Some days you know from the minute you wake up that today is not a day to go traveling. The piles of laundry are glaring at you, the empty fridge is pleading to be filled and the impending start of the workweek is gnawing at your conscience. But, then again, the weather was gorgeous – a perfect 73 degrees in mid-February – and we just couldn’t bear to stay inside. So we compromised and decided to venture out to some of our favorite places in the city before rushing home to do the chores

New Orleans is a city filled with hidden gems waiting to be discovered. Unlike the French Quarter or the Audubon Zoo, these are the places not labeled on the map, the places no one draws attention to, yet they are often some of the most interesting. Bayou St. John is one such area. A natural bayou starting at Lake Pontchartrain, the waterway was once used by Native Americans, trappers and early explorers as an early transportation route. Today, lavish homes grace its edges, and canoes are often seen skimming its surface.

We started the morning out near the bayou’s mouth at the lake, where the remnants of Fort St. Jean are slowly vanishing into nature. Hitched on my hip, Baby August was, as usual, content with being along for ride. Charles, on the other hand, marched out of the car as if he owned the place. Climbing on the crumbling brick walls, scaling the nearby levee and chasing lizards, he was merely warming up his endless reserves of energy.

Tree swing in City Park’s Couturie Forest

Next stop was the Couturie Forest in City Park. Heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina, the trail no longer immerses you deep in the woods. But, it’s still secluded and quiet, meandering along one of the park’s many bayous. We hiked along the wood-chipped path, commenting on the growth of the more than 2,000 trees planted last year. Soon, it would be a thriving forest again.

The first half of the walk was fairly uneventful. August had long since dozed off, lulled to sleep by the warm breeze pushing us along. Charles was racing ahead, searching out the tree swing he knew was around the corner. As my husband pushed him high in the air, I watched a group of turtles sunbathing on a log. A duck gliding to a stop in the water drew my gaze up, and I gasped as I noticed a 5-foot alligator staring back at me from a nearby island. Aside from the child-sized tee-pee next to the swing, the alligator was certainly the highlight of Charles’ trip. We had to bribe him with the promise of shrimp for lunch to tear him away and head back to the car.

Parkway Bakery and Tavern

Starving after the morning’s exertion, we stopped off at Parkway Bakery and Tavern for some poboys and sweet potato fries. The place was packed, but service was quick, and we soon sunk our teeth into the shrimp and catfish overflowing the soft French bread. Parkway sits at the far end of Bayou St. John and is an ideal place to leave your car and take a walk along one of the most scenic spots in the city.

With just an hour left until Charles’ dreaded afternoon nap, we decided to treat him to a hot chocolate and some last-minute playtime at “the little park by the coffee shop.” On a small side street branching off of Esplanade Avenue stands an eclectic grouping of shops and restaurants, including Fair Grinds coffeehouse. Considering the place his second home, my toddler walked up to the counter and ordered his drink before we made it through the door. After slurping it down, he ran outside to find the coveted tricycle the shop keeps on hand for pint-sized visitors. We patiently followed behind, sipping our coffees as he made his slow circuit around the block.

Quality time spent in Fortier Park.

After the tricycle was once again stowed away under the outside stairs, we crossed the street to Fortier Park, a tiny gem lovingly landscaped and decorated by the park’s neighbors. We hit all the high points, from rearranging the horses on the chess boards to reading the laminated children’s poetry books tied to the benches. An elaborately carved birdhouse–complete with kitchen table, chair and bed–provides an ideal home for the plastic lizard who’s joined us on today’s trip. Downing the final drops of my coffee, I check my watch and break the news that it’s time to head home where nap time and chores await us.

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