By Tierney Plumb
The Big Easy gets nearly 14 million visitors a year for good reason. Between its outdoor museums, live jazz, party-friendly streets, and overall positive vibes, this historic gem is unlike any other U.S. city. Here’s how to make the most of your trip to New Orleans without breaking the bank.
For a garage of finds
The French Quarter's iconic pink-painted Le Garage is a gold mine of unique antiques. Think dollar costume jewelry and trinkets, Burning Man-approved garb, and all kinds of quirky decor that'll create a year-round New Orleans vibe back home. Decompress from dumpster diving with a top-notch Thai chair massage across the street (10 minutes for $12).
This 1,300-acre outdoor oasis, around since 1850, is one of the oldest urban parks in the U.S. Located in the Mid City neighborhood, the park's lagoons, centuries-old live oaks, and moss canopies set the scene for its open-air Besthoff Sculpture Garden, packed with 80 immobile attractions. Get in a workout by hitting its biking, jogging, and walking paths, 26 tennis courts, and 18-hole golf course. While the park is packed with freebies, a Twilight jazz band performance every Thursday is worth the $10 entry fee, as is a ride on the hand-carved wooden carousel at the Carousel Gardens Amusement Park ($4).
Hotel and gallery hopping
New Orleans is home to a sea of historic hotels, ripe with picture-perfect lobbies that double as museums. The chandelier-adorned Roosevelt is where the Sazerac cocktail was born; the boutique International House just added a graffiti-lined Banksy exhibit across its modern lobby this year; and the Hotel Monteleone stars a stunning (and revolving) carousel bar. From there, hit Royal Street and hop into the area’s offbeat and colorful galleries and jewelry stores (beware that some, like Decatur Street’s Renegade Arts, restrict photos). After a day of sight-seeing, you can relax back at home base in HI New Orleans hostel’s own lobby, complete with historic interior architecture and murals by local artists.
For a local hangout
The Country Club, a 40-year-old cottage on the Mississippi River that's that’s evolved into a sleek, palm-filled relaxing respite, is one of the Bywater neighborhood’s best-kept secrets. For a $15 entry fee, customers get full access to its cabana bar, hot tub, hip pool party, and prime people watching. BYOT (towel) and save $2.
Happy hour and live music
Iconic tiki bar Latitude 29 has an awesomely long happy hour (daily 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.), offering macaroni salads (a Hawaiian favorite) and beachy beers for $3. Take a peek at its glass-enclosed collection of drinkware, match boxes, and statues from yesteryear. And every Thursday, 60-year-old NOLA fixture Vaughan’s Lounge erupts into a lively jazz scene with trumpeters, local legends, and a side of passed red beans and rice ($10 entry).
The always-free Lower 9th Ward Living Museum takes visitors on a visual tour of the neighborhood starting in the 1700s, when it served as a colony for escaped slaves, all the way to post-Katrina days. For those who live in Louisiana, a handful of museums are complimentary: the Contemporary Arts Museum on Sunday, Ogden Museum of Southern Art on Thursday, and the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Botanical Garden on Wednesday. The latter is also free for anyone 19 and younger.
For free oysters and cheap eats
Bivalves plucked fresh from nearby water sare a must in the Big Easy. At 24-hour staple Le Bon Temps Roule on Magazine Street, there's live piano and oysters on the house every Friday night (7 p.m. to 10 p.m.). And cafeteria-style joint Mother’s has been an institution in New Orleans since 1983, with an early bird weekday breakfast special for $6.50.
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Want to live like a local on your next visit to New Orleans? It’s a worthy goal in the Crescent City, where lively communities and unique local experiences are hiding in plain sight just outside the French Quarter.