New Orleans City Park
A walk through the park can easily turn into an action-packed day filled with world-class art and sculpture exhibits, historic architecture, carousel rides and during the month of December, Mr. Bingle.
- by Lisa Monti, photographs courtesy City Park
Little wonder that a trip to the holiday lights festival has become a Christmas tradition. You don’t even need kids to hop in the car, drive over to the city and experience the park’s illuminated festivities.
But you probably know that City Park is a lot more than a year-end holiday wonderland. In the 162 years since it was established in the heart of New Orleans, the park has grown into one of the largest in the country, with enough amenities and activities to draw millions of visitors every year.
The gorgeous grounds are home to the largest stand of mature live oaks on the planet, including trees said to be nearly 800 years old. The rich landscape also includes artwork and fountains that date back to the Works Progress Administration era of the 1930s.
A favorite feature of the park is New Orleans Botanical Garden, open year round and featuring 12 acres of cultivated gardens, including tropical, shade, native, herb, and Japanese gardens, along with more than 2,000 plants from around the world. There’s also artwork in the nearby Besthoff Sculpture Garden next to the New Orleans Museum of Art. More on that later.
The garden hosts events such as plant sales, concerts and educational programs, workshops and walking tours. Among the botanical garden buildings is the Pavilion of the Two Sisters — built in the 1930s with an iconic glass dome — that contains exhibits showcasing prehistoric plants including ferns and a tropical rain forest.
Even if you’re familiar with City Park’s botanical garden you may have missed its intriguing Historic New Orleans Train Garden. It contains small-scale houses made entirely with botanical materials laid out as the city is, complete with more than 1,300 feet of tracks that miniature streetcars and trains from the 1800s and 1900s travel. The miniature houses, true to New Orleans architecture, are organized by neighborhoods, giving visitors a unique view of the city’s design and its history.
The Train Garden is open during normal Garden hours, but trains operate on a limited schedule. Currently the trains are operating on weekends and during special events only, including Celebration in the Oaks.
City Park has wonderful special attractions for children, such as train and carousel rides and the Storyland-theme playground with larger-than-life sculptures straight from the fairytale adventures of Captain Hook, Jack & Jill, Pinocchio and more.
Carousel Gardens Amusement Park’s 16 rides are icing on the City Park cake for kids and adults. The antique wooden carousel with its flying horses has a place in the National Register of Historic Places but if that fact is lost on young riders, their experience visiting this part of City Park won’t be forgotten.
City Park also is home to the New Orleans Museum of Art, with its permanent collection exceeding 40,000 fine art objects and an always-intriguing collection on loan. Museumgoers can spend hours taking in the French and American art pieces, fine photographs, glass works and Japanese art on display.
Take time to enjoy a coffee or lunch in Cafe NOMA, part of Ralph Brennan’s restaurant family that serves a light, casual menu inside the museum. Fresh salads, paninis, specialty flatbread pizzas and a daily lunch special are available, or you can enjoy wine and cheese or a charcuterie plate served on the cafe’s outdoor patio. The views and the food are reason enough to try the cafe even if you don’t have time to visit the museum. Just check in at the museum’s front desk to enter the cafe.
After your museum visit, don’t miss browsing the museum’s well-stocked gift shop for posters, jewelry, books, children’s gifts and other art-related items.
Right outside the museum doors is the five-acre Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, with footpaths leading to more than 60 sculptures valued at $25 million, more ancient oaks, and calming reflecting lagoons.
Nearby is the boat rental dock for cruising Big Lake, plus other outdoor pieces of sculpture and art.
Also at hand is Morning Call, offering its famous coffee and beignets inside the Casino Building. Open 24 hours, Morning Call’s menu also includes gumbo, jambalaya and sweet treats. Don’t forget to have cash before you order. That’s all they take.
City Park’s outdoor offerings also include fishing, mini golf, walking paths, disk golf, bike rentals, tennis courts and an 18-hole golf course.
Celebration in the Oaks runs to January 1. Hours are 6–11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 6–10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. Tickets are $9 per person. Children under 3 are free.
Train ride and amusement park ride tickets sold separately.
See more at: http://neworleanscitypark.com/calendar.
Tuesday – Thursday 10 a.m.–6 p.m.
Friday 10 a.m.–9 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m.–5 p.m.
Last admittance to the museum is 45 minutes before closing.
$10.50 adults, $8.50 seniors and $6.50 children (7–12)
Children 6 and under are free.