The St. Charles Streetcar

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The drama of the French Quarter. The pageantry of Mardi Gras. The availability of cafe au lait and french doughnuts (beignets) around the clock. The Super Bowl. The fabulous musicians on every corner. Restaurant after world-famous restaurant lining every narrow downtown block and byway.

New Orleans is unquestionably a city of superlatives, and it was my recent delight to visit for a few hours to experience a taste of the region’s oldest-s and best-s.  The overnight bus from Atlanta deposited me on Bienville Street at 8:00 in the morning, leaving just over 12 hours to take in as much of the Crescent City as possible before boarding another overnighter back home.

Much about the day’s goals revolved around tasting the city’s famed indigenous food offerings (gumbo, muffaletta, poboy, beignet, etc.) and sampling the jazz music that was born and raised on its streets. But above everything else, I could not wait to board the St. Charles streetcar and ride the entire length of the line.

The desire could be viewed as an odd one, because many (if not most) aboard the ubiquitous green vehicles have no goal other than the safe arrival at Point B. But I knew that a rumble through the city’s garden district was an experience unto itself — a tactile glimpse into decades, even centuries of the historic, the folkloric, and the legendary that has made New Orleans the striking anomaly it is today.

The famed St. Charles Streetcar, now the oldest continual running line in the world, began carrying passengers 1835, and many of its current rolling stock were constructed in the 1920s. That means the wooden benches upon which I sat have supported the bottoms of the aristocratic, the elite, the shoppers, the moms, the governors, the trash collectors, the krewe ringleaders, the partygoers, and the residentially challenged.

The community of New Orleans is composed of a vastly diverse body of people, and the St. Charles Streetcar is a main artery of commerce, leisure, and residence. It runs from Canal Street downtown, past the financial district, through modest neighborhoods, and by beacons of affluence in the garden district. The cars roll their passengers to lush parks and respites, all-night laundromat-bar hybrids, famed margarita houses, suit-powered high-rises, and the touristy hubbub at the edge of the Quarter.

The sun defied the January odds and warmed the morning to a balmy 70 degrees as my streetcar (number 930) ambled past Audubon Park toward the Riverbend neighborhood. Traveling with my wife (her first true BlinkPacking experience), we pointed to this and that, making mental notes of potential stops for later in the day.

The morning, glorious. The sun, not too hot. The breeze, not too cool. The worries of work and home, several states away. Sunglasses, on. Sleeves, rolled up. Car 930’s motor gyrated and whirred as we screeched down the rails, content as clams to take in the views and looking forward to a day filled with adventure.

Have you ever ridden the St. Charles Streetcar? Did you enjoy the experience as much as I did? I promise some great posts about New Orleans eateries soon. In the meantime, what are some of your favorites?

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8 thoughts on “The St. Charles Streetcar

  1. Definitely one of my favorite cities in the world… great photos of such a specific part of the New Orleans experience! My favorite place to eat in New Orleans is definitely The Gumbo Shop – fantastic gumbo, jambalaya, and shrimp creole. I also loved the massive seafood muffaletta at French Market Restaurant. And I think when we visited New Orleans last July, we stopped at Cafe du Monde for beignets or cafe au lait at least 6 times in that one week period!

    • Nice list! We ate as much as we could in one day, but sadly my belly told me to stop before I got to try it all. We had gumbo and poboys at Liuzza’s, and of course we stopped by Cafe Du Monde. Breakfast at Surrey’s was also a winner — bananas foster french toast was, well, bananas. Thanks for stopping by. Cheers!

  2. Beautiful photos! I love riding the streetcar. I always tell friends who are visiting to make sure to do it, and if I’m lucky, I can go with them. Some folks living here actually really use it to get to and from work. It’s our version of the metro or subway, I guess. And you did good going to Liuzza’s — I love that cup of gumbo and half a poboy combo.

    • Thanks so much NolaGirl — I was on the St. Charles streetcar at around 7:30 in the morning, and it was filled with non-tourists getting to work, downtown, etc. The streetcar is a great blend of form and function, and it is a perfect fit for the New Orleans community.

      And holy smokes, Luizza’s served me on of my favorite lunches. Ever. I am still thinking about it. I enjoyed getting your note. Please stay in touch. Cheers!

  3. One more thing for ya — tonight’s “The Layover,” with Anthony Bourdain features New Orleans, and apparently my (pretend) boyfriend Donald Link (of Cochon fame) is on it. I know two really great bars — R Bar and Snake & Jake’s — were on it too, as well as my favorite foodtruck, Taceaux Loceaux. Might give you ideas for your next, longer visit!

    • I will definitely be tuning in. It is awesome to meet someone who is such a big fan of their city. Thanks so much for all the tips — and feel free to keep them coming.

      • We’re all ambassadors here. I want people who visit to love the city as much as I do, and see the things in it that I see. I actually take it very seriously. The thing about New Orleans is that we are a dangerous city, and a filthy city, and far too many people just have the awful Bourbon St. experience and leave with that impression of us. It’s very easy to have a bad time here as a tourist. So I do my part to steer people away from the usual and towards the sublime. It’s here, all around, all the time. It’s what I love. Luckily, it seems that’s what you found too, and I’m happy about that.

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