New Orleans City Park got its start in the 1850s when the merchant John McDonogh willed much of what would become its land to the city. And during the 1930s, under President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, the mostly undeveloped site saw significant transformation into something designed to fit the city’s recreational needs. Since then, the park has evolved into a sprawling attraction larger than New York’s Central Park. Visitors can enjoy miniature golf, jogging paths, fishing sites, two museums, multiple restaurants, a 60-acre forest, and the New Orleans Botanical Garden.
Exploring Nature in the Park
City Park can be a great place to explore the plant and even animal life of New Orleans.
The park boasts what’s said to be the world’s largest collection of mature live oak trees, along a nicely shaded walkway on its southern edge between a duck-filled waterway and City Park Avenue. The pedestrian bridges across the water are also frequently used as photo opportunities by graduates, couples, and other visitors to the park. Look for ducks, herons, ibises, pelicans, and the occasional nutria.
Not far to the north within the park lies the New Orleans Botanical Garden with 10 acres of native and other plants. Check the garden’s website to see what flowers are in bloom as you plan your visit. Make sure to check out the numerous sculptures by Mexican-American artist Enrique Alférez and the historic model train circling around a small-scale representation of the city. Admission to the garden is $10 for adults and $5 for children.
Also consider a visit to the Couturie Forest, a 60-acre arboretum named for businessman and benefactor Rene Couturie. Admission to the forest, which can be explored on foot, is free, and it’s a favorite destination for New Orleans joggers and birdwatchers.
One Park, Two Museums
Besides the Botanical Garden, New Orleans City Park is home to two of the city’s great museums.
One is the New Orleans Museum of Art, visible on arrival through the park’s main entrance. Its permanent collection includes a variety of American, French, Asian, and African art, including work by celebrated French impressionist Edgar Degas, who spent time in New Orleans. It also hosts regular traveling and special exhibits as well as events like movie screenings. Don’t miss the recently expanded Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, located just outside the museum building. Museum admission is $15 for adults, $10 for seniors, $8 for college students, and free for those 19 or younger.
The colorful Louisiana Children’s Museum relocated to City Park in 2019 after decades downtown. It boasts an array of indoor and outdoor exhibits designed to entertain kids and get them learning about science, art, and the world around them. Admission is $14 per person.
City Park Sports
If you’re looking to run or jog, follow the path around the lake or the nearby jogging path around the park’s Festival Grounds, or simply take one of many walking trails through the sprawling park. Some ambitious runners also sprint up and down the steps at Ted Gormley Stadium. The sporting venue dates back to the New Deal and is used by local high schools and colleges for football and track events. It’s even hosted big musical acts from The Beatles to the Ramones.
Play miniature golf, or putt putt as it’s often called in the South, at the Louisiana-themed City Putt golf course in the park. Or, if you prefer standard golf, visit either of the courses in the park.
If fishing is your sport of choice, bring your line and pole to the Big Lake, the lagoons in the south, the water in and along the Couturie Forest or the Marconi Fishing Pier toward the northwest side of the park. Make sure to get a Louisiana fishing license online or through a local sporting goods shop to stay on the right side of the law.
Children enjoy playing in Storyland, City Park’s fairytale-themed playground. Tickets are $5 per person, with kids under 36 inches in height admitted free.
Dining in City Park
Grab some coffee and beignets, New Orleans’s traditional pillowy, powdered-sugar-coated donuts, at the Cafe du Monde location in the park. Other beverages, like orange juice and milk, are also available inside the cafe, as are restrooms.
Both museums in the park also have restaurants. Acorn Cafe at the Children’s Museum offers tasty favorites like salads, burgers, and sandwiches, along with coffee, wine, beer, and ice pops to enjoy at indoor or outdoor tables. An extensive kids’ menu is naturally available. Or stop by Café NOMA for a cheese plate, panini sandwich, or flatbread pizza. Both restaurants are accessible without museum tickets.
Snowballs, the traditional New Orleans frozen treat, are also available from a stand outside the miniature golf course.
There are also a number of restaurants, coffee shops, and bars, including national chains and local favorites along Carrollton Avenue, just south of the main park entrance. Those looking to picnic in the park can stop by the Winn-Dixie or Rouses grocery stores in the same area.
How to Get There
If you’re coming from near the French Quarter, you can drive, bike, or take a taxi or ride share down Esplanade Avenue. It’s a pleasant, tree-lined road lined with historic mansions (and equipped with a bike lane) that leads directly into the park’s main entrance.
Via public transit, take the streetcar’s City Park line directly to the park. A number of buses also stop nearby. Check the Regional Transit Authority’s website for current schedules and fares.
If you’re coming from further away, take Interstate 10 to exit 231-A, labeled City Park Avenue/Metairie Road, and follow City Park Avenue to one of the park’s entrances.