Once you visit, you’ll truly understand the expression, “Only in New Orleans…” But what most visitors don’t realize is that despite its reputation for excessive booze and indulgence, locals indulge in a beautifully green, culturally rich small town. Discover the responsible traveler's take on the Big Easy when you stay at HI New Orleans, from green exploration to a few vegan-friendly finds since they can be hard to stumble upon!
The City Park Experience
Explore the natural beauty of New Orleans that locals know and love through a jaunt to City Park. Jump on the Canal Streetcar, and 20-30 minutes later, you’ll be surrounded by 1,300 acres of inviting outdoor space, featuring hiking and biking trails, a lake with paddle boats, and all kinds of events. Soak up some culture, with the New Orleans Museum of Art or the Sculpture Garden, both nestled in this secluded haven. If you haven’t brought a picnic, you’ll find the best food options along the nearby Ponce de Leon Street, including 1000 Figs, which is known for its vegan-friendly falafel. If you need a pick-me-up before heading back to town, grab a coffee and beignets at Morning Call inside the park, or check out the nearby Fair Grinds Coffee, where the name says it all.
Pro tip: A surprising number of shops and restaurants are cash only, so be prepared!
Green Fact: City Park has the largest grove of mature live oaks in the world...the oldest trees are 600-800 years old!
The Local’s French Quarter
The French Quarter is filled with buried treasures that feel a million miles from Bourbon Street. Start your morning with a walk to Woldenburg Park, a sprawling slither of green space along the Mississippi River. As you’re watching the riverboats cruise by, you may also encounter musicians, festivals, or even a second line. Grab breakfast or lunch at Green Goddess Café, a favorite of vegetarians and carnivores alike that serves up local and organic yumminess. Once your belly is full, you can spend hours exploring the shops and galleries on Royal and Chartres Street. While a bit touristy, the French Market is a great place to snag locally-made souvenirs.
Pro tip: There’s a hidden public restroom in the Jean Lafitte French Quarter Visitors Center on Decatur, a rare find and the best-kept secret in the French Quarter!
Green Fact: The French Market hosts the Crescent City Farmer’s Market every Wednesday.
The Garden District at Your Leisure
A great excuse to hop on the famed St. Charles Streetcar, Audubon Park makes a great morning activity. This urban oasis is dense with ancient oaks, and has been a favorite destination for jogging, picnics, and indulging in nature for more than 100 years. You’ll find a zoo, aquarium, insectarium and more. Make your way to the end of the park up against the river to an area locals call “The Fly.” It’s one of the only spots in uptown where you’ll have a clear view of the water. When the city vibe starts calling, hop the bus about 2 miles down Magazine Street and enjoy endless blocks of unique shops and eclectic food. Ever imagine a donut slider with kimchi? Most people haven’t, but you have to try it! District is a locally-owned treasure, that’s also vegetarian-friendly and truly one of a kind.
Pro tip: At District, the sliders are small, but the donuts are huge. This place is best experienced with friends so you can try more things, and dare to be adventurous!
Green Fact: The St. Charles Streetcar, in operation since 1835, is the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in the world. It is the busiest public transit route in New Orleans, popular among commuters and tourists.
Only In New Orleans
Have your yoga and drink beer too at the Bayou Beer Garden. For an experience you won’t find anywhere else, ride a rental bike along the Lafitte Greenway until you arrive at this local hangout. One of their signature events is, you guessed it, yoga, and they proudly follow it with drinks. Stay there for a burger, or head to Parkway for an authentic po' boy sandwich. This family-owned restaurant has been around for more than 100 years, and one of the best places to try the city’s signature sub. Walk off your meal by meandering through the surrounding Bayou St. John neighborhood to get a taste of local living.
Pro tip: Fill up your water bottle at HI New Orleans hostel. It can be hard to find a refill station, so make sure to bring a big one!
Green Fact: Supporting locally-owned businesses is often environmentally, socially, and economically friendly. These businesses typically have a lower environmental footprint and circulate a larger share of their revenue in the local economy, which enriches the whole community.
For a day when you need some alone time to absorb the city, a bike will be your best resource. Head down Esplanade Avenue towards the river, and then weave through the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods. Amidst warehouses and humble homes, you’ll find innovative artists and craftsman. Since it’s New Orleans, you’ll always find delicious food and drinks mixed in. A local favorite is Pizza Delicious, a rare vegan-friendly pizza joint. Head back towards the French Quarter by taking Mandeville Crossing, a pedestrian bridge that climbs across the railroad tracks and provides an entrance to Crescent Park. This long stretch of greenspace hugs the river, providing scenic views on your cruise back to the bustling city.
Pro tip: These neighborhoods are farther out from the French Quarter than they appear on a map. If biking is not your thing, don’t rely on your feet!
Green Fact: Look for a new city-wide bike share program called Blue Bikes. Information on this program and other public transit options will be readily available at the hostel when opened.
This is part of the HI USA Responsible Travel Guide series, offering fun, unique ideas for sustainable travel. Click here for more Responsible Travel destinations.
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