1. Bayou Boogaloo
This free three-day experience includes live music from some of the city’s finest acts celebrates the Mid-City neighborhood of New Orleans, takes place on beautiful Bayou St. John, and benefits local restoration and sustainability efforts following the damage of Hurricane Katrina.
2. Greek Fest
This food and dance-filled celebration of the city’s deep-seated Greek community has been going strong for 40 years. Attendees swarm the Mid City neighborhood’s Lakefront/Gentilly area, to the grounds of Holy Trinity Cathedral – said to be the oldest Greek Orthodox house of worship in the United States, established in 1866.
3. Creole Tomato Festival
The vine-ripe Creole Tomato is an actual vegetable crop that flourishes in New Orleans every June, and its arrival (and various incarnations, including a special Bloody Mary) is celebrated with a weekend-long takeover of the French Market – the nation’s oldest citywide marketplace on record, opened in 1791.
4. Cajun-Zydeco Festival
These regionally native sounds permeate the city year-round, but the inspired two-step dance genres get a whole weekend to themselves every year too. Directly adjacent to the Creole Tomato festival happening at the same time, the Cajun-Zydeco Festival celebrates a strong branch of roots music handpicked by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation – better known as the same cats that produce Jazzfest and run critically-renowned community radio station WWOZ-FM.
Centered at the historic Hotel Monteleone in the French Quarter, there is indeed an entire weekend where women flock to take over New Orleans. From formal networking events to spas and shopping, the highlight of this female fête is the Stiletto Stroll – a formally escorted second-line sashay down Bourbon Street.
6. Tales of the Cocktail
In a city already overflowing with unique and infamous forms of libation, Tales of the Cocktail is the only event of its kind in the country – established for the sole celebration of the craft of the mixed drink, and its special heritage rooted only in New Orleans. Held at multiple establishments around the French Quarter, tens of thousands of expert mixologists, bartenders, and cocktail enthusiasts engage in days of detailed sessions, tastings, parties, and pairing meals.
7. San Fermin en Nueva Orleans
You don’t have to cross the Atlantic to get the experience of Pamplona in the summer. Just hop to New Orleans, where the Running of the Bulls is reincarnated on a Saturday morning with the city’s roller derby stars instead of a live bull. The city’s Spanish heritage come to life over the weekend-long celebration, with highlights including Spanish wine-pairing dinners to start, the free official El Txupinazo kickoff party on Friday, the free live music and cocktail-laden Fiesta de Pantalones on Saturday, and closes with Pobré de Mi on Sunday, which annually honors Ernest Hemingway with readings and humorous performances.
It’s a restaurant week that lasts for an entire month among every neighborhood in the city, with meals at their most major discounts.
9. Satchmo Summerfest
This annual tribute to favorite son Louis Armstrong is the only celebration of the jazz legend in the entire world. Boasted as a “mini Jazzfest” for free in the French Quarter, the fest sparked in 2001 to celebrate Armstrong’s 100th birthday and his impact on the city. Music is stationed on the lawn of the Old U.S. Mint during the day, and moves to infamous Frenchman Street when the sun goes down, with child-friendly programming and chats from Satchmo’s musical peers and colleagues run concurrently throughout the day.
10. Red Dress Run
This annual event is what one would qualify as a truly beautiful mess. Coordinated by the Hash House Harriers – a local “drinking club with a running problem” – all participants are mandatorily drunk and decked in red dresses as the clock strikes 9am, running through the city before lunchtime for a mileage no one really clocks. All of its funds go to breast cancer research and a flurry of other charities.
11. Southern Decadence
This 40+ years-strong is the largest gay event in New Orleans, rooted in the celebrations reminiscent of Mardi Gras. The celebration has been held Labor Day weekend since it started in 1972, to provide proper “recovery time” for those who attended, dressed as their favorite Southern icons for an impromptu parade.
12. Burlesque Fest
Burlesque was a booming art form in the French Quarter from the 1940s - 1960s, as the French Quarter sported the highest concentration of clubs anywhere in the country at the time. When it saw a major resurgence in pop culture many years later, the city’s festival came together at the same time, around 2009. The weekend is produced by NOLA native Rick DeLaup, lauded as the herald of modern burlesque nationwide, having run repeatedly award-winning shows locally and in Las Vegas.
13. Louisiana Seafood Festival
Leave it to New Orleans to speak for the entire seafood crop of Louisiana. It’s reputation is so top-notch, it got an entire weekend of music and sampling on the waterfront for people to enjoy. Participating restaurants and expert demonstrators include the century-old Acme Oyster House, dixieland jazz staple Arnaud’s, and Galatoire’s, where the same family has been cooking seafood for the Crescent City as long as four generations.
