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Seven Distinctive Museums Not to Miss in (and Near) New Orleans' French Quarter

Vibrant, quirky and intriguing are three words that sum up New Orleans' French Quarter.

Where else but in the French Quarter can you enjoy fresh beignets and café au lait while people-watching, imbibe at the oldest structure used as a bar in the United States and dine in a restaurant with a table set for their ghost, all within a day.

And that's just a tiny sampling of the experiences awaiting you.

Beyond the restaurants, shopping and music venues, the culturally diverse district offer a wide variety of museums like the Cabildo, The Presbytere, Historic New Orleans Collection and others that help tell the story of New Orleans. The further you venture into the French Quarter, you'll discover smaller museums that provide insight into the personality and flavor of both the Quarter and New Orleans.

The Germaine Cazenave Wells Mardi Gras Museum on the second floor of Arnaud's Restaurant highlights the pageantry of Mardi Gras.

Named after the daughter of Count Arnaud, the museum features over two dozen elaborate costumes, including 13 of Mrs. Wells' queen costumes and some of her family's outfits. Also on display are vintage photographs, Carnival masks, krewe invitations, and much more.

In the 1800s, New Orleans resident, Louis Joseph Dufilho, Jr., became the first licensed pharmacist in the country. Today, his former residence and apothecary shop have been turned into the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum. The multi-level Creole townhouse highlights pharmaceutical and medical practices from the 19th century.

On the first floor, the extensive collection includes tonics, elixirs, leech jars, voodoo potions and crude surgical instruments. Be sure to check out the 1885 soda fountain. Enjoy the courtyard before heading up to the second floor.

Once upstairs, check out the sick room and a physician study. Also on view is Dr. J. William Rosenthal's Spectacles Collection and other medical-related items.

If you aren't paying attention, it's easy to walk right by Bevolo Gas and Electric Lights Museum. However, if you don't stop in, you're missing out.

For over 70 years, the family-owned business has hand-crafted gas lights and fixtures, many of which decorate buildings throughout the French Quarter. The museum-slash-workshop provides panels detailing the company's evolution, and you can chat with and watch coppersmiths at work.

Voodoo is entwined in New Orleans' culture, much like jazz music. The New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum delves into the mystique that surrounds the practice.

Within this intimate venue, learn about those who practiced and their influences. Step into the gris-gris room, view authentic altars, including Marie Laveau's and more.

Dating back to the mid-1700s, the Old Ursuline Convent Museum is the oldest building in the Mississippi Valley and the oldest surviving example of the French colonial period in the United States. It served as a home to the French Ursuline Nuns, an orphanage, and a school for girls.

Today, it is part of the Archdiocese of New Orleans Catholic Cultural Heritage Center, along with St. Louis Cathedral and St. Anthony's Garden.

Beyond the formal gardens, the museum features paintings and statues of religious figures, a hand-crafted cypress staircase, and exhibits on the convent's history. Don't miss the courtyard and herb garden in the back.

Like many homes in New Orleans, Beauregard-Keyes House and Garden Museum, across the street from the Old Ursuline Convent Museum, has its share of stories, including being a site of a mafia shoot-out in the early 1900s.

The dwelling, completed in 1826, is named after two of its more notable residents, New Orleans native Confederate General Pierre Gustave Toutant (P.G.T.) Beauregard, who ordered the first shots of the Civil War fired on Fort Sumter, South Carolina, in April 1861, rented the house after the Civil War, 1866-68; and author Frances Parkinson Keyes used it as her winter home from the 1950s - 70s and was instrumental in its renovation. She completed some works here, including Dinner at Antoine's.

The interior reflects the period when the General and his family lived here, with some furnishings and pieces acquired from the Beauregard family. Also on display are various collections, like antique dolls, of Keyes. Finally, don't overlook the garden, which reflects its 1865 design.

Not too far from the French Quarter, in the Central Business District, is the American Italian Museum.

Located inside the American Italian Cultural Center, this hidden gem walks you through the history and culture of Italian-Americans who immigrated to New Orleans and the Southeast.

Learn about their contributions to jazz, the local culinary scene (Angelo Brocato's and Central Grocery), the medical field and more. Plenty of photographs and new articles complement the exhibits. See the St. Joseph altar display and read up on the tradition.


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