The French Quarter
Don’t let Bourbon Street’s reputation (while well-earned after sunset) deter you from thinking the French Quarter can’t be a destination when you are traveling with kids.
Family-friendly options abound. Because many of the tourists are awake until the late hours, getting up early gave us a nearly empty French Quarter. Alice loved shopping for masks, tipping her favorite street performers, and burning off energy on the grassy lawn at Jackson Square Park . The novelty of a carriage ride was fun for Alice, and gave us an opportunity to get a a family-friendly history of New Orleans from our private guide. And, yes, in the French Quarter, all of this family fun can be had as the adults enjoy their beverage of choice while strolling the streets.
Science Museums & Outdoor Excursions
A city with so many venues bearing the Audubon name has to be a city for science enthusiasts. The Louisiana Swamp exhibit at the Audubon Zoo immersed us (figuratively) in the native wildlife of the region. The 2018 Zoo Lights were spectacular. The Insectarium is moving from its prior location, but I am confident that its new home will match the interactivity that its unique collection provided during our visit. The Audubon Aquarium showed its age and was crowded with school groups in May, but was still worth the visit.
City Park was an easy trolley ride from the French Quarter. We are always happy to see live oaks and Spanish moss; the classic combo of the Southern US landscape. The New Orleans Botanic Garden benefited from its small size, feeling a bit like an oasis inside the massive grounds of the Park. Our short visit didn’t allow us to do many of the experiences offered, from golf to a small amusement park.
Music, Art & Culture
You can’t look or listen in any direction without taking in the art and music of New Orleans. Top of the list for a family-friendly venue is the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. On our first visit we arrived an hour early to wait in the long line and were able to get into the next show. Unfortunately, an hour early wasn’t enough on Christmas day and we missed the performance. The website’s FAQ will give you a good idea of how to prepare for a show in this historic and unique venue.
For Visual Arts, NOMA is the perfect escape from the heat after a visit to City Park, and Cafe NOMA was a nice lunch stop. Ogden Museum of Southern Art in the Warehouse District offered special exhibitions with collections of art of the American South. Museums aside, the Warehouse District and French Quarter were also filled with unique art galleries and locally made jewelry.
Mardi Gras World
While it may sound like a tourist trap, Mardi Gras World is actually a working studio and a museum for the past years’ Mardi Gras floats. During both our 2015 and 2018 trips, we were treated to King Cake before taking a self-guided tour. There are multiple warehouses filled with floats and sculptures. Because the studio is active, we saw artisans sculpting and painting for upcoming events. Most were happy to answer any questions we had, and one gave us beads from a prior Mardi Gras. The back patio was a nice place to stop and watch the traffic on the Mississippi River.
As a family visiting New Orleans, it’s okay to take advantage of being a tourist. A hop-on hop-off bus was costly, but allowed us to reach all of the attractions easily with our three-year old and provided an audio tour. For other destinations, including City Park and Audubon Park, public buses and trolleys were easy to use and inexpensive options.
St. Louis Cemetery 1 is just at the edge of the French quarter and can only be accessed with a private tour with a guide. We learned the hard way to plan for a a morning visit; with no shade the cemetery was scorching mid-day.
A steamboat ride was an all-in-one experience. We chose the evening cruise, with dinner, a narrated tour of the NOLA shoreline one way, and live jazz music on the return.
There are countless books about the homes in the Garden District, but I found a tour with a guide much easier than reading an entire page before realizing I was standing in front of the wrong house.
Food & Accommodations
I joked while on my first trip that if I were vegetarian with the exception of reptiles I would eat well in New Orleans. Turtle soup aside, there was no shortage of good food, no matter what the dietary restrictions may be. A few favorites for families:
- The American Sector Cafe at the WWII Museum- 1940s theme with casual lunches.
- The Gumbo Shop in the French Quarter for, well, Gumbo.
- SoBou– upscale but also (at the time in 2018) child-friendly.
- Juan’s Flying Burrito is a well-known vegetarian-friendly establishment on Magazine Street.
- Cafe Du Monde, obviously. We learned from a local that standing in line is only for tourists. It may sound shady, but you can go in the front entrance and just grab a table any time other patrons leave.
- Three Muses on Frenchmen Street is a small restaurant offering live music AND allowing kids. Dining here is a must (as are reservations).
On our first visit, we hotel-hopped, starting at The Pontchartrain Hotel in the Garden District. The hotel was quiet with a large suite, much appreciated with a two-year old. The Warehouse District has recently been updating more buildings with chain hotels, which offer more modern and quiet accommodations, but still give you easy access to historic sites. We enjoyed the Springhill Suites. On our second trip, the Lowes Hotel Downtown provided a view of the Mississippi River, and was central to both the Warehouse District and the French Quarter.
In the French Quarter, the Four Points by Sheraton was perfect, with a large pool in the central courtyard to take a break from the May heat. On our Christmas trip, Hotel Royal was so close to Bourbon Street that I was able to spend some bar time on my own on after Alice and Alex had gone to bed. Pro-tip; It turns out they don’t make middle-aged moms who visit bars alone on Christmas night pay cover charges.
Before visiting New Orleans, we watched Spike Lee’s HBO documentary When the Levees Broke and the HBO series Treme. Both gave us appreciation for the resilience of the New Orleanians and their devotion to the preservation of culture and history in the face of tragedy. At the Louisiana Museum of History we saw The Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond exhibition. Depending on the age of your children, the exhibit may offer context to the event, and guide conversations about planning for natural disasters, how to mitigate the effects of sea level rise, and how inequality effects the health and safety of Americans.
Sculpture: Scrap House Katrina Memorial by Sally Heller, located near the Convention Center
4 Steps to Get Ready to Visit New Orleans
Read About the History
- An Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans, by Lawrence N. Powell
- A Guide to the Historic French Quarter, by Andy Peter Antippas
Create a Soundtrack
- Preservation Hall Jazz Band
- Louis Armstrong
- Dr. John
- Kermit Ruffins
- Trombone Shorty
- Dirty Dozen Brass Band
- Terrance Simien
Watch Film & Television
- When the Levees Broke, documentary
- Treme, HBO series
- The Pelican Brief, film
- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, film
Read Fictional Literature
- A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole
- Island Beneath the Sea, by Isabel Allende
- Dollbaby, by Laura Lane McNeal