Summers in New Orleans are known to locals for three things: heat, humidity and random isolated, but powerful thunderstorms. The latter is the lesser of the evils. Our summer heat and humidity is oppressive for the native New Orleanian, much less someone from a drier or cooler climate. If you have heard the adage, ‘its not the heat, but the humidity’; in NoLa, you will learn its true meaning. Today, I am going help you survive the insufferable heat of summer with some cool destinations in NoLa. But first, some basics….
The most important thing to consider when dealing with our natural sauna is diet. I know it is hard to do in a city known for its cuisine, but eat light meals. Save the heavy eating until after the sun sets. It takes energy to digest food and that increases your body temperature. I highly recommend eating lots of fruit high in potassium for breakfast. Potassium naturally helps your body regulate its heat.
Next, you are going to want dress appropriately. Unless, you are a vampire, don’t wear black! Wear material that is both light in color and weight. Bring an umbrella for protection from the sun as well as the rain.
If you are planning on sight seeing the French Quarter or other historic areas, do them in the morning. I recommend to everyone who is interested in booking one of our tours to choose the earliest available. Because, as any local will tell you, during the afternoon…. STAY INDOORS! Seriously folks, New Orleans has several options available that will not have you spending hours wandering sunny streets, during the hottest part of the day, getting yourself as red as boiled crawfish. Below are my top five ways to spend the hottest part of the day in the Big Easy.
French Quarter Museums
The Vieux Carré has numerous museums that are very affordable and located within easy walking of one another. Spending the hottest part of the day viewing climate-controlled exhibits is a no brainer. The Crescent City is celebrating its tricentennial this year and the theme of NOLA 300 is exhibited in the French Quarter’s museums. Several are even free!
The New Orleans Historic Collection (TNOHC) has 2 campuses that are completely free and open to the public. The main campus is at 533 Royal Street and itself is comprised of seven separate buildings, four of which were built in the 1790’s. In each room of the museum is a volunteer docent that can answer any questions about the exhibits. Around the corner at 410 Chartres street is the Williams Research Center. This building mainly serves as research library housing thousands of documents form Louisiana’s three century history. The center does have a small museum that changes subjects regularly.
Louisiana Pharmacy Museum at 514 Chartres Street was the pharmacy and home of Doctor Louis Dufilho, Jr, the first licensed pharmacist in the United States. It was absolutely horrifying, the things that were considered medicine just a hundred years ago. I always recommend at the end of my cemetery tours for folks to visit the museum to see how we tried to keep people out of the graveyard. The museum offers a brief tour at 1 pm every Tuesday – Saturday at no extra cost.The Pharmacy Museum does charge 5$ admission, but it is worth it.
The Louisiana State Museum has five campuses in the French Quarter. Three of them are located at Jackson Square.
The Cabildo was built in 1794 and serves as a Spanish Government building, Supreme Court Building and where the final signing of the Louisiana Purchase was signed. Today it is a museum focused on Louisiana’s history, from the Native Americans until Reconstruction after the Civil War. Their prize artifact in the bronze death mask of Napoleon Bonaparte.
The Presbytere was built in 1791 as home for the Capuchin monks but would also be used a courthouse beginning in 1834. It has been a museum since 1911. Today the first floor is the Hurricane Katrina Exhibit and the second is the History of Mardi Gras exhibit.
The 1850 House is in the Lower Pontabla building. The twin apartment buildings flanking Jackson Square were both built by a wealthy baroness from New Orleans, Micaela Almonester de Pontabla in 1850 and 1851. It was her father Don Andrés Almonester y Roxas that paid for the Cabildo and Presbytere’s construction sixty years earlier. This museum is a tribute to the lavish lifestyle of the city’s antebellum bourgeoisie. You will see ornate silver, furniture and porcelain as well as art work.
On the corner of Decatur and Esplanade Streets, you will find the Old U.S. Mint, built in 1838. This mint has the distinction of being only mint to print both the United and Confederate States of America. During the Union occupation of the city, it was used to hold rebel prisoners of war. The first floor is a museum dedicated to the minting process. Upstairs, it is the New Orleans Jazz Museum. On the second-floor visitors can see, hear and learn about what can arguably be called New Orleans’ greatest contribution to the world, Jazz Music. One their prized artifacts is the last cornet that Louis Armstrong played.
