Be honest. How often do you find yourself sitting at a restaurant or bar, eyes moving from your drink to the windows lining the place, drawn to watch the people passing by outside as they chat with friends or stop to gather their bearings? If you’re like me, people-watching is a regular pastime. There’s something fascinating about seeing passersby, each with a life as complicated and rich as our own, simply going about their day.
Few places are as perfect for people watching as New Orleans. Depending on the neighborhood, you can see groups of cyclists with elaborately decorated bikes, women in impossibly high heels waiting for a table, or people in full costume just because it’s Thursday. If you’re interested in finding a few of the best people-watching spots in Nola, read on.
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Oh, The Things You’ll See
Located above the Apple Barrel bar, Adolfo’s serves Creole Italian food in a cozy, lowly lit atmosphere. Chef Adolfo Perez Palavicini founded the restaurant in 1997 and has been cooking from the closet-sized kitchen ever since. But what makes the place such a great people-watching spot?
The answer is simple: Frenchman Street. This row of live music venues, restaurants, and bars fills with people wanting to enjoy the best the city has to offer each night. Sit by the windows so you can peer out to watch the brass bands playing on the corner and the people dancing. Go early or there’ll be a wait, and be sure to have folding money on you when you go since Adolfo’s is cash only.
Occupying the second oldest building in the French Quarter’s historic French Market, The Market Cafe is a superb place for people-watching. It occupies the wedge of ground where Decatur and North Peters Streets separate and lies just across the street from local radio station, WWOZ. It also sits just next to New Orleans’ own Joan of Arc statue, a golden figure of Joan on a horse holding a large flag above her head in triumph.
All of these things combine to ensure a steady stream of tourists, French Quarter workers, gutter punks, and musicians pass by the cafe at all hours of the day. You can sit inside to enjoy a blast of icy air conditioning or dine al fresco on their spacious patio. Enjoy the cafe’s daily live jazz band as you gaze out over the throngs of people walking by.
This bar atop the Pontchartrain Hotel offers stunning views of the Nola skyline and a bird’s eye view of the streetcar and pedestrians below. Styled as a 1940s artist loft, this former penthouse is a great place to see and be seen among the denizens of the Lower Garden District. The 270-degree view offers a unique vantage point to take in the great oaks of St. Charles Avenue, and it’s especially fun to watch the crowds surrounding a big krewe during Mardi Gras’ Uptown parades.
City Park is home to the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden. Occupying 11 acres surrounding the New Orleans Museum of Art, the garden is home to nearly 90 works of art dating from the 1800s to the present day. The Besthoffs first donated the seed money and dozens of sculptures to NOMA in 2003, and an additional 6.5 acres were added to it in 2017.
Walking through the distinctly divided sections of the garden, you’ll pass through the Pine Grove, City Park Lagoon and Cascade Pool, and the Oak Grove. Visitors from all over the globe come each year to experience this world-class open-air art installation. There’s little better than taking in the art on a sunny day and watching as the other observers stroll past.
Opened in 2018, The Vintage is a perfect combination of bar, breakfast spot, coffee house, and small plate restaurant. The interior is decorated with mid-century-inspired chairs, a marble top counter, and a green velvet-covered piano. What could be a cacophony of disparate styles melds into a harmonious atmosphere that is at once both chic and comfortable.
Specializing in next-level beignets, these marvels of fried dough change from matcha, mud pie, to whatever inspiration strikes the cook with each season. The Vintage restaurant and bar offer both a great happy hour and some great people-watching. Sit by one of the plate glass windows or at a table outside to see all the shoppers happily touring the stores on Magazine Street.