Oak Street in New Orleans runs for just over 1 mile from the meanders of the Mississippi River in the west to the campus of Tulane University in the east. It's one of the main arteries of Uptown New Orleans and is usually fizzing with life. It hosts everything from Americana diners to gritty tattoo parlours, along with handsome shotgun houses from the 1800s.

Oak Street in New Orleans - one of the highlights of 10 Most Popular Streets in New Orleans and 10 Best Places to Go Shopping in New Orleans (Read all about New Orleans here)

A brief history of Oak Street

Oak Street has long been a popular destination for shoppers and diners in the Big Easy. It was first laid down as the city expanded into the Carrolton area – now called Uptown – throughout the 1830s, and quickly became the retail hub of the neighbourhood, offering everything from shoe cobblers to grocery stores.

After the economic downtown of the 1920s, Oak Street underwent major renovations in the 1970s and then again in the 2000s following Hurricane Katrina. These periods brought a revival of its charming, small-town vibes and plenty of boutique shops, independent cafés, and even street festivals. 

What are the highlights of Oak Street?

Oak Street hits a zenith as you head to its northwest end, past the intersection with Carrollton Avenue. Gone are the twisted cypress trees on the pavement and gone are the bijou shotgun houses. In their place, you'll discover a medley of hickory-scented BBQ joints and Southern cookhouses selling classic New Orleans po'boy sub sandwiches.

The part of the strip that connects with Leake Avenue is particularly good for shoppers. It's home to a truly mind-boggling array of outlets, including neon-hazed sign workshops and vintage clothes stores, vinyl emporiums and ramshackle second-hand book collectors. Most are locally owned and independent.

What are the best nightlife experiences on Oak Street?

Some say the best time on Oak Street is when the evening begins to close in. You certainly won't be short of things to eat. There are deep-fried grits and shrimps to sample in the Cajun takeaways, along with hearty Creole cooking in spots like Jacques-Imo – try the alligator sausage if you're feeling adventurous.

Oak Street also has nightlife aplenty. Most notably, it's the home of the now-legendary Maple Leaf Bar, a veteran of the New Orleans jazz scene that's been open since 1974. You could also come to catch the annual Oak Street Po-Boy Festival, which has live music and plenty of culinary draws in the autumn months.

Good to know about Oak Street in New Orleans

Oak Street isn't in the heart of New Orleans. At least, it's not close to the areas where most travellers will be based, around the French Quarter and Marigny. It's still easy to reach, though, mainly thanks to the direct streetcar line that goes to St Charles and Carrollton, a stop that's about 10 minutes on foot to the south.

Oak Street is certainly lively after dark, but the vibe is probably better suited to students and backpacker travellers than families. The area is generally safe, but be wary of wandering alone into the side streets of Uptown, especially at night.

Most bars on Oak Street get swinging late in the evening. In fact, it's common for the first band to take to the stage around 11 pm, so don't expect an early one if you're coming for the music. 

Oak Street in New Orleans

Location: Oak Street, New Orleans, LA 70118, USA

Joseph Francis | Contributing Writer