China Lights in New Orleans City Park

China Lights in New Orleans City Park

By Eileen Ogintz

NEW ORLEANS (DAY 2 OF 3) — Check out the 160-foot long dragon. Don’t miss the three-story Pagoda lit from within—30 feet tall.  Or the giant red peonies.

Welcome to China Lights, the exhibit of more than 30 bright silk-covered structures that will light up the Botanical Garden in New Orleans’ City Park  through May 1. The exhibit opened Feb.23 and is well worth the price of admission ($18 for adults, $12 for kids ages 3-12).

There are dozens of colorful lighted displays created by a team of Chinese artisans and technical staff at Sichuan Tianyu in Zigong, China—pandas that make you smile, Chinese lanterns, a lotus pond, Chinese dolls, tulips and windmills, a lotus pagoda, lucky fish,

Pandas on parade at China Lights exhibit

Pandas on parade at China Lights exhibit

At each stop, there is an explanation.  For example, the Peony Garden showcases China’s national flower which has many meanings—feminine beauty and love, prosperity and happiness.  Red, of course is associated with luck.

The Jumping fish in the Fish Gallery are often used to wish success in Chinese culture. Here, LED lights dramatize their movement.

The dragon represents Chinese unity—strength and power.

No one visiting New Orleans in the coming months should miss this experience. Locals like to brag that City Park at 1300 acres is nearly double the size of New York’s Central Park (770 acres). But where as Central Park is a top tourist attraction, CityPark is something of a hidden gem, though you can get here easily by street car or bus.

Colorful characters at China Lights exhibit in New Orleans

Colorful characters at China Lights exhibit in New Orleans

Besides the Botanical Garden, there’s the fabulous New Orleans Museum of Art with all varieties of family programs and the fantastic free Sculpture Garden. There’s Carousel Gardens Amusement Park,   “The Flying Horses Carousel” that dates from 1906 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, Storyland—an iconic outdoor play area with extraordinary whimsical characters like the Three Pigs and Mother Goose. Some couples have such fond memories of time spent here that they choose it for their wedding ceremony.

Play miniature golf  at City Putt, rental bikes or boats at the Big Lake  or hit the Louisiana Nature Trail. There’s even a Singing Oak—a tree filled with wind chimes—and other  live oaks, one dating back  700 years and one of the largest collections of mature live oaks  in the world. Have a scavenger hunt in Couturie Forest where you can go to Laborde Lookout—the highest elevation point in the city.

How many animals do you see? Ducks and turtles, fish and frogs, swans and geese and some 280 species of birds (download the Birds of City Park Guide).  Have you ever seen a big Brown Pelican?  A Mississippi Kite? You might even spy a Bald Eagle!

Kids love the New Orleans Historic Train Garden where they ride around a scale model of New Orleans. s

There are three wheelchair-equipped playgrounds and The Great Lawn with giant swings, festivals and concerts.

This is one of the country’s oldest urban parks, dating back to 1854, and after its recovery from Katrina, has become a symbol for the city’s recovery and the place local families come to play. There’s a Tennis Center, Soccer Complex, Golf Course, Friday night football,  free springtime concerts and even a “Grow Dat” Youth Farm.

No worries when the kids get hungry. There’s Morning Call in the Park, a New Orleans tradition for over 140 years serving café au lait and beignets covered with powdered sugar.

Have one—or two—for me!