Cool Things to Do in New Orleans This Spring

Get out on the water, feast on crawfish, and hit up festivals big and small.

Spring has sprung, so you better get out there to enjoy some of the best weather of the year before the summer heat takes over. Mardi Gras may be the pinnacle of the winter season, and the post-Carnival slump (and attempted moderation) can slow things down around here, but spring brings a whole slew of activities to get excited about.

With festivals and lots of outdoor music, it’s easy to get your fill of fun and food at festivals big and small, and seek out balconies, porches and patios for exceptional outdoor dining. So before you take off for a warm-weather road trip, check out the most fun things to do in New Orleans this spring.

Jazz Fest
Jazz Fest | Photo by Justen Williams, courtesy of NOTMC

Attend a festival or two

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It’s peak festival season, y’all. Not a weekend goes by in springtime without a slate of fests celebrating everything from music to wine to a single fruit. Advanced planning is required for the big ones like Jazz Fest and French Quarter Festival—crowds, cube selection, parking—but don’t miss out on the smaller gatherings that draw more locals than tourists. Some highlights include Bayou Boogaloo and Greek Festival (both on Bayou St. John), Food Fight, New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, and Creole Tomato Festival.

Get out on the water

Various locations
New Orleans is surrounded by water, but you already knew that. What you may not know is its incredibly easy to get out on the Gulf. Charter a fishing boat or ride the Algiers Ferry for a brief taste of life on the river. But hopping in a kayak and paddling yourself around our lakes and bayous is an experience everyone should try…just do it before the humidity and mosquitoes are unbearable. Stick closer to the city with outfitters like Bayou Paddlesports, offering kayak rentals in Bayou St. John, or Kayak-itti-Yak, which leads tours around the bayou. You can even get out in the swamp with New Orleans Kayak Swamp Tours.

Farmer's Market
Crescent City Farmer's Market | Photo by Justen Williams, courtesy of NOTMC

Shop for seasonal produce at a farmers market

Various locations
Farmers markets are held year-round throughout the city, but this time of year means the markets are bursting with even more seasonal produce, under the kind of nice conditions that make you want to linger longer with a snack and live music. Take your pick of local farmers markets and get to know some of Louisiana’s finest farmers and produce. Crescent City Farmers Market hosts markets in Uptown and Mid-City, while other options include the Bounyful Green Market in Algiers Point, the Gretna Farmers Market, and the German Coast Farmers Market.

Get your sweat on in a new way

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If you’re looking to shake things up, spring is a great time to take your fitness routine outside or to somewhere new. These are not your average studio classes. NOLA Vibe hosts weekly yoga classes at spots like The Tchoup Yard, Hotel Peter & Paul, and Audubon Park, plus meditation at The Broadside. The New Orleans Jazz Museum hosts Jazz Yoga on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Make the Lafitte Greenway a fitness destination by incorporating its schedule of yoga, strength training, and hip-hop cardio classes. Do a downward dog in the historic Cabildo on Saturdays. Find balance with Tai Chi in the sculpture garden at NOMA. And for a high energy option, Move Ya Brass offers outdoor hip hop, bounce, and twerk fitness classes.

Suck da heads and enjoy a few beers

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Whether you’re partial to your cousin’s secret recipe or the restaurant across town, spring is the best time for crawfish boils. Pick up a few pounds at local faves like Bevi, Clesi’s, or Deanie’s, or plan on hitting up one of the many weekly boils held at top breweries around town. Schedules can change, so check the calendars for each, but Faubourg Brewing, Urban South, NOLA Brewing, Miel, Port Orleans, Zony Mash, and Parleaux usually host boils on weekends throughout the season. The NOLA Crawfish Festival at The Broadside features three days of music and crawfish plus a cook-off and a crawfish-eating competition.

Wednesday at the Square
Wednesday at the Square | Photo by Paul Broussard, courtesy of New Orleans and Company

Lafayette Square
Wednesdays at the Square, presented by the YLC, is like a mini mid-week festival. Head to Lafayette Square after work for a weekly double header of top New Orleans acts—Galactic, George Porter, Jr., Maggie Koerner, Soul Rebels, and more—for free. Food, drink, and art vendors are set up around the square, plus there’s plenty of room to spread out with a blanket or festival chair. The series runs through mid-May.

Ogden Museum
Ogden Museum of Southern Art | Photo by Paul Broussard, courtesy of New Orleans and Company

Gallery hop on Julia Street

Arts District
On the first Saturday of every month, galleries in the New Orleans Arts District host after-hours opening receptions for new exhibitions. With pleasant temps and more daylight hours, spring is a great time to gallery hop. Most of the galleries are located along Julia Street, with some located on Camp, Magazine, and St. Charles. Hop on the streetcar to get there from Uptown or Mid-City, and make a night of it by ending at a nearby restaurant like Gianna, Peche, Carmo, or Josephine Estelle.

