If there’s one thing every tourist must do in New Orleans, it’s take a streetcar ride. The Big Easy is as famous for its streetcars as San Francisco is for its cable cars. So, without having a clue where I was headed, I hopped aboard one, and went for a ride.
The streetcar I randomly selected was traveling the St. Charles Avenue route. I got on at a stop that’s just off Canal Street, near the beginning of the line.
As you might expect, the St. Charles Avenue route runs down the center of St. Charles Avenue, one of the main roads that runs the length of the New Orleans “crescent”–the pocket of land where the Mississippi River swings south. The St. Charles Avenue route is 6.4 miles — quite long when you’re moving at streetcar speeds. After reaching the end of St. Charles Avenue, the tracks turn north (or “towards the lake”) for a few blocks on Carrollton Avenue.
Let’s back up to the beginning of the trip:
I caught the St. Charles Streetcar just after the tracks make a sweeping right turn from Canal Street onto St. Charles Avenue. Here, the streetcars share the road with cars. With some caution, you can poke your head out the window and look ahead…
… as well as catching an occasional glimpse down the cross streets, as you rumble through New Orleans’ Central Business District.
The streetcar makes a wide circle around a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, who stands watch over the roundabout atop a column. (Supposedly, Lee faces north, because you must never turn your back on the Yankees!)
New Orleans doesn’t do a great job of cleaning up after Mardi Gras celebrations. I’m split on whether this adds to the city’s charm, or makes it look a bit junky. Either way, you’ll spot plenty of beads hanging from power lines…
… and trees, as you roll down St. Charles Avenue.
Once the rail line escapes the CBD, the streetcars travel down the grassy median of St. Charles. The route is also popular with people who like to jog, and want to avoid the hard pavement, so the streetcar driver will constantly be warning them to move.
There are plenty of big mansions to gawk at, as you ride by. No surprise, a house on a streetcar route is very good real estate!
Shortly before reaching the turn at Carrollton Avenue, you will roll past beautiful Audobon Park on the river side…
… and Loyola University on the lake side of the road.
The streetcar tracks dead-end at Claiborne and Carrollton. For the ride back, you’ll have to drop another $1.25 in the fare box (be sure you have exact change — you won’t get any money back!). Only a couple of other riders went all the way to the end of the line with me — then we all switched over to another car for the trip back. The return to downtown follows the same route…
… except for the final few blocks in the CBD. The line ends at Canal Street and Cardonelet Street, where everyone has to get off, before the streetcar swings around and begins a new trip.