Have you ever wondered what those celebrity mansions really look like? Perhaps you were under the impression that these lucrative residences were located behind private gates with very little opportunity to see how these high-profile celebs live. Well, that’s exactly what I thought until we took the amazing New Orleans Garden District tour and was able to see a close-up look at some of these gorgeous mansions…and let me tell you they are pretty spectacular! But when money is not a problem, you can quite easily purchase breathtaking properties in and around New Orleans.
The beauty of taking a tour of the Garden District though is that it is not all about scoping out celebrities. Sure it’s nice to stumble across a celebs mansion or perhaps you will be fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of your favorite movie star, but there is so much more to this tour. We want to share some of the best attractions and landmarks that you can expect to see while taking a New Orleans Garden District tour.
Where is the Garden District?
The Garden District is located west of the French Quarter and can be accessed either by taking a pretty long walk (we experienced this first hand!) or by hopping on the New Orleans streetcar that will take you from Canal Street along St. Charles Avenue and into the heart of this neighborhood.
We opted for the streetcar on our return trip and this is a really cool experience in itself and for only $1.25 each way or a $3 one-day Jazzy pass, it is well worth riding.
Of course walking throughout New Orleans is the best way to get around though I have to warn you if you decide to take the 2 mile stroll from the Convention Center as we did that there are a couple of spots along this route until you reach Prytania Street that you will want to be fully aware of your surroundings and keep your wits about you.
Any fears you may have will quickly dissipate though as you wander into the Garden District and notice the gorgeous architecture all around you.
Historic New Orleans Tours
Thanks to Historic New Orleans, we were able to take a guided tour of the Garden District. Regardless of whether you take a guided tour or simply explore this neighborhood at your own leisure, this is definitely a part of the Crescent City you will want to walk around. The beauty of taking a guided tour is that your tour guide will point out all of those infamous mansions plus give you a variety of intriguing stories to keep you entertained on the walk.
If you read our recent post on the French Quarter walking tour, you will know that Historic New Orleans offer high-quality tours with very knowledgeable guides. This is exactly what we experienced a couple of days later on the Garden District tour.
We would like to give a special thanks to Dave, our tour guide from Historic New Orleans, who was AMAZING and a really down to earth local who shared experiences ranging from the tragic events surrounding Hurricane Katrina to stories of him taking tours inside some of the iconic mansions we saw on the tour.
Admission – $20 for adults; $15 for Seniors and Students (ID required); $7 for children
Location and Times – The Garden District tour starts at the Garden District Book Shop located at 2727 Prytania Street starting at 11:00AM and 1:45PM daily (each tour lasts around 2 hours)
Landmarks Around the Garden District
Before taking the tour for yourselves, here is a glimpse of what you can expect to find on your tour of the Garden District.
1. Lafayette Cemetery
Our tour started in the Lafayette Cemetery which for many may seem a little strange but as we walked around and heard the history and reasoning behind the above ground tombs, it actually resonated well with everyone in the group.
It was a little strange walking around the cemetery with so many of these tombs just out in the open, especially when Dave shared some of the stories of grave workers in New Orleans and how different it is from anywhere else in the country.
With New Orleans being below sea level, any attempts to dig six feet under the ground are fruitless given that you would immediately hit water. I wondered if the above ground tombs had some sort of religious connotation behind it, but the harsh reality is that if you are buried in New Orleans…you have very little option but to be buried in an above ground tomb or simply be cremated.
Did you know that some of these tombs have 30-40 corpses inside them? I can’t imagine what it must be like to work with human remains like this…just thinking about it sends chills down my spine.
I am not a huge fan of cemeteries, but I have been in several before that are clearly well maintained with gorgeous floral displays and apparent celebrations. The Lafayette Cemetery was far from this, in fact, it doesn’t surprise me to hear that this was the setting of several movies including ‘Double Jeopardy’ and ‘Interview With The Vampire’.
Be careful as you walk around this cemetery because the walkway is highly uneven and a couple of times we both lost our footing and stumbled a little. I think Heather and I were both happy when we headed out of the cemetery and continued on the Garden District tour.
2. Commander’s Palace Restaurant
Since the latter part of the 19th century, Commander’s Palace has been an iconic restaurant throughout the city of New Orleans. A number of famous chefs have plied their trade inside the doors of Commander’s Palace, most notably Emeril Lagasse and the late Paul Prudhomme.
The vibrant colors of the exterior make this restaurant easily identifiable and of course, the amazing creole cuisine makes this an incredibly popular spot for visitors from all corners of the globe.
3. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
If you are a movie aficionado, you may recall Brad Pitt starring in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Much of this movie was filmed in New Orleans in particular, the house on Coliseum Street which was a short walk from Commander’s Palace.
This 7,800 square foot mansion is a stunning piece of architecture and it’s no surprise to hear that this recently went to auction for a little under $3 million.
