New Orleans Magazine’s guide to the best activities for staying cool in the Crescent City
If you’re planning to do some surfing in the New Orleans area this summer, we’ve heard stories of waves in Lake Pontchartrain towering as high as 3 feet. (In Bayou Lafourche, the swells may reach 2 feet high, but that’s only when a shrimp boat is passing.)
Okay, so this is not great surfing country. People surf off the coast of Grand Isle, though the setting should not be confused with Hawaii. What we lack in surfing opportunities, our summers make up for in other ways – the endlessness being one of them. In some parts of the country, summer ends early as nature announces the new season by changing the colors of the leaves and triggering a blast of chilled air.
Down here in Louisiana, there is a less visual sense of seasonal change. Summer-like weather can continue into December with the only hint of change being the flickering of holiday decorations. And once the weather turns cold, it is not too long before the heat returns, rekindling thoughts of summer even if the calendar says it is late winter.
Here, then, is our guide to summer, keeping in mind that summer is less about calendar dates but more a state of mind. If you have a surfboard, it is still cool to walk around carrying it on your head – besides, the board helps block the heat and rain. Enjoy the summer, but just remember, if the big wave you are about to ride is caused by an approaching hurricane, it might be better to take a summer road trip.
Cooling off during the summer in New Orleans at times seems like a cruel joke Northerners tell their sweat-drenched friends down South. When the humidity reaches 98 percent outside, air conditioners set at 60 degrees are not the only solution. The ultimate solution? A large nectar snowball dripping with syrup.
It’s amazing how a little syrup and ice can put a person in the summer spirit. New Orleans has plenty of snowball stands (staff favorites are listed at right), and attempting to visit each one can be a fun and cool challenge.
While nectar might not be everyone’s first choice, most stands have more than 30 flavors to choose from. You can create personalized flavors by mixing two or more flavors on a cone: Creole cream cheese with white chocolate, for example. In the mood for a Milky Way? Combine caramel with chocolate cream for a frosty candy bar. With so many flavors to choose from, it’s possible to never eat the same snowball twice during the entire summer!
Casey’s, 4608 W. Esplanade Ave., Metairie, 888-3920
Hansen’s, 4801 Tchoupitoulas St., 891-9783
Lou Lou’s, 734 Papworth St., Metairie
Pandora’s, 901 N. Carrollton Ave., 486-1220
Plum Street, 1300 Burdette St., 866-7996
Sal’s, 1823 Metairie Road, Metairie, 666-1823
SnoWizard, 4001 Magazine St., 899-8758
– Hillary GoldenTubing
Here’s a way to make memories during the summer: Get your friends together for a day of tubing on the Bogue Chitto River in Bogalusa on the Northshore. River floats provide a lazy day of relaxation, good conversation, refreshing surroundings and pure enjoyment. Caravan to the Bogue Chitto Tubing and Canoeing Center and ask for Mrs. Flo. She’ll set you up with inner tubes ($8 each) and ice chest tubes ($2 each). Don’t pack any glass or Styrofoam containers, or you will have to leave them behind. The river route takes 3 1/2 to 4 hours to float, but if you stop at the beaches along the way, it will take longer. The facility opens at 8 a.m., and you must return before dark. The center also has canoes and kayaks for rent. Bogue Chitto Tubing and Canoeing Center, (985) 735-1173.
–Katie BlockWest End sunsets at the Lakefront
Without our oppressive heat and humidity, no one would be thankful for air conditioning, umbrellas or really cold beer. And those are three things you can find at West End restaurants, specifically the Dock (right) and Jaeger’s. Both are large indoor-outdoor establishments with decks that have an excellent view of western Lake Pontchartrain, where sunsets improve on the local version of happy hour. Both restaurants offer food (the Dock even has a sushi chef), but to me, lakefront gazing is not about dining; it means being kept company by friends and chilled longnecks. Even at night, when nothing near the water is visible except the occasional taillights skimming across the Causeway, it’s peaceful to stare out into nothingness and enjoy the warm weather. I have to give propers to the late, great building once inhabited by Bruning’s – no deck existed there, but a huge window was the next best thing.
–Faith Dawson Appetizing ambiance
The term “dining out” takes on a whole new meaning when meals are served in a distinctive New Orleans patio or courtyard. Here are our top picks for restaurants with al fresco ambiance:
Café Rani – Situated amid a cluster of galleries and boutiques, the front patio of this eclectic café is a shopper’s oasis. Tables are shaded by a magnificent live oak (playfully dubbed “Branch du Bois”), and the wide-ranging menu offers plenty of fresh, light-tasting meals for summertime appetites. 2917 Magazine St., 895-2500.
