Summing up New Orleans

What You Find Outside of Bourbon Street: Running in New Orleans

I thoroughly enjoy sharing about destinations in which people think they know everything already.  Take Las Vegas, for example, a town that is notorious for having no secrets, and yet, I was able to discover one of its most rugged and beautiful secrets on a venture off the Strip.  The same thing can be said for New Orleans, a city famous mostly for its Bourbon Street, whereas the true heart of NOLA is often overshadowed.  I have found that one of the tried and true best ways to get to know a place, is by going for a run.  I promise you will see true glimpses of that city’s character, not just what it is trying to portray to tourists.  That is why I highly recommend that if you visit Louisiana’s most cherished city, you go running in New Orleans!  You will discover many humble surprises!


Running in New Orleans through Jackson Square


Disclosure: Below are some affiliate links-these are all products I highly recommend. I won’t make any recommendations on this page that I haven’t tested or personally used!


Views of the skyline when running in New Orleans
Running in New Orleans along the skyline and the Steamboat Natchez


First off, let me say that I thoroughly enjoy New Orleans. It has such southern charm weaved intricately into every neighborhood, beautiful architecture, friendly people, top notch Cajun food, subtle quirks and oddities, and an outdoors scene that is vastly and unfairly overshadowed by aforementioned famous street. And I have my fair share of treasured memories that have been made there. Secondly, let me be honest and say I feel a little sympathetic towards people who go to New Orleans intending to only experience Bourbon Street. That is an unfair move against this lovely city (and state), and surely she deserves more than that! You have missed out if you have never gone outside of Bourbon Street! That being said, here is what I have found when I’ve explored the other side of this city and went running in New Orleans!


What You Find Outside of Bourbon Street


I intend to put my money where my mouth is if I am going to preach about exploring other parts of New Orleans! My first trip to New Orleans was a sister trip years ago, and I say this with the utmost amount of pride-we did not even step on Bourbon Street at all during our entire visit!  Sure, we explored other parts of the French Quarter of course, but we were very intentional on what parts.

What I found during that trip, was that you really do not have to have an itinerary or go anywhere specific to enjoy New Orleans. The majority of our time together was spent admiring the architecture, sampling Cajun food, and enjoying the talented musicians and artists that frequent all parts of New Orleans. Seriously, you could spend an entire day just rambling through the streets and stopping to take in a street performance. I loved finding our spot among the semi-circle of people assembled around the jazz player or the saxophonist or the trumpeter serenading Jackson Square with their home-grown renditions.  New Orleans is the ideal place to just ramble around.


Listening to some jazz in Jackson Square
Listening to some jazz in Jackson Square

The Garden District


During that first visit we stayed in the Garden District, which I cannot recommend enough. Walking through those neighborhoods made you feel like you had been transported back in time.  


Garden District
Garden District


The local cemeteries are hauntingly beautiful (we visited three), the homes make you feel like you have stepped onto the scene of “Gone with the Wind”, and it is surprisingly removed and peaceful for being such a close neighbor to the French Quarter. If you do not mind a twenty minute walk to the French Quarter, this is the neighborhood to stay in for a whole other brand of NOLA charm. As an added bonus-there are some great restaurants here that you will not have to wait in as long of a line for to enjoy!


Local Cemetery in the Garden District

Swamp Tours


During this trip we also took a swamp boat tour with local outfitter Cajun Encounters. That experience was a stark night and day comparison to the hustle of the French Quarter. Louisiana has a very unique and extremely underrated outdoor and wildlife scene, and this gave us a chance to glimpse its raw beauty. Lazy swamps shadowed by enormous willows whose fingers gently dip into slow moving water below.


Ramblin’ through the swamps


An occasional insect landing on the surface and spreading ripples. The lone waterfowl swooping silently overhead. Vast expanses of marshes in no particular rush to go anywhere. If you need a little adventure mixed in, do what we did and sign up for a tour that will allow you to have an up close and personal experience with one of Louisiana’s most intimidating tenants, the alligator!

Our particular tour guide seemed intimately acquainted with several of these guys, even having names for each of them and sharing their identifying characteristics with us. We had gators lunging out of the water not three feet away from the edge of our boat!


Gator time!




Javelina troop


We also saw raccoons, herons, and a troop of local javelinas. But what I most enjoyed was seeing another side of New Orleans, one in which people live in close conjunction with the land and the water, and you can see that culture deeply rooted as you drive by waterways, inlets, and channels, bordered by neighborhoods living in symbiotic closeness.  New Orleans seems to have a strong connection to its natural resources, and I enjoyed a chance to catch a glimpse of that relationship.

