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Best Local Things to Do

15 Things to Do in July

new orleans fourth of july
The Dueling Barges fireworks over the river (Photo by Cheryl Gerber)

With the arrival of summer, everything seems to slow down just a little bit. Maybe it’s the memories of summers off during childhood, or the sense of new adventure the season brings. Whatever the case, the month of July presents an opportunity to slow down and enjoy what New Orleans has to offer. Whether you choose to attend the annual New Orleans Shakespeare Festival at Tulane, have a lunch date at one of the many new local restaurants, or jam out to live music at Tipitina’s or the 2019 ESSENCE Festival® Presented By Coca-Cola®, we have plenty to keep you busy (and cool) for the month of July.

Fireworks on the Riverfront (Photo: Paul Broussard)

1. Celebrate what unites us on July 4th

Regardless of politics, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or country of origin, the United States’ Independence Day is a time for all to come together and celebrate—with fireworks and beer. While New Orleans did not become part of the U.S. until 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase, we still know how to celebrate. As part of Go 4th on the River, the main fireworks display is a pair of dueling barges from the Mississippi River. Watch the show on the Moonwalk (the riverfront park on the edge of the French Quarter), or spread out a blanket on the levee across the river in Algiers Point to watch from there. The show starts at 9:00 p.m. For added patriotism, turn on Magic 101.9, WWL AM 870, or FM 105.3 for music synced to the fireworks show.

2. Trace New Orleans’ contemporary art history

The Historic New Orleans Collection recently opened a new museum at the Seignouret-Brulatour Building in the French Quarter, expanding their current curatorial operations. The new space’s inaugural exhibit, Art of the City: Postmodern to Post-Katrina, presented by The Helis Foundation, runs through October 6, 2019. Through the works of over 75 artists, the exhibit examines the development of contemporary art driven by the city’s sometimes stormy social and cultural climate. The exhibit is accompanied by several related events, including Oral History – Live on July 13, a live interview with two of the featured artists, and a book club of sorts conversation about Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas on July 17.

3. Experience empowerment and music at ESSENCE

The 25th ESSENCE Festival® returns to New Orleans from July 4-7 for a long weekend celebrating black culture through music, entertainment, and empowerment. Known to the broader public as a music festival (this year’s lineup includes big names like Missy Elliot, Mary J. Blige, Ginuwine, H.E.R., Big Freedia, and PJ Morton), ESSENCE also provides a Gospel celebration on July 7, the Beauty Carnival, a series of free workshops and educational sessions, and the 2019 ESSENCE Day of Service.

Guacamole at Nolé (Photo credit: Randy P. Schmidt Photography)

4. Sample menus at new local restaurants

New Orleans never ceases to churn out new restaurants around town from the endless supply of talented local (and out-of-town) chefs. Plenty of new restaurants have opened since the beginning of the year with Spanish and Latin cuisines (CosteraOtra Vez, Nolé), Chinese and Chinese fusion (Dian Xin and Blue Giant). Post up at a table for a long lunch, savoring rich flavors and avoiding the summer heat.

5. Bust out your floaties and head to the pool

In order to stave off the hot and humid climate, make a plan to recharge at a local pool. There are several public swimming pools around town (such as the Stallings St. Claude Recreation Center and the Whitney Young Pool). However, if you are looking for an upgrade, there are also several hotels around town (including Le Meridien, Ace Hotel, the Omni Royal Orleans) that allow non-guests to access their pools for a fee. Not quite sure what you are looking for? Try the more low-key pool at The Drifter, a hipster-style hotel, or the Country Club, the popular drag brunch spot in the Bywater.

The Alto rooftop pool and bar at Ace New Orleans. (Photo: Fran Parente)

6. Get nostalgic and go to the movies

On a hot or stormy summer day, while away an afternoon or evening at the movies. The Prytania Theater is perhaps the best known remaining single screen neighborhood movie theater in the city and can make for a nostalgic outing. The newer Broad Theater boasts four screens and a bar.

Couturie Forest trailhead (photo credit: Emily Ramirez Hernandez)
Couturie Forest trailhead (photo credit: Emily Ramirez Hernandez)

7. Explore nature and art at City Park

City Park, a 1,300-acre public park, is one of the jewels of the city. Rain or shine, visitors have no shortage of options to explore. For rainy days, munch on an order beignets and drink coffee at Cafe du Monde or visit the New Orleans Museum of Art. On sunny days, explore the newly expanded sculpture garden or the Botanical Garden. For a shady hike, roam the forked trails of the Couturie Forest. Need time on the water? Rent a kayak or a paddle boat.

Tipitina’s (Photo: Justen Williams)

8. Dance to live music at Tipitina’s

Throughout the summer, Tipitina’s (which is now owned by members of local funk band Galactic) will host a free Friday concert series. On July 5, catch Walter “Wolfman” Washington & the Roadmasters as well as Marc Stone Band. On July 12, dance to John “Papa” Gros and Space & Harmony. Honey Island Swamp Band, plus the New Orleans Johnnys, play on July 19. The last Friday of the month, July 26, see the New Orleans Suspects and the Crooked Vines. Doors open at 9:00 p.m., and the shows start at 10:00 p.m. (21+).

