If you ask anyone who knows me well, they’ll tell you that my favorite city is by far New Orleans. I’m not quite sure I could tell you why, there are so many reasons. The culture, food, music, the unexpected nature of the city as a whole, there is so much to do and see there, and no matter how many times I visit, I always find myself longing to go back. In December I had the opportunity to finally take the boys with me, and we had a fabulous time. New Orleans is not a city that many people consider to be family-friendly, but it certainly can be. Check out our quick and easy guide to New Orleans with kids for tips on what to see, do and eat!
What To See and Do
There are certain things in New Orleans that just shouldn’t be missed when traveling with kids, below are our top picks.
Tour the St. Louis Cathedral
The St. Louis Cathedral tops my list of must see’s. Since 1721, a church has stood on this spot in New Orleans. The original church burned in the fire of 1788, but a new one was erected and dedicated on Christmas Eve in 1794. It was remodeled once more in the late 1800’s, but the history and beauty of this structure towering over the rooftops of the French Quarter can’t be denied. Children of any age will enjoy the elaborately painted ceilings and bright stained glass window scenes.
Visit the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas
One of the city’s best attractions for kids, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas is a great representation of marine life from both around the world and locally. There is an entire section devoted to the Louisiana fishing industry, which provides a great learning opportunity for children visiting the area. The penguins are particularly friendly, and a few will follow your finger back and forth across the tank. Other highlights include feeding the parakeets and petting the stingrays.
Interact with Local Street Performers
Kids are naturally drawn to the local street performers setup in squares and along sidewalks throughout the French Quarter. From human statues glittering with a sheen of silver and gold paint. to lively jazz ensembles, it is worth it to stop and take in these talented performers. Give a small donation, and you might just get a memory you won’t forget. On our recent trip, my youngest tipped a Jazz group that was performing in Jackson Square $1, and they called him up to join in the performance with them. If nothing else, observing these performers is a great way to take in local music and culture for free.
Shop on the Cheap at the French Market
Traveling with kids is expensive. It seems like every shop you pass they want this or that, and let me tell you, in the French Quarter, there are a lot of shops! Take a stroll down to the French Market and find low priced souveniers that will let a small budget go a long way. The vendors found here sell everything from unique handmade pieces to the same run of the mill tourist treasures found in all the other shops around town, but at bargain prices. Well worth a walk, and don’t forget to pick up a homemade praline on your way out!
Take a Free French Quarter Ghost Tour
That’s right, you heard me, a free ghost tour. First, are ghost tours child friendly? Certainly, they are. I have taken my boys on them throughout the country, and they are a great way to have fun while also to learn about the history of the city you are visiting. New Orleans has some free tours you can sign up for through Free Tours By Foot. We signed up for our free tour on the evening of our arrival in the city, and it was a great way to get the boys acquainted with the French Quarter in a fun and slightly spooky way. We were staying at a hotel in the business district and had no safety issues with walking back to our hotel at night.
Feast on a Bug Buffet at the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium
Oh, you heard that right, you can feast on a buffet of bugs for free at the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium. There were an array of roasted crickets, cricket dips and a surprisingly delicious bug filled pumpkin bread available when we visited. The Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium is completely dedicated to helping you learn more than you could ever hope to know about creepy crawlies. The hands on exhibits and free 3D movie are highlights of a visit here, as is a trip to the Japanese inspired butterfly garden, something you wouldn’t expect to find inside a towering building along Canal St. Just a tip, the butterflies love bright green shirts!
Explore the City’s Old Cemeteries
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, old cemeteries are a great way to learn about a city’s past, and the people who once lived there. At the Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 in the Garden District of New Orleans, children can learn about the Yellow Fever outbreak that claimed do many lives in 1853, see the way that people have been buried in New Orleans for hundreds of years, and spot the graves of some of the city’s most notable members, as well as the fictional tomb of Ann Rice’s the vampire Lestat in this cemetery. There are many others throughout the city too, including the Saint Louis Cemetery which houses the tomb of the voodoo queen Marie Laveau.
Pet a Hedgehog at the Audubon Zoo
While you may not know it, a short drive out of the French Quarter will take you to the Audubon Zoo. A spacious zoo full of lush landscapes and exotic animals. Enjoy live animal shows throughout the day that give you the opportunity to touch animals like hedgehogs and snakes, or let the kids blow off some steam running and playing on Monkey Hill. From primates to African mammals, you can spend a day of fun in New Orleans at the Audubon Zoo.
Enjoy Unexpected Sights and Events
The thing I love most about New Orleans both with and without children, is that you never know what your going to see. From inspirational quotes scrawled across the random storefront wall, to spontaneous events year-round, there is always something new to see and experience. During our visit in early December we ran across the Miracle on Fulton Street, a holiday-based celebration with snowflake shapes broadcast on the buildings all around, live music and decorations galore. This event is put on each year by Harrah’s Casino, and is free to stop by and experience for yourself. Come at just the right time, and you might even see it snow. Events like this take place all year, so be sure to check the Events Calendar before you visit.
Where to Eat
New Orleans is a foodie city for sure. Although it is full of restaurants serving up Cajun and Creole favorites, there are a wide range of dining options available in the city, to please even the pickiest of eaters.
If you were a Louisiana native, than this restaurant could represent what you would find in your mother’s kitchen. Serving up what is said to be the world’s best baked ham and Louisiana staples like gumbo, jambalaya and po’ boys, Mother’s Restaurant is a great way to introduce kids to local flavors. On a budget? Mother’s is a great low cost option for families.
Red Fish Grill
Fine dining in a casual setting that takes comfort food favorites and kicks them up a notch, the Red Fish Grill is one of the most renowned restaurant in the French Quarter, and for good reason. Their food is absolutely delicious, and provides families a chance to stick to local favorites like the Red Fish (the restaurants namesake,) or venture out of their comfort zone with a dish like the alligator boudin balls.
Situated on the 100 block of Bourbon St., parents should not hesitate to take children here at night, it is so close to Canal St., that anything you would run into would be PG rated at worst. I highly recommend the boudin balls, they were by far the best we had during our visit to all of Louisiana. Oh, and do not leave without tasting the chocolate bread pudding. Out of this world!
Cafe Du Monde
Although there are several locations today, the original Cafe Du Monde located on Decatur St. just up from the French Market, is the place to go for fresh, hot Beignets and Cafe Au Lait. In fact, that is just about all they have here, with the addition of milk and soft drinks. Cafe Du Monde was established in 1862, and has been going strong ever since. An order of three large beignets heaped high with powdered sugar will set you back just $2.42 at this historic cafe, and they’re open 24 hours a day almost every day of the year. This location stays busy, but a local secret is that there is no real line. If you see an open table, feel free to grab it even if it hasn’t been cleared by the server yet.
The perfect place to dine if you are taking a drive out to the Garden District or Audubon Zoo, this fun restaurant is located along Magazine St. and has an old diner vibe. Pull up a chair and order diner favorites with a new-age twist. Uncle TayTay’s Ragin’ Meatloaf is a popular choice, and is sure to be unlike any meatloaf you’ve ever experienced with its topping of tomato jam and drizzling of sweet onion brown gravy. Kid’s meals at GG’s Dine-O-Rama are large and affordable, making it a budget-friendly option for either lunch or dinner.
New Orleans, particularly the French Quarter is a city full of culture, fun and food galore. If you’ve thought about bringing your kids along to explore this lively town, don’t hesitate, there is plenty to keep kids engaged and learning no matter what interests you may have. For more information about the city’s family friendly offerings, check out NewOrleansCVB.com.
Thanks to the New Orleans CVB for hosting our stay in the city, all opinions are our own.