Misheko George, now 37, grew up knowing that a walk to Pandora’s Snowballs came with a certain routine.

“Everytime we stop at Pandora’s, it’s a must that we go to City Park and eat our sno-balls,” she said. George has continued the routine with her daughter, Mylah, 7, who is in a rainbow sno-ball phase.

“It’s tradition for us: sno-ball first, City Park next,” said George, who came here all through her childhood with her parents, her sister and brother, her neighbors and her cousins.

Now they all carry on the tradition with their children at Pandora’s, which first opened on this corner in 1970.

Certainly, City Park draws people from all over town for its bells and whistles: its rides, the mini-train, mini-golf, and all the concrete fairy-tale characters in Storyland. But even for lifelong New Orleanians who believe that they know every corner of the city, a wrong turn or an exploration in City Park often leads to something new.

A Manicured Wilderness in New Orleans
Often, what attracts people to City Park is nature itself: 1,300 acres of green grass and trees.

On a recent sunny afternoon, Kimberly DeJesus, a teacher at Encore Academy, sat on a low-hanging limb of a live oak tree and watched the school’s second graders wiggle around on the sprawling branch. Other children in purple Encore shirts were swinging, sliding, and climbing around the playground a few feet away and still others were sprinting across nearby grass, near the classic Greek columns of the park’s Peristyle pavilion.

But Delacey, 7, and a group of her friends were content to sit with DeJesus on the massive tree. “We’re sitting on a tree branch because they don’t have no chairs,” Delacey said with a grin, as one of the boys in her class hung upside down from the end of the branch.

Some Encore parents who’d chaperoned the field trip sat within shouting distance of the playground, with tables full of powder-sugar-covered children.

The Morning Call Coffee Stand, with its legendary beignets , chicory coffee and ice cream, opened in 2012 in a City Park location within the Casino building. Since it’s within the view of the jungle gyms and swings, it’s become both a family treat and a playground behavior-modification device: “If you’re good, I’ll get you beignets,” a mother said recently as she parked on a park street and opened the doors of her SUV, releasing a flood of kids into the playground.

Morning Call waiter Michael Guillory, 53, said that the result is a very intense, fast-paced, loud atmosphere sometimes, on a busy weekend or on any day, when tour buses arrive in groups.

“But you just gotta have a little attitude, a little charisma. Good looks help, a good smile. People tell me that I got it,” he said. “So I’m just rolling with it.”

Guillory grew up right across the street from the park and used to come to the café here every day with his friends after school for ice cream and popcorn. On Saturdays, his dad would take him and his sisters here to pick pecans from the trees or scoop up minnows in a cup from the bayou. The park may be “world-renowned,” he said, but for him, it’s also personal. “It holds so many memories.”

Art in the Park
A short walk away, in the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, Simon and Carly Metzmer strolled with visiting family members and their baby, Zelie, who made her first trip here when she was a week old, they said.

It had been a fantastic day spent meandering through the park’s attractions, marred only by a moment when a few territorial geese had chased their nephew, a toddler. “A small price to pay,” Carly said with a grin, as she sat feeding Zelie on a metal bench next to three seated white-plaster George Segal sculptures.

With the swish of an oar, the Bella Mae, a gondola built in Venice, Italy, passed under the next bridge. Though gondolier Robert Dula has taken thousands of people gliding through City Park’s lagoons, he’s started to refer to his craft as “Cupid’s little helper” because 339 suitors have proposed marriage in his gondola. “And they’ve all said yes,” Dula said, proudly, flicking the ribbon of his gondolier’s hat.

On the other side of City Park, not far from Pan American Stadium, crew leader and Tulane University student Yasmin Davis, 20, oversaw the work at the Grow Dat Youth Farm with its campus made from metal shipping containers.

Davis had never been to this corner of City Park before she started here, as a high-school crew member farming Grow Dat’s two acres to create produce that’s sold to the city’s finest restaurants and donated to food shelters.

“I think it’s really amazing to have a farm in the city,” Davis said, noting that when she tells her friends about it, they’re “very surprised to know it’s here.”

Near the entrance to City Park, Andrew Wilkie, 43, and Karissa Jackson, 33, relaxed on the shores of Big Lake, listening to the wind chimes of the Singing Oak, an art installation in a massive live-oak tree that creates music with every light breeze. He first heard about it when friends called him while seated underneath the tree and he’s become a fan, often bringing new people there.

“This is my first time,” Jackson said. “But it won’t be my last time. I love it; it’s a nice spot. I’m surprised, I’ve lived here all these years, I grew up here, and I haven’t come.”