The French Quarter can be a busy, bustling place, chock full of locals and tourists (and smells). So while you may enjoy the Quarter, you may also seek a day of quiet and serenity, which is exactly what the Garden District can offer. (If you’ve seen Interview with a Vampire, you’re probably already familiar with the area.)
Perhaps what you’ll first notice about the Garden District are the tree-lined streets and Victorian mansions. The Garden District is at a higher elevation that the rest of NOLA, so it has been (mostly) protected from hurricanes and tropical storms. Because of this, it looks basically as it did two hundred years ago, when most of the homes were built (also credited to good maintenance and continual renovations by homeowners).
Walking from the Quarter would be quite ambitious (don’t do it), but you can drive and park on the street, or take the streetcar there (the St. Charles line will get you to the Garden District, which just so happens to be the oldest, continuously operating streetcar line in the world). I recommend the streetcars — aside from the quaint interiors of mahogany seats, exposed bulbs, and iron railings, you’ll pass through tunnels of live oaks and get the best views of the antebellum mansions.
One notable Garden District spot — that Josh and I have never visited — is Commander’s Palace Restaurant. Since we’ve never been, I can’t rave about the food and ambiance, but Zagat’s got their stickers all over that place and it’s considered the most popular NOLA restaurant. (It’s on our “next time in Nola” list, for sure).
After you finish strolling or driving by all of the beautiful houses, you can continue on foot to the beautiful and historic Audubon Park (named for John James Audubon, famous architect and painter of birds). This park, with its walking trails and mature live oaks, actually makes me wish I had my tennis shoes with me every time we walk through it (I think if we lived in NOLA, I’d actually be a runner… and enjoy it).
If you’re feeling up to an activity, you can go check out nearby Audubon Zoo. Aside from the usual zoo residents and attractions, this one is known for its ongoing swamplife exhibit and “Reptile Encounters” (they’ve got a Komodo dragon).
Like the Aquarium of the Americas, the Zoo is operated by the Audubon Nature Institute (visit that link for an array of details including schedules, prices, upcoming exhibits and other fancy-ness).
If you’ve got a car, you can drive about 10 minutes northeast into Mid City to Rock-n-Bowl. This bowling alley features live music almost every night as well as Swing and Cajun dancing. Though Josh and I have never been, it’s been given a high recommendation by a friend of ours who was stationed there in 2006-2007. From what I’ve read, it’s one of the most popular Zydeco music and dance venues in NOLA, especially among locals… and of course, you can do a little bowling, too.
Perhaps if you’re really wanting a NOLA getaway or daytrip (and you brought your car with you), there are many historic homes just minutes outside of the city:
- Oak Valley Plantation — One of the area’s most visited plantations (and when you see the alley of oaks framing the home you can see why).
- Madewood Plantation — About 75 mi. west of NOLA — has its own B&B with antique furnishings
- Nottoway Plantation — About an hour north of NOLA’s airport — Gorgeous!
- Chalmette Battlefield and Beauregard House — Just seven miles downriver from the French Quarter, this house is a beautiful antebellum mansion located on the site of the last battle of the War of 1812 (The Battle of New Orleans) and the Chalmette Battlefield and Chalmette National Cemetery (of Civil War fame).
- Destrehan and Ormond Plantations — Both plantations are within 30 miles of NOLA and are part of the tapestry of this area’s rich history, having both been built in the late 1700’s. Though only a mile and half apart, they are unique in their architectural styles
- Laura Plantation Home — It was at this plantation where the stories of Bre’er Rabbit were recorded.
- Houmas House Plantation — Immensely popular for tourists and a venue for weddings and events as well.
Hope these ideas help plan your next NOLA getaway! To read the other NOLA travel posts from this week, check out this list: