Cool Things to Do in New Orleans Right Now

Football, festivals, and epic Halloween festivities are coming our way.

New Orleans in the fall offers nothing but promise. Thanks to events like Southern Decadence and Halloween, we’ve finally got an excuse to bust out the Mardi Gras costume box again (not that we need an excuse), and festivals and outdoor activities are back in full force after the long summer hiatus. (Hopefully, that summer weather is going to wind down soon, too.) That means it’s a fantastic time to get out and about, so you can find yourself lazing away an afternoon with a cocktail in a French Quarter courtyard, or exploring all the shops along Magazine Street. Plus, in this city where the Saints call home, football is back, baby. Here, there’s more than enough places to keep you occupied for days on end.

When cooler temperatures hit, New Orleans becomes one of those places where you really can’t go wrong with your day’s plans. All you have to do is decide how you want to dive in and enjoy it. Here are all the best things to do in New Orleans right now, whether you're visiting for the weekend or a life-long resident.

Cheer on the black and gold

Caesar’s Superdome
New Orleans may like to think of itself as the Caribbean's furthest north city, but don’t get it twisted—when it comes to football, this is very much a southern town. With another round of renovations wrapping up at the Caesar’s Superdome and some locally-born stars on the starting lineup, you can expect even more interest in the Saints this season. Whether you’re lucky enough to score tickets or you’re just catching the game at a local sports bar, like Tracy’s or Finn McCool’s, you better be wearing your black and gold.

Flickr/Jim Hobbs
Flickr/Jim Hobbs

French Quarter
New Orleans is a place where costumes are always encouraged, but the fabulousness on display in the French Quarter during Southern Decadence is truly on another level. Over Labor Day weekend, New Orleans becomes a haven for members of the gay LGBTQIA+ community with six days of celebrations. It’s topped off with a big walking parade through the Quarter that Sunday at 2 pm. This year’s theme? “Jazz. Burlesque. Decadent. New Orleans.”

Get spooked at Halloween

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Okay, sure, Halloween is a holiday that’s celebrated everywhere, but really, no one does it like New Orleans. Head into the suburbs and neighborhood side streets, and you’ll find the usual trick-or-treating for kids, but you likely won’t find any other city in the U.S. where adults are dressed up all the same. In the French Quarter, costumes abound, and many bars and nightclubs will have bands onstage to entertain you. Much like Mardi Gras, Halloween is a day to dress up, and see and be seen.

Ogden Museum of Southern Art
Ogden Museum of Southern Art

Various locations
If you’re a local, it can get costly to visit New Orleans’ major cultural institutions, especially if you’re bringing a group. But don’t worry—that’s one of the key benefits of the New Orleans Public Library’s Culture Pass, which allows free access for two adults and up to seven kids to a number of the city’s cultural institutions, including the Hermann-Grima House, the Gallier House, the National WWII Museum, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Ogden Museum of Art, the Audubon Zoo, and the Audubon Aquarium. You do have to book the passes ahead of time, but the library finally took the program digital, so you can do so online.

The Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience
The Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience

Check out fascinating new Southern cultural institutions

Various locations
Over the past several years, a few new cultural museums have hit the ground running around these parts, and luckily, two of the finest sit right across the street from each other: The Southern Food and Beverage Museum, which offers exhibitions on the tastes and flavors that make Southern cuisine so damn delicious, and the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience, which opened in the summer of 2021 and highlights the legacy and profound impact the Jewish people have had in the American South. Both are in the Central Business District, making them easy walks if you’re already downtown.

French Quarter Festivals, Inc
French Quarter Festivals, Inc

Various locations
While springtime in New Orleans gets all the festival attention, thanks to the massive New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and French Quarter Festival, visit in the fall, and you still have a ton of options, but far smaller crowds. Think Burlesque Festival, OktoberFest, and the local favorite Fried Chicken Festival. Check out the local CVB’s calendar to see exactly what’s on deck next.

Besthoff Sculpture Garden
Besthoff Sculpture Garden | New Orleans Museum of Art

City Park
Spend a couple of hours taking in the weird and wonderful installations at the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, which is part of the New Orleans Museum of Art. It’s a world-class collection that received an update in 2019, doubling the amount of art on view and carving out a pretty amazing pathway that’s as much of an experience as the artwork it meanders past. The park offers as much fun for art snobs as it does for folks looking to update their Instagram with artsy shots.

