Guide to the Garden District in New Orleans
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New Orleans is a vibrant city, and has so much to offer beyond Bourbon Street and boozing. Some people never venture out of the French Quarter, especially if they’re strapped for time, and while we love this neighborhood too, the magic of Nola is found in the whole of the city, in the pockets of flavor and character that extend into its many different neighborhoods. One of our favorites is the Garden District.
We decided to visit the Garden District one morning before an afternoon tour in the French Quarter, and took the St. Charles streetcar to get there. I highly recommend taking the streetcar as it’s fun, inexpensive and a quintessential New Orleans thing to do. You can also take the Hop-on-Hop-off bus through the Garden District, where there is a stop. But either way, make sure you leave enough time to walk around.
The Garden District is where you find all the stately, antebellum mansions, many of them in Greek Revival and Victorian styles, and with spacious gardens and courtyards. It’s a totally different part of Nola, and walking around the neighborhood makes you feel like you’ve taken a step back in time in southern history. To give a sense of the history, the Garden District was built in 1832 after the Louisiana Purchase, as a place for wealthy Americans to live away from the European French Quarter. These Americans hired leading architects of the time to build large homes on large plots of land, with lush, green gardens – hence the name the Garden District.
If you want to experience southern charm in all its glory, a trip through the Garden District is a must. Wander the residential streets and feast upon the architectural jewels and landscape of this picturesque neighborhood. Admire homes one after the next, tree- lined streets that look out of the movies, a setting that reminds you of the Secret Garden. All the charming front porches with rocking chairs will make you want to climb up with a glass of iced-tea and rock the time away watching passer-by’s.
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Walking around the Garden District may feel like you’ve stepped back in time to an American grandeur from long ago, yet there is also a hip freshness to it reminiscent of a Brooklyn. Magazine Street, the main commercial street, is full of artsy boutiques, antique stores, old-school barbour shops and funky restaurants. Mardi Gras beads can bee seen hanging from the balconies and trees, a reminder that we are in current Nola, and the party doesn’t stop at the French Quarter! Also, on a side-note, we walked by Beyonce and J-Z’s house – a converted church – adding to that feel of pop-culture meets antebellum times. My daughter LOVED that we saw Queen B’s house!
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On Magazine Street we came across so many cool and delicious looking restaurants, it would have been hard to know where to go. Which is why I was so glad to have bumped into my blogging friend Hilary from Hilarystyleme ! We’ve been following each other for some time now, but me being from New York and she from L.A., had never met. When we discovered we were going to be in Nola at the same time we made plans to meet up, which we had two nights prior. I wasn’t sure if we’d see each other again on this trip. So it was serendipitous that we happened to bump into each other in the Garden District, at the Lafayette Cemetery (the oldest cemetery in New Orleans) of all places! Our families were both on our way to lunch, so we all joined together and had a delicious meal at Dat Dog. Her kids proclaimed favorite, it was very good! I loved all the bright colors of the restaurant too, and the relaxed, mellow vibe. Indeed we could have been in Brooklyn. Or perhaps Hilary would say Venice Beach.
There are quite a few restaurants and pubs on Magazine street, all with their own fun-loving décor. Next to the cemetery is Commander’s Palace, a Nola institution, with a classic southern menu, white linens and the nicest wait staff I’ve ever come across. Note you need to make reservations weeks in advance. Hilary has great ideas of where to eat in Nola, Commander’s Palace being one of them, as well as great tips for where to go and what to do, so make sure to check out her site.
We loved everything about the Garden District. For a relaxing way to spend a morning or afternoon, head to this beautiful, stately, yet ever so funky neighborhood and walk around at leisure and take it all in. For us, it was just as an important part of our trip as the French Quarter was. So, what does Beyonce’s house look like? See below!
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