15 Best Sights in Mid-City and Bayou St. John, New Orleans

City Park

Mid-City Fodor's choice
New Orleans City Park Parthenon, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
(c) Mishelmccumber | Dreamstime.com

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 Louisiana Children's Museum, 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 Café du Monde 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; $5 admission, rides $4 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 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; $8), 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 more than 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; $5), 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.

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New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA)

Mid-City Fodor's choice
New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA), New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
By Mutante (CC BY-SA 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Gracing the main entrance to City Park since 1911, this traditional fine-arts museum draws from classic Greek architecture, with several modern wings that bring additional light and space to the grand old building. NOMA now has 46 galleries housing an outstanding permanent collection. Made up of nearly 40,000 objects, the installations and exhibits represent historical periods from the Italian Renaissance to the best of the contemporary world. A wealth of American and European art—French, in particular—makes up much of the collection, with works by Monet, Renoir, Picasso, Cornell, and Pollock. Louisiana artists are also well represented, and the museum boasts photography, ceramics, and glassworks from cultures around the globe, plus outstanding holdings in African, pre-Columbian, and Asian art. In addition, the museum offers a year-round schedule of traveling and special exhibitions, events, tours, and public programs.

Henry Moore's handsome Reclining Mother and Child greets visitors at the entrance of the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden. Most of the garden's 60-some sculptures, representing some of the biggest names in modern art, were donated by avid local collector Sydney Besthoff. Meandering trails and bridges carry visitors over bayou lagoons and past a fascinating combination of famed traditional sculpture and contemporary works, including major pieces by Jacques Lipchitz, Barbara Hepworth, and Joel Shapiro. The garden is open daily from 10am to 5pm; admission is free.

1 Collins Diboll Circle, New Orleans, LA, 70119, USA
504-658–4100
Sight Details
Rate Includes: $15, Closed Mon., Tues.–Thurs. 10–6, Fri. 10–9, weekends 11–5

Alcée Fortier Park

Bayou St. John

Situated at Esplanade Avenue and Mystery Street, this tiny sliver of a park was named for the philanthropist and professor Alcée Fortier, who owned much of the surrounding area in the late 19th century and who founded a public school. A neighborhood favorite, the park is almost completely maintained by the efforts of local volunteers who tend the lush landscaping, which includes palms, caladiums, and azaleas, keep up the collection of whimsical sculptures and art, and make sure the concrete chess tables are ready for game time (complete with baskets of chess pieces). A focal point of the Bayou St. John neighborhood, Alcée Fortier Park is surrounded by a concentration of hip restaurants and neighborhood grocers.

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Bayou St. John

Bayou St. John

A bayou is a natural inlet, usually a slow-moving, narrow waterway that emerges from the swamp at one end and joins a larger body of water at the other, and this bayou—the only one remaining in New Orleans—borders City Park on the east and extends about 7 miles from Lake Pontchartrain to just past Orleans Avenue. It is named for John the Baptist. June 23 (St. John's Eve, and therefore the day before his feast day) was the most important day in the year for voodoo practitioners, and it was notoriously celebrated on the bayou's banks in the 1800s. The first European settlers in the area, most likely trappers, coexisted with Native Americans here beginning in 1704. Today, the bayou is still a popular destination among New Orleanians, whether for tradition's sake—as is the case for the famed Mardi Gras Indians, who gather here for their annual celebrations—for a festival such as the Bayou Boogaloo in May, or simply for a relaxing afternoon of fishing, canoeing, or picnicking along the grassy banks. Scenic biking and walking trails run alongside the waterway all the way to the lake, where you can watch the graceful old homes of picturesque Moss Street morph into the dazzling waterfront mansions of Bancroft Drive.

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From the foot of Jefferson Davis Pkwy. to Lakeshore Dr., New Orleans, LA, 70119, USA

Benachi House & Gardens

Bayou St. John

This Greek Revival mansion was built in 1859 for the Greek consul in New Orleans and was a significant part of the city's original expansion into this neighborhood. Directly across from the Degas House, this intersection forms something of a historical hub. The house earned the nickname "Rendezvous des Chasseurs" (meeting place of hunters) during the 19th century, when much of this area was still undeveloped swampland. The gorgeous house and gardens are now primarily a private event space and a popular setting for New Orleans weddings.

