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Things to Do

Free (and Cheap) Things to Do This Summer

Enjoy an epic social calendar without opening your wallet.

satchmo summerfest
Satchmo Summerfest. (Photo: Cheryl Gerber)

Hold onto your Benjamins by exploring some free things to do along with affordable events and activities in New Orleans this summer. Far from locking ourselves inside with fans and air conditioning on full blast (although you could do that), New Orleanians are always finding ways to enjoy the city.

Treat yourself to free festivals, exercise classes, museums and antique shops, or fine dining for less than usual — the proof is in these 10 cheap or free things to do.

Summer savings: Cheap and Free Things to Do

Satchmo SummerFest runs from August 5-7. (Photo: Cheryl Gerber)

Satchmo SummerFest

Cost: $5

Satchmo SummerFest, a $5 festival celebrating the life and music of Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong (whose birthday is Aug. 4), takes place from Aug. 5-7 in and around Jackson Square. Favorite New Orleans bands and musicians like Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers, Charmaine Neville, and Jeremy Davenport perform throughout the weekend. Want to dance along? The NOLA Jitterbugs offer traditional Jazz dance lessons on Saturday and Sunday at the Fleurty Girl Back o’ Town Stage. The festival weekend closes out with a Trumpet Tribute to Louis Armstrong featuring James Andrews.

In addition to the music lineup, Satchmo SummerFest also features an expansive food menu. Antoine’s Restaurant (Baked Alaska with Chocolate Sauce), Crêpes à la Cart (the Black & Gold Crêpe), Henry’s Original Buttermilk Drop (Buttermilk Drops), Plum Street Snowballs (traditional snowball flavors with the option to add condensed milk and/or rum, Chambord, or Herradura Tequila), The Praline Connection (Crispy Chicken Wings), and more will all have food on sale.

Satchmo SummerFest also has an educational aspect with its Satchmo Symposium of lectures on Louis Armstrong. For kids, the festival offers Pops’ Playhouse at the Louisiana State Museum.

Big Sam performs at Tipitina’s for free on Sept. 2. (Photo: Andy Goetz)

Foundation Free Fridays at Tipitina’s

Cost: Free

Tipitina’s (501 Napoleon Ave.) has been a local music hotspot since 1977. Its programming arm, Tipitina’s Foundation, puts on Foundation Free Fridays at Tipitina’s each summer. Every Friday from June 10 to Sept. 2, Tipitina’s offers free concerts for patrons ages 21 and up. Upcoming performances include Walter “Wolfman” Washington & The Roadmasters + The Fortifiers on July 22, Johnny Sketch & The Dirty Notes + Water Seed on Aug. 19, and Big Sam’s Funky Nation + The Crooked Vines on Sept. 2. Doors open at 9:00 p.m., and the shows start at 10:00 p.m.

The Orpheum Theater features bars on multiple levels plus concession favorites like candy and popcorn. (Photo: Rebecca Ratliff)

Foundation Free Mondays at The Orpheum

Cost: Free

Foundation Free Mondays at The Orpheum is another initiative by the Tipitina’s Foundation. On Monday evenings through Aug. 1, the Orpheum Theater (129 Roosevelt Way) presents a free movie screening. Upcoming movies include Singing in the Rain on July 18, A Streetcar Named Desire on July 25, and Mama Mia! on Aug. 1.

The Orpheum Theater is a Beaux-Arts theater built in 1918 and renovated and reopened in 2015. In its nearly 100 year history, the Orpheum has hosted vaudeville performances, movies, and the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra.

The courtyard at The Historic New Orleans Collection. (Photo via Facebook)

The Historic New Orleans Collection

Cost: Ranges from free to $5 

The Historic New Orleans Collection (533 Royal St.) and the Williams Research Center (410 Chartres St.) is a local museum and research center dedicated to preserving the history of New Orleans and the Gulf South. Its two locations allow for free, self-guided (or smartphone) tours.

Alternatively, for a small fee of $5/person, visitors can receive a docent-led tour. The first Friday of each month in 2016, in celebration of the Historic New Orleans Collection’s 50th anniversary, docent-led tours are offered for a suggested donation of only 50 cents. On these First Friday 50-Cent Tours, select from one of the following three tours: Architecture and Courtyard, Williams Residence, or a themed tour of the Louisiana History Galleries.

Both locations are open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Royal Street location is also open Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Guided tours are Tuesday through Saturday at 10:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 2:00 p.m., and 3:00 p.m. and Sunday at 11:00 a.m., 2:00 p.m., and 3:00 p.m.