Martinique Bistro — The lush courtyard scented with jasmine and sheltered from the street by high, vine-clung walls sets a romantic tone at this casual yet refined café. The French bistro menu is infused with the flavors of the islands with local seafood a particular strength. 5908 Magazine St., 891-8495.
Court of Two Sisters – Ringed with Creole architecture, illuminated by gas lights and patrolled by tuxedoed waiters, the courtyard at this Vieux Carré mainstay seems perpetually ready for a postcard photo shoot. Best known for its daily jazz brunch, the restaurant offers a full menu of Creole classics at dinner. 613 Royal St.,
522-7261. –Ian McNultyPools
Finding a pool on a hot summer day can be tough unless you know someone. If not, you’d better have some money saved because the cost of gaining access to a swimming pool in New Orleans isn’t cheap. If you have the cash, there are many options from which to choose. An entire summer’s (through Aug. 15) worth of swimming at the UNO Lakefront Arena Aquatic Center’s indoor Olympic-size pool and outdoor medium-size pool costs $100 a person or $180 per family. The pools tend to be less crowded on the weekends because the weekdays are filled with swim meets and summer campers. Using the pool at Zephyr Field (right) comes with a catch: You have to throw a party to do so. But at least 50 of your best friends can get together to split the cost of the $35-to-$50-a-head package. One benefit is simultaneously watching a Zephyrs baseball game and munching on the catered meal. For a complete oasis in bustling Downtown New Orleans, check into the W Hotel New Orleans and take a dip in their rooftop pool called “Wet.” The recently renovated area still has private cabanas for rent ($150 for four hours plus hotel room reservations, $279 to $469 per night). On the weekends, they’re available on a first-come, first-serve basis, and on the weekdays you can reserve them ahead of time. Otherwise, you can relax on their comfortable wooden lawn chairs. UNO Lakefront Arena Aquatic Center, 280-7238; Zephyrs Pool, 734-5155; W Hotel, 525-9444. –K.B.Covered parking
In summer, it’s us vs. them. “Us” is the people who refuse to let a heat index of 110 degrees stop them from venturing outside looking for stuff to do; “them” is the group who requires a crowbar and brute strength to be pried out of their air-conditioned homes. When the sun beams down with nuclear intensity, I suggest that if you have no place else to go, try the two default summer activities: shopping and movies. Both activities take place within temperature-controlled environs, and both take a couple hours, assuring you of at least a half day not spent on your sofa. Better still, two metro locations offer covered parking, so that your outdoor foray does not culminate in a sweaty, sticky car ride home. Clearview Mall, home of the AMC Palace 12 movie theater, and Lakeside Shopping Center both have covered parking decks for your fully shaded comfort. Now there’s no excuse not to join Us. –F.D.Pontchartrain Vineyards
Summer concerts don’t have to mean expensive tickets and nonexistent parking. The Jazz ‘n the Vines concert series ($8.50 per person per concert) at Pontchartrain Vineyards is a sure way to get in live music, relaxation and some quality time with friends and family. Guests can arrive early at the vineyards to tour the winery and purchase wine for the concert (only Pontchartrain Vineyards wine is allowed on the premises). Pontchartrain Vineyards is the only winery in the state to produce table wine from traditional bunch/wine grapes. Its wines are available in white, red and rosé.
Located in Bush, near Covington, it is a quick drive over the Causeway, and tickets can be purchased at the gate ... no planning necessary. Well, perhaps a little bit of planning is needed. Concert-goers are allowed to bring chairs, blankets and picnic dinners, but no outside wine or beer or pets are allowed. The summer performers vary in styles including Creole, Cajun and jazz.
Pontchartrain Vineyards, (985) 892-9742; 81250 Old Military Road, Bush; www.pontchartrainvineyards.com. –H.G.Jolly II Rover
So you say you want to sail (see related story, page 81). Without any practical experience or boat ownership, sailing is still within reach on the tall ship called the Jolly II Rover, an 80-foot topsail schooner (that means, sort of like a pirate ship). Afternoon or evening cruises from $30 per adult sail on placid Lake Pontchartrain, where sea-gulls, pelicans and breezes are the only distractions. Guests may bring food and drinks aboard, and private parties and group charters are also available. Reservations are required; relaxation is unavoidable. www.jollyIIrover.com. –F.D.Vivre la celebration!
The Tricolor becomes the toast of the town in July as Bastille Day, the French national holiday, is celebrated around New Orleans. Things get started early when L’Alliance Francaise presents cabaret acts and Gallic food in City Park’s Casino on July 8 from 7 to 10 p.m. L’Alliance, an Uptown French-language school, continues the celebration in the Central Business District on July 10 with a street party outside Rene Bistrot (817 Common St.). The event features food from 20 French or French-trained chefs, music from French guitarist Jean-Luis Lavergne and local trumpeter Kermit Ruffins, and activities for children as well. There is also the annual “waiters race,” challenging local waiters to dash the streets while balancing trays of wine and water-filled glasses. The party goes from 1 to 6 p.m. and admission is $3 (free for children under 11).