Cabrini High School and Mother Cabrini Shrine

Bayou St. John

Mother Frances Cabrini, the first American citizen to become a saint (canonized in 1946), purchased the land between Esplanade Avenue and Bayou St. John near City Park in 1905 and built the Sacred Heart Orphan Asylum here. She stayed in the Pitot House, which was on her property until she gave it to the city during construction of the orphanage. In 1959, the institution was converted to a girls' high school in Mother Cabrini's name. Her bedroom here, preserved as it was in her time, is filled with personal effects and maintained as a shrine. Tours of her room and Sacred Heart Chapel are available by appointment.

Cypress Grove Cemetery

Mid-City

This expansive and still-used cemetery was founded by the Fireman's Charitable and Benevolent Association in 1840. Over time, as the cemetery expanded, other societies and individuals joined the volunteer firemen in building impressive monuments. Leading architects and craftsmen were called upon to design and build tombs commemorating the lives of many of New Orleans's most prominent citizens. Crafted in marble, granite, and cast iron, tombs at Cypress Grove are among the nation's leading examples of memorial architecture. Of particular note is the Chinese Soon On Tong Association's tomb, which features a grate in front so that visitors can burn prayers written on paper in it. Admission is free and visitors are encouraged to explore on their own, although outside companies do offer tours.

120 City Park Ave., New Orleans, LA, 70119, USA
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Daily 8–5

Edgar Degas House Museum, Courtyard, and Inn

Bayou St. John

The Impressionist Edgar Degas, whose Creole mother and grandmother were born in New Orleans, stayed with his cousins in this house during an 1872 visit to New Orleans, producing 18 paintings and four drawings while here. "This is a new style of painting," Degas wrote in one of the five known letters he sent from New Orleans, explaining that the breakthrough he experienced here led to "better art." Today, this house museum and bed-and-breakfast offers public tours, given by Degas's great-grandnieces, which include the screening of an award-winning film on Degas's family and their sojourn in New Orleans, plus a walk through the historic neighborhood focusing on details from the artist's letters. In 2019, the site was designated as a French monument by the French ambassador to the United States. Feel free to drop by for a look if you're in the vicinity, but check the website or call ahead for event dates or to make an appointment for a full tour.

2306 Esplanade Ave., New Orleans, LA, 70119, USA
504-821–5009
Sight Details
Rate Includes: $29 for guided tour, Tours at 10:30 and 1:30 (reservation required)

Fair Grounds Race Course and Slots

Bayou St. John

The third-oldest racetrack in the country sits just off Esplanade Avenue, among the houses of Bayou St. John. The popular Starlight Racing series, held Friday nights, features live music, DJs, food trucks, a beer garden, and go-go dancers dressed as jockeys. The grounds are also home to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. For the clubhouse, be sure to make reservations and be aware that proper attire is required—in this case that means collared shirts, closed shoes, and no shorts.

1751 Gentilly Blvd., New Orleans, LA, 70119, USA
504-943–2200-box and restaurant reservations
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Grandstand free, clubhouse $10, Thanksgiving–Mar., check website for hrs, Closed May–Oct.

Lake Lawn Metairie Cemetery

Mid-City

The largest cemetery in the metropolitan area, known to locals simply as Metairie Cemetery, is the final resting place of nine Louisiana governors, seven New Orleans mayors, and musician Louis Prima. Many of New Orleans's prominent families are also interred here in elaborate monuments ranging from Gothic crypts to Romanesque mausoleums to Egyptian pyramids. The arrangement of tombs reflects the cemetery's former life as a horse-racing track, with the tombs arranged around the perimeter and interior. Cemetery staff are happy to offer a map to anyone who asks.