My second trip to New Orleans was with my husband last year. And I did spend time on Bourbon Street this go around. I wish I could write an entire paragraph about all what I enjoyed there on Bourbon, but I cannot in all honesty. The best part was doing some lengthy dancing with my husband, but I contribute that enjoyment to my husband’s dance moves, not to Bourbon Street! However, I did look at that experience as an opportunity because it confirmed to me what I had felt all along, that New Orleans is best enjoyed off of Bourbon Street.


Running in New Orleans


With that in mind, I got up early one of those Louisiana mornings and decided to go running in New Orleans, with the complete intention to get lost! Time and time again, going for a run has led me to feel so much more acquainted with the true nature of a city. I felt the openness of the water calling, so I headed to Mississippi – the Mississippi River that is!

I found myself on the boardwalk outside the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, facing a horseshoe shaped expanse of water mirroring sky. I intended to run for an hour, and ran for almost two. I ran along the boardwalk, apologizing to the families whose selfies I must have interrupted.

I am sure I looked like a complete fish out of water as I ran past the backside of Café Du Monde and weaseled my way through the throngs of tourists doing their Sunday morning brunching. Through Woldenberg Park for a few minutes and then it was gone…and it was peaceful…and quiet. I ran past two men laughing and unloading the most colorful UHaul van I have ever seen. I stopped and played with a pup running alongside its master.


They do Uhaul’s different in NOLA


Running in New Orleans through Crescent Park
Views along Crescent Park while running in New Orleans


I passed old rundown buildings beautifully rejuvenated with spray painted slogans. I looked to my right and watched the ferry ambling its way from Algiers Point across the river, and waved to the passengers in the Steamboat Natchez catching some morning rays out on the deck. I stopped and caught my breath at the memorial overlooking the river. I ran under the tall metal arches and past the collections of local fauna along the Crescent Park Trail. I still do not have words to explain the randomness of some of the art installations that have been set up along the shore!


Crescent Park Trail


Random river sightings when running through New Orleans
Here it is…the most random thing you will see running in New Orleans!


I ran through an empty skeleton of an old dockside building and climbed to the top of its stairs to get a bird’s eye view of New Orleans and the Mississippi.


Bird’s eye view of the NOLA shipyard when running in New Orleans!


I watched from that same vantage point as two young boys played basketball in the hollowed belly of the building. I found an old empty receiving dock being used for racquetball and unassumingly watched a young man play against himself with no one to cheer him on except the waves below the dock.


Solo racquetball in the shipyard
Solo racquetball in the shipyard


I ran until I hit the Poland Street Wharf shipyard, and sat on a bench for at least thirty minutes after and just watched the water, enjoying the feeling that I was miles away from any sort of commotion. That little run made my entire trip. I would encourage anyone who is visiting a new place to simply go for a run to get acquainted. For me, it is the equivalent of shaking hands and sitting down for coffee and conversation with a new place. If you want to take running in a new place to the next level, go running, and take on your own form of “runcation”!


Pretty self explanatory
Running in New Orleans along the Mississippi River

What Else to Do in NOLA


I did discover some other things on this go around – if you want an authentic street to visit, skip Bourbon and go to Frenchmen Street. You will get less of the crowds and more of the genuineness. More of the music that New Orleans is known for and cherished for. Definitely do a swamp tour, but maybe not in December because you will probably just see babies.


Baby gators!
Baby gators!


We were informed by our tour guide that the big guys take it easy for the winter. Not that there is anything wrong with baby gators, they are adorable, but the big guys are where it is at! You have not lived until you have had a ten foot gator launching himself out of the water in your direction!

Lastly, after several failed attempts during my first trip to New Orleans, this time I was able to indulge in Café Du Monde’s famous beignets. I wish I could give you the secret for when to go and avoid the crowds, but I do not think there is a guaranteed algorithm, just luck. Yes, they are that good, and yes they pair perfectly with a cup of coffee and people watching and lazy afternoon conversations!


Disclosure: Below are some affiliate links-these are all products I highly recommend. I won’t make any recommendations on this page that I haven’t tested or personally used!





Running in New Orleans through Crescent Park


Running in New Orleans through the French Quarter


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    1. You should go sometime, I feel like you would enjoy a little Mississippi River cruise on the Natchez!