By: Myrha Colt
New Orleans. Come through any weekend year-round and you’re bound to land just as something gets started: Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, Bayou Boogaloo, Voodoo Fest, Halloween…the list of parties goes on and on. Hell, there’s even a Creole Tomato Festival if that’s your speed.
Most visitors end up splitting their time between the festival circuit, tours of the city’s historic best, and overindulging in the tremendous array of rich food and nightlife peddled on every corner. Never a bad way to go. But what happens when the party is over and the hangover rules? Where do you turn when you’re ready to burn off the bourbon ‘n’ crawfish and recharge? Where do the locals go?
As someone who is always trying to escape the crowds and seems to go stir crazy at record speed, each time I return to this romantic, deliciously mischievous town, I find myself asking: If I lived here, where would I go to relax?
And so… I asked. I learned. And now I share that knowledge with you.
Rent a Bike: Forget the Segway tour (yes you will see them awkwardly buzzing about). These flat, tree- and shotgun-lined streets were meant to be pedaled. Bicyclists of all ages, sizes and styles can be seen comfortably employing bedazzled and basket heavy rides all over town. Join them.
Pick up your own cruiser at one of the shops near the French Quarter (try The American Bicycle Rental Company) and start your adventure on the smooth streets there on the main drag. Once you’ve got your bearings, head out of the Quarter onto the bumpier roads of Uptown, the Marigny and beyond. Just be sure to check in with bike shop staff or other trusted locals regarding routes and final destinations to ensure your safety.
Work out at the New Orleans Athletic Club: Feeling a wee bit overstuffed after too many debaucherous nights out? The NOAC is one of the oldest athletic clubs in America (est. 1872). The sprawling “modern” facility (c.1929) features five stories of sport-filled nooks ‘n’ crannies to intrigue your inner athlete, including a yoga studio in the historic ballroom (yep, I said ballroom!), a pool in the atrium, a full boxing ring, steam rooms and saunas, plus the one feature every fitness nut requires: a full bar, serving all your smoothie and cocktail needs. Of course.
Modern and efficient? Not so much. But that’s not really the point. The place is like a portal to another time. Here your sweat bridges two worlds, the New Orleans of a century past and the modern cultural epicenter it is today. And although NOAC primarily serves locals with annual memberships, paid day passes are available for hotel guests (with key!) and the location is within easy walking (or biking) distance to the heart of the Quarter.
Spend an Afternoon in City Park: New Orleans happens to be home to one of the largest and oldest urban parks in the country. Covering 1,300 acres out along the Bayou St. John, the lands within City Park once served as the preferred place to duel among the Creole elite (not outlawed until 1890). Today you’ll find the New Orleans Museum of Art, the largest collection of mature live oaks in the world (some over 600 years old!) and a wide range of sports and recreational activities for all ages: take a walk through the botanical or sculpture gardens, explore the bayou by boat (they’ve even got a gondola!), play a round of golf or saddle up at the equestrian farm. Or grab your bike and a muffaletta from Central Grocery and spend a lazy afternoon on a blanket in the sun.
Ride Back in Time: The St. Charles Streetcar line in New Orleans was one of the first passenger railroads in this country and today remains the oldest continuously operating system in the world. Since 1835, streetcars have been transporting folks along the length of St. Charles Avenue (departing from Canal Street at the edge of the French Quarter) for a scenic ride past the immense live oaks and ornate mansions of the Garden District into the farther reaches of the city along Audubon Park, the Audubon Zoo and the hub of Tulane and Loyola universities. Whether you choose to disembark and walk along the shops of Magazine Street or you ride all the way out to the East Carrollton neighborhood, it’ll be a leisurely ride to remember and $1.25 (each way) well spent.
Catch a Ferry to Algiers Point: Join local commuters in their daily crossing of the Mississippi River to Algiers Point and take in some of the best views of the city’s skyline along the way. Operating daily since 1827, the free pedestrian ferry to Algiers Point ($1 for cars) picks up at the foot of Canal Street (next to the Aquarium) and provides a quick, scenic ride across to the West Bank.
On the other side, the second oldest neighborhood in New Orleans (est. 1719) entices visitors with its slower, 19th-century village vibe and pleasant riverfront walking paths (views, views, views). Bring your bike along for a mellow pedal down one of the city’s many levees, grab a bite or a brew at one of the local haunts (the Old Point Bar and legit British pub, the Crown and Anchor, are neighborhood staples) and consider partaking in one of the self-guided walking tours downloadable from the Algiers Historic Society website, including a walk down the “Jazz Walk of Fame.” The Point holds a notable place in NOLA history due to its key waterfront location and ties to Delta music greats of generations past. On a more sombre note, slaves were brought here and penned after their Atlantic crossing, in preparation for dispatch to the markets across river. Although a catastrophic fire in 1895 destroyed many of the earliest structures, the neighborhood remains a peaceful place to roam.
Take a Yoga Class: After all that running and biking around, you’re bound to need a good stretch. Where does one head to unwind? Head over to Swan River Yoga in the nearby Marigny neighborhood, just a few blocks from the French Quarter, for a relaxing session in their lovely studio above the equally delightful Feelings Cafe. You’ll find superb instructors and a friendly local crew of regulars, ready to welcome you into a zen state of mind. After class you might consider grabbing a snack in the cafe courtyard downstairs, just to prolong the peaceful encounter.
Check out Myrha’s Guide to New Orleans.
An unnaturally curious and adventuresome free spirit, Myrha Colt has a knack for searching out the obscure. A self-designated ‘professional road warrior’, Myrha has surfed volcanoes in Nicaragua and hung with bone-and-cigarbox guitar playin’ bluesmen in Mississippi. She’s currently a Gogobot Travel Correspondent.