We’re not all beach people. Some of us actually prefer rainy skies to sunny days. If that describes you and you’re looking for a place to stay in San Diego that prioritizes wrought iron over beach cabanas, then the Britt Scripps Inn might just be for you. The Victorian San Diego hotel resides in the uptown Banker’s Hill neighborhood, placing it close to the airport and downtown and within walking distances of one of San Diego’s most iconic sites, Balboa Park.
Dating back to 1887, the historic property seems to have maintained much of its original splendor. While you will find a modern travel brochure rack in the lobby and a few plastic chairs in the garden, everything else about the hotel feels like stepping back in time.
One of the building’s most striking features is the staircase, flanked by a tryptic stained glass window. Each section of the window seems to represent a different time of day: morning, midday, and evening.
Each room is different, with different decor and color schemes. We stayed in the Balboa, which is the largest of the rooms and includes a small balcony. From the light fixtures to the claw footed bathtub to the carved wooden armoire, the details of the room are delightful.
A few things to note if you’re planning a visit: the hotel is actually rather small, and functions more like a bed and breakfast than traditional hotel. You won’t find ice machines, vending machines, minibars, mini-fridges, an exercise room or room service. There is heating and air conditioning, and I found the room to be pretty quiet. There’s also a made-to-order breakfast which is included with your stay, though if you’re like me and don’t go to bed until the wee hours, you’ll sleep past the breakfast cut-off time of 9:30 a.m.
For my next stay, I’m definitely going to have to book the Gothic Room. It wasn’t available during my recent stay, but it looks positively dreamy!
New Orleans is one of the few cities in the United States where you can tell a stranger that your travel plans include visiting several cemeteries and no one will bat an eye. In fact, the city’s many cemeteries are some of its most popular tourist attractions. It’s both in spite of and because of this popularity that it can be hard to figure out which cemeteries you can visit and which you can’t.
Websites and social media are chock full of photos for just about every cemetery in New Orleans, but don’t take this as a sign that you can easily pop into Odd Fellows Rest to stage your own photo shoot. Because of crime and vandalism, some of the city’s cemeteries are actually off limits these days. A few are only accessible to tour groups. The guides for these groups actually have to register with the city, and guards monitor who comes in and out with each group. The tours usually require reservations, too, so spontaneity won’t do you much good.
With all these restrictions, planning my tour of Nola’s cemeteries required a lot more legwork than I expected. Save yourself the headache and start your planning by visiting Save Our Cemeteries, a non-profit dedicated to the preservation of New Orleans’ historic cemeteries. Of all the sites I visited, this one has the most up-to-date information on which cemeteries are currently open to the public, what their open hours are, and whether or not a tour guide is required to access them.
Lafayette Cemetery #1
Located in the heart of the Garden District, Lafayette Cemetery #1 is one of the easiest to access. Of the three cemeteries that I visited, this one felt the most European. Surrounded on nearly all sides by trees, the grounds are quite green and somewhat overgrown with weeds. Ferns spring forth from cracks in damaged tombs down every aisle.
Save our Cemeteries works to preserve these aging tombs, and families are expected to care for their loved ones’ and ancestors’ tombs, but the crumbling facades in various stages of repair and disrepair do offer a glimpse into how the tombs were constructed, how the dead were preserved, and what goes into keeping these monuments intact.
St. Louis Cemetery #1
St. Louis #1 is probably the most famous of the city’s many cemeteries, likely due to its notable residents like Homer Plessy (and one very out-of-place and not-yet-used tomb belonging to the actor Nicolas Cage). Because of vandalism, this one of the cemeteries that you can only visit as part of a supervised tour with a registered tour guide. There are plenty of companies that offer tours, ranging from historic to campy. While the vampire and voodoo stories of New Orleans fascinate me, I prefer to hear the history behind the lore rather than indulge in sensationalism. The New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau recommended Historic New Orleans Tours, and as the name promised, our guide was knowledgeable on history and quick to dispel myths and misconceptions, particularly when it came to Voodoo.
Marie Laveau‘s tomb is a big draw for tourists. I didn’t really know much about the legend of Marie Laveau, known as the “Voodoo Queen of New Orleans,” assuming that 99 percent of what I’d read on the internet would be more fiction than truth.
