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Fodor's New Orleans 2014
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City Park Review
This 150-year-old, 1,300-acre expanse of moss-draped oaks and 11 miles of gentle lagoons is just 2 miles from the French Quarter, but feels like it could be another world. With the largest collection of live oaks in the world, including old grove trees that are more than 600 years old, the park offers a certain natural majesty that's difficult to find in urban areas. The art deco benches, fountains, bridges, and ironwork are remnants of a 1930s Works Progress Administration refurbishment and add to the dreamy scenery that visitors enjoy boating and biking through. Highlights include the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, the New Orleans Botanical Garden, the kid-friendly Carousel Gardens Amusement Park and Storyland, a golf course, equestrian stable, sports facilities, and picnic areas. Check the park's website for seasonal activities and special events, such as music festivals, the annual Easter egg hunt, and the eye-popping wonderland that is Celebration in the Oaks between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. Morning Call, an eatery behind the Sculpture Garden, serves up hot beignets and café au lait 24-7. Most of the park's offerings are free, but several of the venues inside City Park charge their own separate admission fees.
Open seasonally, the 16-ride Carousel Gardens Amusement Park (504/482–9432; $3 admission; rides $3 each) has a New Orleans treasure as its centerpiece—a 1906 carousel, one of only 100 antique wooden carousels left in the nation, that is on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition to the cherished "flying horses," the park has rides like the new Musik Express, Rockin' Tug, Coney Tower, Ferris Wheel, Bumper Cars, Monkey Jump, Red Baron miniplane, Scrambler, and Tilt-A-Whirl. The rides here are mostly geared to children, not hard-core thrill seekers, but adults and kids both like the miniature train that takes passengers on a gentle sightseeing tour through City Park. In 2013, two 18-hole miniature golf courses opened, one with a New Orleans theme and one with a Louisiana theme. The park's minigolf tradition, which started in the 1940s, returns after more than two decades of absence.
New Orleans Botanical Garden (504/483–9488; $6; closed Mon.) opened in 1936 as a Depression-era project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), is one of the few remaining examples of public garden design from the WPA and art-deco period. The garden's collections contain over 2,000 varieties of plants from all over the world, which are complemented by sites such as the Conservatory of the Two Sisters and the Yakumo Nihon Teien Japanese Garden, and theme gardens containing aquatics, roses, native plants, ornamental trees, and shrubs and perennials. The garden serves as a showcase of three notable talents: New Orleans architect Richard Koch, landscape architect William Wiedorn, and artist Enrique Alférez. Adding a touch of fun, the Historic Train Garden, open on weekends, offers visitors the chance to enjoy baguette-sized cars rolling through a miniature New Orleans village.
Featuring figures and settings culled from children's literature, whimsical Storyland (504/482–9432; $3; closed Mon.), adjacent to the amusement park, has been a favorite romping ground for generations of New Orleans kids. With more than 25 larger-than-life storybook exhibits, kids can climb aboard Captain Hook's pirate ship, visit the old lady who lived in a shoe, and journey with Pinocchio into the mouth of a whale.
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