Expert tips for doing Essence Festival right

Essence Festival, the largest celebration of African American culture in the world, comes to New Orleans every July 4 weekend bringing life, fun and a fantastic party to our summertime here.

With so many people coming and SO MUCH to do — seriously, have you read the line up? — we figured folks might need help navigating Essence Festival. We turned to our favorite local and regional bloggers — and Essence veterans — for their must-know advice on what to pack, what to see and how to make the most of the three-day event.

Essence Festival
Photo courtesy of New Orleans Tourism.

But first, our panelists:

Essence Festival
From left to right: Alisha from Nola Bougie, Erika of Black Girls Who Brunch, and Turkesha of Natural Baby Dol

Alisha, founder of Nola Bougie, is a local blogger as much in love with the finer things in life as the real New Orleans. (Champagne *and* corner store daiquiris? Yes please!) Check out her full guide!

Erika, founder of Black Girls Who Brunch, writes about all things food and travel from her home base in Houston. Read her full Essence guide here.

Turkesha, founder of Natural Baby Dol, blogs about beauty, health, jetsetting and the adventures of mommy life with three little boys from her Atlanta home.

What to pack for Essence Festival

Essence Festival
Photo Courtesy of New Orleans Tourism.

Stick to cute, comfy shoes
Here’s one all three panelists agree on!

“Wedges, kitten heels, or sandals — It’s better to wear comfy shoes than to walk around with stilettos in your hand,” advises Nola Bougie’s Alisha.

Keep in mind, you’ll be walking the city AND making laps through the Convention Center and Superdome. Erika of Black Girls Who Brunch looks on the bright side.

“I honestly did not mind the walking,” she says. “It balanced out all of the good New Orleans food I was eating!”

Want to know where to walk outside the Dome? Pick up our insider’s guide to the French Quarter and catch a shrimp boil, cool down with a Prosecco popscicle or try some of the city’s classic dishes. 

Keep your selfie game strong

Make sure you have storage on your phone, or even invest in some extra iCloud space, says Turkesha of NaturalBabyDol.

“This is a weekend full of fashion posts, usies, selfies, celebrities and soaking up the Nola culture,” she advises.

Alisha with Nola Bougie offers some wisdom on staying charged. The venue prohibits extra large purses in the Superdome, so an external battery might be tough to carry. Her solution?

“Get a cute wristlet or bracelet with a charger included,” she says. “You don’t want your battery to die in the middle of an epic selfie with your favorite celeb.”

Essence Festival
Photo courtesy of New Orleans Tourism.

Enjoy the fashion show
“Make no mistake, Essence IS a fashion show,” says Erika of Black Girls Who Brunch. “It is a smart fashion show, though, with outfits that fit the weather and season.”

Namely: Hot, steamy summer weather. Think rompers, maxi dresses, midi dresses and short outfits, too.

“We even had two outfits per day: one for day time and one for the concerts/parties,” she says.

But the ONE thing everyone had?

“An all white outfit! Because black folks LOVE an all white outfit!” she says. “There are all white parties and even unofficial all white parties, so just be sure that you come ready!”

What to see at Essence Festival

Skip the parking lot
You’ll want to get dropped off at the Dome, according to Alisha of Nola Bougie.

“Parking is a beast and not bougie at all!” she says.

(And, we’ll add, traffic is nuts! So be sure to leave earlier than you think to arrive on time. Both Uber and Lyft operate in New Orleans.)

Essence Festival
Photo courtesy of Black Girls Who Brunch

Don’t miss the Convention Center
“There are so many components to Essence, but they all seem to converge at the Convention Center (which is FREE to attend),” says Black Girls Who Brunch’s Erika.

There are celeb sightings, mini-interviews, brand interactions, gospel preachers/artists (on Sunday) and beauty product pop-up shops. Each brand designs a swag bag aimed at black women.

“You will enter the Convention Center with a empty tote and leave with your arms heavy from receiving freebies,” says Turkesha, of NaturalBabyDol. “Take an extra bag or a backpack, because it’s easier to carry.”

When you’re done grabbing swag from the big brands, be sure to support Nola’s indie artists and makers. Find them here! 

The lounges are super

Essence Festival
Photo courtesy of Big Freedia Queen Diva

Stadium level stars — like Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige, Snoop Dogg, etc. — take the mainstage. But there’s much more going on at the Superdome.

Your ticket buys you entry to the venue’s many Superlounges, where well known but slightly smaller acts perform in a more intimate space. (The Traveler Broads’ fave? Local superstar and personal icon Big Freedia.)

Nola Bougie’s Alisha says the lounges really are where some of the best performances happen.

“Check out the schedule for each night and plan your trip to the Superlounges in advance,” she says. “Get there early to ensure you get a good spot to view the show!”

A girl’s gotta eat

And there’s nowhere better to let out your inner foodie than New Orleans, says Turkesha of NaturalBabyDol, especially for fans of Creole and Southern Traditional.

Vendors inside the event do right by attendees with local dishes like jambalaya and shrimp po’boys. There are also dozens of fantastic restaurants throughout the city. In fact, the neighborhood around the Convention Center and Superdome is home to some of the best restaurants in town.

But don’t forget to get back to basics, Turkesha advises.

“Popeye’s is always better in the place in which is originated,” she says. “If you’ve never had Popeye in Louisiana please do yourself a huge favor and try it at least once.”

(We couldn’t agree more!)

Loving all this great advice? Don’t forget to follow our panelists and pin our guide below!

Essence Festival

Planning a New Orleans trip? Grab our French Quarter guide!

13 thoughts on “Expert tips for doing Essence Festival right”

  1. I never knew about an Essence festival, it sounds like a wonderful way to celebrate the African American culture! All the tips, especially the one about comfy shoes are so helpful!

  2. Love this! I don’t know how I have managed to not go to a festival yet in my life but it is right at the top of my list. Will defs be keeping this in mind!

  3. Aaw, I love reading this post, it’s so informative and enjoyable. Essence sounds like a fantastic event and the tips shared by the girls are super useful, particularly that of bringing an extra bag… I always forget it and end up carrying piles of stuff precariously balanced in my hands ahaha!

  4. Lounges at the festival sound really nice! Thanks for sharing all your advice about the festival, really handy!

  5. Wow, this Essential Festival is a star-studded event for music lovers ! I would love to visit again NOLA to attend this festival: enjoy good music and the magical attraction of New Orleans. This seems an awesome cultural event full of free entertainment 🙂

  6. I used to read Essence magazine but didn’t know they were organising festivals too. I love the tips and information here because they can be applied to all other events and festivals too. I so agree with the comfy shoes, I learned a bit late than comfy shoes should take priority over pretty shoes. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Never heard of the Essence Festival before, so this is new to me. It does sound like a true celebration. The tips are great though for any event just like this, especially extra bags. You don’t want to drop anything right?! Thank you for sharing 🙂

  8. I did not know about Essence Festival before, but it looks so cool and so much fun. Thanks for all the tips. And I know how parking can be a beast! 😉

  9. Looks like a really fun festival. As I still have never traveled to New Orleans, I’m sure that I’d spend most of my time eating, and eating, and then eating some more. Saving your recommendations.

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