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Leap Year: How to Spend Your Extra Day in New Orleans

Feb. 29 is four years in the making, so you better make the most of it. Read on for how to leap into your extra day in New Orleans.

As a child, I struggled to understand the concept of a leap year. Someone older attempted to explain it to me, but I found myself floating off on the concept itself. Days come out of nowhere and then disappear? I didn’t view it as a bonus—I saw it as some absurd irregularity. If days can disappear, what else might slip into the ether but sneak back years later?

That wasn’t the last time when the leap year induced anxiety. Last month, in a rush to get the last seat on a cheap flight out of New Orleans, I booked what I thought was a return flight to Louis Armstrong Airport on Jan. 29. Only upon turning up to the airport at the city where I’d been visiting did I realize that in my haste I’d reserved a flight for Feb. 29 — a day, of course, that only exists every four years. The leap year had bamboozled me again.

In the spirit of making peace with the leap year and seeing it as an opportunity rather than a temporal chimera, here are a few ways to spend the best gift of all: extra time in New Orleans.

Eat Breakfast at Brennan’s

If you’ve got an extra day out of the year, what should you do first? We suggest heading to Brennan’s — which features eight stylish dining rooms (and whose chef, Slade Rushing, is a James Beard semifinalist this year) — to order something that was first implemented on their menu: the Bananas Foster. In the 1960s, New Orleans was a major entry-point for fruit from South America, and Brennan’s chef Paul Blangé made use of the excess of bananas by creating this delectable desert.

Bananas Foster at Brennan's. (Photo: Paul Broussard)
Bananas Foster at Brennan’s. (Photo: Paul Broussard)

Tour The National World War II Museum

In the past eighteen months, The National World War II museum has continued to expand, combining dynamic technological innovations with a deep reverence for the past— all in order to highlight the important place WWII has in American (and this city’s) history. That the WWII Museum is in New Orleans is due to the life and work of New Orleanian Andrew Higgins, the inventor of those boasts so integral to amphibious landings in the Pacific and European theatres of war. The Tom Hanks-produced and narrated Beyond All Boundaries, a 4D film that explores the war, is itself a reason to visit the museum.

Immersive exhibits put you right in the middle of the action, and make the storytelling that much more real and interesting. Exhibits seemingly integrate video and audio storytelling with artifacts in realistic environments like the recreated bridge of the USS Enterprise. The tactile experience gets you right from the beginning as you can feel the steel rivets in the floor, just as on a real battleship.
The entry to the Road to Tokyo exhibit at the National World War II Museum. (Photo: Paul Broussard)

Kayak, Paddleboard, or Canoe on Bayou St. John

Think about those New Year’s resolutions you make every January: get more exercise, enjoy nature, and just relax a bit more. With an extra day this year, there is no excuse not to get out onto the bayou via kayak, paddleboard, or canoe. And for the “relax” component of your goals for 2016, you can always incorporate a post-paddle wine and cheese picnic.

Paddleboarding on the bayou. (Photo: Rebecca Ratliff)
Paddleboarding — with a bit of yoga — on the bayou. (Photo: Rebecca Ratliff)

Visit The Presbytere

Mardi Gras may have already come and gone, but The Presbytere, which is right on Jackson Square in the French Quarter, hosts a dynamic collection of Mardi Gras artifacts and assorted memorabilia. More than just beautiful items displayed for visitors, the collection — part of the Louisiana State Museum — also has an interactive digital exhibition. If you missed Mardi Gras, you can get a sense of the spectacle through the exhibition; from the building of the floats at Blaine Kern Studios (the city’s largest and most well-known float builders) to a viewer’s street-level perspective of the parades themselves.

Learn about the city’s food culture at SoFaB

I was lucky enough to attend the opening of SoFaB, where I subsequently ate and drank my way through Southern culture. It was incredible. So, no matter what you pick from this list, I’m going to use the extra day to do what I said I’d do from that first night I was there: go back and enjoy this celebration of the South’s best food and drink.

Enjoy a streetcar ride through the Garden District

There’s one thing that must be done on this extended February — movement around the city. We are blessed here with transportation that’s also a destination: the famed streetcar. Get to St. Charles Avenue, hop aboard, and ride the streetcar past the city’s most beautiful homes and lush, tree-lined sidewalks.

The St. Charles Avenue streetcar (Photo: Paul Broussard)

Experience Jazz at Preservation Hall

Despite the absolute plethora of music options for which this city is known around the country and the globe, there’s still a checklist of aural experiences that one must complete. A show at Preservation Hall is pretty high on that list. Founded in 1961, Preservation Hall is a central node in New Orleans’ dazzling music network.

Explore the Cities of the Dead

Much of this list has focused on consumption — of food, drink, and music — so perhaps it’s apt to have a little reflection. In our beloved Cities of the Dead (my favorite being Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 on Prytania), there’s a true sense of the ebb and flow of time, and being there on a “free” day creates a fitting contrast.

St. Louis Cemetery No. 2. (Photo: Rebecca Ratliff)
St. Louis Cemetery No. 2. (Photo: Rebecca Ratliff)

Shop, eat, and drink your way down Magazine Street

With this extra day, I propose a suspension (at least partial) of some other common New Year’s Resolutions: to shop, eat, and drink less. Frankly, that moderate mindset just won’t work on Magazine Street, where plush retail stores are in close proximity to fantastic places to eat and drink. Justify your indulgences by the fact that you’re merely taking a healthy stroll with occasional stops for refreshing cocktails (and perhaps a new article of clothing that you absolutely need).

Catch the Sunset over the Mississippi River

So, you’ve no doubt knocked off a few things from this list during the course of this extra day. It won’t be coming around for another four years, so it deserves a memorable conclusion. Head down to Crescent Park and toast a farewell to this gift of an extra day—you won’t be seeing her again until 2020.

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