Mix in a teaspoon of history, a pinch of music, 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
Friday, May 26
Start the morning right with breakfast at Pagoda Café in Mid-City, a laundromat-turned-café 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 toast topped 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. Pagoda opens at 7:30 a.m.
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 will 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. Order, for instance, the turkey and alligator sausage gumbo, the roast beef po-boy, and a Canebrake beer or a Pimm’s Cup.
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 sculptures and mossy oaks 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 (one-way fares are $1.25 cash, or learn more about the Jazzy Pass here). Travel into downtown for an evening show by the Antoine Diel Trio performing at The Roosevelt Hotel’s Fountain Lounge from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. The show is free– just remember to tip to show your support for local musicians!
The Fountain Lounge offers dinner, but if you are itching for a change of scenery try Domenica (also located inside the Roosevelt) or take a short stroll over to Capdeville (don’t leave within trying the fried red beans and rice– balls of red bean and rice goodness with green onion aioli and hot sauce for dipping). Alternatively, for an inexpensive and quick meal, grab a sandwich at Verti Marte (their All that Jazz sandwich actually is “all that jazz”), which is open 24 hours a day.
Take the remainder of the evening to stroll around the Vieux Carré, more commonly known as the French Quarter— after all, it is one of the highlights of the city. In the evening hours, the Quarter is still bustling. Walk along Decatur Street (nearby Verti Marte) to SecondLine Arts & Antiques (open until midnight), a funky shop featuring bits and pieces of New Orleans including alligator corsets, jewelry, and instruments-turned-lamps, as well as an outdoor art market (open until 1:00 a.m.) with a range of art and jewelry perfect for souvenirs or gifts.
Saturday, May 27
Just because you are enjoying a holiday weekend does not mean you have to completely neglect your body. Get an early start with the 8:30 a.m. hour long 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 $15, 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 donut shop. You can never get tired of beignets and their deep fried, powdered sugary goodness. Hopefully you didn’t wear black yoga pants, which would attract plenty of powdered sugar…
But even 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 Mississippi and back, as well as the best views of the French Quarter. Stick around for awhile on the West Bank of the river to wander the charming and often forgotten neighborhood of Algiers Point. 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 (accessible via either the number 11 Magazine Street bus or the St. Charles Streetcar using your Jazzy Pass or paying $1.25 cash). 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, weather dependent). 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 for shopping (or windows shopping), the #11 Magazine bus is your friend.
Saturday evening, head over to Esplanade Avenue bordering the Marigny for things to get weird and funky. Talk Nerdy to Me is a weekly burlesque show at the Dragon’s Den, also featuring 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 dinner from Dragon’s Den’s Asian Kitchen, which serves dishes like General Tso’s Chicken and Bao (Vietnamese tacos). Then, bop around the corner to Frenchmen Street for live music all night long for the rest of the night.
Sunday, May 28
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 to die for, and for pork-eaters, the praline bacon is obligatory. Or, if you prefer, just hit the snooze button.
For a mid-day festival, venture out to Greek Fest which runs from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Admission is $8, 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, tours of the cathedral, 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 you could 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.
Or, if you still have energy, buy a ticket for an evening at Bayou Country Superfest (a weekend of country music performances running May 26, 27, and 28) at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The fest moves to New Orleans after a seven-year run at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge. Sunday’s roster features Blake Shelton, Old Dominion, and Dan + Shay.
Monday, May 29
Memorial Day, the reason for the three-day weekend, is about honoring those Americans who died fighting for the United States. 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. The museum’s exhibits are open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. In addition, in remembering Memorial Day, the museum hosts events that day including the Commemoration Ceremony from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and the National Moment of Silence from 3:00 to 3:05 p.m.
In the spirit of the holiday, break for lunch at the American Sector, which is affiliated with the museum.
After the museum visit, keep the memory of those who have gone before us alive through a visit to a local cemetery. Many cemeteries are open to the public for self-guided tours, however local non-profit Save Our Cemeteries offers tours of Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 and St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. Remember: be respectful.
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 barbecue 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.