A Visitor’s Guide to City Park in New Orleans
City Park New Orleans is a 1,300-acre park in the middle of Crescent City. It boasts countless attractions and activities, including iconic dining, two fine arts museums, a sculpture garden, golf, tennis, soccer, softball, and equestrian stables. Bequeathed to New Orleans by area businessman John McDonogh, this unique oasis was transformed in the 1930s by Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal program.
The park’s main entrance is off Esplanade Avenue – a grand tree-lined thoroughfare with historic southern mansions and Louisiana charm. City Park New Orleans is a 10-minute trolley ride from the French Quarter, located within the Mid-City neighborhood, or a twenty-minute drive from the NOLA International Airport.
The inner waterways are fed by Lake Pontchartrain and St John’s Bayou, a block away. And a 60-acre forest stands tall on the park’s inner island, with a model airplane field nearby. Regardless of your interests, City Park is a true urban park and leaves little doubt that New Orleanians have a serene green space that rivals New York City’s Central Park.
Fine Art in City Park
Easily one of the best things to do in New Orleans, This beautiful park will keep you amazed and entertained whether you are there for a quick espresso, a day at Tad Gormley Stadium, or an outdoor adventure in the sun.
The New Orleans Museum of Art
The city’s oldest arts institution, the New Orleans Museum of Art, is housed in one of the most beautiful buildings in the Big Easy. Its world-renowned collection consists of over 40,000 curated items.
NOMA is an artistic oasis, perfect for solo travelers or as a short respite from a busy convention. Visitors can view paintings, sculptures, and antiquities from African to Pre-Columbian art, musical instruments to contemporary photography. Gallery talks and tours are available for both the permanent and rotating exhibits.
Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden
The eleven acres of the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden are home to over 90 sculptures by renowned artists worldwide. An extension to the New Orleans Museum of Art, the garden’s path crosses Big Lake, aimlessly meandering through towering pine and magnolia trees.
Whether traveling with young ones or just young at heart, City Park has something for everyone.
Louisiana Children’s Museum
The Louisiana Children’s Museum is housed in New Orleans’ City Park. Children have a choice of five educational exhibit galleries, including the indigenous foods of the area, art and Louisiana heritage, and the story of the Mighty Mississippi River.
Across the lagoon from the children’s museum is a spectacular maze. The stone labyrinth in New Orleans City Park was laid for a meditative journey meant to symbolize and facilitate healing for the people of New Orleans after the destruction of Hurricane Katrina.
There are, in fact, two labyrinths designed by stone artist Marty Kermeen and connected by a brick path. The first labyrinth is smaller, following a 4000-year-old pattern. The second is a replica of the maze of Chartres Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Friends of City Park built and supported both Labyrinths.
Storyland and Carousel Gardens
Storyland offers life-sized sculptures and an area designed just for play. One of the unique areas in City Park is the Carousel Gardens. The Amusement Park features over 18 rides for all ages. The iconic Carousel is known to locals as the ‘Flying Horses.’ It is the oldest ride in the Hines Carousel Gardens Amusement Park and dates back to 1906, with some animal figures hand carved in 1885. The Carousel contains 56 animals – 53 horses, a lion, a giraffe, a camel, and two chariots.
Resources and Rentals
City Park has numerous locations for reunions and celebrations, such as The Peristyle – a dancing pavilion near City Putt on Dreyfous Drive.
The park also has several rental vendors. So if you have forgotten your tennis balls or have the urge to take a ride, bikes, small watercraft, and even skateboards are available for the day.
Boat and Bike Rentals
City Park is covered with lagoons, lakes, and bayous. If you are looking for a slow cruise, take the 50-minute tour of City Park’s lagoons and bayous offered by NOLA Gondola. If you are up for some exercise on the water, City Park Boat and Bike Rentals is part of the park services and has kayaks, paddle boats, and canoes for rent. Wheel Fun Rentals offers white swan boats for a romantic afternoon.
