In my opinion a trip to New Orleans is not complete without a ride along the Saint Charles Streetcar. From families to couples, college students and the working class, the historic Saint Charles Streetcar not only provides affordable transportation, but also a vintage tourist activity that takes passengers on an informal tour through the beautiful Garden District and universities of New Orleans for just a few quarters.
The St. Charles Streetcar started operating in 1835 as the New Orleans and Carrollton Railroad. It was the second railroad in New Orleans, after the Pontchartrain Railroad. At the time, trains were powered by steam engines, but due to the excessive amount of noise these engines created, they were replaced by mules in 1867. The electrified streetcars as we know them today were introduced in 1893. The cars that run on the St. Charles Avenue line are registered on the National Register of Historic Places, and thus are preserved without any modifications.
It is this history that makes the ride so unique. There is no air-conditioning on the streetcars, but the windows open up to provide a really lovely breeze. The path stretches from Downtown to Uptown and loops back around with plenty of stops along the way. Aside from the crowded boarding stops closest to Canal Street, on our visits we have found the rides to be an ideal way to get away from the crowds of the French Quarter. While we use the streetcars as a means of transportation, a ride just for the scenery is also well worth it.
Get a window seat (if not immediately then seats will open up as people get off) and watch the beautiful sights of the Garden District and it’s collection of antebellum mansions pass by through the open air window. From The Columns Hotel to the replica of Scarlett O’Hara’s Tara, the romantic homes with columns and layers of balconies under the old oak trees make for a wonderful old-fashioned adventure along a historic avenue.
The streetcar line makes it possible to cover a lot of ground that would not be possible by walking along (or it is possible obviously – but not desirable). The loop is approximately 6 miles and I believe each direction takes about 45 minutes or so. But for us, the streetcar is a day activity (if not multiple days of rides), of not only an enjoyable activity, but also a means accessing areas of the city outside of the central areas as well.
Below I have created a list of some of my favorite stops, and also some destinations that we have not yet visited. Whenever we travel to New Orleans, we never bother with rental cars and always rely on walking, public transit and a few taxi rides to make our way through the city. As we love to walk through the unique neighborhoods, we usually try to visit in the cooler months and avoid the sweltering summer heat. So our attire is usually comfortable for strolls away from the street car line, which is important to realize as my selections for options along the line might require a basic level of fitness and tolerance for outdoor weather conditions. Certainly you should check a map to be sure that the walks away from the streetcar are not too intense for your taste or activity level.
I hope that by creating this list that more people will take to the streets and explore the city outside of the French Quarter. And to be honest, it is a list for me to revisit too, because there are so many wonderful restaurants and bars that we still need to make our way to as well.
About the Saint Charles Streetcar line and fares:
See the RTA website for information on streetcar routes and schedules. The streetcar does not run 24 hours a day. One day (4 a.m. to 4 a.m.) Jazzy Passes are available in Walgreens. Unlike a regular fare which requires $1.25 in exact change, the pass is just $3 and allows riders unlimited stops. Passes can also be purchased directly from the conductor.
In addition, it should also be noted that the streetcar is currently under construction (as of our May 2013 visit). This is wonderful for the city and for the service in the long run, but it can lead to disruptions along the way. On our recent visit, the city did provide buses to complete the sections that were being worked on. So that was nice, but just not the same as the streetcar ride either.
Postcard Plans favorite stops along the Saint Charles Streetcar route:
International House Hotel
Just a block outside of the French Quarter, the International House is nicely situated close to the action without being right in the middle of chaos. Entering the hotel, visitors are greeted by a spacious lobby and lemon water. Locally owned, operated and managed, the hotel is a mix of classic New Orleans architecture with modern furnishings. And the bar, LOA, is romantic and delicious. Our first visit we were greeted by the smells of fresh herbs being prepared for use that weekend. The drinks are not cheap, but there is a lot of love placed into their creation.