Longue Vue House and Gardens

Lakewood

While technically in the Lakewood neighborhood, this beautiful destination is within easy walking distance of the Mid-City streetcar. Fourteen separate gardens are arranged throughout the 8 acres of the beautifully maintained property, embellished with fountains, architectural flourishes, and gorgeous pathways of hand-laid Mexican pebbles and rough-cut marble. This city estate, now a National Historic Landmark, was fashioned in the 1940s after the great country houses of England, and the villa-style mansion is decorated with its original furnishings of English and American antiques, priceless tapestries, modern art, and porcelain. Longue Vue is open Tuesday through Sunday, and guests can visit the house by guided tour or explore the gardens at their own leisure. Themed gardens include the formal Spanish court, modeled after a 14th-century Spanish garden, as well as a Discovery Garden, which introduces kids to the intricacies and wonders of horticulture.

While the verdant gardens are open year round, March and April see the amarillos, daffodils, azaleas, spring snowdrops, tulips, and poppies in full bloom.

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7 Bamboo Rd., New Orleans, LA, 70124, USA
504-488–5488
Sight Details
Rate Includes: House and garden guided tour $18, self-guided tour $8, Mon.–Sat. 10–5, Sun. 1–5, Closed Mon.

Luling Mansion

Bayou St. John

Also called the "Jockey's Mansion," this massive, three-story Italianate mansion is a neighborhood landmark (and now a popular setting for Hollywood film crews). Designed by the prominent New Orleans architect James Gallier Jr., it was built in 1865 for Florence A. Luling, whose family had made a fortune selling turpentine to Union soldiers when they occupied New Orleans during the Civil War. When the Louisiana Jockey Club took over the Creole Race Course (now the Fair Grounds) in 1871, they purchased the mansion and used it as a clubhouse for the next 20-odd years. It is not open to the public.

1436–1438 Leda St., New Orleans, LA, 70119, USA

New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

Bayou St. John

Don't let the four-letter word at the center of its name intimidate you—one need not be a jazz fanatic to love the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. "Jazz Fest," as it's more commonly known, is a sprawling, rollicking celebration of Louisiana music, food, and culture held the last weekend in April and the first weekend in May. It takes place at the city's historic Fair Grounds Race Course, which reverberates with the sounds of rock, Cajun, zydeco, gospel, rhythm and blues, hip-hop, folk, world music, country, Latin, and, yes, traditional and modern jazz. Throw in world-class arts and crafts, exhibitions and lectures, and an astounding range of Louisiana-made food—alone reason enough for many Jazz Fest fans to make the trek—and you've got a festival worthy of America's premier party town. Over the years, Jazz Fest lineups have come to include internationally known performers, but at its heart the festival is about the hundreds of Louisiana musicians who live, work, and cut their chops in the Crescent City. The festival is an important showcase for local musicians, introducing them to fans around the world. For a peek at the schedule of featured artists, visit the festival website.

Pitot House

Bayou St. John

One of the few surviving houses that lined the bayou in the late 1700s, and the only Creole colonial–style country house in the city open to the public, Pitot House is named for James Pitot, who bought the property in 1810 as a country home for his family. In addition to being one of the city's most prosperous merchants, Pitot served as New Orleans mayor from 1804 to 1805, the city's first after the Louisiana Purchase, and later as parish court judge. The Pitot House was restored and moved 200 feet to its current location in the 1960s to make way for the expansion of Cabrini High School. It is noteworthy for its stuccoed brick-and-post construction, an example of which is exposed on the second floor. The house is typical of the West Indies style brought to Louisiana by early colonists, with galleries around the house that protect the interior from both rain and sunshine. There aren't any interior halls to stifle ventilation, and the doors are lined up with one another to encourage a cross breeze. The house is furnished with period antiques from the United States, including special pieces from Louisiana.

St. Louis Cemetery No. 3

Bayou St. John

One block from the entrance to City Park, at the end of Esplanade Avenue, stands this cemetery, on an area of high ground along Bayou St. John. It opened in 1854 on the site of an old leper colony. Governor Galvez had exiled the lepers here during the yellow fever outbreak of 1853, but they were later removed to make room for the dead. The remains of Storyville photographer E. J. Bellocq are here, and the cemetery is notable for its neat rows of elaborate aboveground crypts, mausoleums, and carved stone angels. Many tour companies, including Save Our Cemeteries, offer tours that include St. Louis No. 3, but it's perfectly safe to walk through and explore on your own.

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