Best Local Things to Do
Where to Watch a New Orleans Sunset
The magic hour, the golden hour: whatever you call it, time seems to slow down, particularly during a New Orleans sunset.
The magic hour, the golden hour, or sunset: whatever you call it, time seems to slow down, particularly in New Orleans at dusk. There are many locations that are perfect for sunset-watching in the Crescent City – whether it’s a nice place to sit and watch from one spot, sauntering with a go-cup in hand, hanging with friends and family over boiled crawfish, or a nice, active jog around a picturesque park. New Orleans is for sunset lovers.
The best sunsets generally happen where there’s a wide, open vista. I’ve done some of the leg work for you with my location scouting, so all you have to do is pick a spot. Check the sunset times on the web (and the forecast), and hope for the best. Keep your eyes peeled, because what may seem like a mediocre sunset could turn out to be spectacular one, if only for a few brief moments.
Prime Spots for a New Orleans Sunset
Sunset along the Mississippi River can be pretty magical, particularly when viewed from beneath the Greater New Orleans and Crescent City Connection bridges from Algiers. Accessible from the levee trail that runs along the river, if you’re on Algiers Point near the ferry terminal, it’s worth the several-block walk along the levee to stand beneath these magnificent structures. They’re the perfect framing device for the NOLA downtown skyline when the sun goes down (or at any hour.)
Near the ferry terminal at Algiers Point on the West Bank of New Orleans, there’s a perfect view of Jackson Square, and you can easily see St. Louis Cathedral. While yes, you can take the ferry and be on the water for a close-up view of Jackson Square during sunset, timing is tricky. If you’ve got a decent telephoto lens on your camera, you can take your time and capture an image similar to this from the riverbank near the ferry terminal at Algiers. It helps that the riverboats are frequently passing in front of the cathedral as the sun is setting.
Perhaps my favorite views at sunset are all from Crescent Park in Bywater and Marigny. This riverfront park, with its modern landscaping, is the best place to watch the sunset in fall and winter. The park is only open until 7 p.m., so fall, winter and early spring are the times of year to plan a visit to catch a sunset before the sun sets any later. This is the view from on top the “Rusty Rainbow” – the bridge and entrance to Crescent Park at Piety Street and Chartres Street in the Bywater. The glowing red wall in the distance provides an excellent, more close-up view of the downtown skyline. What I love most about the views from Crescent Park is it’s the only way to see both the downtown buildings and the bridges on nearly the same plane. The river somehow feels calmer from this vantage point in the park. The views near the Mandeville Street entrance to the park are also lovely.
If you’re in the French Quarter, it’s difficult to imagine a more picturesque spot to enjoy the beauty of the old-world architecture and a gorgeous sky at the same time. Most streets have unique perspectives, and that magical glow when the sun goes down – my favorite streets to catch some final rays of the day are the ones that go perpendicular to the Mississippi River — St. Peter, St. Ann, Orleans, St. Philip, Dumaine, Urusulines, Governor Nicholls, and Barracks are probably the best. The views down Royal, Decatur, and Bourbon are also particularly wonderful, too.
In the heart of Mid-City, just steps from Esplanade Avenue and City Park is Bayou St. John. The ideal vantage point is near the Cabrini pedestrian bridge. Along the bayou are many cement alcoves to sit with a six-pack of beer and a po-boy (Parkway Bakery & Tavern is within walking distance of this photograph.)
Every once in awhile the sunset looks like this! This was during an epic summer lightning storm when the entire sky turned vivid orange for a few minutes. I was in the right place at the right time on the Cabrini bridge in Bayou St. John.
Head out to the lakefront along Lakeshore Drive and experience sunset on Lake Ponchartrain. There are benches, ample space to go for a jog, and along the lake walls, gigantic steps perfect for sitting close to the water that lead into the lake (stay out of the lake, it’s got a very choppy and strong current!) Near West End Boulevard, you’ll find the New Canal Lighthouse and several seafood restaurants – the Blue Crab and Brisbi’s are two of my favorites.
Behind the Audubon Zoo in Audubon Park, along the Mississippi River is a terrific spot to relax: The Fly. This riverfront park is mostly grassy and you’ll find groups of friends on picnic blankets, family reunions, company parties, football tossing, kite flying, and youth soccer leagues on the fields in this friendly park. If you’re Uptown, it’s the spot to watch the sunset. Pro tip: it’s less than a mile from the Whole Foods Market on Magazine Street, along with many casual eateries and coffee shops. Pick up some food and beverages to-go and bring them with you. The entrance for cars (there’s ample parking) is just to the right of the entrance of the Audubon Zoo.
Throughout the year, the wildflower fields are frequently in bloom in City Park. This hidden patch is near Tad Gormley Stadium at the end of Roosevelt Drive in City Park along Marconi Drive. It’s a new favorite spot for engagement, baby, and wedding portraits. Just don’t trample all over the wildflowers, and stick to the paths between each plot — it’s better for the flowers and less muddy for your feet!
Big Lake at City Park may not be as big of a lake as Lake Ponchartrain, but it’s one of the best spots around to take in the majesty of New Orleans. Go for a walk or a jog around its landscaped path, and enjoy the visceral pleasures of a gigantic sunset reflected over the water. It’s easily accessible next to the terminus of the red Canal Street streetcars that spur onto Carrollton Avenue, and is also steps from Bayou St. John and the New Orleans Museum of Art, which most days closes at 5 p.m., putting you generally within an hour or two of prime sunset time.
In the early spring, the ever-changing flower beds along Big Lake near the New Orleans Museum of Art in City Park are filled with tulips, a rare sight in New Orleans. At other times of the year, the beds are full of wildflowers like the ones elsewhere in City Park. Besides Big Lake and the Wildflower Fields, City Park has many other perfect outdoor spots to explore: a wild forest preserve called the Couterie, and a beautiful ancient oak tree walk along City Park Avenue and Bayou Metairie, which form the park’s western edge.
Photos by Paul Broussard