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 Black Girl Magic, 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 as the brand celebrates its 25th anniversary!

I’ve attended Essence for over five years and every year I get asked these 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? And the city for the day parties? 

Essence Music Festival is such a special gathering for me. Each year I look forward creating new memories with my girls, reconnecting with friends in the media industry, checking out icons in music and entertainment and getting a first look at the buzz worthy new-comers that grace the many festival stages of the convention center and SuperDome.

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. So let’s dive in. 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 is always 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 than 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 is in effect. 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! With this years lineup, I have a feeling you’ll be dancing the nights away!
  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 to make things easier for everybody.
  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. Plus, brands like Coca-Cola, Verizon, Ford, McDonalds and more have grand experiences for you all the enjoy all day. Give yourself at least 4 hours at the convention center 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 has some of the most delicious food in the world.  From the famous s French quarter to the popular ninth ward, you’ll have plenty of options for that soulful creale cooking. Of course you MUST have beignets at Cafe Du Monde, and YES to oysters at the Acme Oyster House (reminder to make a reservation). Here are a few more not to miss options.

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

  1. Dooky Chase restaurant. For a classic taste of NOLA, often made by Mrs. Leah Chase herself, you’ll want to stop 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 or Will and Jada)  savoring every bite too.
  2. Brennan’s for upscale Creole vibe. 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. Trenasse: Seriously good eating is all you need to know! 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, Trenasse 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 and R&B. During festival season, you can often catch up and coming artists on those smaller stages making names for themselves too.
  • La Muse’e of Free People. New Orleans history is unique and special and globally recognized. One of the most incredible experiences for me at last year’s festival was a visit to the Museum of Free People of Color. Hundreds of years of history stare you in the face. It’s a great chance to get perspective on what many went through in the pursuit of freedom that we enjoy today.

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. Make sure to book your group tour in advance as they tend to be booked during Essence and pack your sage in case you need to cleanse that ora after.
  • A New Orleans swamp tour: A trip down the famous Mississippi is always a good idea. Relive your Girls Trip moment but be sure to 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 if you love vintage shopping and trinkets. I love popping into the many shops and picking up creole seasoning and hot sauces.

With the Creole capitol celebrating its 300th anniversary and Essence Festival celebrating its 25th year, this July is sure to be a memorable one. So gather your girls and get ready for an incredible experience. NewOrleans is always ready to crack the crawfish open and welcome you with open arms. Cheers and enjoy Essence to the fullest and bring back those memories to last you a lifteme!

Written by Vanessa James. All opinions are my own.


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