Zumba classes in City Park at the Peristyle

Cost: Free

New Orleans City Park offers free Zumba classes at the Peristyle on Saturday mornings from 8:00 to 8:45 a.m. through Sept. 24. The Peristyle is located near the intersection of Dreyfous Drive and Anseman Avenue in City Park. Wear workout clothes and be sure to bring water. Zumba class is rain or shine.

Part of the secret room inside M.S. Rau. (Photo: Rebecca Ratliff)

M.S. Rau’s secret room Tour

Cost: Free (unless you buy a Monet)

M.S. Rau Antiques is an antiques and art showroom located at 630 Royal St. in the French Quarter. World-renowned for its fine selection and just as impressive as any museum, M.S. Rau also has a secret– a secret room to be exact. To enter the secret room, simply ask. Once inside, marvel at art from Van Gogh and Monet, Napoleon Bonaparte’s death mask, two paintings by Norman Rockwell, one by Winston Churchill, and a dinosaur skeleton. Don’t forget that M.S. Rau is an antique shop: the items are for sale, so the selection can change at any time. Keep your visit low-cost if you aren’t looking to buy, or take home something quite unique if you are.

M.S. Rau Antiques is open Monday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:15 p.m.

A streetcar along St. Charles Avenue. (Photo: Cheryl Gerber)

Streetcar Tour of St. Charles Avenue

Cost: From $1.25

St. Charles Avenue is one of the best known streets in New Orleans. Its own historic district and home to the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in the world, St. Charles is a must-see for visitors. Hop on the green streetcar that runs from St. Charles at Canal Street to S. Carrollton at S. Claiborne. A Jazzy Pass, valid for one day of unlimited public transportation uses, is just $3 and allows passengers to leisurely ride and hop off for lunch or to explore. What better way to take in the Mardi Gras parade route (make sure to get a glimpse of the Mardi Gras beads hanging from trees and power lines), see the famous canopy of oaks, and absorb the grandeur of the many mansions that line the avenue?

Jazzy Passes are available from the conductor with exact change or on the RTA GoMobile App.

A gallery open for Dirty Linen Night. (Photo: Cheryl Gerber)

White Linen Night/Dirty Linen Night

Cost: Free

New Orleans summer means it is time to get your white linen clothes out of the closet. Whitney White Linen Night takes place Saturday, Aug. 6 in the 300 to 600 blocks of Julia Street in the Warehouse District. Art galleries stay open long past their normal opening hours so the public, dressed in white linen (or just white outfits), can traipse in and out, wine or champagne in hand. The event, running from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. is free and open to the public and includes live entertainment. Food and drink is available for purchase from local vendors.

Dirty Linen Night, a play on Whitney White Linen Night, occurs one week later on Saturday, August 13. Taking place along Royal Street in the French Quarter, the public is asked to wear their “dirty” linen from the previous Saturday. The concept is similar with art galleries opening their doors well into the evening and food and drink available for purchase. Dirty Linen Night, running from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. is also free and open to the public.

Bayona. (Photo: Rebecca Ratliff)

COOLinary

Cost: From $20

Cool down during the month of August by taking advantage of COOLinary. While not free, COOLinary offers the limited opportunity to enjoy a prix fixe lunch or dinner menu at some of New Orleans’ best restaurants for as low as $20. More than 80 restaurants are participating in COOLinary 2016, including Arnaud’s, Bayona, Commander’s Palace, Dick & Jenny’s, NOLA, Primitivo, and Tableau.

The so-called “Benjamin Button House” on Coliseum Street in the Garden District. (Photo via Flickr user Chris Waits)

Scope out famous film locations

Cost: Free

New Orleans, or Hollywood South as some call it, has been a prime setting for many films and television shows over the years. Go on a self-guided tour to find some of the locations of well-known films such as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Pelican Brief, and — oddly enough — Dallas Buyers Club. In the film Burnt, for example, the main character relocates to New Orleans from Paris to work in Casamento’s, a local oyster restaurant (note that Casamento’s is on summer vacation until September). The mansion showcased in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, located at 2707 Coliseum St., is now a popular point of interest for Garden District walking tours.

Emily Ramírez Hernández is the child of New Orleans natives whose families have been in the city for generations. Emily's earliest memories of New Orleans include joyful car rides over bumpy streets, eating dripping roast beef po-boys at Domilise's, and catching bouncy balls during Mardi Gras parades with cousins. An urban planner by day and freelance writer by night, when she is off the clock she enjoys biking around town, belly dancing, and catching nerdlesque shows.

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