Founded in 1854, this 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 a world apart. With the largest collection of live oaks in the world, including old grove trees that are more than 600 years old, City Park offers a certain natural majesty that's difficult to find in most other urban areas. The art-deco benches, fountains, bridges, and ironwork are remnants of a 1930s Works Progress Administration (WPA) refurbishment and add to the dreamy scenery that visitors enjoy boating and biking through. Within the park are 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, 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. The Morning Call coffee stand, behind the Sculpture Garden, serves 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 separate admission fees.
Open seasonally, the 17-ride Carousel Gardens Amusement Park (504/483–9402; $4 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 country) listed 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 alike enjoy the miniature train that takes passengers on a gentle sightseeing tour through City Park. There are also two 18-hole miniature golf courses, one with a New Orleans theme and one with a Louisiana theme.
The New Orleans Botanical Garden (504/483–9386; $4; closed Mon.), opened in 1936 as a Depression-era project of the WPA, is one of the few remaining examples of public garden design from the art-deco period. The garden's collections contain over 2,000 varieties of plants from all over the world, complemented by sites such as the Conservatory, the Pavilion of the Two Sisters, and the Yakumo Nihon Teien Japanese Garden, as well as theme gardens containing aquatics, roses, native plants, ornamental trees, and shrubs and perennials. The garden showcases 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-size cars rolling through a miniature version of New Orleans.
Featuring figures and settings from classic children's literature, the whimsical Storyland (504/483–9402; $4; closed Mon.), adjacent to the amusement park, has been a favorite romping ground for generations of New Orleans kids. Youngsters 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. There are more than 25 larger-than-life storybook exhibits in all.