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Don't limit sightseeing only to tourism standbys


NEW ORLEANS—As beautiful as the Garden District and French Quarter are, there's no reason to limit your visit to these two popular areas of New Orleans.

There's plenty to see and do further afield--even a short distance beyond the Crescent City's borders.

Within the limits of Orleans Parish, there is the 1,300-acre City Park. Even though it was heavily damaged by flooding from Hurricane Katrina, the park is making a heartening comeback.

Within the park is the 12-acre New Orleans Botanical Garden, which was begun in 1936 as a federal Works Progress Administration project. The garden's more than 2,000 varieties of plants were lost when flooding as deep as three feet submerged them for up to two weeks; it has since been cleaned out and replanted, and reopened to visitors on March 4. The garden is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; admission is $5 for adults and $2 for children ages five to 12.

For kids, the park's Storyland fairytale theme park has recently reopened. Storyland, open only on weekends from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., has 26 large-scale exhibits that include Captain Hook's pirate ship and the giant whale from "Pinocchio." Admission is $3.

Storyland is the only amusement park in the city since the heavily damaged Six Flags New Orleans closed after Hurricane Katrina struck in late 2005. New York-based Six Flags Inc. has not announced when--or if--the park will reopen and is suing its insurers for a court ruling that a flood sublimit in its property insurance program is not applicable to its losses, according to its Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

City Park has also reopened its golf driving range and 21 clay tennis courts. However, many of the park's other athletic facilities remain closed because of flood damage, including three 18-hole golf courses, 11 softball diamonds, and boating and fishing facilities on its lagoons.

Also located in City Park is the New Orleans Museum of Art, currently exhibiting "Femme, Femme, Femme," a survey of paintings of women in French society (see related story).

A few miles south, near Tulane and Loyola universities, is the beautiful Audubon Park that opened in 1898. While damaged by Katrina, it escaped devastating floods and offers several first-rate attractions.

Prime among them is the Audubon Zoo, with 1,300 animals that includes rare white tigers, Komodo dragons, primates, an alligator-filled Louisiana swamp exhibit and a carousel with figures of 60 endangered species. The zoo is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and costs $12 for adults and $7 for children ages two to 12.

Audubon Zoo is also affiliated with the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas and the Entergy IMAX Theater in the city's central business district, and combined for the facilities are available.

Audubon Park also boasts the Audubon Park Golf Course, an 18-hole par 62 course that was redesigned in 2001. It is the only public golf course to reopen in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. The course is open Tuesday through Sunday from 7 a.m. until dusk. Tee times can be reserved by phone at 504-212-5290 or online at the golf course tee times page of Greens fees are $30 for weekdays and $40 for weekends.

Another attraction for historic house fans is Longue Vue, an estate on the city's border with Metairie, La., built by prominent New Orleans residents Edgar and Edith Stern in the early 1940s. The property consists of a 20-room mansion and a lush, eight-acre garden divided into nine differently planted garden "rooms." Longue Vue's gardens are open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.; the house is open for tours Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for students and children.

Meanwhile, there are other options for those who want to get out of the city altogether.

Swamp tours in the bayous about an hour from New Orleans are popular choices, as are tours of historic River Road plantations.

If you'd rather visit some of these estates on your own--rather than with a tour group--one that is worth the effort is Destrehan Plantation, a former indigo plantation about eight miles west of the New Orleans airport. Destrehan features an enormous antebellum mansion and offers historic craft demonstrations such as indigo dyeing, mud-and-post construction and candle-making. The plantation is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and charges admission of $10 for adults and $5 for children ages six to 16.

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