Boasting some of the most stunning homes in the city, the Garden District has acquired fame for its antebellum mansions and manicured gardens. Residents take great pride in their gorgeous properties, and the neighborhood is in bloom year-round. Although most homes are closed to the public (except for tours on special occasions), the views from the outside the intricate cast-iron fences are still impressive. A stroll through the neighborhood is a peaceful break from more touristy areas of New Orleans.
Originally part of the Livaudais plantation, the Garden District was laid out in the late 1820s and remained part of the city of Lafayette until incorporated into New Orleans in 1852. The neighborhood attracted "new-moneyed" Americans who, snubbed by the Creole residents of the French Quarter, constructed grand houses with large English-style gardens featuring lush azaleas, magnolias, and camellias. Three architectural styles were favored: the three-bay Greek Revival, center-hall Greek Revival, and raised cottage. Renovations and expansions to these designs through the years allowed owners to host bigger and more ostentatious parties, particularly during the social season between Christmas and Carnival. Today many of the proud residents represent fourth- or fifth-generation New Orleanians.
The lower Garden District (along Magazine Street east of Jackson Avenue) boasts offbeat boutiques selling original art, antiques, vintage clothing, and jewelry, catering to the young professional and student crowds in particular. A "green light district" of eco-friendly shops has taken root in its 2000–2100 blocks. Coliseum Square, in the center of the neighborhood, features a fountain and walking trails that wind around looming oak trees, and the mansions flanking the park display a distinctly faded beauty. The neighborhood quiets down considerably in the evening, though there are a few nighttime hangouts and restaurants, especially near the triangular intersection at St. Mary Street and Sophie Wright Place.
A morning walk in the upper Garden District (west of Jackson Avenue) provides a peaceful break from the more touristy areas of New Orleans. Besides beautiful mansions with wrought-iron fences that wrap around vibrant, manicured gardens, this part of the neighborhood is where you'll find Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, one of the city's oldest and most beautiful cemeteries. Return to the present day by visiting the stretch of Magazine Street that runs alongside the upper Garden District, which boasts an eclectic mix of restaurants and chichi boutiques.