These are a few of my favorite things about New Orleans’ public parks: they are free, open to the public, and not just for joggers. They serve as places for quiet contemplation or provide a soft patch of grass for a family picnic. They offer scenery for the amateur photographer or as a running path to sweat it out. They take the place of indoor reading nooks or provide an excuse for kids to run wild. Ultimately, parks are an important service to local communities and promote health, peace of mind, and interaction with other people from the community (or the world). Pack a picnic or your running shoes and head to one of these New Orleans parks.
6500 Magazine St.
Named after the naturalist and painter John James Audubon, Audubon Park is one of the most well-known and loved local parks. The land was part of a commercial sugar plantation owned by Etienne de Boré before it was publicly owned. The World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition of 1884 aided in the transition to a public park. Today, Audubon Park features a 1.8 mile circular jogging path (also for use by bicyclists, leashed dogs, rollerbladers, etc.), exercise equipment along the jogging path, horse stables, bird-watching, three playgrounds, and tennis courts and other athletic fields.
701 N. Rampart St.
Louis Armstrong Park in Tremé, named for one of the most famous jazz musicians to come out of New Orleans, is a lesser-explored urban park with surprising beauty. Cypress trees and others cluster around lagoons that snake through the park. While much of the site was demolished to make way for the park (including the home in which Louis Armstrong grew up), sculptures pay homage to the jazz music born from slaves in Congo Square, which is now part of the park. Armstrong Park features Jazz in the Park, a weekly free concert series in the spring and fall. In addition, the park contains the Mahalia Jackson Theater.
1 Palm Dr.
New Orleans City Park was established in 1854, prior to the Civil War, and has since grown to 1,300 acres. Its most significant period of growth occurred during the Great Depression when the federal government, as part of the New Deal, invested $12 million to develop and beautify the park. Notably, City Park is home to the oldest grove of mature Live Oak trees on the planet. Visit City Park to rent boats or bike, jog around the Big Lake, or hike through the Couturie Forest (and catch sights of turtles and woodpeckers). City Park also features the Botanical Garden, the Morning Call beignet stand, the New Orleans Museum of Art, Storyland and Carousel Gardens for kids, miniature golf and regular golf, and athletic fields, among many other offerings. The park, with some exceptions, is open beginning thirty minutes prior to sunrise until thirty minutes after sunset.
1708 Coliseum St.
Coliseum Square is a small, three-acre neighborhood park tucked into the Lower Garden District. Laid out in the early 1800s, along with the surrounding neighborhood, the park is now a favorite gathering place for dogs and dog owners, coworkers on their lunch breaks, and local students. Mature Live Oak trees sweep across the park with low branches, and a working fountain is a favorite for dogs on hot days. Several benches provide quiet places for contemplation in the sun or shade. A walking or jogging path snakes its way around and through the park.
1008 N. Peters St. (park entrances along N. Peters St. at Elysian Fields, Piety St., and Alvar St.)
Reconnecting New Orleanians with the Mississippi River– the raison d’être for the city in the first place– has been decades in the making. Beginning with Woldenberg Park in the 1970s, Crescent Park is the latest effort to give people greater access to the river. Located in the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods, Crescent Park is a 1.4-mile linear park with landscaped paths for runners, dogs, and everyone in between, as well as unparalleled views of the Mississippi River and Downtown. Crescent Park is marked by its iconic, rust-colored bridge (christened the “Rusty Rainbow”) arching over the railroad tracks and flood wall. The fenced dog run allows pets to socialize and play off the leash, while picnic tables make a nice spot for lunch. Free fitness classes are offered Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:45 to 6:45 p.m. at the Mandeville Wharf. The park is open from 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. during daylight savings time.
S. Carrollton at S. Claiborne Ave.
Palmer Park, originally known as Hamilton Square, was created in 1833. In 1902, Palmer Park was renamed, and ten years later the Palmer Park arch was erected. Today, this park is perhaps best known for the monthly Palmer Park Arts Market held the final Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The market features dozens of artists and craftspeople selling their wares, music, food, and children’s activities. The park provides plenty of green space as well as playground equipment for kids. It is open 24 hours a day.
Washington Square Park
700 Elysian Fields Ave.
A little past the hustle and bustle of Frenchmen Street lies Washington Square Park, a quiet shady park on a whole city block that developed out of Bernard Xavier Philippe de Marigny de Mandeville’s vast plantation land. The park often acts as a gathering place and hosts festivals. Dog walkers are a common sight, and plenty of seating allows for quiet contemplation or people-watching. Heavy landscaping of oak trees, shrubs, and palm trees provide some visual interest. A playground is also located within the park. Washington Square Park is open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (and until 7 p.m. during Daylight Savings).
6500 Press Dr.
Named after the community that surrounds it, Pontchartrain Park is located in the Gentilly area. The park, created from reclaimed swampland, opened shortly after the neighborhood was established in 1955. The neighborhood, and by extension the park, was developed for middle- and upper-class African Americans during the Jim Crow era. The park consists of 183 acres of athletic fields, recreational areas, jogging paths, and lagoons. It is also adjacent to the Joseph Bartholomew Golf Course. Park hours are 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
1 Canal St.
An effort to reconnect the city with the Mississippi River resulted in the Moonwalk and ultimately its expansion known as Woldenberg Park. The riverfront in the French Quarter was historically lined with working wharves until the park opened in the mid-1970s and shortly after expanded for the 1984 World’s Fair. This linear park offers spectacular views of the Mississippi River, the Crescent City Connection bridges, and Algiers Point. It has benches and grassy spots to picnic and is a great running or biking path. Several sculptures are also scattered through the park. Entrances are found between Esplanade Avenue (go behind the flood wall and cross the railroad/streetcar tracks) and Canal Street.
Developed where an old railroad– and previously a canal– cut through the heart of the city, the Lafitte Greenway is a 2.6-mile pedestrian/bicycle path and green corridor. This rails-to-trails project extends from the intersection of N. Alexander and St. Louis streets in Mid-City to Basin and St. Louis streets in Tremé. The Greenway provides the chance to explore a part of New Orleans that had previously been largely off limits. The Lafitte Greenway is open 24 hours a day and is fully lit with energy-efficient trail lights. Bonus: the recently opened FitLot, a free outdoor fitness lot located at 2200 Lafitte Ave., is located along the Greenway.
Bayou St. John
While not a true park, Bayou St. John is one of most scenic parts of the city. Historically, Native Americans and Europeans used Bayou St. John as a trade route. Today, this natural body of water that flows through the Faubourg St. John neighborhood in Mid-City is a favorite local recreational waterway. On sunny days, people can rent or bring kayaks or canoes to paddle up and down the bayou. The grassy banks or the pedestrian Magnolia (Cabrini) Bridge are also perfect spots for picnicking. The bayou is an excellent spot for observing natural: watch a pelican make a dramatic dive into the water to scoop up a snack, or spot a jumping fish if you are lucky. The bayou extends along Moss Street from Lake Pontchartrain to the Lafitte Greenway.