French Quarter
Yes, Okay, it’s swarmed with tourists, but for less than $5, it’s an iconic New Orleans experience, and you're probably going to love biting into a beignet no matter where you're from. Locals know to hit it up as far away from the breakfast rush as possible—and to bring cash when they go. There’s also a to-go window on the side farthest from Jackson Square, so head there for the quickest service before taking your sugar-filled bag of fried dough to the Moonwalk (that’s the paved pathway) along the Mississippi River.

Woodlands Conservancy
Woodlands Conservancy

West Bank
While New Orleans is well-known for the National World War II Museum—and for good reason—those who want an up-close look at some real World War II relics can head to the Woodlands Conservancy on the West Bank. Here, strap on your hiking shoes for a walk into the woods to find 10 ammunition magazines that stored ammo and other explosives during WWII and the Korean War. While there, enjoy the quiet walk and easy hike through one of the area’s last bottomland hardwood forests.

Audubon Park
Audubon Park

Audubon Park
New Orleans’ open container laws mean you can swing into almost any local corner store and snag a few walking drinks or take some bevs to go from a local bar or restaurant. Take advantage of this luxury with a boozy picnic at The Fly, the grassy, mostly undeveloped strip on the river’s edge of Audubon Park. It’s the perfect way to enjoy a lazy afternoon watching the ships roll down the Mississippi. Bring sandwiches from St. James Cheese Company or Gracious Bakery, both stashed just a few minutes away by car.

Miss River
Miss River

Various locations
Whether you're new to town or you've lived here for 30 years, it's no mystery that New Orleans sports one of the most vibrant culinary landscapes in the world. That means amazing new restaurants opening every month. We've rounded up the best restaurants in town to help you out along with some classics that turned the city into the culinary mecca it has become, so loosen that belt buckle and get to it.

Abita Mystery House
Abita Mystery House | Malachi Jacobs/Shutterstock

Abita Springs
This bizarre roadside museum is basically just a massive collection of vintage arcade machines, odd folk art, cryptotaxidermy, all other manner of weird junk. It costs just $3 to visit, and it’s the bargain of a lifetime. While you’re up there in Abita Springs, you may as well also hit up the Abita Brewery for tours—free if you go on the self-guided ones—and tastings. If you’ve got yourself a designated driver, get the full experience by checking out other local North Shore brews from Old Rail and Chafunkta.

Dong Phuong
Dong Phuong | Carole LaBauve/Flickr

Look east for Vietnamese food

Various locations
Most people know about New Orleans’ European and African-descended communities, but it’s less well-known for its active Vietnamese population. With huge pockets of immigrants and their descendants both in New Orleans East and on the West Bank (across the river), there are Vietnamese restaurants a-plenty offering pho, banh mi, and all other manner of traditional delights. Head over to Dong Phuong for its meaty, pickly banh mi on damn-near perfect French bread. It costs less than $5 and won a James Beard Award. No-brainer.

crescent park
Crescent Park

Bywater
City Park is generally—and rightfully—the space most associated with outdoor activities in New Orleans, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only option offered in town to soak up the sun. Located at the edge of the Bywater and French Quarter, Crescent Park is a miles-long stretch of walking and bike paths providing picturesque views along the Mississippi River the entire way. The park is perfect for those of you (the insane ones) looking for places to workout during your visit here, but with New Orleans’ lax open container laws, it’s just as easy to grab a bottle of wine or six-pack and scoff at the healthy from a bench alongside the river.

Garden District Book Shop
Garden District Book Shop

Nerd out at a local bookstore

Various locations
Often lost in the clamor of the Crescent City’s bustling nightlife is New Orleans’s rich literary history. Numerous legendary authors like Tennessee Williams, Fatima Shaik, John Kennedy Toole, and Anne Rice have made our endlessly inspirational town their home over the years, and things never really slowed down. Visit local indie outlets like Garden District Book Shop, Community Book Center, Blue Cypress Books, and Octavia Books for excellent selections and fantastic recommendations from knowledgeable staff. And if you’re in the French Quarter, you can walk to Beckham’s Bookshop, Arcadian Books & Print, and Faulkner House Books for even more bookworm fun.

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Chelsea Brasted is a freelance writer in her hometown of New Orleans, who formerly worked for The Times-Picayune as an arts and entertainment reporter and city columnist. Follow her on Twitter @cabrasted to find out how actually cool she is.