide map on how to get the most out of your experience. First, let’s talk travel. Here’s what to pack and what to leave at home: 

  1. Pack light clothes and comfortable shoes. Let’s be honest people, that New Orleans sun in July is not a game. Temperatures can reach the high 90’s and it can be very humid. Pack your sunblock, moisturizer and at least 3 pairs of shoes. Wedges are always a good idea for the day parties but sandals, light sneakers are a better bet if you plan on doing a lot of walking in the city. If you’re near downtown New Orleans, walking can often be a better option ubers and taxis, which can be backed up (especially to and from the Superdome). So be prepared to walk and move about the city comfortably. One pair of stilettos max for this trip.
  2. The two outfits per day rule. Like I mentioned above, that heat and humidity in New Orleans can be brutal. Give yourself two outfits options per day and keep your outfits light and breezy. Bright and trendy works great for day events and parties, but the Superdome concerts at night, I always opt for something comfy and cute that I can dance in!
  3. Extra Cash: many hotels and restaurants prefer cash, especially if you’re traveling with a large group versus breaking up the bill, so have some spare dinero handy just in case.
  4. Pack your patience: lines can get long at the convention center for some of the most sought after celebs coming to speak and share their knowledge. Not to mention brands like Coca-Cola, Verizon, Ford, McDonalds and more have grand experiences for you all the enjoy. Give yourself 4 hours at the convention center (at a minimum) to get a true experience and don’t fuss if the lines are longer than you expected. (great time to make new friends).
  5. A good attitude. Plain and simple; Essence is a getaway that many wait and save all year to enjoy. The worst situation you can have is a friend in a not so good mood that can affect the mood of your entire crew. A good attitude goes a long way in New Orleans, trust me.
  6. Vitamins and medicine. All those creole flavors can sometimes do a-number on your stomach (real talk). Pack your vitamins and any necessary pain medicine that you would normally bring on a vacation. You don’t wanna be that girl leaving the party early, but if you must, at least you’re prepared and your girls can still have a good time too.
  7. Protection. Yup, I went there. For some reason, hormones and testosterone levels tend to be elevated during Essence. LOL. Do yourself a favor (especially if you’re on the hunt or open to meeting an #EssenceBae for the weekend) and pack your own protection. Let’s be smart and take care of us first.

Where to eat: New Orleans literally has hundred of little food nooks to enjoy on every corner of the famous French quarter and other wards. Of course you should have beignets at Cafe Du Monde, and YES to oysters at the Acme Oyster House (reminder to make a reservation).

I highly recommend these off the beaten path eateries that are so worth the extra time.

  1. Dooky Chase restaurant. For a good ole southern meal, often made by Mrs. Leah Chase herself, you’ll want to head here. Dookie Chase is famous for its southern fried chicken, fried okra and red beans and rice and you can often spot a celeb or two (like Boris and Nicole, a real housewife and Will and Jada) who all have eaten at the famous nook.
  2. Brennan’s for upscale Creole cuisine. The best red beans and rice and shrimp and grits in my opinion (but you can judge for yourself). Brennan’s is a great spot to gather after a long day at the convention center. Heads up, you have to make a reservation.
  3. Trenasee: Seriously good eating! I had dinner with friends a few years back and I can still taste the savory garlic shrimp and grits and bread pudding. A bit on the pricier end, Trenassee is better than you heard. For more good eaten locations, click here. 

Must Do’s:

  • A jazz show at Irvin Mayfield’s playhouse. With so many jazz houses in and around the city, you can get your fill on live jazz, soul and blues. During festival season, you can often catch up and coming R&B artists on those smaller stages making names for themselves too.
  • La Muse’e of Free People. New Orleans history is unique and special. One of the most incredible experiences for me at last year’s festival was a visit to the museums of free people. Hundreds of years of history stare you in the face. It’s a good chance to get perspective on what many went through in the pursuit of freedom.

Enjoying a mardi gras style brunch and history lesson at the LA Musee (museum of Free People of Color) in New Orleans last year.

  • A New Orleans ghost tour: Best to do it at night (not my cup of tea), ghost tours have become very popular to take. Make sure to book your group tour in advance as they tend to be booked during July.
  • A New Orleans swamp tour: A trip down the famous Mississippi is always a good idea. Pack your mosquito repellent and wear sneakers or closed toe shoes for this one.
  • New Orleans style street party: you can catch Mardi Gras style street parties all up and down the Bourbon and Poydras street during the festival. See more here.
  • Shopping: A stroll down magazine street is always a good idea of you love vintage shopping and trinkets.

With the Creole capitol celebrating its 300th anniversary, Essence Festival is sure to be a memorable one. Gather your girls and get ready for an incredible experience. I’ll be there with my Cafe Mocha Radio family, sharing content alongside #VisitNewOrleans. See ya’ll in the NOLA. Let’s have some fun! 

Written by Vanessa James. All opinions are my own.

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