The last time I visited New Orleans was in July. I didn't make it to NOLA's City Park then because July happened to be the worst month of the year to visit NOLA. It was so hot.
November in NOLA was a totally different story. It was not only the perfect weather, the city was also buzzing with the upcoming holiday season. So I saw all the exciting lights being strung and holiday decorations going up everywhere—including in the park.
The comfortable temperature and holiday atmosphere are why visiting NOLA's City Park in November was such a great experience. It was so great I had to write this post all about it! As always, I have lots of photos to share, including beautiful art, nature, and a surprise holiday lights display!
My bestie, Erin often meets me in my travel adventures. Last time it was for an Arizona-Utah road trip. This time she met me in NOLA while I was there for a work conference.
One sunny afternoon, we rode the #48 streetcar on Canal Street to the Museum of Art stop. We were at the south entrance to City Park and walked North toward the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA).
At first, we thought we might spend some of the afternoon in the museum. The weather was so nice that we opted for some outdoor art instead. Next to the museum is a 5-acre public sculpture garden—The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at NOMA. It's free and open to the public year round from 10am to 5 or 6pm.
The garden exhibits over 60 sculptures, both modern and contemporary in style. The following are some of my favorites:
The sculpture garden also includes picturesque scenes such as bridges over waterways, Spanish moss trees, and the occasional wildlife spotting.
We spent our time viewing the beautiful nature and art. But there's more to do here. For example, you can take a pedal boat ride ($26-36 per hour) or Venetian-style gondola tour ($90 for 50 minutes) down the park's Big Lake and waterways. You can also rent kayaks ($15-22 per hour) and canoes ($22 per hour) or choose to bicycle around the park ($12 per person).
The sculpture garden will go through a big expansion in 2018. So expect it to more than double in size in coming years.
We walked out the back of the sculpture garden toward a fenced in part of the park. We eventually figured out this was the Botanical Gardens. They were setting up for a big fundraising event that evening. It was only $8 to get in until the park closed in time for the event. I felt motivated to see what was going on up close.
Plus, why not see some cool flowers and stuff?
So we went in and actually had almost the entire place to ourselves! There were only a few other people visiting plus the workers setting up for the event.
We wandered around the entire gardens. I saw tons of beautiful flowers, fountains, greenhouses, and butterflies.
There was even a huge, intricately designed train set. It weaved through tunnels and around model towns. Since we were visiting near closing time, the train set would normally not be operating. However, we were lucky enough to be there at the same time as a family with young kids. One of the workers turned it on for them.
So we had the chance to watch it choo-choo around the display.
As we wandered around, we noticed there were lots of lighting displays and figures build around the gardens. I wondered what these were there for. I thought maybe it was for the fundraising event they were having. But I found out it was for another annual event that would be happening through the holiday season. The lighted figurines were there for the City Park's annual Celebration in the Oaks event.
Celebration in the Oaks
The park works all year on light installations for Celebration in the Oaks. Celebration in the Oaks event. It is one of City Park's most popular attractions alongside the NOMA. It's an annual tradition that brings in hundreds of thousands of visitors to City Park.
They don't start setup until after Halloween since much of the decorations are holiday themed. The following are some of my favorite lights and displays found inside the botanical gardens. We were lucky enough to see many of these light up since we were there near closing time.
I was lucky enough to spot one of NOLA's most famous decorations: Mr Bingle.
Mr. Bingle is a float that appears in Mardi Gras each year. But he comes out for Celebration in the Oaks annually, too. Mr. Bingle was a Canal Street display for a department store in the 1940s. He is now 70 years old and a symbol of the holidays in NOLA.
Many New Orleans locals know the saying from his era: "Jingle jangle jingle! Here comes Mister Bingle!"
I love these local traditions! So random and awesome.
On the way out of the park, we spotted several more lighting displays. Now that it was getting darker, they were easier to spot.
The entire park eventually fills with them as the weeks progress into the holiday season. I would love to return to see the final display!
I only experienced a fraction of what the 1300-acre City Park in New Orleans has to offer. I loved seeing all the sculptures and art outdoors in nature. I feel lucky I also got to see the start of the Celebration in the Oaks lighting displays! I would love to go back to see more of the park, but only in weather like we had in November!