Enjoy a boozy and/or jazzy brunch

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Things start to slow down a bit more as the weather warms up. This means more brunch time. Outstanding brunch menus are not hard to find—think cinnamon-pecan bacon, variations on the benedict, biscuits and gravy, shrimp and grits—and eateries sweeten the deal with special brunch cocktail offerings. Check out bottomless mimosas at Apolline or Dragonfly Cafe, the bloody mary bar at Atchafalaya, bottomless Aperol spritzes at Sofia, boozy breakfast milkshakes at Stanley, unlimited cocktails at Couvant, or the Disco Punch for 10 of your closest at Jack Rose. Notable jazz brunch offerings include Miss River, Commander’s Palace, Antoine’s, and Muriel’s.

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Do you have a library card? If not, you should! You can check out books (both physical and digital) and support an essential local organization, but your library card has even more perks. If you’re starting a garden this spring, several branches have a Seed Library where you can help yourself to all kinds of seeds. You can check out cake pans, bike locks, and tools, too. Best of all, the New Orleans Public Library’s Culture Pass 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 Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience, the New Canal Lighthouse, the Ogden Museum of Art, the Audubon Zoo, and the Audubon Aquarium. Book passes in advance online.

Besthoff Sculpture Garden
Besthoff Sculpture Garden | Photo by Paul Broussard, courtesy of NOTMC

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 underwent an expansion in 2019, doubling the number of works on view and carving out a pretty amazing pathway that’s as much of an experience as the artwork it meanders past. It’s free to visit, and there are plenty of spots to rest and take in the beautiful views. The space is particularly stunning in April when irises are in bloom, but you can enjoy plenty of local flora any time of year.

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. Pro tip: Beat all the lines by visiting the City Park location after a walk through the Besthoff Sculpture Garden or a stop by the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Audubon Park
Audubon Park

Audubon Park
Audubon Park has no shortage of prime picnicking spots underneath the historic oaks, but hanging out behind the park up at The Fly offers extra perks. Spend a lazy afternoon watching the ships roll down the Mississippi and enjoy the breeze. Pick up sandwiches from St. James Cheese Company or Gracious Bakery, or the aptly named Picnic Provisions & Whiskey—all are just a few minutes away by car. Be sure to bring along a chilled bottle of white or a six-pack and you’re all set for an afternoon picnic or sunset wind-down.

Miss River
Miss River

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It's no mystery that New Orleans has one of the most vibrant culinary landscapes in the world, and amazing new restaurants are opening every month. After a brief period of post-Mardi Gras moderation, spring is the perfect time to get back out there and support the local dining scene. You can’t go wrong checking out the best restaurants in town and revisiting the classics is a no-brainer, but it’s also a great time to check out some top outdoor dining spots, from casual (Parkway Bakery & Tavern, Seafood Sally’s) to fine dining (Broussard’s, Bayona). That’s a lot of dining to do, so loosen that belt buckle and get to it.

Look east or west for Vietnamese food

New Orleans East/Gretna
With huge pockets of Vietnamese immigrants both in New Orleans East and across the river on the West Bank, there are scores of family-run Vietnamese restaurants offering pho, banh mi, and all other manner of traditional delights in the area. Head East to Dong Phuong for its meaty banh mi on famous house-made bread. Ba Mien and Pho Bang are also worth the trip out there. Other top options include Gretna faves Tan Dinh and 9 Roses, or flashy newcomer Dough Nguyener’s Vietnamese Bakery.

Abita Mystery House
Abita Mystery House | Malachi Jacobs/Shutterstock

Mandeville/Covington/Abita Springs/Bush
Don’t let the 24-mile bridge over Lake Pontchartrain deter you—it’s worth the drive to spend a day exploring the many facets of the Northshore. Make it an outdoor day with a visit to the Northlake Nature Center and Fountainbleau State Park, or bike the Tammany Trace from Covington to Abita Springs. Make a stop at the weird and wonderful Abita Mystery House/UCM Museum to see a massive collection of vintage arcade machines, odd folk art, crypto-taxidermy, and other weird junk. Abita Brewery offers tours and tastings, or head out even further to Wild Bush Farm + Vineyard in Bush (check their calendar for weekly Jazz’n the Vines events). Having too much fun? Opt for a staycation at the Southern Hotel in Covington and enjoy a meal at gems like The Gloriette, Lola, or Del Porto, then spend the next day shopping and gallery hopping in the historic downtown.

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 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 set from a bench alongside the river.

Garden District Book Shop
Garden District Book Shop

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, Octavia Books, and the newest addition Baldwin & Co. 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 bookish fun.

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Gerrish Lopez is a Thrillist contributor.
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.