For generations, New Orleans families have enjoyed the beauty and charm of the towering oak trees and Spanish moss of City Park, which boasts the largest collection of mature oak trees in the world. But in the last decade, the park has experienced a transformation, securing its spot as a preeminent hub of family fun.
If you have children, you’re probably already familiar with the Carousel Garden Amusement Park and Storyland. While these areas have benefitted from new rides and party rooms in the amusement park, and a fresh coat of beautiful, bright paint in Storyland, the major changes lie in new additions to the park that weren’t present even a year or two ago.
On a recent sunny Saturday, my gang met up with my friend, Charlee Williamson, and her twin girls, Vivian and Lesley. While her girls are 3 and my oldest is 11, everybody was happy at City Park.
We started our day at the new Morning Call. Seating is available inside and out. We chose the bright red tables outside because of the beautiful view. After we had more than our share of beignets, chocolate milk and iced coffee, we took the short walk to City Putt, the 36-hole miniature golf course.
New in 2013, City Putt boasts two 18-hole putt-putt courses, the New Orleans course and the Louisiana course. On the New Orleans course each hole highlights something we love about our city, while the holes on the Louisiana course are each named for a Louisiana city. You will find yourself putting for a hole-in-one steps away from colorful statues of Louis Armstrong, a Mardi Gras jester or Mr. Bingle. When the weather warms up, City Putt even has water misters to keep you cool while you go for par.
Next, we headed to the other side of the landmark New Orleans Museum of Art building and found Big Lake. If you haven’t discovered Big Lake, you’re missing out on many of the unique outdoor family activities available at City Park. If you approach the pier on the east side of the fountain in Big Lake you’ll meet John, who manages the transportation options for rent – and there are many! There are cruiser, mountain and children’s bicycles available. If you’re looking for a more unique experience, however, I highly recommend the surreys – a cross between a buggy and a bicycle. The single surrey fits two adults who do the pedaling and two small children who sit in a basket across the front, similar to the way kids sit in the seat of a Mardi Gras ladder. For larger families, a double surrey that seats four adults or older children and two small children across the front is available. Once you get the hang of the hand brake, this is a wonderful way for a group friends or a family to explore the park on your own or by following the scenic 3/4-mile path around the lake. There is no need to bring helmets for the kids, they’re provided at no additional charge with your rental. If exploring the park by water sounds more appealing, you can rent myriad water vessels for Big Lake and its connecting lagoons and bayous. Two- and four-person paddleboats are readily available, as well as single and double kayaks for the more adventurous. Romantic rides also are available in an authentic, beautiful Venetian gondola for when you leave the kids at home (reservations or pre-purchase required).
By this time, our troops were getting hungry for lunch, so we headed to Café NOMA. With beautiful views of the park, the restaurant is bright and modern and not only offers delicious salad and panini options for the adults, but also a great kids menu including grilled cheese and flatbread pizza. Though our time was up, our options were not. The Sculpture Garden, Train Garden and Botanical Garden will have wait.
More exciting things are on the horizon for City Park. There are plans for a Splash Park slated to open in 2015, and the Louisiana Children’s Museum will call City Park home in the near future. What used to be just a wonderful place to appreciate the natural beauty that south Louisiana offers is now that, and so much more.
For specific operating hours, rental procedures and prices, visit NewOrleansCityPark.com