I fell in love with the place! You know, the people, the bourbon, the music… it’s in the air. It’s something you can’t describe on camera. (Brad Pitt)
When Brad Pitt shared his thoughts on New Orleans, he epitomized the culture and opinion of many celebrities in this part of the nation. Whether it’s because New Orleans has become such a popular spot for movie scenes, or perhaps because of the warm, temperate climate that the city endures all year round, it is undoubtedly the ‘Hollywood of the South’.
4. Sandra Bullock’s Mansion
As we continued walking along Coliseum Street, we marveled at the beauty of many of these mansions. A couple of blocks down the street Dave pointed out another house and shared a story before unveiling that this was the residence of Sandra Bullock. 2627 Coliseum Street is the address if you choose to take a self-guided tour rather than with Historic New Orleans.
Bullock chose this mansion as her home primarily for her and her adopted son who is from New Orleans rather than Bullock’s home city of Austin, Texas.
New Orleans is his city, and he is going to know it inside and out (Sandra Bullock)
Referencing her son, she purchased this $2.25 million mansion in 2010 and frequently can be seen in the Garden District with Louis Bardo (her adopted son).
5. Anne Rice’s Home
If you have read any of Anne Rice’s inspired vampire books, you will know that the Garden District in New Orleans is where it all started for Rice. Her childhood home is located in the heart of this neighborhood, but it is Magnolia Mansion on the corner of Chestnut Street and First Street that immediately grabs your attention with the eerie looking appearance.
The vampire stories you may be told by your tour guide as you walk past this residence (or sprint if you happen to have a little trepidation building up inside you) will resonate much more as you imagine if all the stories told here are true. Back in the 19th century, both of the original owners of this house allegedly died from yellow fever within a 24-hour period.
Today, this mansion is home to an award-winning bed and breakfast but would you be happy staying in a home that has years of terrifying history?
What inspired Rice to write such detailed vampire stories? Was it the Garden District or something much more sinister that happened inside the Magnolia Mansion? I will let you decide but with the proximity to Lafayette Cemetery, perhaps you will have your own thoughts on this.
6. John Goodman’s Mansion
By the time you reach John Goodman’s residence in the Garden District, you will be marveling at the wealth of architectural beauty that you are now apart of. Everywhere you look there is a stunning mansion waiting for you to explore.
Goodman is well-known throughout New Orleans, not only because he is such an advocate of the Crescent City but also because he is one of the celebrities that can be frequently seen by visitors to the Garden District.
7. The Home of the Manning’s
Familiar with Archie Manning? How about his more famous Superbowl winning sons – Eli and Peyton? The Manning household is located at 1420 First Street and frequently one or more of the family can be seen here. Perhaps Archie taught his two sons all they know today on the hallowed turf of the Manning residence.
8. Nicholas Cage’s Former Mansion
As we walked along Prytania Street on our final stretch of the tour, we stumbled across a breathtaking mansion that was the former residence of Nicholas Cage. Despite losing this property to foreclosure in 2009, Cage owned this for the four years prior to this. If you love European inspired architecture, you will notice that this is a true reflection of Greek Revival design and dates back to the mid 19th century.
For many years, this was the home of a Catholic chapel until 1996 when Anne Rice purchased this property and used it as inspiration for many of her novels. At over 13,400 square feet, it is now used as part of the St. George School.
9. Antebellum History
Let’s take a moment to forget who actually lives inside many of these mansions scattered throughout the Garden District. If you love antebellum history, then this part of New Orleans is just for you. The pristine preservation of all the gardens in addition to the Greek revival and neoclassical design of the mansions makes this tour a no-brainer.
The intricate details throughout the neighborhood (the exception being the quality of the sidewalks which are honestly a huge disappointment and need some attention!) are a sight to behold and really add value to the overlook appearance.
10. New Orleans Streetcar
Walking to the Garden District from the New Orleans Convention Center was a pretty long trek.What we didn’t realize was that the awesome public transportation system in New Orleans, also known as the Streetcar, provides a direct route from Canal Street to St. Charles Street.
From here you are right on the doorstep to the Garden District. As we rode the streetcar back to Canal Street, we were able to catch glimpses of plenty other gorgeous properties along St. Charles Street, though they were clearly not in the same price range as the mansions discussed earlier.
You may be wondering why you would want to explore so many of these celebrities mansions because once you have seen one, surely they are all very similar. However, each one of these mansions is unique and offers something with a slight twist that will make you purr with envy.
We want to reiterate our gracious thanks to Historic New Orleans and in particular, our tour guide Dave, who provided a wealth of information that really enhanced our experience in the Garden District.
Disclaimer – We would like to thank the New Orleans CVB for hosting us on this trip, and Historic New Orleans for providing complimentary tickets for the Garden District Walking Tour. These are solely our personal opinions/experiences and we were not financially compensated for this post.