A New Orleans Summer: Fun and Festivals in the Big Easy

View of the river past a steamboat's red paddlewheel.

The Steamboat Natchez on the Mississippi River. Photo © Laura Martone.

If you’ve heard that New Orleans is incredibly hot and humid during the summer months, then you’ve heard right. But, despite high temperatures and the threat of hurricanes, summertime can still be a wonderful time to explore the Big Easy. Besides year-round diversions like riding the St. Charles Streetcar and Steamboat Natchez, strolling through Audubon Zoo and Jackson Square, shopping along Magazine and Royal Streets, or having a picnic amid the shady oak trees and outdoor sculptures of City Park, you can enjoy a slew of seasonal events and activities as well. Here are just some of the diversions that might keep you busy in New Orleans during the months of July, August, and September.


Seasonal Activities

While it might seem impossible to escape the heat and humidity of southeastern Louisiana during the summer months, there are definitely ways to cool off. In addition to relishing air-conditioned museums and other indoor attractions, children and teenagers may especially appreciate Cool Zoo ($6-8 per person plus zoo admission), Audubon Zoo’s seasonal splash park, which offers an array of refreshing features, from jumping water spouts to water-spitting snakes. If you’re a concerned parent, there’s even a special area for toddlers and other young children.

Greenery, trees, and a stone sculpture are reflected in a still, mirror-like pond.

City Park’s picnic-perfect sculpture garden.
Photo © Laura Martone.

Kids also prize Carousel Gardens ($3 per person plus $3 per ride), a family-friendly amusement park in City Park that features a variety of rides, including a Ferris wheel, bumper cars, a miniature train, and a historic carousel. Typically open from spring to fall, Carousel Gardens isn’t far from Storyland, a nostalgic playground featuring 25 larger-than-life storybook sculptures, from Captain Hook’s pirate ship to Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage.

Naturally, adults might also favor City Park, where the New Orleans Botanical Garden ($6 adults, $3 children 5-12, free under 5) hosts “Thursdays at Twilight” ($10 adults, $3 children 5-12), an evening concert series that takes place in the Pavilion of the Two Sisters from March to November. Gourmands, meanwhile, can take advantage of COOLinary New Orleans, an August tradition that encourages foodies to sample prix-fixe lunch and dinner menus at an assortment of local restaurants, from Galatoire’s to Commander’s Palace. Naturally, food lovers can also taste local produce and other goodies at the weekly Crescent City Farmers Market, which encompasses three year-round, rain-or-shine markets in the Uptown, Mid-City, and CBD neighborhoods.


Annual Festivals and Events

Home to Mardi Gras, the world-famous Jazz Fest, and countless other annual celebrations, New Orleans certainly knows how to throw a party. It’s no surprise that, even in the summer months, you’ll encounter plenty of beloved festivals and events. From June to August, for instance, theatergoers can attend the New Orleans Shakespeare Festival at Tulane (June 13-August 11), which, in celebration of its 20th anniversary season, is featuring the following five shows: The Merry Wives of Windsor, Romeo & Juliet, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), The Shakespearean Jazz Show, and The Taming of the Shrew. Music lovers, meanwhile, should head to New Orleans in early July for the 22nd annual Go 4th on the River, an Independence Day celebration that occurs along the Mississippi Riverfront and features live concerts as well as a fireworks extravaganza on dueling barges. If you can handle the heat, then New Orleans might be the perfect choice for some summertime fun. After all, summer is the slow season here, which means you’ll find fewer crowds and cheaper hotel rates—two great reasons to start planning your Big Easy getaway.Also in early July, the four-day Essence Music Festival (July 4-7) will present a wide array of musicians, from Beyoncé to LL Cool J, on eight different stages. Later in the month, revelers can embrace San Fermin in Nueva Orleans (July 11-14), the highlight of which will be the seventh annual Running of the Bulls through downtown New Orleans, and Tales of the Cocktail (July 17-21), which usually showcases an array of tours, seminars, tastings, luncheons, dinners, and other events focused on local libations and cuisine.

Even August has its share of gatherings, including the 13th annual Satchmo SummerFest (August 1-4), which will offer a slew of local delicacies, from jambalaya to pralines, in addition to live concerts and music-related seminars. Also in early August, art aficionados should head to the downtown Arts District for Whitney White Linen Night (August 3), a celebration of art, cocktails, and local cuisine. Meanwhile, its tongue-in-cheek counterpart, Dirty Linen Night (August 10), honors the art galleries, shops, and boutiques along Royal Street.

Later in the month, the French Quarter and Faubourg Marigny will be rife with drag queens, scantily-clad hardbodies, and eager onlookers for the longstanding Southern Decadence (August 28-September 2), lovingly known as the “Gay Mardi Gras,” an outrageous celebration that always takes place on Labor Day weekend and includes festive dance and pool parties, beefcake contests, singles’ mixers, drag shows, and a leather-gear block party. For even more sexy spectacles, stick around for the fifth annual New Orleans Burlesque Festival (September 19-21), a showcase of the world’s finest burlesque performers in venues throughout the city—appropriate given that the Big Easy once boasted, in addition to an infamous red-light district, the largest concentration of burlesque clubs in the country.


If you can handle the heat, then New Orleans might be the perfect choice for some summertime fun. After all, summer is the slow season here, which means you’ll find fewer crowds and cheaper hotel rates—two great reasons to start planning your Big Easy getaway. And while you’re in town, be sure to enjoy a classic snoball from seasonal stands like Hansen’s Sno-Bliz and Plum Street Snoball—a terrific way to beat the heat, at least temporarily.

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2 Comments

  1. fantastic article! thanks so much!