As far as the hotel, it is somewhat simple in terms of luxury additions – no in-room coffee, a limited workout area, no pool, no business center (although one computer is available for use), and no gift shop – but these are optional additions that we do not need. We like to seek out local coffee shops, our workouts are walking the city, we are not doing business on vacation, and there are so many wonderful shops already available to us in town.
We have also had fabulous customer service with offers for free upgrades to celebrate milestones, and friendly staff who offer wonderful suggestions and share an enthusiasm for the city. I have read some mixed reviews, but for us it has always been a reliable stay and one we have repeated multiple times.
PLACE FOR DRINKS:
Columns Hotel, Victorian Lounge Bar
One the most picturesque New Orleans sights is the Columns Hotel, which is located directly off the street car. No need to worry about a long walk to this location, just be sure to check both ways before you cross the street. Romantic and historic with a mahogany bar, doors and ceiling, in addition to the classic white columns of course, we recently had a wonderful evening at the Columns Hotel for drinks and live music. While people vie for porch seating, we opted to go inside away from the smokers to the interior where ghosts walk the halls and live music swells through the high ceilings. This is a place where you can get a lot of New Orleans in one sitting.
While we had a fabulous experience, reviews have shown a trend for the location to have obnoxious customers and poor service. It is located very close to several college campuses, which could increase the odds for some fraternity-like, immature behavior. It is also evident that the place is a popular destination and so I can see how service might easily go downhill, especially on the porch. But for us, we had two New Orleans cocktails ordered from the bar and found a seat in one of the sitting rooms where Creole folk musicians played tunes with French flair on approximately six different instruments. I think you should give it a shot if you are in the area too- even if just for the photo opp.
In a previous article, I reviewed healthy eating options in New Orleans and while I am a fan of all the locations that I mentioned there, I think that my favorite was Carmo. Offering Vegan and Vegetarian options with a Brazilian flare, the place exudes a casual and comfortable vibe that feels cozy for hippies and artists, as well as all the rest of us too. Customer service was kind, especially with navigating the menu. The kitchen is open, which I always love to see how the food is being prepared- gives me confidence in the quality and the teamwork. In addition to delicious fare, they also offer a variety of fresh juices- and fresh juices with alcohol too. And they make homemade hot sauce that is yummy, yum, yum too. Need I say more?
Magazine Street near Irish Channel
While Magazine Street boasts almost 6 miles of shops and restaurants, as well as its own bus (Magazine Street bus), I would not recommend walking the full length. We tried once, adding stops for food and drink along the way, but there are lulls in the amount of vendors and it is not consistently a busy destination offering. Though there are gems along the way in other areas, a good concentration of options is located on Magazine Street in the Irish Channel area.
Irish Channel is a neighborhood in New Orleans adjacent to the Garden District. As the name implies, the area was largely settled by immigrants from Ireland in the early 19th century. To this day it is known for its Saint Patrick’s Day parade, and from experience I can tell you that New Orleans is a really fun place to be celebrating the luck of the Irish in green.
In this area, which is a couple blocks walk from the Street Car, you will find Coquette, a fabulous restaurant where I first convinced my husband to try oysters (baked for beginners and delicious), had brews and pet visiting dogs at Bulldog Pub, bought a T-shirt from Fleurty Girl, sampled sugary delights at Sucre and tried Caribbean tacos at the Rum House. There are many options in this area and many of them are top notch good times. Just wear those walking shoes.
