5 things you need to know about ESSENCE Festival

Updated: Jul 18, 2019

Who saw Girls Trip? Raise your daiquiri! I watched the movie and I think it gave a new, but a not fully accurate depiction of the now 25-year-old Essence Fest!

The food, the energy and the magic that is New Orleans make for a very interesting and unforgettable time! If you have ever thought about attending, I highly suggest you do at least once. It is a beautiful celebration of our culture and essence (pun intended). Essence Fest is time consuming and a lot of fun! It can be difficult to attend and do all the things it has to offer if you don’t plan ahead. Every year they add another layer to the experience and it can be overwhelming. I attended this year for the fourth time (yes, I enjoy it that much) and I have some tips that I feel will help you master your first (or second) Essence Fest.

Stay as close to the action as possible.

This was my biggest takeaway from this year. In the past, I have lodged within walking distance of Bourbon St., the convention center, and the Superdome.

This year I stayed in Mid City. It provided that peace and quiet from all the action every night, but required either a 30+ minute streetcar ride or a rideshare service to get to my destination on time and not glistening. I would have loved to take the streetcar, but when you leave the convention center at 4:30 or have an early dinner, taking the streetcar back to your hotel or Airbnb during rush hour was not the business. So, my suggestion is to stay within the Central Business District, near Frenchmen Street or if you’re bold and bad, right off Bourbon St.

Expert tip: Don’t wait until March to start looking for hotels. Look now! Making the right accommodations is that serious!

1. Plan out your itinerary - and leave room for adjustments

There will inevitably be things you have to do. You should definitely make time for those items. As I mentioned earlier, Essence Fest is has a lot of moving parts, but it is worth it. It can become difficult to attend all the seminars, talks and free performances in the convention center and attend all the Essence related parties and events around the city, then make it for the concerts at the Superdome that begin at; especially if you have never been to New Orleans. My suggestion? Figure out your nonnegotiable and then leave room to go with the flow on the rest. You will feel less pressure to do it all and will be less tired in the end.

Expert tip: Check out Eventbrite closer to the date to look into the nighttime happenings, as well as Essence Fest associated day parties.

2. Come early, stay late

After four years, I have found my groove. EssenceFest takes place Friday through Sunday after or around the 4th of July. My travel itinerary had me arriving into New Orleans Thursday and leaving late Monday or Tuesday. You may think that is a very long time, but there is a reason. Since there will be so much going on connected to the Essence, coming in the day before and leaving after it is over allows you the ability to have somewhat smaller crowds and enjoy some of the offerings of the city. You can do plantation tours (experience the history - go see the Whitney plantation), swamp and city tours, and finally leisurely eat all the food. Flights may also be cheaper. More money for food and daiquiris!

3. Sandals, Sunblock and Skin

It’s too humid and hot to not have your toes out and shoulders out and not protected by sunblock. Yes, we should wear sunblock as well. Essence Fest is like a mini fashion show, so get creative with your outfits, but be comfortable. You will be walking a lot, dealing with large crowds and may not always be able to get back to the shower to freshen up. Need recommendations on sunblocks and ways to keep your skin flawless while strutting down Bourbon St.? See our post on summer skincare here.

4. Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate!

Drink that water. As soon as you get in, find the nearest store and stock up. The later it gets in the day, the less cold water will be available in the convenient stores around Canal and Bourbon St. Carry your own if you can, or just always have some in your room.

5. New Orleans = Seafood

I know some people are allergic to shellfish or don’t like seafood at all. It’s everywhere and in so many dishes all over the city, so if you don’t like it, find some restaurants that will be able to keep you fed

BONUS! -- Assemble the perfect squad

If you have friends who don’t like being hot; or walking around a lot; or don’t really drink and will judge you for having SEVERAL daiquiris; or have to stick to a predetermined schedule; or have something to say about anything and everything - please reconsider traveling to Essence with them. This type of trip requires a fluid and flexible mindset, as well as lots of patience. Go with people who are a little more understanding that sometimes, stuff doesn’t always go as planned. You’re there to have fun, not be stressed out.

OK! You know WAY more than I did when I began to tackle the beast that is EssenceFest. I perfect my trip each time I go and I hope that you will be better prepared if you decide to go.

Have you ever been to Essence Fest? What tips do you have? Hope to see you on Bourbon sis!