June 13, 2008 | New Orleans

by Errol Laborde

Since we're celebrating local quirkiness with our cover story, I hereby designate picturesque vantage points as being a form of quirkiness. Not counting the view from the top of local skyscrapers with their panorama of the river's curves, here, in ascending order, are my picks of the city's top five vantage points, as seen from ground level.

5. "The Point" at Lake Pontchartrain. Once known as a lovers' lane, "The Point" is more of a motley place for fishing these days (and perhaps smooching) not far from the row of mostly unrepaired boat houses. But what a view! To the south, looking across the breakwater, there's the rebuilding site of the Southern Yacht Club. Nearby, sailboats maneuver toward the lake. At The Point's edge, ducks sun on the rocks. Turn around and the lake presents a blue field specked with the bobbing masts of yachts. Once the 1890s vintage New Canal Lighthouse, down since Katrina, is restored to its dignity, the view will be even better.

4. Walking toward the river on any French Quarter street, (except Iberville). On either side of the street are the balconies and quaint architecture of the old Quarter. If you're lucky, a mule-drawn carriage might be clopping by. If you're timing is good you might see the stirring sight of a ship's smokestack gliding above the sightline – a reminder that you're walking on land developed by the French but built by the river. (Iberville is eliminated because, by design, it's an industrial corridor and rather unattractive – but its importance is nonetheless appreciated , the beer trucks have to enter the Quarter somewhere.)

3. "The Fly" at Audubon Park. Because there are no big buildings, or a levee in the way, at "The Fly" the river is closer and more intimate than at other river views. Big ships make the turn, towboats push barges: the continent's business on the river is conducted, all with an eerie silence.

2. Moonwalk. OK, there might be an unsavory character or two on the benches but they too, might be immersed at the spectacle of ships negotiating the deepest turn on the entire river. To the right, the Algiers ferry shuttles between both banks, cutting across the flow. Sometimes a Public Belt freight train creates a moving fence separating the Moonwalk from the city; but the sounds of boxcars and workboats create their own song sometimes with a nearby brass band in the background. All day, everyday, the beat continues.

1. Algiers Point levee. At first you might be confused. Downtown New Orleans is looking back at you from the other side of the river. Here in one spot is the splendor of the Mighty Mississippi, backed by the sparkle (and nowhere does it look better) of the city. From this spot the relation of the stream to the village is most apparent. If a cruise ship passes by, wave at the passengers – no spot on their trans-Gulf voyage will offer as magnificent of a setting.

New Orleans, we are reminded, is a great place to discover – over and over again.

Reprinted with permission of the author.