A LITTLE OFF THE PATH:
What is a little walk when there is the best New Orleans Cocktail Bar at the end of the road? Inspired by the days when ladies and gentlemen went to socialize in a productive and cultured way and when cocktails grew out of medicine and home remedies, Cure strives “to reintroduce our guests to another time where the experience of having a cocktail and a bite to eat was both healthful and enjoyable.” Located on the newly emerging Freret Street, just blocks from the campuses of Tulane and Loyola, Cure is not cheap but it is good. For us, an experience like Cure is kind of like graduating to classy drinking. Sure there were days in my younger years when my drinking priorities were less about quality and more about quantity and low cost. Cure is not for that college student, but it is for me today. I would rather spend more on a drink and enjoy it slowly, and in this case I can also appreciate the creation of the cocktail as well. We sat at the bar where we had a nice conversation with our bartender and enjoyed watching all the ingredients and handcrafting that went into each libation. If only all sazeracs tasted like they do at Cure, then it might be more readily available in Texas too.
This was one of the first off-the-beaten path locations that we ventured to from the streetcar, which helped me realize that I needed to get out of the routines of my previous trips which had been more centralized. This is way down the streetcar line and requires a little bit of a walk too. But, oh it is good. Located in Riverbend/Carrollton area of Uptown New Orleans at 8324 Oak Street, be ready to wait on this one. Once your name is finally called and you walk through the kitchen to get to your seat in this uniquely funky space, you will know you are in for a unique treat. I recommend the Shrimp and Alligator Cheesecake Appetizer, yes cheesecake appetizer, and I promise if you can open up your palate to try something new that I doubt it will disappoint. While my husband swears by the Fried Chicken plate, I have tried to try several items and have no complaints. And then there was that night when they treated us to a white chocolate bread pudding dessert for no reason at all, but we accepted happily! There is a little bit of chaos in their system, so come with a mindset for patience and Jacque Imo’s will likely work some belly satisfying voodoo on you too.
Stroll through Audobon Park
Audobon Park is a city park located near the University District right off the Saint Charles Street Car, with a zoo and a golf course, but the appeal for us is in the trails that weave through it all. We have walked them; we ran them too. Resembling a luxurious plantation house yard, live oak trees rainbow the trails with greenery. A road around the park was closed off in the 80s and has become a popular 1.7-mile walking, jogging and biking route. A 2.2 mile dirt path located around the perimeter of the park is also popular for runners seeking a less congested route. If you are not in the mood for a stroll or a run, then picnic tables are also available or bring your own blanket and read a book under the Southern shade.
630 Pine Street
Honestly, we do really like the International House Hotel and have stayed there most trips, but there is a really fun vacation rental community in New Orleans as well. If you are traveling with a family and need several rooms, then these options would definitely rise to the top. Family homes offer charm that you just can not get with a hotel, and having a kitchen and washing room are also so nice for group travel too. For a couple only needing a one bedroom space, there are some options but a lot of the character declines with less rooms. But there are exceptions and 630 Pine Street is one of the most unique spaces we have ever stayed in.
In addition to being conveniently located right off the street car, the location is located very close to Audobon Park and the local universities, as well as walking distance from some great restaurants on Maple Street. There is a private entrance into the space, which is actually a former artist studio attached to a two story home. The space includes a wonderful game room with a pool table, bar and TV set-up. But it is actually the former purpose of this massive room that is the most interesting.
The home was formerly owned by artist Angela Gregory. The great room is her sculpture studio, and includes a massive pulley system that was used to move her large scale scupltures. You can see her Beinville statue on the triangular shaped block on Decatur Street in the French Quarter as well as many wonderful works in the area. I can not think of another vacation rental that I have come across that offers so much history and charm, along with modern upgrades and convenience. It is a true New Orleans gem!
CENTRAL BUSINESS DISTRICT
Domenica (Italian and Tapas)
Cochon and Cochon Butcher (meat and cajun)
Sazerac Bar in Roosevelt Hotel (historic sazerac inventor)
Swizzle Stick Bar in Loews Hotel (avant-garde cocktails)
Dick & Jenny’s (Fine dining in casual atmosphere)
Tartine (Casual French Sandwiches and Brunch)
Brigtsens (New Orleans cuisine)
Wayfare (handcrafted American cuisine)
Snake and Jakes (dive bar)