Though I’ve traveled to many of America’s most well-known places—from San Francisco to Key West—I’ve never found a town like New Orleans. True, I was born and raised there, so even though I spent many years away, perhaps it’s simply in my blood.

Who, after all, could forget the cuisine? Though restaurants in other cities have tried to duplicate New Orleans’ signature dishes—from shrimp po-boys to gumbo—there’s no place I’d rather savor a muffuletta than Café Maspero on Decatur. And no one should leave the French Quarter without slurping a raw oyster at Oceana or sampling a messy beignet at Café Du Monde.

Pirates, voodoo priestesses, and plantation owners have all called New Orleans home, and sometimes their legacy is palpable.Then, there’s the music. This is the city that spawned Dr. John, Harry Connick, Jr., and the Neville Brothers. On any night, you might hear jazz at Preservation Hall, zydeco at Mulate’s, or a blues guitarist beside the Mississippi River. Plus, springtime boasts two incredible events: French Quarter Fest and Jazz Fest.

The city’s history is also unique. Pirates, voodoo priestesses, and plantation owners have all called New Orleans home, and sometimes their legacy is palpable. Whether you’re strolling amid the gas lamps of the French Quarter, riding on the St. Charles Avenue streetcar, touring creepy cemeteries or moss-covered swamps, or snapping photographs of the St. Louis Cathedral (the city’s most recognizable landmark), you’ll surely sense this one-of-a-kind atmosphere.

Unless you’ve simply come for the debauchery of Bourbon Street, you’re certain to fall under the city’s spell. Just consider how many writers and filmmakers have used it for inspiration. Without New Orleans, we wouldn’t have A Streetcar Named Desireor Interview with the Vampire.

Still, it’s my past that connects me to New Orleans. Although Hurricane Katrina destroyed my childhood homes, forced some of my longtime haunts to close, and propelled my family to move north of the city, the memories are still there. I can recall visiting the alligators at Audubon Zoo, watching Mardi Gras parades with my friends, crabbing in Lake Pontchartrain with Dad, and bike-riding through City Park with Mom. Whenever I visit New Orleans, I’m overcome by the sights, sounds, and smells. Just the clip-clop of a horse-drawn carriage, or a whiff of sweet olive, and I’m a little girl again.

Since college, I’ve lived in a variety of places, including Chicago, Los Angeles, and northern Michigan, but despite its prevalent poverty and crime, New Orleans has never been far from my heart. I felt the pull so strongly, in fact, that my husband and I decided to start a film festival there, which allows us to live in New Orleans for half the year. Together, we continue to explore this magical place, and I hope that we’ll always have a reason to return. Because no matter what it’s called—the Big Easy, the Crescent City, or the Queen of the Mississippi—New Orleans will always be synonymous with home.