9. Remember the storming of the Bastille on Bastille Day

*Due to the threat of severe weather, Bastille Day events have been cancelled.

In 1789, while New Orleans was under Spanish colonial rule, France was experiencing food shortages, high taxes, and the militarization of Paris. Amidst growing fears that King Louis XVI hoped to stamp out any inkling of a political revolt, citizens looted firearms from Hôtel des Invalides and then stormed the Bastille on July 14 of that year for gunpowder—inadvertently freeing the prisoners held captive there. Bastille Day, France’s national celebration, is now observed yearly on July 14. In New Orleans, several local French cultural organizations host a local celebration on July 12 with live music, dancing, performances, and French food at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

eat cake
Let them eat (cup)cake at Bastille Day Fete. (Photo: Cheryl Gerber)

10. Eat a hot dog at a Baby Cakes game

Baseball is a favorite American past-time and perfect for the month of America’s independence. Local minor league baseball team the New Orleans Baby Cakes hosts games throughout the month with several promotions. Celebrate Thirsty Thursday on July 4 with a game against the San Antonio Missions followed by fireworks. Can’t make it out during the week? The Baby Cakes will have fireworks following the games on Friday, July 5, 19, and 26. On Sundays in July, kids 4-12 get to run the bases after the game. The Baby Cakes also have several themed nights including Stranger Things Night on Friday, July 19, Fairytale Night on Saturday, July 20, and Wizards Night (in celebration of Harry Potter’s birthday) on Friday, July 26. Costumes are encouraged.

11. Hear iambic pentameter at the Shakespeare Festival

The New Orleans Shakespeare Festival at Tulane is an annual celebration of the playwright’s works, now in its 26th year. With a focus on exposing the Gulf South to Shakespeare, it presents multiple works each year. This year, the festival begins in June and continues into July featuring Hamlet from July 12-28.

12. Cool off with a snowball

Snowball stand windows are open all summer long. Snowballs, not to be confused with snow cones, are almost vital to survival in the summer heat. Locals are quite loyal to their favorite snowball stands, most of them part of the neighborhood fabric (like Hansen’s and Plum Street Snowballs). Bring some cash to your favorite snowball stand (many don’t take credit cards) and order one of the dozens of flavors. Popular flavors include strawberry and bubble gum, but more complex flavors are emerging (my current favorite is Pandora’s praline cream with condensed milk). Not sure where to start? Take our quiz and find out which snowball flavor you are, then go try it for yourself. If you’re around on the Fourth of July, be sure to head out to the inaugural Sneauxball Fest in New Orleans East for a good time.

national WWII museum planes
The National World War II Museum (Photo: Rebecca Todd)

13. Delve into exhibits at the WWII Museum

The National World War II Museum provides a carefully curated look into the history of the Great War, from the D-Day invasion, to events in the Pacific theater. This museum isn’t just for the war history buff though. The special exhibit, In Memory of What I Cannot Say: The Art of Guy de Montlaur, chronicles the life and work of the French fine-art painter who also battled the Nazis as a member of the French army and later with the Free French Commandos. The exhibit showcases both his abstract paintings, motivated from his experiences in the war, as well as photographs, artifacts, and interpretive text panels. The exhibit is on view through October 20, 2019.

14. Run with the “bulls” during San Fermin in Nueva Orleans

While it isn’t exactly like the real Encierro, or Running of the Bulls, in Pamplona, Spain, the local celebration of San Fermin in Nueva Orleans is still fun and less dangerous. In place of live bulls running loose through city streets, members of the Bill Easy Rollergirls rollerskate after runners with plastic bats. San Fermin in Nueva Orleans is a full weekend affair, with the running of the “bulls” the morning of August 25. Other weekend events include El Txupinazo, the fundraising kick-off to festivities on August 24, the Fiesta de Pantalones on Saturday, and Ernest Hemingway-inspired burlesque with Big Deal Burlesque at Lula Distillery on Sunday to mark the end of Sanfermines. Tickets are available here, and sales raise money for Beth’s Friends Forever and Big Easy Animal Rescue.

Running of the Bulls Photo: Cheryl Gerber
Running of the Bulls Photo: Cheryl Gerber

15. Sample some spirits at Tales of the Cocktail

Tales of the Cocktail returns for its 17th year on July 16-21. Tales of the Cocktail is a business conference mixed with a festival and tailored for those in the bar and spirits industry, including bartenders and distillers. Anyone else interested in cocktail history and culture should also attend. The festival offers over 300 events including seminars, tastings, book signings, cocktail tours, competitions, dinners, and awards. Individual tickets are sold for each event.

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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