Madame John’s Legacy is in a 1788 colonial building which is the oldest wooden structure in New Orleans. The house’s name was inspired by George Washington Cable’s 1874 short story Tite Poulette, in which the character Monsieur John bequeaths a Dumaine Street house to his mistress, Madame John. The museum, as of this posting is closed for extensive renovations. If you are reading this in the future, check in with the link above to see their current status.
Admission to most of these museums is $6 for adults and free for kids under 6. The Cabildo charges $12 for adults, but the kids under 6 are free.
Natchez and Creole Queen Riverboats
The location for the establishment of New Orleans was chosen because it was the best place to control the Mississippi River. It is the most distinguishing feature of our geography. The earliest explorers marveled at its size and power. For more than 300 years the Mighty Mississippi has served as inspiration for writers, artists and musicians. Samuel Clemens spent years working on riverboats up and down the river. Of course, later on he would go on to publish a novel called The Adventures of Huck Finn, using the pseudonym Mark Twain. Another great way to beat the heat during the day is to take a trip down the Mississippi.
The Natchez is the ninth boat to bear this name. It was Natchez VI that raced the S.S. Robert E Lee in 1870, the most famous steamer race ever. Both boats were plagued with mechanical failures during the race. Sadly, the Natchez lost. Natchez IX was put into service in 1975, the same year as our Superdome! Much attention to detail was given to ensure guest the feeling of a 19th century paddle wheeler. She uses engines from a previous riverboat that date to 1925 and is the only true steam powered boat in New Orleans. The Natchez has several options both during the day and early evening. For the purposes of this blog, I am going to recommend the day time excursions. Each cruise lasts about 2 ½-3 hours when you factor in boarding. The Natchez travels down river to the Chalmette Battlefield, where the co-called Battle of New Orleans took place in January of 1815.
The Creole Queen is moored a half mile up river from the Natchez. The Queen’s maiden voyage was in 1983, just in time for the next year’s World’s Fair. Unlike the Natchez that uses steam power, the Creole Queen uses a modern GE diesel -electric engine. Just like the other steamer, the Creole Queen has several options available. If you are traveling with a church, scout or other large group, them their private dining rooms are something that might interest you. The Creole Queen also offers a Historic River Cruise which includes a one-hour land tour of the Chalmette Battlefield.
Both the Natchez and the Creole Queen offer variations of jazz brunches, buffets and dinners. Honestly, I recommend that you just take it for the cruise. Enjoy the scenery and the history. The French Quarter has much better food to offer than our riverboats.
Orleans Parish residents voted 71 percent in favor of a millage tax to fund the redevelopment of the riverfront in 1986. Audubon Nature Institute created Woldenberg Riverfront Park in 1989. The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas opened in 1990. The glass building was designed to hint at green rolling waves, but also supplies abundant light to the rain-forest exhibit. Watch out for the red bellied piranha! There is also a 400,00-gallon Gulf of Mexico Exhibit featuring giant sharks, rays and turtles. The aquarium introduced New Orleans to IMAX in 1995 and still fascinates adults and kids alike with their larger than life nature documentaries. Unfortunately, the aquarium suffered tragedy in August of 2005. Although the building was spared from damage, the city’s infrastructure was bot spared. The aquarium was designed with back up batteries to keep the life support operation in the event of power loss. But after several weeks they too were gone. 80 percent of the Aquarium’s specimens were lost. The aquarium would reopen in 2006, signaling an important milestone in the city’s post Katrina recovery. The Great Mayan Reef Exhibit opened in 2014. Besides getting an up close look at coral reef dwelling animals, kids can swim with them! The Maya Snorkel Adventure is an additional, somewhat exclusive experience. It is limited to only 4 people per time slot and is expensive. General aquarium admission for adults is $30, children under 12 are $22.
The old United States Custom House on Canal Street is an example of Egyptian Revival architecture. Construction would begin in 1848, but because of the Civil War and other problems was not completed until 1881. The grey granite building looks pretty dull compared to the rest of New Orleans. Mark Twain, in his book Life on the Mississippi, described it.
“There is a huge granite U.S. Custom-house–costly enough, genuine enough, but as a decoration it is inferior to a gasometer. It looks like a state prison.”
Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium opened in 2008 and is the first major attraction to open in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. Here visitors can learn everything and for some, more than they would ever want to know about insects. With over 50 live exhibits, several interactive areas, this 23,000 square foot museum is the largest museum dedicated to entomology (study of bugs) in North America. If you get hungry while you are there, check out the Bug Appétit Café. If you cringe at the guy sitting at the table next to you sucking on a crawfish head, well this may not be the place for you. However, our more adventurous visitors might relish the chance to dine on dragonflies, worms and other exotic creations. The Insectarium costs $23 for adults and $18 for children under 12.
Families and visitors to the Big Easy can make actually spend several days doing everything that the Audubon Institute in New Orleans has to offer. As you will see with number 2.
Audubon Zoo and Splash Park
In 1795, the land where Audubon Zoo is located was a plantation owned by Jean Etienne de Boré. This was the location for North America’s very first successful sugar plantation. In 1866, it was the activation site for the African-American 9th Calvary, the “Buffalo Soldiers”, as they would be known. This was also where The World’s Industrial and Cotton Exposition of 1884 was located. Visitors to Audubon park today can still see, “the meteor”. It is not from outer space but was originally part of an exhibit featuring iron ore. Deemed too heavy to move, it has been left in place for 134 years. The area been a natural setting for families to relax and enjoy the shade of the oak trees since the 1800s. The oldest tree in New Orleans was thought to have been planted when the plantation was first established in 1740 and can be found in the center of the zoo. This is the tree that our great-great-great grandparents climbed when they were children! It is near another favorite of our landmark, Monkey Hill. Basically, a left-over pile of dirt from a public works project in the 1930’s. Local legend claims it was built to show Crescent City children what a hill looks like.
The Audubon Zoological Gardens evolved from a single flight cage built in 1916 to a 58-acre jewel ranking among the nation’s best zoos. During the 1970s public opinion force a complete renovation of the zoo. Some activists were referring to it as an “animal ghetto” with concrete floors and iron bars. Some animals were offered little to no protection from the intense heat and humidity. Protests almost forced the closing of the zoo. Beginning in 1977 with the appointment of a new director to the Audubon Institute, extensive renovations and redesign of the zoo began. Today the Audubon Zoo is one of the best in the world.
Cool Zoo, the zoo’s splash park for kids opened in 2011. It boasts a 750-foot lazy river, Gator Run, with two sand beaches, lounge chairs, four water cannons, two water curtains and jumping jets. The lazy river is three feet deep and takes approximately seven minutes to make a round trip. I recommend getting to the zoo early and seeing the big cats first and apes first. By late afternoon, they are looking for the shade just like you are. By this time, you should be enjoying a daiquiri while the kids take a ride on the lazy river. Zoo admission for adults is $23 and $18 for children under 12.
World War II Museum
The success of the Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks movie, Saving Private Ryan, renewed interest in World War II. University of New Orleans history professor and author, Stephen Ambrose would capitalize on this and petition for the establishment of a museum dedicate to the U.S. led allied invasion of France on D Day. Ambrose would successfully argue that New Orleans would be the ideal location for such a tribute. Besides being the popular international vacation destination, it is today, New Orleans during WWII was an important supply and repair port for American and European servicemen and women and their ships. The city is also directly related to the D Day invasion. The troop landing boats used on French beaches were manufactured near Lake Pontchartrain. The first landing trials of the Higgins Landing Craft (LCVP) were conducted on the shores of the lake.
The National D Day Museum would open on the 56th anniversary of the invasion, June 6, 2000. The museum was a tremendous success! Congress would declare it as “America’s National World War II Museum,” and establish a partnership with the Smithsonian Institute. Since then, the museum has grown exponentially. The campus includes several blocks of the Warehouse District and has directly contributed to neighborhood revitalization. Recently, the museum has expanded to the Lakefront. Here people can book rides on a WWII era PT boat. Currently the museum is spending $41 million dollars to expand and build a 234-room hotel. TripAdvisor recently ranked The National WWII museum as the #2 museum in the United States.
The National World War II Museum operates 9 am to 5 pm. The campus is so large that it can take five or six hours to make it through the exhibits. Some people have spent two days going through it! This is easily my #1 pick for beating the heat in New Orleans heat and humidity. Get there when the museum opens so that you can give yourself as much time as you might want. You can easily beat the heat by spending all day appreciating our men and women who fought against the greatest evil the world has ever known. Museum admission is $27 for adults; $23.50 for seniors over age 65; $17.50 for students with ID and active military with ID; WWII veterans and children under five are admitted free. Beyond All Boundaries and Final Mission: USS Tang Submarine Experience are each $6 extra with general admission