With its imposing, slate-gray façade, the 170-year-old U.S. Custom House may be the last building in which you’d expect to hear the delighted squeals of children. But behind the steely columns, the building erupts into 23,000 square feet of colorful displays and fluttering, scuttling insects, courtesy of the Audubon Society and Insectarium. In the Asian garden, hundreds of butterflies dodge shafts of sunlight to alight on tropical ferns and the shoulders of young visitors. And at the Insects of New Orleans gallery, visitors can ogle the pink katydids, cockroaches, and lovebugs that contribute to the city’s heritage.
These bug-filled displays are all part of the insectarium’s mission to conserve Louisiana’s indigenous species and inspire stewardship in its visitors. While adults can sate their curiosity with the vast array of exotic species, curators gear many displays toward young guests by making them lighthearted and interactive: the Field Camp’s entomologist answers questions about how to collect bugs or break up flea-circus strikes, and at Bug Appétit, chefs dole out insect-filled delicacies to adventurous palates.
Preservation is as much a priority as presentation at LeMieux Galleries, which is why the displays that the shop crafts from thousands of frames and acid-free mats often involve leaving a buffer of air between delicate paintings and glass. Framers there ensure that stolen copies of the Declaration of Independence can be secretly enjoyed for generations to come with their careful framing techniques, which can preserve the natural edge of paper and safeguard the stitches of antique needlework. In more than a quarter century in the business, the store has displayed everything from souvenir magazines to jerseys within their frames, the styles of which range from sleek contemporary to the ornate gold moulding that grows unbidden in French palaces. LeMieux Galleries also exhibits sculptures, paintings, and ceramics by artists from the Gulf South.
Starting at the elegant white columns at the New Orleans African American Museum, the Tremé walking tour shepherds groups of up to 23 wanderers through the culturally significant neighborhood. For two hours every Monday, Friday, and Saturday, guests traipse through 300 years of richly saturated history, learning more effectively than sipping the contents of a blender full of history textbooks. Patrons tread across original handmade bricks that cover the ground in parts of one of the oldest African American communities. They also meander through Congo Square and St. Augustine Church as the knowledgeable guide sprinkles in anecdotes about the rise of jazz, creole architecture, and the New Orleans civil-rights movement.
Bursting from the retro ambience of a refurbished art-deco movie theater, the renowned hand-blown-glass art studio boasts a multihued array of gaffer-made accoutrements. Keep wine from escaping on a post-party spree with a decorative bottlestopper ($62), a hand-crafted sculpture complete with elegant metal fitting designed to hold in liquid and libation secrets. Showcase seasonal candies or secret-admirer notes in a fluted dish ($65), available in intricate designs of blue, salmon, white, and more. The New Orleans paperweight adds personality to desks and gravity to astronaut homework with the classic Big Easy fleur de lis etched in a heart shape atop a round paper anchor ($50). For a romantic shimmer, check out the pointed oil candle with a stand, a teardrop-shaped candle perched in a three-pronged mini-tripod that imbues romance with long-lasting light ($50), similar to a triple showing of Gremlins under an Alaskan summer sky.
Spend a day discovering the cuisine and culture of the South to build up your appetite before letting loose in one of the greatest food cities in the world. Whether you’re entertaining out-of-town guests or earning your foodie merit badge, the museum’s permanent collection of exhibits allows you to explore the myriad tastes and traditions unique to southern food. The Louisiana Eats! Laissez Faire-Savoir Fare exhibit chronicles the evolution of the region's flavors over time, while the Eating in the White House exhibit exposes the inner workings and dining habits of first mansion residents throughout history. Recently opened exhibits, such as SPOILED, which tells the tearful photographic tale of post-Katrina refrigerators, and an upcoming exhibit celebrating the history and heritage of the hurricane cocktail keep the museum's content as fresh as a butter-melting biscuit.