Meanwhile, the Crescent City Farmers Market celebrates Bastille Day on the actual day, July 14, at its Mid-City market (3700 Orleans Ave.) from 3 to 7 p.m. with a parade of poodles, music, a French-cooking demonstration and dramatic readings of short stories inspired by the very French-sounding aubergine (a k a the eggplant). –I.M.Green Orleans
The city’s three major parks all offer facilities for outdoor gatherings. Here’s a rundown on securing one for your event:
When it’s not buffering the city from floods, the grassy expanse maintained by the Orleans Levee Board along Lake Pontchartrain provides a lovely recreation area. Three pavilions with electricity and bathrooms are available for between $75 and $135 for parties ranging in size from 50 to 150 people. Also, early birds can nab their choice of 14 smaller picnic shelters without amenities for free on a first-come, first-serve basis. Bring your own grill to all locations. Information, 288-6000.
Audubon Zoo is where they all ask for you, but you should ask for reservations before heading to Audubon Park’s popular picnic shelters. Two are available daily for $250 each and accommodate between 30 and 50 people with electricity and bathrooms. A third shelter with no amenities, located just upriver from Tulane University, is available free to whoever claims it first. Bring your own grill to all locations. Information, 212-5237.
Three picnic shelters located on City Park’s Scout Island, near Popp Fountain and on City Park Avenue, are popular gathering spots for family reunions and other big celebrations. Electricity, restrooms and picnic tables are provided, while visitors bring their own grills. Prices range from $175 to $185, and the shelters can accommodate 40 people seated and several hundred congregated outside. Information, 488-2896. – I.M.Beach Volleyball
Even though this state fronts more water than we know how to handle, we have an appalling lack of clean white sand. Beach bunnies who need the squish of warm sand between their toes don’t have to travel to the Gulf Coast to get a quick fix: Coconut Beach Volleyball Sports Complex has got the goods. Granted, the closest body of water is the canal, but loud music, pitchers of beer and 16 sand volleyball courts give it a beachy feel – sort of. Coconut Beach sponsors nine-week leagues for $275 per team, so it’s helpful to have a sponsor or at least a team sugar daddy. (Individual players can contact Coconut Beach about being placed on a draft team or for tournament information.) By the way, the complex’s sand – 5,000 tons – was shipped from Pearl River, Miss. www.coconutbeachnola.com.
5 “summer lovin’ ” spots
• Wisner Boulevard along Bayou St. John
• In the top row of the movies
• Levee (bike path side or at the “points”) in Metairie
• Marconi Drive (under the trees)
• Riverwalk/Moonwalk/Downtown at the Mississippi River–F.D.Summer movies
The Saenger Theatre wants to help take patrons back in time with its summer classic-movie series. Enjoy old movies shown in a grand theater, and the stresses of the work week will be miles away. This summer experience “A Streetcar Named Desire” (July 8), “My Fair Lady” (July 9) and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (also July 9).
Sweethearts can snuggle and friends can laugh and cry together while admiring actors of yesteryear. Escape the heat while munching on popcorn and Goobers. Saenger Theatre, 525-1052. –H.G.Boating
Authentic Venetian gondola tours by Nola Gondola at New Orleans City Park set the mood for a romantic outing. Located behind the Casino Building, you can walk up for a 20-minute tour ($15). Or make a reservation for the “Romanza Tour for Two,” a 40-minute private cruise ($59), and the “Gondamore Pour Deux,” a 60-minute private cruise for two accompanied by live music ($129). (If you opt out of the music, the tour costs $89.) These tours are BYOB but include complimentary cheese and crackers, warm blankets, wineglasses, bottle openers, ice and a pail. A three-day cancellation notice is required; however, tours can be canceled due to weather at the discretion of the gondolier.
Do you have a day with the kids? Head back to the Casino Building gift shop, where you can purchase pedal boat tickets. Four pedalers (one passenger must be over 21) can take off from the dock behind the building. An hour’s worth costs a mere $5 per person. It’s open Saturdays and Sundays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. New Orleans City Park, 482-9411 (gondola tours), 482-4888 (pedal boats).
5 activities with man’s best friend
• Take dogs to the Mississippi River batture
• Walk along Bayou St. John between Carrollton and Orleans avenues
• Play date at Cabrini Park (corner Dauphine and Gov. Nicholls streets)
• Shop for treats at Three Dog Bakery
• Dine at pet-friendly places such as Marisol (monthly pet nights) or the Alpine (anytime)
– K.B. •