A ride on the St. Charles Avenue streetcar, which takes you from the bustling, Caribbean-looking French Quarter to the quiet, elegant Victorian Garden District out to the former suburb of Carrollton and back again is just about the best thing $1.25 can buy you in this day and age.
Exact change is required, and if you'd like to hop on and hop off a few times, consider buying a single-day pass for $3.
The trip takes about 45 minutes each way and gives you a grand view of some of New Orleans' most beautiful and interesting homes, as well as some of the more interesting and historic properties in the Central Business District, and a glimpse of Audubon Park, Tulane and Loyola Universities.
To catch the streetcar: go to the corner of Canal Street and Carondelet (Carondelet is the same street as Bourbon; the streets all change names at Canal). The stop is on Carondelet, in front of the side windows of the Lady Foot Locker store that's right at the corner. You'll see the small yellow street sign marking it, and there's usually a batch of people waiting right there.
You can also catch the car at St. Charles and Common, the next stop on the line. It's a block away from Canal on St. Charles (which is Royal Street on the other side of Canal), and the stop is in front of the PJ's Coffee on the ground floor of the Royal St.
Charles Hotel. Sometimes this stop can be slightly less chaotic, as there are fewer people exiting the streetcar here, though sometimes the streetcar can already be full, so it's a trade-off.
During construction: The streetcar tracks are currently undergoing massive repairs. They're slowly moving down the line, and the construction obviously disrupts service. But it's easy enough to ride anyway. Just take the streetcar as far as it'll take you. At that point, the driver will announce that it's time to switch to a bus.
Get off the streetcar and follow the crowd to the waiting bus, which will take you 20 or so blocks to where you can catch the streetcar again at the far side of the construction. No biggie!
Interesting stops: If you'd like to hop off once or twice, here are some good places to do it:
- St. Charles and Julia St. -- This is the Warehouse/Arts district, and you'll find a number of excellent small galleries on Julia, and the Contemporary Arts Center, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and WWII Museum are just a block away.
- St. Charles at Josephine -- See that big funny building that looks like a chunk of the Eiffel Tower? Well, it's a chunk of the Eiffel Tower. Sort of. It used to be a restaurant that sat near the top of the Tower, but it was disassembled and brought to the US in pieces in the 1980s. A block down, you'll find the House of Broel, one of the few St. Charles Avenue mansions that you can tour, and which also houses an enormous doll collection.
- St. Charles at Washington -- This is the preferred spot for most people who want to stroll the Garden District. Commander's Palace and Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 are both just a couple of blocks away, and the grandest Garden District mansions are all within the vicinity.
- St. Charles at Robert -- This stop puts you just a block from a really sweet little stretch of Prytania Street that's got several nice lunch and afternoon snack options, including Upperline, La Crepe Nanou, the St. James Cheese Company, and the Creole Creamery.
- St. Charles at Tulane -- Stroll the campus or Audubon Park from this stop or a few stops in either direction.
- St. Charles at Hillary -- Jump off here and stroll a few blocks to a nice stretch of Maple Street, which includes the excellent Maple Street Book Shop and lots of nice cafes and shops.
- S. Carrollton at Jeannette/Birch -- Transit geeks, jump off here and follow the side tracks and you can see the big sheds where they keep the streetcars. You'll also find the excellent Boucherie restaurant here.