27 Actually Cool Things to Do in New Orleans This Spring
Go big at the 2022 NCAA Men's Final Four, dive into local museums, and party hard at weekend festivals.
New Orleans in the spring is perhaps Louisiana at its best. The weather still hints at cooler temperatures, festival season is in full swing, everyone’s feeling the happy hangover from Mardi Gras and all your friends are ready and willing to post up on bar balconies, Bourbon Street restaurant patios, and in breezy French Quarter courtyards all over town. Plus, with pandemic restrictions easing and attractions reopening just about everywhere, there’s more than enough places to keep you occupied for days on end.
It’s official that New Orleans is back to its colorful, glorious self. 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 Big Easy resident.
So you’ve been watching NCAA basketball all season—now it’s time to see who will capture the championship. The Final Four this year will be played on the edge of downtown New Orleans in the recently renamed Superdome, but don’t worry if tickets aren’t in the cards for you this year—all the uproarious festivities are back for 2022. That means Fan Fest, a music festival, and big-time tailgate fun. Keep an eye on the official NCAA website for all the latest updates.
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.
Check out fascinating new Southern cultural institutions
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.
Springtime in New Orleans is officially festival season, and no place does it better than here. With the New Orleans Film Festival (March), New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (last weekend of April, first weekend in May), the French Quarter Festival (third week of April), and Satchmo Summerfest (late July), plus any number of smaller (but no less exciting) community bashes in between, you’ll find party-hearty events taking over practically every single weekend for months to come. Check out the local CVB’s calendar to see exactly what’s on deck next.
Pay a visit to a local art museum
Ready to expand your mind a little with some quality art? Head over to the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, or the Contemporary Art Center. Two of these—the Ogden and the CAC—are located across the street from one another, so it’s easy to drop in and learn more about all the regional, national, and international artists creating eye-catching works. Plus, the Ogden also hosts a regular rotation of events like artist workshops and crafting happy hours so you can try your own hand at creative expression.
This project aimed at helping feed food-insecure New Orleanians struggling to get by offers an easy way to give back—simply make a meal and leave it in one of the Community Fridges around town. The mission, which began during the pandemic, is still going strong, with a handful of fridges plugged in and ready for donations across the city. Some locations even have space for donated children's items such as diapers and clothing. Get details about the locations on Instagram, then hit them up with prepared meals, snacks, veggies, or other food items. Just remember: The organizers ask for no raw meat to be donated.
See the collective result of more than 20 artists getting to go a little wild while building a 12-room immersive art exhibit. From stepping into a massive pot so you can be boiled by giant crawfish to posing for selfies in front of technicolor walls filled with second line umbrellas, visiting JAMNOLA is an experience unlikely any other in the city right now. Make sure to buy your tickets for specific time slots ahead of time, as tickets are only available online.
Jean Lafitte National Historical Park
The Barataria Preserve, part of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park, is probably the easiest, closest place to New Orleans where you’re pretty much guaranteed to spot at least one alligator in the wild. The hiking trail is gorgeous, and if you show up at around 10am on Wednesday through Sunday, you can get a free guided tour with a park ranger. (Helpful, especially if you’re not great at telling a gator from a log.) If you’ve got kids -- or just feel like one -- don’t forget to ask for a Junior Park Ranger workbook.
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 snazzy shots.
St. Augustine Catholic Church is a nearly 200-year-old historic African American Catholic church in the spiritual heart of the Tremé neighborhood. It has served as the home of famous parishioners including jazz legend Sidney Bechet and Civil Rights icon Homer Plessy. Its regular choir performs a jazzy and gospel-tinged version of the traditional Catholic mass most weekends and guest musicians aren’t uncommon. If you drop in, make sure you dress your Sunday best, and don’t forget to throw some cash in the collection pot, too.
First-time visitors, especially, will likely want to take a formal cemetery tour, but if they're up for something less formal (and a bit more unsettling), take a quick spin through the St. Roch Cemetery, home to a famous shrine to the saint himself, where generations of New Orleanians have left ex-votos -- physical mementos thanking the patron saint of healing for his interventions. These include religious objects as well as medical ones, like leg and neck braces and plaster casts of various body parts. It’s eerie, for sure, but it’s also a glimpse into the faith of a city that’s often regarded as a place of iniquity by outsiders.
