New Orleans: Places to Explore

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Mid-City and Bayou St. John

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With its tree-lined streets and avenues, neighborhood gathering places and historic landmarks, the Mid-City and Bayou St. John neighborhoods are decidedly more tranquil than their downtown counterparts. While you may not find "Huge-Ass Beers to Go" or music blaring out of every doorway here, you will find a quieter form of charm in the gardens, galleries, and lagoons of City Park, in the elaborately constructed tombs of the cemeteries, and on the tree-shaded patios and decks of the restaurants and cafés where you can listen to the church bells keep time as you relax with a cold drink.

Above the French Quarter and below the lakefront, neither Uptown nor quite downtown, Mid-City is an amorphous yet proud territory embracing everything from massive, lush City Park to gritty storefronts along Carrollton Avenue. Much of this area was low-lying swamp until the late 1800s, and you can still see where the high ground was, such as along the Esplanade Ridge (now Esplanade Avenue) and along the banks of Bayou St. John. These are the stretches with many of the largest and most historic homes, churches, and landmarks, such as the St. Louis Cemetery No. 3. Edgar Degas, the famous French impressionist painter, found refuge in this neighborhood when he lived and painted here, and his home is now a guesthouse and cultural center open to the public.

Another of the neighborhood's most famous landmarks is the Fairgrounds Race Course and Slots, which is an institution among horse-race fans worldwide and home of the internationally famous New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, held every spring on the last weekend in April and first weekend in May. Both the festival and horse-racing cultures run deep in this neighborhood. The Luling Mansion, for example, with its stately row of hitching posts out front, is often called the "Jockey's Mansion," a reference to its days as a boardinghouse for traveling jockeys, and racetrack paraphernalia turns up regularly as decor in people's yards and homes. The neighborhood plays host to more than a dozen festivals and celebrations a year, from block parties like Boogaloo on the Bayou to grand-scale mega-events like the Voodoo Festival. It's easy to discern which festival is approaching by the bright flags and signs that spring up on people's yards and porches.

Of course, not all of Mid-City is quaint or picturesque. The worn storefronts along Carrollton Avenue speak of a neighborhood made up of tremendous ethnic and economic diversity. You'll be amazed to find great restaurants, cultural landmarks, and restored former plantation homes just blocks away from tough, inner-city blocks.

That being said, one of the neighborhood's simplest, most enduring, and most popular pleasures is a stroll along Bayou St. John. The waterway runs for miles, from Mid-City to the lakefront, and you'll find all sorts of people out enjoying the wide grassy banks—walking, biking, fishing, or just strolling along and admiring the reflection of a sunset in the smooth water.

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