Visiting New Orleans in March - What You Need to Know

A St. Joseph's Altar in the French Quarter
••• Visiting St. Joseph's altars is a quick and beautiful way for travelers to connect with New Orleans' substantial Sicilian heritage. © Megan Romer, 2015

March is an action-packed month in New Orleans. Mardi Gras is over (usually — every so often Mardi Gras will fall late and land in the first week of March), and after a week or two of recovery, all but the strictest Lenten fasters are ready to get rocking again. Because Mardi Gras is particularly early in 2016, Easter and all of its festooned glory will fall in March — expect parades, Easter egg hunts, and decorations galore.

A handful of other holidays also fall throughout March, including St. Patrick’s Day, which finds paraders tossing cabbages and potatoes off floats in the Irish Channel neighborhood, and St. Joseph’s Day, which includes special celebrations for New Orleans’ substantial Sicilian/Italian community. 

A big factor in the busy-ness of the month is because the nice weather starts to make a comeback. (Our winters aren’t bad, but they can be damp and chilly and rather gray and muddy.) The sun comes out, flowers of all kinds bloom, and the front end of the festival season begins to pick up.

March also marks a bit of a dip in the tourist season — Mardi Gras tourists are long gone and JazzFest tourists are still a month away — so locals get a chance to boogie down on their own terms at some of the smaller festivals that take place during this month. (Which isn’t to say that visitors aren’t welcome, and those who prefer a deeper local experience should consider them especially!)

Average High: 71 F / 22 C
Average Low: 52 F / 11 C

What to Pack: The middling and liable-to-change-quickly temperatures of March in New Orleans mean that your best bet is to bring lots of layers. Jeans and/or lightweight longer pants or skirts, short-sleeved shirts and cardigans or hoodies, etc. If you plan on attending any Easter services or parades, pastel finery and a big hat are de rigueur!

As always, good walking shoes are a must.

March 2016 Event Highlights

Soul Fest at Audubon Zoo (TBA; 2015 dates were Mar. 7-8) - Head to the grounds of the stunning Audubon Zoo to catch some of the most spectacular African-American music in the region. R&B, jazz, brass bands, and even zydeco make it onto the stages of this event, which is free with zoo admission.

Buku Music + Art Project (Mar. 11-12) - This two-day festival is only a few years old but has established itself as a major boutique destination festival for fans of electronic dance music, hip-hop, and indie rock. It takes place at Mardi Gras World and includes both indoor and outdoor stages, art exhibits (some of which are interactive and/or functional), local food, plenty of drinks, and thousands and thousands of neon-clad young people.

NOMA Egg Hunt and Family Festival (Mar. 12) - Kids can hunt for eggs, pet farm animals, get your face painted and more, all among the stunning natural and human-made scenery of the Besthoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art. 

Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day Parade (Mar. 12) - There are lots of St. Patrick’s Day (and St. Patrick’s week) events throughout the city, but the most boisterous is this one, which finds green-clad riders on redecorated Mardi Gras floats rolling through NOLA’s historic Irish neighborhood (adjacent to the more famous Garden District).

Along with beads, riders throw fixings for boiled dinner from the floats: cabbages, onions, potatoes, and other veggies.

New Orleans Fashion Week (Mar. 13-19) - New Orleans hasn’t been well-known as a major fashion capital for well over a hundred years, but things are changing for the better in that regard, and Fashion Week serves to prove it. Runway shows, retail events, and an awards ceremony are all part of this celebration of the burgeoning Gulf Coast style industry.

St. Patrick’s Day (Mar. 17) - St. Patrick’s Day proper brings the Downtown Irish Club’s foot parade through the Bywater and Marigny and into the French Quarter, straight down Bourbon Street, where the green beer will have been flowing copiously since quite early. It’s a street party extravaganza!

St. Joseph’s Day (Mar. 19) - The Feast of St.

Joseph is celebrated by all Catholics, but in New Orleans, it's a particularly big deal for Italian and Sicilian-Americans, of which New Orleans has an enormous population. Traditionally Italian Catholic parishes all over town set up St. Joseph’s altars: giant display offerings of baked goods, dried beans, and fresh produce, thanking the Saint for relieving hunger. Often, a free meal is served to visitors. In the evening, a parade of tuxedoed gentlemen marches through the French Quarter and distributes beads and good-luck fava beans. The altars are later broken up and the food is distributed to the hungry.

Congo Square New World Rhythms Festival (Mar. 19-20) - Put on by the same folks who throw the much-larger New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the Congo Square Festival is a free event that takes place annually in Armstrong Park, just across the street from the French Quarter. The festival celebrates the traditional cultures that came together to create New Orleans, so expect to hear African music, Caribbean music, Cajun and Zydeco, jazz, and more. It’s an intimate, locally-focused festival, so while there are rarely big-name headliners on the bill, it’s a carefully-curated lineup that guarantees a great time for serious music fans.

Super Sunday (Mar. 20) - Super Sunday is the second most important day of the year for the Mardi Gras Indians, New Orleans’ homegrown “tribes” of African-Americans who deck out in intricately reimagined Native American regalia, complete with enormous feathered headdresses and beaded outfits, and sing and dance while marching through the streets in a (mostly) friendly competition to see which Big Chief is the “prettiest.” This peculiar masking tradition has uncertain roots, but it’s been happening for well over a century. Super Sunday finds tribes marching all over the older parts of town, but particularly in the Tremé neighborhood.

Earth Fest at Audubon Zoo (TBA; 2015 date was Mar. 21) - Celebrate the environment at this one-day family-focused event that takes place at the Audubon Zoo. Non-profit agencies of all sorts are on hand to help visitors learn about various environmental issues and lead kids in crafts and games. 

Crescent City Classic (March 26) - Over 20,000 serious (and sometimes very-not-serious) runners alike flock to New Orleans for this nationally-televised 10k foot race. It all ends at City Park, where music and food and drink, in New Orleans tradition, greet the runners.

Easter Parades in the French Quarter (Mar. 27) - Put on your finest Easter bonnet and head to the French Quarter to see the most dazzling Easter parades you’re likely to ever see. The hostess is, as always, legendary Bourbon Street performer Chris Owens, who leads a merry band of burlesque princesses and merry men through the streets. Her parade is followed by the annual Gay Easter Parade, which largely features men and women in drag and beribboned folks of all persuasions (and which raises thousands of dollars annually for charity). It’s a great way to celebrate the holiday! 

Tennessee Williams Festival (Mar. 30-Apr. 3) - A celebration of Tennessee Williams and all things literary, this festival features, among other things, poetry and play readings, book signings, workshops that cater to both the literati and the public, and the ever-popular Stella-screaming contest, where would-be Stanley rip their shirts off and wail forlornly for their lost love.