While a reservation at this New Orleans institution will usually give your credit card some serious exercise, you’d be remiss to think the happy hour is likewise high-dollar. Dubbed Bubbles at Brennan’s, you’ll find good deals here Thursday to Sunday, from 2 to 6 pm, and Mondays, 9 am to 2 pm, making it a solid spot for pre-dinner drinks or a late liquid lunch. Specials include cocktails for $9 and snacks from $8 to $18. Oh, and did we mention the Champagne sabering going down Thursdays to Sundays at 5 pm? Yeah, there’s that.
Yes, OK, 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.
Easily one of the Gulf Coast’s most interestingly tiny, hyper-specific museums, the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum is home to rows upon rows of jars that once held opium, cocaine, leeches, and all manner of snake oil, plus oodles of kooky surgical implements and lots of thought-provoking historical info about the connection between the history of the pharmacy industry and the history of cocktails. (Yes, that’s totally a thing.) The museum is also a popular spot for French Quarter weddings, so check the online calendar ahead of time as it often closes early for private events.
Eat a snowball at every possible opportunity
After around Easter-ish, when the weather turns from warm to really warm, the city’s ubiquitous snowball shops start opening up all over, and frankly, they’re almost better than air conditioning for cooling off. Get yourselves to Hansen’s, where ol’ man Hansen invented the original ice-shaving machine (which distinguishes snowballs from their far inferior crushed-ice cousin, the snow cone), and you probably oughta make time to hit up Plum Street as well, and maybe ... well, just try them all of them. You won't regret it.
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.
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.
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, so loosen that belt buckle and get to it.
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.
Look east for Vietnamese food
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.
Eat crawfish literally everywhere
Springtime means crawfish in these parts, and if you can swing an invite for yourself or your guests to a backyard crawfish boil while they’re in town (or find a free one at a bar somewhere), that’s the best choice of all. The social nuances behind devouring a ton of crawfish together are as key to the experience as the food itself. If you can’t, head on over to Bevi Seafood or Clesi’s, both in Mid-City, and just do it up as a small group.
New Orleans is lucky to house the Audubon Nature Institute, which operates the Audubon Zoo, Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, and Audubon Butterfly Garden & Insectarium. While the insectarium is still closed, the zoo and aquarium are open for masked visitors with timed tickets. Say hello to the adorable tuxedoed penguins at the aquarium or pop into the zoo’s alligator habitat for a frightful yet markedly family-friend day.
Chef Leah Chase was a New Orleans icon: Civil Rights legend, businesswoman extraordinaire, mentor to many, inspiration to many more, and world-class chef. For over 65 years, she cooked up classic Creole comforts at the Tremé institution she operated with her husband since the 1940s. The Crescent City unfortunately lost Chase in 2019, but her legacy lives on at her incredible restaurant. Stop by for lunch or dinner, but no matter what you do, absolutely get the fried chicken.
Sicilians and Neapolitans immigrated to New Orleans in numbers only matched by New York and New Jersey around 1900. This family-owned roadhouse restaurant is kind of in the middle of nowhere over on the West Bank, and was a mafia hangout in the post-WWII era. Though the mobsters are gone (as far as most can tell), the look of the place remains blissfully old-school, as does its simple, decadent menu. It’s short enough that if there are enough of you, you can order it all but if you must choose just one thing, order their chicken a la grande with spaghetti. Oily, rosemary-studded, and smothered with enough garlic to keep you vampire-free for a week, it’s one of the more delicious things you’ll ever eat. Seating is extremely limited, so reservations are required for dine-in. To-go orders are also available.
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.
Traditional New Orleans cuisine tends to focus on the savory, but Angelo Brocato’s has long been the not-so-secret answer for something sweeter. Since 1905 (!), this family-owned Italian bakery, gelato parlor, and coffee shop has been a Crescent City staple offering unbelievably delicious traditional offerings like Napoleons, cannolis, macarons and biscotti alongside the best cup of espresso in town. The tart lemon ice is well worth the trip alone. Don’t forget to pick out enough housemade cookies to fill a box before you head out.
Nerd out at a local bookstore
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.