14. New Orleans Film Festival
Hosted by the city’s own Film Society for over 20 years, major producers and distributors look to the N.O.F.F. for unique voices in regional cinema to bring to the national stage. Over 200 screenings take place over the 8-day event, including panels, a gala, and a filmmaker’s brunch to celebrate up-and-coming masters of the craft. Major cinematic powerhouses including the likes of Todd Phillips, writer/director of “The Hangover,” have had the festival as their launchpad.
15. Ponderosa Stomp
This annual celebration sets the spotlight on the finest side men and session musicians in the history of American music. More than just a trip down a roots music memory lane, admission is staggeringly cheap for a multi-faceted weekend of panels, dance contests, rare records, and of course, the penultimate Rock ‘N’ Bowl concert showcase at the famed Mid City Lanes.
16. Tremé Creole Gumbo Festival
Rooted in the nation’s first African American community, and also produced by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, this weekend is all about the brass band, like local heroes the Soul Rebels – known widely for mixing up their original materials with ridiculous all-brass reinterpretations of classic pop and hip-hop songs, like Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean. The other star, of course, is the gumbo itself, which attendees can sample from world renowned-but-locally rooted purveyors like Lil’ Dizzy’s and Miss Linda the Ya-Ka-Mein Lady.
17. Celebration in the Oaks
The holiday season kicks off with this festival of lights in City Park, scattered across fixtures like the Botanical Gardens and Carousel Gardens, with humorous setups for adults and amusing ones for kids alike. The event is intertwined with the retelling of the Cajun Night Before Christmas, which syncs up with a portion of the lights for an animated display.
19. Hell Yes Fest
New York and Los Angeles may be known as the nation’s bastions for alternative comedy, but once a weekend, the scene descends on New Orleans to bring together sideways comedy from all over the Southeast. Coined as “a bad ass comedy festival,” parties and showcases of stand-up and improv are curated for a weekend of underground giggles.
20. Holiday Home Tours
Sponsored by the city’s Preservation Resource Center, every December brings a significant blast from the past to New Orleans as people take walking tours through homes in various neighborhoods dating back to the 1800s, specifically decorated in the style of Creole Christmas.
21. Reveillon Dinners
An old Creole tradition, this traditional meal started being served after Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve to “awaken” the holiday spirit. The tradition came back to New Orleans in force in the 1990s, and restaurants city-wide serve special and traditional multi-course meals at major prix-fixe discounts to keep that spirit alive.
22. Twelfth Night
Sure, people famously flock to New Orleans for Mardi Gras every February, but the Carnival season actually kicks off the month before with Twelfth Night - January 6th - 12 days following Christmas. Self-organized Krewes like the Phunny Phorty Phellows begin to descend on the city to welcome the season, and King Cake gets reintroduced to everyone’s sweet tooth.
23. Battle of New Orleans Anniversary
Every year, January 8th commemorates the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812. Re-enactments and the ceremonial wreath-laying take place in Jean Lafitte National Park and Preserves.
24. Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon and Half-Marathon
Music, sport, and Mardi Gras all at once, at every mile. Even major athletic events are a party in New Orleans, with participants from all over the world. The event also features a selection of shorter courses so everyone can get a fantastic peek of the city’s most famous streets and neighborhoods no matter how fast their feet feel like taking them.
25. NBA All-Star Game 2014
From football in 2013 to basketball in 2014, New Orleans is playing host to one of the nation’s most exciting annual sporting events next season (the national treasure known as the slam-dunk contest, of course).
26. Tennessee Williams Literary Festival
Founded in 1986, this annual event explores and celebrates the rich roots of the written and spoken word in New Orleans - the inspiration and creative home to Tennessee Williams - with plays, panels, workshops, and even culinary and literary walking tours of the city. The highlight of the event takes place when attendees take turns in a “Street Car Named Desire” STELLA contest, beckoning from below a balcony in the French Quarter.
27. Soul Fest
Having just celebrated its 10th anniversary, Soul Fest at (and founded by) the Audubon Zoo is New Orleans’ signature celebration of African American heritage, health, and wellness. Past performers include locally-based but internationally-renowned talent like Yolanda Adams and Rebirth Brass Band.
28. French Quarter Fest
A 30-year tradition, this weekend-long romp amidst the city’s most famous blocks is New Orleans’ largest free music festival with over 150 acts on multiple stages appearing each year. Famous bars and restaurants fill the streets with samples of their signature best for no more than $5 during the height of the event, known as the world’s largest jazz brunch on the waterfront.