As you can see, lots of visitors like to leave offerings at her tomb (many think that it brings luck), but our guide insisted that this was actually a little disrespectful. He pointed out that a true Voodoo offering should reflect the person to whom it is offered. The hairbands could be seen as true offerings, since Marie Laveau worked for many years as a hair dresser, but the rest (like the Mardi Gras beads) were essentially like leaving trash in front of her tomb. Our guide went on to talk a lot about Voodoo and its connection to both Catholicism and the city’s history. If you’re at all interested in the truths behind this practice in New Orleans, rather than the superstitions and myths, this is a great tour to take.
St. Roch Cemetery
While Lafayette #1 teemed with green and Old World vibes, St. Louis #1 was something of a densely packed city within a city. St. Roch Cemetery was altogether different from both. Most of the tombs are much lower to the ground, and a good number of tombstones line the surrounding walls. Many guide books are quick to point out that visiting cemeteries in New Orleans isn’t always super safe. Some advise caution around cemeteries near “high crime” neighborhoods. More than a few sources point out the St. Louis #1 is near a housing project, so tourists should be cautious walking to and from it. Personally, I felt quite safe on the way to and from St. Louis #1, but we were walking with a tour guide who knew the streets well. My visit to St. Roch did give me the slightest unease though. While it’s not far from the Bywater, a gentrifying neighborhood, St. Roch cemetery is certainly on the outskirts of any areas that tourists frequent. Along the way, I passed several houses that still bore the “X-code” marks of Katrina. Once there, you do feel quite isolated. I’d advise not going alone and visiting during daylight hours.
One of the biggest draws at St. Roch is the chapel. In the 14th century, St. Roch ministered to victims of the plague. Because of the legend surrounding his healing powers, visitors to the chapel over the centuries have left a variety of oddities as offerings (everything from glass eyes to prosthetic limbs), hoping their offerings would lead St. Roch to heal their ailments.
Having only 3 full days in New Orleans, I only visited 3 cemeteries, but each one was remarkable different. And there are many, many more left to see…something to bring me back for a future visit.
Do you have a favorite New Orleans cemetery, or tips for visiting? Share it in the comments below!
Tucked into a residential pocket of San Diego’s upscale Mission Hills neighborhood, there’s a sunny neighborhood park that’s home to an unexpectedly spooky surprise. Once a cemetery, Pioneer Park today is a prime spot for families to gather for a barbecue or for residents to play a game a fetch with their dogs, but look beyond the playground equipment in the southeast corner of the park to see what really makes this park unique: dozens of historic tombstones and grave markers.
In the later half of the 19th century, this modest plot of land served as a Catholic cemetery and remained so for a century. Hundreds of San Diegans were laid to rest here (estimates range from 800 to more than 4,000 people were buried here), including members of several of the city’s most notable families. But by the 1970s, the cemetery had fallen into disrepair and the city moved to turn the land into a community park. The bodies were left in their graves beneath the ground, but the majority of the tombstones were cleared out, save for a few beautiful rows at the park’s edge, which remained as a memorial.
With arching pepper trees and eucalyptus encircling the park, the corner with these remaining tombstones makes for a lovely picnic spot. If you go late at night, you might find local teens hanging out, imbibing in illegal substances, but on a sunny afternoon, it’s the perfect respite from San Diego’s bustling beaches.
Tucked into an unassuming little stone house on East Main Street, the Edgar Allan Poe Museum is a delightful little hidden gem in Richmond, Virginia. Opened in 1922, the museum has gathered art and artifacts from Poe’s life and presented them in the many rooms of this charming old home.
Though Poe did live in Richmond for a period of his life, he never actually lived in this particular house. Sadly, as the museum staff can tell you, all of the original buildings that Poe and his family resided in have since been torn down.
The collection ranges from Poe’s childhood bed and articles of his clothing to daguerreotypes of relatives and artistic renderings of the author. While the main house may look small from the outside, several buildings encircling a garden all hold bits of the collection. In one building, you’ll find artwork inspired by Poe’s works, both contemporary and historical. On view when I visited recently were a series of drawings by James Carling, all of which depicted representations of Poe’s signature stories.
The garden is one of the loveliest features, with a fountain and blooming flower beds. Towards the back, you’ll find a shrine featuring a bust Poe. The garden can also be rented for weddings! I can just imagine a beautiful gothic-inspired ceremony being held in the presence of Poe’s statue…