New Orleans — a city known for healthy livin’ and coming home leaner than how you left, right? Ha ha! Not. The Big Easy is known for being a city of unbridled indulgence, and dang if you can’t do some of the country’s finest eating and drinking there. But there’s no reason you need to leave a larger pant size.
New Orleans is a city with many facets, though many travelers might not realize they can indeed explore this Southern gem from a fresh and healthy perspective. Read on for where to eat and what to do for a balanced, fitness focused trip to New Orleans!
What To Do
A Kayak Tour
On one of my previous trips to New Orleans, my sister and I did the classic airboat swamp tour. While we did enjoy the experience, it involved a very long shuttle ride and then more time sitting on our tushes while a motor did the work of moving us around.
This trip, I was keen to power my own paddle. Enter Kayak-Iti-Yat, New Orlean’s original kayaking company. Run by New Orleans natives and enthusiasts Sara and Sonny, Kayak-Iti-Yat offers two and four hour options paddling the bayou that your arm muscles will thank you for, or, if you want to invite your legs to the party, a combo option that combines with a bike ride for the ultimate day of fitness travel.
As opposed to an hour long shuttle we took a ten minute Lyft to the launch site, and paddled through some of the city’s oldest and most unique neighborhoods. While this was a much more urban experience than most kayak tours I’ve taken on my travels — we passed highways, a juvenile detention center, and condo buildings — we took in an amazing amount of wildlife, from turtles to egrets to crazy looking muscovy ducks to one lone lurking alligator.
Never have a craved a Fitbit so much as our four days spent traipsing through New Orleans! From the Garden District to the French Quarter to the Central Business District, New Orleans is full of addictively walkable neighborhoods — despite the August heat, we couldn’t help ourselves from going just one more block, around just one more corner, and down just one last alley. While The French Quarter stretches only a mile wide, you could spend hours exploring it.
While we mostly wandered between activities or with our cameras leading the way, we did take one official walking tour of the Garden District with Welcome To New Orleans tour guide Sheila. Want to DIY? Download the Go NOLA app for five celebrity-guided, set-your-own pace walking tours of the city.
I love walking tours — such a great way to absorb some history, find hidden gems and burn a few calories without hitting the hotel gym (though I do have an affinity for hotel gyms as well). My feet and legs seriously ached from this low intensity cardio, and we got some stunning photos to boot.
Bounce Ya Brass
This summer I’ve been super into dance classes as my current favorite form of cardio. So I nearly fainted with excitement when I saw a Bounce Ya Brass dance class on our itinerary. A free community class that takes signature front line bounce moves and teaches them in a Zumba-like format? Sign me up!
Don’t worry about being uncoordinated or inexperienced — the moves itself were repetitive and simple and designed for all levels of fitness. I loved the infectious enthusiasm of our instructor — who shouted out “love you!” to the class whenever we got extra sassy — and getting a sweat on to the big brass bands that somehow make me nostalgic for New Orleans when I’m right there in the city. If you’re looking for something a little more advanced, check out Hip Hop Ya Brass, which seems to require slightly more skill. And yogis, don’t miss Stretch Ya Brass, which I strongly considered waking up before sunrise for! Check their calendar for other fun fitness focused events in the city like fun runs and more.
Where To Eat
The Daily Beet
Fitness fiends simply cannot leave New Orleans without a stop at The Daily Beet, located in the Central Business District. Salads, grain bowls, cold-pressed juices, avocado toast and acai bowls all grace the menu here. I loved that the staff greeted locals by name and knew their orders while I sat and ate breakfast here — I think I’d be one of them if I was a NOLA resident.
Owner Dylan Maisel is a fellow Upstate New York native whose parents ran a vegetarian restaurant, a tradition he’s now brought to his adopted city. While salmon is the only meat on the menu, carnivores are unlikely to even notice with all the goodness on the menu (not to mention craft beer and wine — this is New Orleans, after all.)
Technically, the Daily Beet is the only completely health-focused restaurant I dined at during my time in New Orleans. While I could have happily eaten many more meals there, that probably wouldn’t have made for the most interesting blog post.
The reality is that a healthy trip to New Orleans will likely involve a little creativity and will power when it comes to menus at traditional restaurants. Though frankly, once the food arrived I rarely regretted my order! For example, at local darling Willa Jean’s I skipped the beautiful baked goods counter in favor of a greens-covered and egg-topped avocado toast.
Bonus! Both Willa Jean’s and The Daily Beet were within easy walking distance of our cute, affordable boutique hotel.
St. Roch Market
St. Roch Market might be my favorite undercover healthy eating spot in all of New Orleans. This hip dining hall is home to twelve fabulous and diverse vendors, meaning you can order something super clean on the sly regardless of what your dining companions are in the mood for (lucky for me, my girls Angie and Kristin and I are basically always on the same page.)
After much debate, I ordered from Good Bird, a protein packed choice — I went for The Hummingbird, a salad featuring rotisserie chicken, hummus, and cucumber on a bed of greens. Also tempting were JuiceNOLA, run by the same owner as The Daily Beet, and T2 Street Food, offering a beautiful looking asian kale salad.
We sat down at Cochon Butcher after a long walk in the summer heat and I found myself struggling with the idea of ordering a heavy meaty sandwich, the Southern restaurant’s speciality. But even here, I found some surprisingly healthy options — a squash summer salad and the vegetable-based soup of the day, each of which helped make me feel guilt-free about putting a serious hurting on the mac-and-cheese we ordered for the table or the desserts we just couldn’t resist after cooling off in the AC. Um, it’s all about balance, right?
And finally, back to that balance. Let’s call this my #keepingitreal entry, because this was actually not really a healthy order in the slightest, but I can’t have you all thinking I was a paragon of caloric virtue the whole trip, can I? Because sometimes, in New Orleans, one must order a meatball po-boy and split a banana pudding at an establishment famous for each.
Parkway Bakery, opened in 1911, is a local favorite yet manages to maintain an authentic, off-the-beaten track feel. For fish eaters, this is an excellent choice, as the restaurant maintains committed to using local fisherman and sustainably caught seafood from right in the gulf.
Just to clarify, this post should not be interpreted as me giving myself a gold star for health and nutrition on my New Orleans trip. I indulged my face off, and you should too if that’s what you’re in the mood for. But since New Orleans isn’t exactly known for being a city with many options for the fitness-focused, I thought I’d take a whirl at sharing some ideas for how to stay balanced for those that are in the mood for that.
Here’s to one of my favorite cities in the world — however you choose to enjoy it!