You might not think kids and New Orleans if you haven’t been here before – or if your experience is limited to the adult scene rife with strip clubs and drunks on Bourbon Street. But New Orleans is a city of families who just avoid the Bourbon Street scene with the kiddos. There is so much else to do around town, from more organized attractions to just soaking in the city’s rich and vibrant culture. Some attractions are opening up in stages so don’t be surprised if not every exhibit is open – there’s still plenty of fun to be had.
Exposing the kids to live music is a must. Remember that bars don’t let in the under-21 set, and since most live music happens in bars, that’s an issue. Not to worry though. Kids are welcome at Preservation Hall, the hallowed jazz venue that attracts fans from all over the world. The sets are relatively short so even the younger ones will have a great time. Street music abounds on Royal Street during the day, and street performers of all stripes busk for bucks around Jackson Square. A stroll down Frenchmen Street anytime after 5 pm or so will deliver street corner brass bands, as well as plenty of open doorways to catch some wafting tunes. Depending on the time of year, there are free concerts on Wednesdays and Thursday in Lafayette Square and Armstrong Park, all suitable for young ears.
Family attractions are plentiful on this side of Lake Pontchartrain, a world away from the excess of New Orleans. The Global Wildlife Center is the Northshore’s answer to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, an eco-friendly 900-acre predator-free animal park that offers 90-minute covered wagon tours to view the 40 species, 2700 animals in all, which live in the park. You’re likely to see giraffes, antelope, Father David deer, dromedaries and bison on your Louisiana safari, which includes feeding the curious critters from an open-air safari-like vehicle. There is so much to do for families on this side of the lake that you might want to stay over for a night or two.
Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: This is just one of the fun family excursions available across the causeway.
Beth’s expert tip: You can reserve a private jeep tour for as few as four people at $39.95 per person.
Located on the banks of the Mississippi River in the French Quarter, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas offers visitors a chance to pet stingrays, feed exotic birds, and ogle sharks in their 40,000 gallon Gulf of Mexico exhibit, which simulates ocean life under an oil rig. The colors of a Caribbean reef are featured in a walk-through tunnel, while penguins and Southern sea otters always entertain. Home to more than 10,000 aquatic animals from all over the Americas, the aquarium also offers an in-house Big Screen theater. If you have the time, for about $45 for adults and $35 for seniors or kids 2-12, you can bundle visits to the zoo, aquarium, Entergy Big Screen Theater and Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium.
Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: This aquarium does a terrific job on all levels, and it offers a wonderful respite from the summer heat on swampy days.
Beth’s expert tip: For an unforgettable experience, you can take a guided snorkeling adventure into the Aquarium’s 400,000 gallon Great Maya Reef habitat for $125.
A 16-acre haven of green located between the French Quarter and the Mississippi, Woldenberg Riverfront Park is a perfect place to unwind after a jaunt in the Quarter. There is some interesting public art, a newly redone riverside promenade, busking musicians and – they’re coming back! – festivals that offer visitors a truly unforgettable New Orleans experience. Park-goers can stroll the Moonwalk path for stunning views of the busy port, the Greater New Orleans Bridge and the Toulouse Street Wharf. Walk away from Canal Street down river and you can get all the way to the French Market. If little legs get tired the streetcar is always an option.
Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Walking with the kids along the river is a great way to have them run off steam and see the mighty Mississippi.
Beth’s expert tip: If it’s busy at Cafe Du Monde, get your beignets to-go and eat them on a bench facing the river.
Often called the heart of New Orleans, Jackson Square is full of energy and activity. The Square faces the Mississippi River and is directly across from the St. Louis Cathedral. In the shadows of the Andrew Jackson statue, erected for his illustrious performance during the Battle of New Orleans, you will find street artists painting during the day and jazz musicians by night. The gardens are great for a picnic or a leisurely stroll. This is one of the sites for the French Quarter Festival in April, where local restaurants set up stands and dish out delicious cuisine and New Orleans musicians entertain for free.
Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: No visit to New Orleans is complete without seeing Jackson Square.
Beth’s expert tip: Jackson Square is one of the best places to hear live buskers that appeal to the whole family.
The largest green space in New Orleans, City Park boasts 1,300 acres featuring outdoor art, excellent sports facilities, the New Orleans Botanical Garden and the New Orleans Museum of Art, all surrounded by picturesque lagoons and sprawling lawns. There’s a lake for paddleboat rentals, The Carousel Gardens Amusement Park with its antique, wooden Carousels Ferris Wheel, Miniature Train, Musik Express and Bumper Cars. And don’t miss Storyland, a Mother Goose-themed playground where kids can meet Three Little Pigs, Cinderella’s Pumpkin, the Cheshire Cat and Snow White. The whole family can enjoy boating, biking or picnicking under the Spanish moss-draped oak trees.
Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: This is the largest green space in the city with its own special play area for kids.
Beth’s expert tip: Don’t miss Celebration in the Oaks if you come during the holidays, a fabulous walk-through light show perfect for families.
There was much hue and cry when new operators took over this formerly free ferry in 2014, but it’s still only $2 to take this scenic ride, and kids 2 and under ride for free. Although the ride across the Mississippi only lasts five minutes, the air-conditioned ferry offers spectacular views of the New Orleans skyline, particularly striking at dusk as the city lights begin to twinkle. Upon arriving at Algiers, a quaint historic neighborhood founded in 1719, visitors can walk the tranquil, tree-shaded streets lined with charming Creole cottages and Greek Revival mansions before grabbing lunch at a local cafe or a seat outside at one of the bars along the Point.
Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: The Algiers Point/Canal Street ferry has been shuttling passengers since 1827.
Beth’s expert tip: Kids 2 and under ride free on this ferry across the Mississippi.
The New Orleans Streetcar is the preeminent mode of transportation in the Crescent City. Traveling through the middle of major streets such as St. Charles, Canal and Carrollton, the streetcar is an affordable method of transportation that allows you to soak in the sights as you move closer to your end destination. $1.25 gets you aboard, and if lucky, you’ll have a streetcar operator that will act as a pseudo tour guide, pointing out important landmarks. The streetcar itself is of historical significance to the city. It is the oldest continually operating street railway system in the entire world, moving city-goers around since the 19th century.
Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: New Orleans streetcars are an iconic symbol that not only carries tourists but also serves the students and residents of the city.
Beth’s expert tip: Remember that you’ll need exact change, $1.25, to ride the streetcar.
There are all kinds of swamp tours that explore the marshes and bayous an hour or so outside of town, but this is one of the best. Located in Slidell on the Northshore, Honey Island Swamp Tours was founded in 1982 by Dr. Paul Wagner, a wetland ecologist. Wagner and his staff lead highly informative tours of the protected Honey Island Swamp, home to spectacular wildlife including alligators, water fowl, nutria and turtles. What makes this tour different from most is the use of small boats that let you get into out of the ways spots where you aren’t chasing a large tour operator. Guides are friendly and knowledgeable – and native to South Louisiana. There’s plenty of opportunity for questions, photo opps and a deeper understanding of local wildlife and swamp ecology.
Resident and migratory wildlife include alligators, bald eagles, waterfowl, herons, egrets, ibis, owls, osprey, deer, feral hogs, nutria, raccoon, otter, beaver, mink, turtles, frogs.
Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: It’s just so much fun getting out in the swamp!
Beth’s expert tip: Two-hour tours are offered daily, year round, but you’re more likely to see gators in the warmer months.
Audubon Zoo, located in Uptown New Orleans is a great place for a family visit. Home to more than 2,000 animals, the zoo is open year round, from Tuesday through Sunday (seven days a week during the summer). Learning the eating habits of a Komodo Dragon under the Louisiana sun can get hot, so the Zoo features “Cool Zoo”, a small scale water park complete with an alligator water slide. The zoo is located across the street from Audubon Park, and adjacent to “The Fly”, a great place to relax and picnic in full view of the Mississippi River.
Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: The zoo is a green oasis of natural habitat spaces for all kinds of exotic creatures.
Beth’s expert tip: If you are visiting the zoo in the summer months with children, go ahead and buy the Cool Zoo wristbands right off the bat.
Set on a lush 8.5-acre site in City Park across from the lagoon and the expanded sculpture museum, this kid’s museum welcomes visitors with a meandering entranceway that features a storytelling shelter and a labyrinth, fog sculpture, open classrooms, a shop and a restaurant called Acorn, a Dickie Brennan & Co. Café. Interactive play areas connect the kiddos to the planet and the city with themes likeDig Into Nature, Follow That Food and Move With The River. Throughout the light-filled exhibit area, the tone is on literacy, health and wellness, environmental education, and arts and culture. In addition to the indoor galleries, the museum includes a literacy center, a parent-teacher resource center and a floating outdoor classroom moved by kid’s pedal power. Multiple gardens, kid-sized nooks and perchable window seats, graphics created by pint-sized artists and galleries filled with play equipment and books add up to a stellar family affair.
Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: The preeminent museum for the 12 and under set has a distinctly local point of view.
Beth’s expert tip: Pick up lunch at Acorn Cafe and eat outside on the verandah overlooking the lake.