What is there to do in New Orleans in the summer?

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NEW ORLEANS – If you come to New Orleans in February, you’ll find Mardi Gras beads hanging from the trees. In April, you’ll see dads roaming town in Hawaiian Jazzfest shirts. And October sees the rise of bachelor and bachelorette parties, easily identified by stumbling visitors clutching Bourbon Street cocktails in matching merchandise.

But here in the dead of summer in the depths of the south all is quiet. If you wanted to visit New Orleans without tourists, now is your moment.

A local guide to New Orleans

Despite the sweltering heat and very real hurricane potential, late summer New Orleans can offer intrepid visitor deals you can’t get the rest of the year, festivals like no other, and a glimpse into an overlooked phase in the city’s life.

Enjoy tasting menus

August is notorious among service workers here: it’s the month when their tips plummet to a fraction of what they see in spring or fall. I experienced this firsthand when I was a waitress on Bourbon in a past life. I remember spending August stressed out, delivering platters of redfish and frozen milk punch to my lunch table or two, and longing for the dishwashing days of May when tips paid the rent.

There aren’t any big sponsors because the corporate conferences aren’t in town, and the regulars are absent because football season hasn’t started yet — and it’s damn hot. One of the country’s best food cities has restaurant workers going through a crisis every year these days.

Join COOLinary, the month-long restaurant week-style event featuring rarely-seen discounts at many of the city’s best restaurants, with $25 two-course lunches or $45 multi-course dinners. At Compere Lapin, from award-winning chef Nina Compton of Top Chef, a three-course dinner of chilled corn chowder, pork belly and peach galette is offered at a significant discount from the usual $57.

At elegant, seafood-focused GW Fins, a trio of tempura red snapper, parmesan-crusted sheepshead, and bourbon pecan pie with ice cream is $15 less than usual. And there’s never been a better time to try the cocktails at Jewel of the South, recently named the best restaurant bar in the US and co-founder Chris Hannah US Bartender of the Year, where you can enjoy a $45 dinner with four Gangen expects everything from smoked trout roe to Wagyu beef tongue.

Escape the heat at museums

If you just want to get in and get in the air conditioning, New Orleans’ museums and art galleries deliver, and they make it an absolute steal to do so at this time of year.

A collaboration between many of the city’s museums results in Museum Month, an August special where membership in one of the participating museums gives you access to all the others. This year, the long list includes the Louisiana Children’s Museum, the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience, the New Orleans Museum of Art, and the multi-day (if not multi-week) worthy National WWII Museum that is a must-visit. Don’t miss Louisiana Contemporary at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, an annually juried exhibition of artists from the state.

Celebrate Pride at Southern Decadence

Like most cities in the United States, New Orleans hosts an LGBTQ+ Pride Festival in June. But in keeping with its excess spirit, New Orleans has also, for the past 50 years, celebrated Southern Decadence, a six-day celebration of all things colorful and cheerful at the end of summer.

On a Sunday, the day before Labor Day, the French Quarter fills with hundreds of thousands of people dressed in leather, lace and feather boas for a graduation parade and street parties. And as is inevitable on hot New Orleans afternoons, there’s a rainstorm – drenching the celebration and turning it into an even louder show, just what the crowd wants. The people watching is unprecedented.

Southern Decadence has been on hiatus since the pandemic began, and while it’s back this year, organizers are urging people to take precautions amid monkeypox concerns. The Bourbon Street Extravaganza, a free concert that is one of the festival’s biggest events, has been cancelled.

Get a head start on oyster season

In Louisiana, there’s an old rule that says you should only eat Gulf oysters during the months that have an “r” in their name: September through April. From May to August, it was thought better to avoid the local delicacy or risk serious food poisoning.

“It had more to do with the fact that at the time this rule came out, there weren’t any fridges, so they didn’t want people to get sick,” explains Jay Gallet, the oyster sheller champion who spoke about the crooked one Marble Oyster reigns supreme bar at Superior Seafood and Oyster Bar in the Uptown district. “It’s just an old adage,” confirms Carolina Bourque, oyster program manager at the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Today, it’s possible to safely eat Gulf oysters year-round in Louisiana, but Bourque and Gallet both add that the non-“r” months are when the clams breed, resulting in milky, unappetizing ones oysters.

That makes September a great time for oysters, but last year the month ended in disaster for the industry. Hurricane Ida rolled through the region on August 29, 2021, destroying oyster beds and damaging the homes and boats of local oyster harvesters. This year they are back and open. Try them raw at Happy Hour for $1 each at Superior, shelled by Gallet himself. He points to Sidecar Patio & Oyster Bar, Seaworthy, and Cooter Brown’s as other places where he finds a clean-peeled, salty treat.

Shed a few layers at the burlesque festival

The sultry air of New Orleans summer may get people stripping their clothes, but it’s late September when the real stripping takes place, at the annual New Orleans Burlesque Festival. Capitalizing on Bourbon Street’s reputation for risk, the event features artists from around the world and includes an all-male revue and a wealth of live music and comedy. The highlight of the three days is a main event that crowns the “Queen of Burlesque” of traditional jazz. What better way to start the upcoming bachelor and bachelor party season?

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