New Orleanians know how to party, but all the fun doesn't happen to the beat of a brass band inside a crowded bar. Locals love to get outside, barbecue, play sports and spend time in the outdoors, usually under the leafy canopy of a shade tree.
Two of the best places to bike or run are Audubon Park, which has a bike trail but can be crowded on nice weekends; and the peaceful streets of the Garden District. One of the residents' favorite places to jog is along the streetcar lines. If you do this, watch out for cars making quick turns on the short cross streets.
Golf is also popular in New Orleans since the weather allows players to hit the links year-round. Visitors can play at a number of public courses, including those in Audubon Park and City Park. Bike tours, walking tours and Segway tours offer more options to expand your views of New Orleans with the help of an informed local guide. These tours often dig deeper than you might if you rambled on your own.
City Park is a favorite green space, the city's front yard, much loved and used by locals of every stripe. The 1300 acre park is the largest in New Orleans, with chances for kayaking, stand up paddle boarding on the little lake, bike paths and plenty of places to picnic under the shade of gorgeous live oak trees.
A 16-acre haven of green located between the French Quarter and the Mississippi, Woldenberg Riverfront Park is a perfect place to unwind after a jaunt in the Quarter. Its arresting artworks, riverside promenade and frequent strolling bands and festivals offer visitors a truly unforgettable New Orleans experience. In the early morning, keep company with locals walking their dogs and jogging, cyclists and a cast of characters you'll only find in New Orleans. Park goers can stroll the Moonwalk path for stunning views of the busy port, the Crescent City Connection Bridge and the Toulouse Street Wharf. Many of the city's favorite festivals take place here.
There are all kinds of swamp tours that explore the marshes and bayous an hour or so outside of town, but this is one of the best. Located in Slidell on the Northshore, Honey Island Swamp Tours was founded in 1982 by Dr. Paul Wagner, a wetland ecologist. Wagner and his staff lead highly informative tours of the protected Honey Island Swamp, home to spectacular wildlife including alligators, water fowl, nutria and turtles. What makes this tour different from most is the use of small boats that let you get into out of the ways spots where you aren't chasing a large tour operator. Guides are friendly and knowledgeable - and native to South Louisiana. There's plenty of opportunity for questions, photo opps and a deeper understanding of local wildlife and swamp ecology.
Outdoor attractions are plentiful on this side of Lake Pontchartrain, a world away from the excess of New Orleans. The Global Wildlife Center is the Northshore's answer to Disney's Animal Kingdom, an eco-friendly 900-acre predator-free animal park that offers 90-minute covered wagon tours to view the 40 species, 2700 animals in all, which live in the park. You're likely to see giraffes, antelope, Father David deer, dromedaries and bison on your Louisiana safari, which includes feeding the curious critters from an open air safari-like vehicle. There is so much to do for families on this side of the lake that you might want to stay over for a night or two.
You'd get an argument from an more than 350,000 brightly clad fest goers that this one is the cream of the festival crop. A bold statement, but once you've been, it's tough to contradict. What's so special about Jazz Fest? Depending on who you talk to, it's a tie between the music and the food, followed by, in no particular order, the people watching, the after fest shows around town, and did we mention the food? Held on the oval of the Fairgrounds Race Course, a horse track that can be quite pungent when muddied, Jazzfest, held for seven days at the end of April and beginning of May, is an annual tradition for a legion of locals and fans from all over the world.
Antebellum mansions and weeping willows line the streets of New Orleans' historic Garden District. See the beauty of this exquisite neighborhood, which was home to the city's plantation-wealthy and entrepreneurs, on an informative and relaxing stroll. The walking tour meets at the Garden District Book Shop and participants stroll past cemeteries, private gardens and famous residences. Expect to see the past and present homes of celebrities including Anne Rice, Trent Reznor, Archie and Peyton Manning; Nicolas Cage, John Goodman and Sandra Bullock. Call ahead for details; no reservations required, but plan to arrive 15 to 20 minutes before the tour starts.
City Segway offers visitors the chance to navigate the city on two wheels. Locally owned and reopened in 2012 after Katrina, these tours range from 1.5 to 3 hours, and bring you into neighborhoods from the French Quarter to the Marigny and Treme. Groups stay small and the guides earn high marks for local knowledge. The night tour is for smaller groups, rides through Frenchmen Street and gives riders a chance to witness the city lit up and alive. This type of tour is great for people who want to get caught up on the city's history and nuances without having to spend the time and energy walking around.
A snowy egret watches cagily from the banks of Bayou St. John, strutting with his over sized yellow feet like a clown on parade. Maybe he's not used to seeing humans kayaking in his urban waterway, a sight that's becoming increasingly common, thanks to Kayak-iti-yat, a business owned by local partners Sara Howard and Sonny Averett. Founded in 2011, Kayak-iti-yat (a paddling riff on the local query, where y'at?) sheds new light on the city's charming Mid-City neighborhood bounded by the historic canal, once a vibrant transportation waterway connecting to Lake Ponchartrain. Sara and Sonny take turns leading the tours, which are geared mostly to novices, unless a wind whips chop into the usually placid canal. Bits of history and lore are shouted into the breeze, historic homes are identified and a growing confluence of birds remarked upon, from great blue herons to beady-eyed pelicans.
New Orleans is a city of neighborhoods, but too often, visitors never make it out of the admittedly gorgeous French Quarter. COC wants that to change, and offers themed tours, including Creole, cocktails and 9th ward designed to show you a different side of New Orleans. Under pedal power and following in-the-know direction, you'll veer into into uncharted territory. Biking prowess isn't necessary, the route is naturally flat and the pace is leisurely. One of the best of the tours is culinary, led by Cassady Fallon Cooper, an exuberant local son whose family has been in New Orleans for generations. Depending on the 'hood – all non-touristy but safe - you might sample fried chicken at Lil' Dizzy's in Treme, barbecued shrimp po'boy at Liuzza's at the Track in Faubourg St. John and praline bacon at Elizabeth's in the Bywater.
In need of some fresh air and local color? Head to The Fly, the uptown riverside stretch of Audubon Park behind the zoo that teems with locals of all ages, shapes and sizes. Situated atop the levee with fabulous river views, there is vast open space and few rules – or at least none that are enforced. So you'll see people drinking beer and barbecuing, boiling crawfish, playing Frisbee and softball, dogs romping, kids riding bikes and lovers picnicking and watching the ships travel the Mississippi. This is also the start of the 25-mile levee bike path - a super fun ride along the river. Audubon Park, a 340-acre urban oasis, is also home to the world-class Audubon Zoo, a 1.8-mile paved jogging path, a golf course, tennis courts and plenty of places to people watch.
The largest green space in New Orleans, City Park boasts 1,300 acres featuring dozens of colorful original artworks, excellent sports facilities and beloved attractions, such as the New Orleans Botanical Garden and the New Orleans Museum of Art, all surrounded by picturesque lagoons and sprawling lawns. Little ones love the Carousel Gardens Amusement Park, home to an antique carousel, and the whole family can enjoy boating, biking or picnicking under the Spanish moss-draped oak trees. There's also a lake for paddleboat rentals, and Storyland, a Mother Goose themed playground where kids can meet Three Little Pigs, Cinderella's Pumpkin, the Cheshire Cat and Snow White.