New Orleans' Most Interesting Street
You've heard of Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Everybody has heard of Bourbon Street. It's where girls go wild during Mardi Gras. 10.45 million people visited New Orleans last year. 10 million of them went to Bourbon Street. They had to. When they got home, all their friends would ask them, "Didja go to Bourbon Street?" They have to say yes. Bourbon Street has it's charms for those who like to get pass-out drunk on the sidewalk, but it isn't New Orleans' most interesting street.
You've heard of Frenchmen Street. All the guide books talk about Frenchmen Street. "It's where all the locals go to listen to live music." People who live in New Orleans do, occasionally, go to Frenchmen Street, but it's mostly people who read the guide books. Frenchmen Street is morphing into another Bourbon Street, clogged with drunken tourists who are shouting and getting in each other's way. It's not exactly glamorous unless you live in a city without any nightlife. Frenchmen street is interesting, but Frenchmen Street isn't New Orleans' most interesting street..
You've heard of St. Charles Avenue. Why? Because the one thing you should do when you're in New Orleans is take the streetcar down St. Charles Avenue. St. Charles Avenue really is a beautiful street. It's long and it's lined with big beautiful houses. It's pretty. It's not New Orleans's most interesting street.
New Orleans' most interesting street is Esplanade Avenue, of course. Esplanade dreams unfold in myriad ways on Esplanade Avenue. It's a tranquil and pleasant street full of interesting sights, interesting people, and interesting sites. There's a long history with deep roots on Esplanade Avenue. Many streets in New Orleans are interesting but Esplanade Avenue is New Orleans' most interesting street. Here's why:
1.) Esplanade Avenue is chockablock with details.
Esplanade Avenue is one of the boundaries of the French Quarter. The street separates the Quarter from the Marigny (Frenchmen Street is what you're probably most familiar with in the Marigny). That part is interesting but the further one gets from the Mississippi River, the less touristy our street becomes. Real New Orleanians live on Esplanade Avenue. They go about their daily lives, they chitchat and exchange gossip on the street.
The friendliest people live on Esplanade Avenue. They walk their dogs in the neutral ground before work, and they walk their dogs in the neutral ground when they get home from work. Esplanade Avenue, and its surrounding neighborhoods, make up a densely woven and convivial community. What's the neutral ground? It's the strip of grass that runs down the middle of the avenue. You would call it median, where you're from:
2.) Esplanade Avenue is shaded.
There are old live oak trees all along Esplanade Avenue. Where the neutral ground is wider, closer to the river, the oak trees are in the neutral ground. Where the neutral ground is more narrow, lakeside of Claibourne Avenue, the oak trees are on either side of the street. When I say live oaks, I don't mean that their alive, though the oak trees are alive. They're called live oaks, Quercus viginiana, in Latin. They are evergreen trees that don't have the kind of leaves people from up North expect to see on an oak tree, but they produce plenty of acorns. Night herons like to make their nests in the live oaks that line Esplanade Avenue, especially in the 2300 block of our street.
New Orleans sunshine can be brutal in summer, made more potent when it's combined with the city's ambient summer humidity. A stroll along Esplanade Avenue is a picturesque way to wile away a day in dappled shade. It rains in New Orleans every day in August for at least 20 minutes. We live in the sub-tropics. On Esplanade Avenue there's always shelter from a downpour---it's under one of the thick and majestically curving limbs of one of the live oaks that line the street.
3.) There are things to do on Esplanade Avenue.
Tour buses, bicycle tours, and people with their noses planted in their guidebooks go up and down Esplanade Avenue all day long. They don't often stop, which is their loss. Esplanade Avenue is home to many majestic mansions, the street is commonly called the Creole Millionaire's Row, or, more locally, the Creole St. Charles Avenue. Beyond the manor houses that claim Esplanade Avenue as their address, there are interesting shops and watering holes around our street. One of them is The Kitchen Witch, a used cookbook store, and Pirogue's, the neighborhood bar for the 2000-2600 blocks of Esplanade Avenue. Bayou Road, which is the oldest street in New Orleans, crosses Esplanade Avenue diagonally in the 2200 block of Esplanade.
Beyond the business district on Bayou Road, there are plenty of restaurants that you've never heard of on Esplanade Avenue in Faubourg St. John. Esplanade Avenue is the backbone of a number of New Orleans neighborhoods. Esplanade Avenue isn't the most famous street in New Orleans and that suits the people who live here just fine. Esplanade Avenue is, however, New Orleans' most interesting street.
4.) There are places to stay on Esplanade Avenue.
There are plenty of hotels in New Orleans. The city has 30,000 hotel rooms and there are more being built all the time, mostly in the Central Business District (what we call the CBD in New Orleans), close to the French Quarter and where all the tourists congregate. As of this writing, there are more than 6000 AirBnB listings in New Orleans, with more coming on line all the time.
Since the 1980s, when many of the big, century-old houses on Esplanade Avenue were ripe for renovating, many of these houses became licensed and professional small inns. These inns aren't intrusive on the streetscape, but most of the most highly rated places to stay when you visit New Orleans are located on Esplanade Avenue. La Belle Esplanade, located right in the middle of Esplanade Avenue, is one of them, an equadistant picturesque stroll to the French Quarter and Frenchmen Street in one direction, and to City Park and the New Orleans Museum of Art in the other direction. The inns on Esplanade Avenue are close to what tourists want to see when they visit New Orleans, but they are located in a real neighborhood, surrounded by surprises that tourists don't know they want to see yet, until they discover them. You'll get a quiet night's sleep on Esplanade Avenue.
5.) Life is a parade on Esplanade Avenue.
Plenty of things happen on Esplanade Avenue in New Orleans. Most of these events are low-key and amenable. All the varieties of life as it's lived in New Orleans unfurl in lazy fashion. Other times, life bursts out in full bloom, boisterous and joyous. Second line parades, jazz funerals, and even Mardi Gras itself, sometimes erupt on Esplanade Avenue. It really is a wonderful street, where New Orleans life is lived in full color, singing, laughing, and dancing like nobody is watching.
If you are looking to get outside the tourist box, off the tourist grid, outside the tourist radar range, there are plenty of worse places you can choose to visit in New Orleans than Esplanade Avenue. There are plenty of worse places you can choose to stay. Esplanade Avenue is a world of its own, the way New Orleans is a world of its own. There is no place else like New Orleans. Esplanade Avenue can justifiably be called New Orleans' most interesting street for good reasons. Come see for yourself.