Mix in a teaspoon of music, a pinch of history, a dripping roast beef po-boy, and a drop of festival, and you’ve got the makings of a fine New Orleans Memorial Day weekend! Here’s what to do, and when to do it:
New Orleans Memorial Day Weekend Itinerary
Start the morning right with breakfast at Pagoda Cafe in Mid-City, a laundromat-turned-cafe reminiscent of a Chinese pagoda. Sit on the porch while you get your coffee fix with locally brewed French Truck Coffee and a toast (think magical toast with ricotta, poached figs, and toasted walnuts) or breakfast tacos. If you are on the go, grab a pastry or a yogurt with granola or fruit.
After breakfast, make your way down Esplanade Avenue towards Bayou St. John. Rent a kayak or paddleboard in advance from Bayou Paddlesports, and take a two-hour paddle up and down the bayou. You’ll catch sights such as the historic Magnolia Bridge, the Pitot House, City Park, and maybe even a pelican.
Next, trade in your paddle for a po-boy. Walk the grassy banks of Bayou St. John along Moss Street to Parkway Bakery & Tavern. Take a seat at the bar right when you walk in. Favorites include turkey and alligator sausage gumbo, the roast beef po-boy, and sweet potato fries for good measure.
If you have time, walk over to the Besthoff Sculpture Garden, which is free and open daily (except when raining and on legal holidays). Take a tranquil walk soaking in the mossy oaks and sculptures alike. Use the time to unwind and re-energize for the evening.
Once you’ve finished posing with inanimate objects, hop on the red streetcar outside the entrance of City Park and take it to Canal Street. Travel into downtown for an evening show by Antoine Diel. There are two options: the Antoine Diel Trio takes place at The Roosevelt Hotel from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., and Antoine Diel & the Misfit Power performs from 9:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. at the 21st Amendment at La Louisiane. Both shows are free– just remember to tip to show your support for local musicians!
Afterwards, grab a sandwich at Verti Marte (their All that Jazz sandwich actually is “all that jazz”) or Coop’s Place, which sells New Orleans favorites like fried oysters, red beans, and shrimp Creole.
Just because you are on vacation does not mean you have to completely neglect your body. Get an early start with the 8:30 a.m. Yoga at the Cabildo, which is a state museum that showcases local and state history as well as some seriously beautiful, sunlit rooms. The price of the class is $12, and mats are available for use.
After yoga, reward yourself with a plate of beignets and café au lait at Café du Monde or another nearby shop. You can never get tired of beignets and their deep fried, powdered sugary goodness. Hopefully you didn’t wear black yoga pants…
But if you did, you’re in luck! Our next stop is the Canal/Algiers Ferry. A little wind should clean you right up. The city was in danger of seeing this ferry route go down in history like the rest, but fortunately it was saved. Just $4 cash ($2/trip) gets you (pedestrians and bikes only) across the river and back, as well as the best views of the French Quarter. Stick around for awhile to wander the charming and often forgotten neighborhood of Algiers Point and grab a drink at Crown & Anchor Pub before ferrying back.
Return to the East Bank of New Orleans for lunch and shopping on Magazine Street. Start out by walking through the Magazine Street Art Market, which is open from noon to 6:00 p.m. on Saturdays (and Sundays, too!). Vendors sell items such as locally crafted jewelry, art, and more. Plus, the market is held at Dat Dog— a perfect stop for lunch. If you are a vegetarian or don’t eat pork there are definitely still options for you (vegan sausages and crawfish sausages, for example). If you are looking to bounce up and down Magazine, the #11 Magazine bus is your friend.
Saturday evening, head over to Esplanade Avenue bordering the Marigny for things to get weird and fun. Talk Nerdy to Me is a weekly burlesque show at the Dragon’s Den featuring other acts like musicians and local comedians for $10. Doors open at 7:00 p.m., and the show starts at 7:30 p.m. After the show, grab a fancy grilled cheese sandwich from The Big Cheezy at the back of Dragon’s Den (you won’t regret it) and then bop around the corner to Frenchmen Street for live music all night long.
Thirsty for more? Elizabeth’s is one of New Orleans locals’ favorite brunch spots, but on weekends you’ll typically find it packed. Consider waking up just a tad earlier and arriving between 8:00 and 10:00 a.m. to beat the crowd. The duck waffle (cornbread waffle with mashed sweet potatoes, pepper jelly, and green onions) is “da bomb,” and for pork-eaters, the praline bacon is obligatory. Or, if you prefer, just hit snooze.
For a mid-day festival, venture out to Greek Fest which runs from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Admission is cheap at just $5, but — since it’s Toga Sunday! — if you wear a toga they will let you in for free. Keep it family friendly though, y’all.
Greek Fest features traditional music, dancing, shopping, and — most important — food (think goat burgers, souvlaki, baklava sundaes, and hot dogs for picky kids).
A day spent outside at Greek Fest could wear you out, so plan on a relaxing evening of balcony dining at the Blue Crab. Views of Lake Pontchartrain, especially around sunset, are stunning, and you can stay busy watching the boats motor or sail back into the harbor.
Memorial Day, the reason for our fantastic, jam-packed holiday weekend, is here. Snag your morning coffee or tea and a breakfast pastry from French Truck Coffee on Magazine and walk over to the National World War II Museum. In remembering Memorial Day, the museum hosts events from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., including the Marine Corps Brass Quintet performance from 10:30 to 11:00 a.m., guest speakers, and more.
Once you are history’d out, walk to the nearby Ogden Museum to see the “Before I Die” interactive public art piece by Candy Chang (it is located on the exterior wall of the building facing St. Joseph Street). People from around the world have picked up a piece of chalk and scrawled their deepest desires, funny wants, and everything in between. Take the opportunity to reflect, pick up the chalk, and complete the sentence with words of your own: “Before I die I want to…”
In the evening, head over to St. Roch Market in the Marigny for a casual dinner. Perfect for groups of people with different tastes, you can order from different vendors but still eat together. There is an oyster bar, a Korean-Creole fusion option, and American-Mexican cuisine, among others, plus both indoor and outdoor seating.
Close out the weekend with the comedy show Knockout at the New Movement Theater from 9:30 to 10:30 p.m., and watch two comedy shows battle it out. The show is free, but if you want to vote on the winner you’ll need to splurge a measly $5.
And that’s a wrap.