It’s summer. The kids are out of school, spending way too much time in front of a screen. You need to plan a family vacation…soon. Why not try New Orleans?
“New Orleans? With kids?” you wonder. “Home of Bourbon Street, bottomless mimosas, and the Sazerac Cocktail? How is that a family vacation destination?”
As a native New Orleanian, former middle-school teacher, children’s book writer, mother of three, and grandmother of two, I can vouch that New Orleans is indeed a family-friendly city. With entertainment, educational, and recreational venues from Uptown to Mid-city to the French Quarter, there are a variety of activities to entertain and enrich even the most jaded child.
The Audubon Institute is a conglomerate of animal-themed activities. The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas and the Insectarium are both located on Canal Street near the French Quarter. The Audubon Zoo is Uptown on Magazine Street and boasts a Cool Zoo splash park. The Audubon Nature Center is located in New Orleans East. From ladybugs and lions to elephants and alligators, they’ve got it covered.
Speaking of alligators, a trip to Louisiana wouldn’t be complete without a swamp tour. Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve is located across the Mississippi River, and the National Park Service has a visitors center located in the French Quarter on Decatur Street. Stop in or visit online to find out all they offer.
You could spend several days in New Orleans City Park and still not see it all! This gem of an urban park, thirteen hundred acres located at the end of the streetcar line at North Carrollton Avenue, offers botanical gardens, an amusement park, a first-class sculpture garden, biking, boating, miniature golf, the New Orleans Museum of Art, birding, miles of trails beneath historic oaks and along bayous, and opening soon, the Louisiana Children’s Museum.
In the French Quarter, your options are almost unlimited. Take a carriage ride, listen to street musicians, walk in Jackson Square and Woldenberg Park, visit the St. Louis Cathedral, ride a paddle wheeler or ferry on the Mississippi River, shop at the stalls in the French Market, and listen to traditional jazz at Preservation Hall. Museums? The Louisiana State Museum incorporates The Cabildo, The Presbytere, the 1850 House, The New Orleans Jazz Museum, and Madam John’s Legacy. Children will enjoy a visit to Gallier House or the Beauregard-Keyes House to see how families of past generations lived.
Summer is the off-season for conventions and tourists, making it a good time to find special rates at hotels. It’s hot here, so I definitely recommend choosing a hotel or B and B with a swimming pool. You can relax poolside and sip the aforementioned sazerac while the kids work off excess energy in the water.
Many of the best restaurants also offer dining discounts throughout the summer. For example, Tableau, Bourbon House, and Palace Cafe offer a week-day, two-course lunch based on the previous day’s high temperature. If it was 89 degrees on Tuesday, Wednesday’s lunch will cost $8.90. Courtyard dining is great with kids. Bayona and Broussard’s both have summer specials and courtyards. Cafe Amelie, with a casual courtyard, is also dog-friendly. Breakfast or a late-night snack of beignets at Cafe Du Monde is a must on any visit to New Orleans. Eating the crisp, fried pastry mounded with powdered sugar is like biting into a sweet cloud! Snoballs, cups of shaved ice drizzled with flavored syrup, are a summertime staple.
There’s no need for a car when you visit. If you choose a hotel in the French Quarter, the CBD, or the Warehouse District, you can walk to many of the sites. If you stay Uptown or in Mid-city, streetcars are an inexpensive and fun way to get where you are going, and you’ll see some lovely homes along the way. A one-way ticket costs $1.25. One, three, and five day unlimited ride passes can be purchased online before your visit and at venues around the city. Visit the RTA website for more information. Be advised, the “R” stands for regional, not rapid. Uber, Lyft, and taxis are always available if you want a bit more speed.
Include the children in your vacation planning. Let everyone pick one “must-see” for the trip but don’t organize every minute. New Orleans is a slow-paced city. It ebbs and flows like a lazy bayou, and that’s the way you should see it. Relax and go with the flow. Sit in the shade, eat a snoball, listen to the music of a soulful sax or the tapping of dancers on the sidewalk, smell the night-blooming jasmine. Leave your schedules at home, turn off your phone, and enjoy the time with your children.