"New Orleans is his city, and he is going to know it inside and out," she says in the exclusive PEOPLE cover story, on newsstands now. "Without the spirit of the people who live there and take care of the city and honor its traditions, its love for music, its love for life, take those people out and you don't have why I love New Orleans so much."
Even before deciding to "find our child in New Orleans," Bullock was establishing significant ties to and a love for the Big Easy.
After Hurricane Katrina, Bullock became a major supporter of Warren Easton Charter High School, the first public high school for boys in Louisiana. The historical school sustained $4 million in damages, and the actress, who tells PEOPLE she "felt such a profound need to do something for them," has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars for renovations, new band uniforms and a new health clinic.
She has also established a $10,000 college scholarship. Not to mention, before Bullock scored a Best Actress Oscar for starring in The Blind Side, which was written by New Orleans native Michael Lewis, she used the film's New Orleans premiere as a fundraiser to benefit the school. Her generosity even earned her an induction into the school's hall of fame last year.
"She acts as if all 800-plus of these children are her own," Warren Easton's principal Alexina Medley tells PEOPLE. Adds school board member Arthur Hardy: "She has been our angel. We love her."
In September Bullock put down more permanent roots, purchasing a home in the Garden District of New Orleans. The mansion is reportedly near property owned by Treme star John Goodman and a home previously owned by writer Anne Rice, according to the Times-Picayune.
Affection for the CityShe's not the only A-lister with an affection for the culturally rich city. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie also have a home there. (Several citizens even banded together last year to try to get Pitt elected mayor of the Big Easy!) The mutual love stems from the actor's dedication to rebuilding New Orleans's Lower Ninth Ward with his Make It Right charity.
"It is like a second home for us. The kids [have gone] to school here. It's a place we get back to frequently. There's a beautiful, effective quality here that I love as an influence for my kids. We can have a nice, almost normal life here," says Pitt.
Most recently the couple – joined by 8-year-old son Maddox – cuddled up at the Super Bowl to cheer the Saints to a historic victory.
"New Orleans is alive and well and entering its new glory," says Pitt. "This is because of the tenacity and the spirit of the people that has never died. And the music is still playing and you can still get a drive-through margarita. All is well."
Reporting by ALEXIS CHIU and MARY GREEN
Meet Sandra Bullock's baby! For the whole story – including photos of her son Louis, an emotional interview about her breakup with Jesse James and her life as a new mom – pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday