With the 2016 ASLA Annual Meeting and Expo still fresh in our minds, it seems fitting to wish farewell to New Orleans with a look at some of its best parks, gardens, and playgrounds. What better judge than the people of New Orleans? In this week’s blog, we scour a compilation of Airbnb host-generated guidebooks, local parenting blogs, and trip advisers to distill our top eight. Whether your interest is tracing the footsteps of jazz great Louis Armstrong, observing alligators, finding a modern playground in the Ninth Ward, or having a picnic in the shade of a moss-laden oak, you can find it in this ecologically distinctive city.
#1 City Park, 1 Palm Dr., New Orleans
City Park is a must see — one of the nation’s oldest and most visited urban parks. About 50 percent larger than Central Park in New York City, the massive park truly offers something for everyone. Beautifully restored after Hurricane Katrina devastated its landscaping, the park is home to the New Orleans Botanic Garden, a lush 13-acre site containing a collection of 2,000 plants from around the world and a miniature train garden winding through various neighborhoods of the city. Also on the grounds is the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, with over 60 sculptures situated on a landscaped site of meandering footpaths, reflecting lagoons, 200-year-old live oaks, mature pines, camellias, and magnolias. As noted in National Geographic, “The cleanup is transcendent, with new walking and biking paths, a great lawn for concerts, and a revival of beloved attractions, such as Story Land and Carousel Gardens Amusement Park, that have entertained children since 1906.”
#2 Barataria Preserve, 6588 Barataria Blvd., Marrero
The state park outside Marrero offers arrestingly up-close views of Louisiana’s wetlands. The preserve’s 23,000 acres include bayous, swamps, marshes, forests, alligators, nutrias, and over 200 species of birds. Boardwalk and dirt trails wind through the preserve, which, according to a number of Airbnb hosts is not to be missed. “If you want to see local wildlife in one of the most beautiful nature preserves in New Orleans, this is the place. Not for the faint of heart because you likely will see large insects and alligators as well as birds, amphibians, and lizards,” says one. We’re game.
#3 Audobon Park, 6500 Magazine St., New Orleans
If you’re looking to relive the college years or just toss a Frisbee, Audobon Park is the place to go. A short streetcar ride from the French Quarter, the former site of a sugar plantation, Confederate camp, and Union hospital is now a gorgeous park, which sits directly across the street from Tulane and Loyola Universities. Ranked one of the top five places to have a picnic by GoNola, Audobon Park is a fine spot to roll out a blanket, eat a po-boy, and do some people watching.
#4 Jackson Park, 700 Decatur St, New Orleans
Known in the 18th century as “Place d’Armes” and later renamed in honor of Andrew Jackson, this open-air square and artist colony in the French Quarter is the destination of choice to hear buskers and have a portrait drawn. Horse-drawn carriages pass through this famous iron-fenced landmark facing the Mississippi River and surroudnded by historic buildings, including St. Louis Cathedral, the Presbytere, and Cabildo. Grab a coffee and beignet at nearby Cafe Du Monde while you’re there.
#5 Crescent Park, 1008 N. Peters St., New Orleans
This brand new linear park is located right on the riverfront in Bywater. Stretching for 1.4 miles along the Mississippi, it provides unparalleled views and access to the water. Take a stroll, ride your bike, or simply watch the river float by while sitting on its banks.
#6 Mickey Markey Park, 700 Piety St., New Orleans
Our list wouldn’t be complete without at least one featured playground from The Ultimate Guide to the Best Playgrounds in New Orleans, a compilation of local mothers’ favorite playgrounds from the New Orleans Moms Blog. Our choice is Mickey Markey Park, located in the Ninth Ward. The park was closed in January 2011 after children who regularly used the playground began showing elevated lead levels. With funding from the Trust for Public Land, however, it underwent a major $500,000 remediation and renovation in 2013. A large grassy area for sports and picnicking and a modern playground have transformed it into a lovely family park.
#7 Armstrong Park, 701 N. Rampart St., New Orleans
Just steps from the French Quarter sits this public park that honors the jazz legend Louis Armstrong. Walk through the iconic, arched entrance to a historic landscape of sculptures, duck ponds, and open spaces. We’ll take a page from the New Orleans Official Guide, which recommends a visit to Congo Square in the southern corner of Armstrong Park, “where slaves and free blacks gathered throughout the 19th century for meetings, open markets, and the African dance and drumming celebrations that played a substantial role in the development of jazz.”
#8 Old Ursuline Convent, 1100 Chartres St, New Orleans
It’s a worth a visit to the oldest building and oldest garden in the Mississippi Valley. Completed in 1752, the main lodge in the French Colonial style is filled with dozens of oil paintings of past archbishops, bishops, religious statues and bronze busts. Behind the main building, is a walled courtyard and formal garden. As reported in Curbed New Orleans, “One of the original nuns started an herb garden here and played pharmacist, treating the sick around the city.” Where do we sign up?