Combining the spontaneous act of wanderlust and the reality of a shoestring budget, my best friend and I met at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport for a summer weekend exploring the Big Easy.
While air travel was our biggest offense, we were otherwise relatively green tourists, lightly treading the swoony French Quarter streets, and making the most of the city's burgeoning locavore scene.Here are my five favorite sustainable suggestions for a weekend in The Crescent City.
1. Boutique Hotel-it in the French Quarter
No big chain hotel will deliver the southern charm found in the little mom and pops dotting the Quarter -- like Bienville House, which was once historically a grain warehouse.
Nor will a 12-room hotel use as much energy and water, as would its conventional counterparts. Our accommodations at the Frenchman Hotel offered a modest wading pool versus a lavish lap one but it served its purpose: a cool, wet mid-day respite from the Big Easy's hot July. Our room was far from luxurious but it provided a clean, good nights' rest.
Support the small guys and you might just end up being offered a bottle of bubbly on the house to enjoy poolside, as happened to us one afternoon. Extra plus: off-season summer rates on the fringe of the French Quarter (near or on Frenchman St.) can drop as low as $65/night.
2. Bike the Big Easy With Confederacy of Cruisers
The so-cool, southern genius behind tour outlet, Confederacy of Cruisers.
I had fantasies of gumbo, jazz and mint juleps on my mind when booking our trip--not touring the city by bike. I have to credit my sporty travel bestie for championing a tour outlet called the Confederacy of Cruisers.
For $45 each, we got a 3-hour bike tour with tour guide and founder Jeff. Not only did we get to see New Orleans' nooks and crannies that would have been too far to trek by foot -- like the by-waters and the ninth ward -- we were given a glimpse into the city's cultural and architectural customs not revealed in the guide books.
Case in point, the prevalent, pastel 'shotgun homes' that characterize the traditionally Creole neighborhoods. Jeff told us that the structures are energy-efficient by nature, designed with specific features for dealing with Deep South summers sans AC: elevated flooring (by a few feet), high ceilings, and an absence of hallways create effective cross-ventilation and cooling in every room.
- Be prepared to back-pedal brake on the cute cruisers. It takes some getting used to but you're offered some time to get acquainted.
Stay hydrated! The tour offers a bottled water to bring with you but you can bring your reusable bottle instead.
Plan to make the night before the tour a not-so-late one (a challenging task in the Big E!) to feel energized enough to milk the most out of your excursion.
3. Sample Locavore Eats at Coop's Place
The food culture in New Orleans is just as serious as the music scene. The city even has plans in the works for the nation's first culunary high school program.
I turned to natives' suggestions for fresh, local cuisine, and was pointed by a gentleman in an antique shop to Coop's Place, a dingy hole-in-the-wall serving up seafood gumbo bursting with shrimp, crabclaws, oysters and veggies from the local, famed French Market.
While on our bike tour, I asked our guide Jeff for his best food suggestions. This led us to his friend's new live music and food joint: Three Muses, serving up hip, contemporary small plates like Duck Confit Pizza topped with Arugula-Fennel-Local Pear Salad, Gulf Fish Tacos with Tangy Slaw and Avocado Cream, an extensive vegetarian menu, and local beers like Abita on draft.
If you'd like to get a glimpse of sleepy, laid-back Southern living in the Marigny neighborhood, grab a late breakfast or lunch at the Cake Café, where it was clear young New Orlean's residents lazily brunch after a long night of bourbon and bitters. I had the "Healthy Grits" topped with grilled veggies, goat cheese and an egg, a testament to old Southern comfort snacks being revised for savvy, health-conscious eaters.
4. Soak Up the Nightlife With Tipitina's Two Music Venues
Walk into any bar or music venue and you're bound to sway to some of the most soulful live jazz -- but at Tipitina's two music venues, you can support a foundation helping to preserve New Orleans' rich, one-of-a-kind music culture.
While it means leaving the French Quarter, Tipitina's Foundation funds scholarships to Berklee College of Music, donates instruments to New Orleans-area and international music programs, and offers free music workshops.
Check out the event schedule: It's not uncommon for big acts to roll through the concert hall where there's enough space to dance off the day's cajun calories.
5. Get a Museum Fix at The Cabildo
Bonus: stunning views like that of the green, lush Jackson Square from The Cabildo.
Just $5 dollars bought me entrance to The Cabildo and New Orleans History 101, where I was able to peruse over 1,000 artifacts and original works of art including engravings by nature artist John James Audubon.
To wrap things up, something about New Orleans inspires urgent feelings to protect its colorful blend of culture and history found nowhere else in the deep south. This city is a little pocket of America that we can't afford to lose to poor urban planning, resource management, or the mega-threat for a city located in a flood zone: climate change.
Have your own tips for this city? Let us know in the comments.