Best Local Things to Do
A Fun and Funky Day on Oak Street
Explore Oak Street in all its funky, laid-back charm with this place-by-place guide.
In the Riverbend section of the Carrollton neighborhood, step off a green St. Charles Avenue streetcar on Carrollton Avenue and explore Oak Street, one of the most unique and diverse eight-block stretches in all of New Orleans. On the surface, Oak Street still resembles an old-fashioned Main Street from an era gone by, with a mix of low-slung, glass-fronted storefronts and restaurants, ubiquitous New Orleans shotgun homes, and easy walkability — so much so that Oak Street often stands in for Main Street, USA in the movies and television shows shot in New Orleans when Hollywood South comes calling.
Dig deeper into the restaurants and shops on Oak Street, though, and you’ll quickly learn that it is made up of independent and funky retail, dining, and neighborhood-friendly services that can only exist on Oak Street … and only in New Orleans.
Oak Street is also home to the must-taste event of the fall, the
Oak Street Po-Boy Festival. Thousands of locals and tourists will mingle in one of the largest, free outdoor street festivals around, strolling down the street and enjoying traditional, old-fashioned and new-fangled twists on po-boys, the sandwich invented and made famous in New Orleans. It’s your chance to get more than a taste of our abundant seafood, slow-cooked meats, and sample sandwich creations for sale from dozens of local restaurants all in one spot. And it wouldn’t be a New Orleans festival without live music and a second line parade down the street: the Oak Street Po-Boy Fest boasts several live music stages throughout its eight blocks, perfect to dance off all the po-boys you’ll be eating.
Let’s take a stroll down Oak Street during a typical day and discover what makes this strip so special…
Oak Street Neighborhood Guide
Take the historic green St. Charles Streetcar line Uptown past Audubon Park until St. Charles turns into Carrollton Avenue at the Riverbend and stops right at Oak Street’s front door. Get ready for a saunter down a vibrant, unique New Orleans shopping, dining and entertainment district all in eight blocks.
At the corner of Oak Street and Carrollton Avenue is one of my favorite local coffee shops in all of New Orleans, Rue de la Course. For years, I subsisted mostly on their delicious and frothy espresso-based iced mochas for fuel. This location also holds a special place for me: as a long-time WTUL DJ on Tulane’s FM radio station, we broadcast out of the mezzanine inside the shop as we returned to the airwaves after Hurricane Katrina until our permanent studio could re-open. Air breaks were especially entertaining with the sound of the espresso machine and coffee shop ambience in the background.
Modern day businesses, like Tru Burger and Rue de la Course have repurposed the historic architecture on Oak, turning old banks and markets into funky businesses that make Carrollton such a desirable place to live and visit.
Aaron Burgau, chef/owner of the popular uptown brunch and dinner spot Patois, opened Tru Burger a few years ago. I’ll just let the picture do all the talking. It’s a very good burger in a casual, all-day spot just steps off Carrollton Avenue. I’m also a big fan of Pho Bistreaux next door for its quick-service Vietnamese food.
Every good bookstore needs a house cat, don’t you think? Blue Cypress Books has “Kitty Meow” and a personable staff to guide you through the stacks of new and used books to find the ones just right for you. They have an extensive collection of books on New Orleans, including some rare first editions.
Haase’s Shoe Store and Young Folks Shop is the oldest business around on Oak Street, having opened in 1921, and still run by members of the Haase family (now owned by Judy Haase Caliva) — it’s where I bought shoes as a child. I still remember the thrill of being in the second grade and insisting my dad buy me a pair of light brown cowboy boots. I wore them until long past they didn’t fit anymore. Haase’s also has an extensive selection of children’s clothing and provides monogramming services on site, all part of the old-fashioned customer service experience when stepping into this historic shop.
Running enthusiasts take note: one of the most personable running shoes and active wear stores has new ownership and a new address on Oak Street.
Oak Street’s charm is in its historic commercial architecture and Main Street vibes. This block features Ale (and its sister business just left of the frame, Oak Wine Bar) — both Ale and Oak are open in the evening. We’re focusing on daytime experiences, but nighttime is a great time to experience Oak Street’s dining, drinking and entertainment. Oak Wine Bar regularly has live music to entertain patrons while sipping on wine and tasting all the small plates.
NOBS – the New Orleans Bike and Board Shop is the spot on Oak to purchase a new bike or skateboard, or get a bike repaired or serviced. During the peak seasons of Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest they also rent out bikes, too.
Looking for breakfast with a side of jazz? Live Oak Cafe has casual, hearty breakfast with live music daily from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. in this breakfast and lunch spot. More than one person I spoke with on my stroll told me I needed to get a biscuit there before they closed for the day!
I love the jam-packed shelves and bins of More Fun Comics, where the latest brand new and used comics mix, along with serious collectible action figures and toys from my childhood for sale.
Oak Street merchants are all about the personal service, including More Fun Comics manager D.C. Harbold, who also moonlights as a singer, guitar, and bass player in local bands such as Bipolaroid and Clockwork Elvis.
When you see someone on the street with impossibly hip or funky clothing, the secret is out: they might have gotten their duds at GLUE Clothing Exchange. It’s definitely an awesome place to browse for clothing…and guitars and amps!
Where do you look in a place that’s chock full of vintage finds? Rabbit Ears harkens back to the golden era of thrift store housewares sections, with something for everyone, including new local art, vinyl records, paintings, and cool, second-hand furniture.
Just another gorgeous day on laid-back Oak Street. There’s so much to explore!
How happy was I to discover a brand new spot on Oak Street: Coutelier NOLA is the boutique for professional Japanese cutlery — amazing carbon steel knives, knife rolls, aprons, chef and bartender tools, and books and magazines of interest to the serious foodie or food/beverage professional.
Coutelier NOLA partners Brandt Cox and Jacqueline Blanchard left their jobs in the restaurant industry to open their knife and chef/barware store. They also offer on site knife sharpening (and classes!) and lots of helpful advice.
Need a mid-day tipple? The Maple Leaf is a great spot for a beer or quick cocktail on your Oak Street stroll. It’s more famous as the night-time hot spot for amazing live music — having been the go-to performance spot for legendary musicians in residency such as James Booker, Jon Cleary, and currently (when they’re in town) the Tuesday night home to Rebirth Brass Band.
Near the Maple Leaf Bar, pay a visit to the studio and gallery of Frenchy, a prolific painter of New Orleans musicians and culture. You may have seen some of his work as a regular artist of the official yearly New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival poster, or perhaps you’ll see him painting live at the Maple Leaf or a New Orleans festival.
Don’t fight it! You won’t be able to resist a delicious fresh-baked pastry or a loaf of bread at Breads on Oak, a truly fine bakery and sandwich shop at the river end of Oak Street. Nearby, I also am a big fan of Ninja Japanese Restaurant, a long-time Riverbend fixture.
At the river end of Oak Street is the utterly (or udder-ly) charming Cowbell, a casual lunch and dinner spot in a renovated service station.
You’ve slowly made your way down the eight blocks of Oak Street — you deserve a treat. I present to you the mac and cheese from Cowbell, maybe my favorite macaroni and cheese ever, and certainly my favorite in NOLA.
Photos by Paul Broussard