nola_jackson_sqBack in the fifties when Gordon MacRae and Sheree North sang their hearts out in The Best Things in Life are Free, you could see the movie for one quarter. At that time I was living in New Orleans and too young to appreciate the truth in that song. Today, New Orleans is seldom thought of as a budget vacation. However, The Big Easy has much to see and do that will not break the bank or even seriously dent it.

So if you have a hankering to “Let the good times roll” next vacation but don’t have a bankroll to back your taste, head for The City That Care Forgot. There are so many free or almost free things to do that you can forget about bringing a big bankroll.

First way to save money there is to park your car or if you are going to rent a car don’t rent while you are staying in New Orleans. With the current price of gasoline, you can’t even drive a teeny-weenie compact for what it costs to ride the N. O. public transit.

streetcar_nolaJazzy Passes are one of the best bargains a traveler will find anywhere. For $3 for 1 day, $9 for 3 days or $55 for 31 days, you can ride wherever the buses, streetcars or trolleys go in New Orleans. That’s practically anywhere in the parish. A ride on one of the historic streetcars is an attraction in itself.

The St. Charles Streetcar will take you to Audubon Park where the oaks are older than you. The park is free but if you want to visit the zoo or play golf there is a charge. The park is located across from Tulane and Loyola universities, which are interesting in their own right.

On the way there or back, hop off and stroll around the Garden District or walk over just a few blocks to Magazine St and browse the unique shops and restaurants in what used to be called “The Irish Channel” and was considered a rough section of town.

The Garden District along St. Charles Avenue was where the well-to-do Americans who moved to New Orleans after the Louisiana Purchase built their stately mansions. The Irish Channel was where the multitude of Irish immigrants fleeing Ireland’s potato famine lived huddled in more boxy structures and what is known as “Camel Back Houses” so called because of the second story is set back several rooms from the first floor.

nola_riceAfter that, drift around the French Quarter and see the homes of the French Aristocrats who considered the Americans barbarians and did not want such riff raff in their neighborhood.

Hop on a bus out to City Park and picnic under the ancient moss draped oaks or browse the five acre Besthoff Sculpture Garden.

If you are a reader, you can browse by the outside of several famous authors’ former residences. Tennessee Williams lived in New Orleans at 722 Toulouse in 1938. It is the setting of his 1977 play Vieux Carré.  He also lived at 429 Royal St., 632 St. Peter St. and 1014 Dumaine St.  None are open to the public.

Truman Capote claimed to be born at the Hotel Monteleone although hotel representatives told me he was actually born at Touro Infirmary although his family did live at the Monteleone at the time.

George Washington Cable’s home is at 1313 8th Street. See it while you are browsing  the Garden District He lived there in 1874 to 1884 and was visited by another famous author, Mark Twain.

Another house to see while in that area is Anne Rice’s former home at 1239 First St. in the old Irish Channel section. As a child she lived in the Garden District with her grandmother at 2301 St. Charles Avenue.

Back to the French Quarter, William Faulkner lived at 624 Pirate’s Alley. There is a Faulkner Book Store downstairs.

cem_st_rochOf course from there you really need to step across the alley into New Orleans; historic St. Louis Cathedral. You will be in interesting company.  Pretty much every famous New Orleans Catholic has worshipped there, including Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen.

Speaking of the darker arts, most of the Cities of the Dead, known elsewhere as cemeteries, are free and open during daylight hours. St. Louis #1, where Marie and most of New Orleans famous and infamous early residents are buried, is no longer free. The Archdioceses of New Orleans, who owns it, require you to pay for a tour guide in order to enter. So much for Christian charity.

cem_st_roch_thanksHowever, The St. Patricks (there are three), the Odd Fellows, Cypress Grove and Lake Lawn Metairie Cemetery as well as most of the other cemeteries are free. The Lake Lawn Metairie Cemetery was once the site of the Metairie Racetrack and Jockey Club.

Back in the day, New Orleans society didn’t want you unless you belonged to an old Creole family. They refused membership to one American millionaire, Charles Howard, who did not take the rebuff well. Howard vowed to take his revenge by buying the track and the club. During the depression he did just that and then turned it into a cemetery. His tomb is the most elaborate. The most famous “resident” there is General P. T. Beauregard.

mardi_grasSt Roch cemetery is a little out the way but one of the most interesting you will ever see. Be sure to visit the side room in the chapel where folks who were miraculously cured of whatever ailed them have left mementoes like plaster feet, crutches, braces and almost anything you can think of. I bet you see a lot of things in the room you would never have thought of in connections with a cemetery.

There are numerous free concerts and art walks around the city.

Of course, you can visit for the greatest free show in the country, Mardi Gras. Remember the parades go on for a couple of weeks before Fat Tuesday

That is just a starter. There are lots of freebies waiting for you in the Crescent City.