Carve out an hour to experience Audubon Park. Locals know it's the city's hidden gem

New Orleans lagoon
A meandering lagoon connects via canals to City Park miles away.
| Credit: Mary Margaret Chambliss

Nestled between streetcar rails and a tugboat bend, Audubon Park is a sprawling Uptown common beloved by the entire city. Even an hour here is intoxicating. Among its varied public offerings: an award-winning 18-hole golf course; a heron colony; a 1.8-mile running path; a zoo; a bandstand; a lemonade veranda; and, of course, its slice-of-Louisiana, specimen live oaks standing like sentinels over the grounds.

Park horticulturist Dianne Weber, who still reads turn-of-the-century letters from original Audubon planner John Charles Olmsted (nephew to the famed Central Park landscape architect), calls the oaks "linebackers," noting their flexibility and root structure are perfect for withstanding hurricanes. And climbing children too. "Kids get on the branches and ride the oaks like horses," says Dianne. Olmsted would be pleased to add jungle gym to the park's résumé. He included in his original blueprints, "a lawn for little children."

How to Spend a Perfect 60 Minutes in New Orleans

20 minutes
Go for a Jog
The 1.8-mile loop circling the park looks like a moving sporting goods store. Joggers, walkers, in-line skaters, and cyclists of all ages burn calories among Japanese magnolia, cypress, and those stately oaks. Oil painters set up easels near the inspiring De Bore Oak, a wedding gift to the sugar planter who owned the land 200 years ago.
Who knew? Other plantings in Audubon Park came from the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina.

5 minutes
Sweet String Music
Joe Tafaro, a retired New Orleans police officer, took up the violin 20 years ago. His musical hobby is now an unofficial Audubon Park trademark. On most mornings, you will find Joe sitting on a park bench playing classics such as "Danny Boy" and "Over the Rainbow." Under the oaks, you'll swear you're in an old movie. Feel free to request a tune.

25 minutes
Zoo Discovery
Visit the Audubon Zoo―part of the city's 10-venue Audubon Nature Institute. To maximize your stop, head straight for the Louisiana Swamp and the ghostly white alligators. If you're not a zoo person, Bird Island, a few minutes walk from the zoo entrance, plays host to hundreds of herons, ducks, and other traveling waterfowl. Zoo tickets: $13 adults, $10 seniors, $8 ages 2 to 12.

10 minutes
Fountain Show
Although not as colorful as Bourbon Street, the Beaux Arts fountain at the park's main entrance offers people-watching at its best. Before you hop the St. Charles streetcar back to your hotel, spend a few quiet moments on one of the benches around the fountain, and get a taste of true New Orleans.