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 24
Start the morning right with breakfast at Pagoda Café in the Esplanade Ridge area, 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. Tuesday through Friday and 8 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.
After breakfast, make your way down Esplanade Avenue towards Bayou St. John. Rent a kayak or paddle board 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 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 Sydney and Walda 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 the statues, 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 dinner at Domenica (located inside the Roosevelt Hotel). 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 French Quarter. 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 with a range of art and jewelry perfect for souvenirs or gifts.
Saturday, May 25
Enjoy a holiday weekend and and get a little sweat in too. 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. Class cost 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. You can never tire of these beignets and their deep-fried, powdered sugary goodness. Hint, don’t wear black yoga pants.
Our next stop is the Canal/Algiers Ferry. Just $4 cash ($2 per 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 neighborhood of Algiers Point. Grab a drink at Crown & Anchor Pub before ferrying back to the other side of the city.
Return to the East Bank 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 window shopping down Magazine and walking towards Dat Dog, a good 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).
Saturday evening, head over to Esplanade Avenue bordering the Marigny for a little weird and funky fun. 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 6:30 p.m., and the show starts at 7 p.m. After the show, bop around the corner to Frenchmen Street for live music all night long.
Sunday, May 26
Still hungry? 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 a.m. and 10 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.
For a mid-day festival, venture out to Greek Fest, which runs from Thursday, May 23 to Sunday, May 26. Admission is $8, but on 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).
Monday, May 27
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 a.m. to 5 p.m. and feature special Memorial Day programming.
Close out the weekend by heading 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. Some of the offerings include an oyster bar, American-Mexican cuisine, Haitian food. Both indoor and outdoor seating available.