Sometimes researching for an article can be cumbersome, involving long days at the library, interview after interview and hours in front of my computer.
This is not one of those articles.
March 11 is National Nap Day, but really, what day isn’t good for a nap? Midafternoon siestas are an integral part of many cultures, and 10- to – 20-minute snoozes are scientifically proven to be good for you.
The benefits include improvements in alertness, productivity and general mood. Not too shabby!
Boston University professor — and founder of the holiday — Dr. William Anthony, chose this particular Monday in March for a reason.
“Americans are more ‘nap-ready’ than usual after losing an hour of sleep to daylight saving time,” he pointed out.
Here in New Orleans, with Mardi Gras barely in the rearview mirror, we have extra reason to make room for that power nap.
Don’t think you’re going to just magically find more time to sleep at night in the weeks and months ahead. St. Patrick’s Day, French Quarter Fest, Jazz Fest, and a million other reasons to celebrate living here obstruct your chance for sleep like a row of Carnival ladders blocking you from a parade.
When your body needs a break, it’s not always an option to just head back home to your couch. Sometimes you have to take what your surroundings give you. Fortunately, New Orleans gives us a lot!
My mission was to crisscross the city on Ash Wednesday, looking for the best public places to grab a few zzzz’s. Considering what happened the day before Ash Wednesday, this was not difficult. I found no fewer than 15 spots to lay out my blanket, close my eyes, and drift off for at least a few minutes of bliss.
But this piece isn’t about every place one could take a nap in New Orleans. It’s about the best places to do so. And I think I’ve got them!
It’s technically called Butterfly Riverview Park, as an homage to the butterfly-shaped concession and restroom facility that had operated there since the 1960s. By the ‘80s, people just called the green space The Butterfly, until a tugboat pilot, steering in heavy fog, smashed into the building.
That building is long gone now, and today, we know the park simply as, The Fly.
One requirement for a nap spot is comfortable grass, and The Fly — sandwiched between the Audubon Zoo and the Mississippi River — has some of the comfiest! The river provides you the kind of serene view that makes you feel New Orleanians have been napping here for decades.
Show up in the early afternoon, but don’t want to expose that beautiful skin of yours to UV radiation? No worries — set up your blanket under one of the park’s massive trees.
Can’t grab your nap until later in the afternoon? That’s also a great idea, as long as you wake up in time to catch one of the most beautiful sunsets in the city!
Those trees we mentioned? They’re perfect for setting up your hammock for an especially cozy snooze. Maybe just avoid doing it on a foggy afternoon.
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Another key to a great city nap is finding a spot with the right number of passersby. You don’t want to be someplace with too much traffic (foot, bike, car or otherwise), or it’ll be too busy to doze off. But being someplace too isolated can feel dangerous, and you’re not going to be able to sleep that way, either.
Just off the river from The Fly is Audubon Park, and that’s where you might find a perfect balance. There’s a constant stream of joggers, cyclists, walkers, and exercise classes to help you feel safe, while the 350-acre park — purchased by the city in 1871 — provides plenty of space to spread out and doze.
Local lover of hammock naps, Autumn Town, said Audubon is her preferred place to grab a snooze. “There’s a secret copse of trees that is just big enough to string a hammock inside,” she explained. “It still gets a nice breeze but is shaded and out of most people’s view. And it allows in just enough sun to provide that nap-inducing warmth.”
Whether you stumble on Town’s secret spot, or find one of your own, there is no shortage of Audubon Park places to grab 30 minutes’ worth of zzz’s.
Part of the French Market District, the 20-acre Crescent Park provides plenty of space to lay out a blanket.
Down in the Bywater and Marigny, this park is thin and hugs the river for 1.4 miles. You won’t find a ton of privacy, but it’s also not heavily trafficked during prime afternoon napping hours.
You can find a bed of lush grass between the dog park near the Mazant Street entrance and the Rusty Rainbow bridge entrance at Piety Street, but a favorite place to lay out seems to be on the other side of the park, near the Elysian Fields entrance. That’s where you can find a large oval field of grass overlooking the river to grab a nap, as well as a handful of swinging benches — just a few feet from the Mississippi — if that’s more your style.
In the Bywater, on the 700 block of Piety Street, New Orleanians can find a one-block oasis to catch their midday siesta.
For years, Mickey Markey Park was a battlefield: neighbors who wanted it as an off-leash dog park versus those who did not. The park was closed for a few years in 2011 because of rising lead levels in the soil, but it reopened two years later, lead crisis averted and no longer a dog park.
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The reopened park featured new landscaping that makes for a perfect daytime nap. You can set up your blanket under the sprawling arms of a giant tree, or you can lay in a patch of grass on one of the park’s gently rolling hills.
And how can you top a nap? Food, duh. Before you close your eyes — or after you open them again — grab a slice from PIzza D, a sausage or pretzel from Bratz Y’all, or the best nachos on the planet from Markey’s Bar. They’re all less than a block away!
Bayou St. John
None of us would be taking naps in New Orleans if it weren’t for Bayou St. John, the waterway American Indians showed French explorer, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, ultimately convincing him this would make a great spot for a settlement.
Braden Piper, a frequent bayou napper said, “My pirogue, anchored in the middle of the water on a sunny day, makes for a great place to sleep.”
I agree a boat makes an ideal place to doze off, but if you don’t have one available, the nearly 4 miles of Bayou St. John still has plenty of options.
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Near the ruins of Spanish Fort you’ll find some comfortable, grassy (and historic!) options, as does near the tree swing a little closer to Lake Pontchartrain. But, on the other end of the bayou — the stretch on either side of Orleans Avenue — is where you’re most likely to run into fellow nappers.
Grab a large po-boy from Parkway Tavern and Bakery, and you’ll be as ready as they come for a lunchtime siesta.
Similarly, the stretch along Lake Pontchartrain provides plenty of options for an afternoon respite. Closing your eyes and listening to the lake crash against its edges, will put you in the mood to snooze, but you’ll want to pick your days carefully, as there’s not a ton of tree coverage out there.
But, on a temperate day, I was in business!
My personal favorite spot along the lake was Breakwater Park (7637 Breakwater Park), which juts into Pontchartrain in the West End — meaning it’s nearly completely surrounded by water!
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Bring a picnic. Listen to the waves crash against the rocks. See one of the best sunsets in the city. And, most importantly, get that nap in. There are few better places to do it!
Last — but certainly not least — is City Park. First off, it’s enormous. At 1,300 acres, it’s 50 percent larger than Central Park in New York City (eat that, New York City!), and it’s the 20th most visited urban public park in America.
So where the hell in this behemoth should you nap? I don’t know — wherever you want, really, there are so many great options!
On the banks of Big Lake, near the entrance to the New Orleans Museum of Art, makes for a really good spot. So does the Chime Tree, along Big Lake in John S McIlhenny Meadow. There, you can hear the breeze push around chimes as large as 14 feet long.
How about bringing a blanket into the (significantly expanding!) Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, which happens to also be one of the city’s best options for no-cost fun.
There’s either side of the bayou; near the Peristyle; there’s the Goldring/Woldenberg Great Lawn; there are the trails through Couturie Forest; and there’s, both, Scout and Shell islands.
I bet you could nap in a different spot in City Park every day of 2019 and still have more to go. Let that be a challenge to you passionate nappers!
So what do you think I missed — in City Park, or elsewhere around town? Tulane had a few nice spots along their quads, and I bet the Lower Ninth Ward — along the river — could be pretty good. Let us know your favorite spots for a midday break by going to where this article is posted on our Facebook page!
Until then, happy napping!