If you prefer solid ground, that’s ok too. There are two, three, and four-wheel pedaled conveyances for rent, including children’s, tandem bikes, and four-wheel surreys.
Relax by the lake, spend a day fishing, take your favorite canine to the dog park, or get some exercise at one of the dozens of park activities.
No matter your handicap, City Park New Orleans offers several different types of golfing fun.
Bayou Oaks Golf Course
Located in the center of the Park, Bayou Oaks Golf Course is open to the public with affordable fees and clubs to rent.
City Putt is the city’s quintessential miniature golf attraction, located on Victory Drive across from the entrance to Carousel Gardens, Storyland, and the Botanical Garden.
It features a 36-hole mini-golf complex over two separate courses. One course focuses on the sights and cities of Louisiana. The second family-friendly course celebrates the city of New Orleans, highlighting its neighborhoods, landmarks, and city icons.
For the truly adventurous, City Park combines the love of golf with the high-activity game of disc golf. This entirely 3-par course is designed to take advantage of the live oak groves, lagoons, and unique bridges throughout the park. The disc golf course is free, and holes range from easy to challenging.
City Park’s four miles of paved bike paths extend from Bayou St. John to Lake Pontchartrain. Several trails also circle and crisscross the park for easy touring. The Couturie Forest route is designed for high-speed mountain bikes for a more adventurous bike path.
City Park has a unique 27-acre Equest Farm with a full-service equestrian facility. This hidden New Orleans gem welcomes individuals and families for horseback riding lessons, short and long-term boarding, and competitions. And if you are looking for a creative location for a celebration or party, Equest Farm does that too.
The New Orleans Botanical Garden is a ten-acre green space within the park. New Orleans’ unique climate supports a variety of indigenous and worldwide plants arranged in themed settings, including an English garden and a bamboo-forested Japanese garden. In total, there are more than 2,000 species of plants throughout the Botanical Gardens.
The area is also home to the Enrique Alferez Sculpture Garden, which celebrates the history and Mexican-American creative influences.
The 8,000 sq. ft. artistic oasis features 15 sculptures, designed lighting, greenery, and a grand oak tree.
Couturie Forest, located on the Park’s innermost island, is a 60-acre jungle overgrowth – similar to the indigenous plants of New Orleans before it was settled. Laborde Mountain is the highest point in New Orleans -43 feet above sea level within the Forest.
City Park Dining
Once inside the Park, it is common to want to stay for a while. Luckily there are food vendors for quick and easy refreshments, cafes, and restaurants to please even the most particular tastes.
Cafe du Monde
City Park New Orleans is one of the best places in New Orleans to try their warm, fluffy, and world-famous beignets al fresco for a relaxing morning start or a mid-day refresh. Cafe du Monde conjures images of strong chicory coffee and sweet, creatively powered beignets. Luckily City Park has a location within the Casino Building serving at the inside counter or the outside service window.
Acorn is a kid-friendly restaurant inside the Children’s Museum. It serves organic breakfast and lunch. Sit outside for a little fresh air or inside in the open-seating dining room. Grab-and-go lunches are also available for a picnic lunch.
Deutsche House is the German Society’s social club and fine dining restaurant. Open to the public, it serves draft beers, wines, and traditional German fare nestled among the live oaks and under the New Orleans stars.
Filmore in the Oaks
The Fillmore in the Oaks is an American-styled, full-service bar for happy hour or a cool drink after that last hole. The restaurant serves classic clubhouse and New Orleans fare for lunch and dinner. Part of the Bayou Oaks public golf course is perfect for an evening out or a celebration with friends.
Take a Break from the Downtown & Visit City Park
No trip to New Orleans is complete without a visit to City Park. With an incredible amount of things to do, see, eat, and drink you certainly won’t get bored while wandering through this massive park. Bring your kids, take your partner, or opt for a solo getaway, regardless of who joins you on your trip to New Orleans, you’re all sure to love City Park.
Featured Image Credit: AJ Schroetlin via Flickr CC2.0