My family has taken many trips to New Orleans over the years, and my kids have grown to love the city as much as I do. While most people have an image of New Orleans as a place of debauchery, beads, and drunkenness, the city is so much more than Bourbon Street. If you are planning on taking a trip to New Orleans with the family, and I highly recommend you do, here are my top things to do with kids in New Orleans (in no particular order).
Audubon Aquarium of the Americas
There’s a lot to see at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. Kids will enjoy getting up close and personal with the touch pool, as well as walking through a glass tunnel aquarium in which the fish swim all around you. A flying aviary is also a cool site and kids who are particularly still may even experience the parakeets landing on their arms and hands. Just watch your step and shoulders though. Other exhibits include otters, sharks, and, in true Louisiana style, an alligator experience. We’ve been to lots of aquariums all over the United States and this is one of the best for younger kids.
#1 Canal St
Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 10am to 5pm
Kids (2-12): $16.00
Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium
The kids and I stopped in the Audubon Insectarium while trying to kill time waiting for my wife to finish up a meeting. While we knew nothing about the place before we entered, it quickly became one of my family’s favorite stops. Children of all ages will enjoy being surrounded by butterflies and learning all about them in the butterfly exhibit. My children’s favorite part of the museum was being able to see the world through the eyes of a bug; everything in the exhibit is in scale proportion to an insect’s world.
423 Canal St
Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 10am to 5pm
Kids (2-12): 12.00
If you find yourself feeling cramped after your long travels or feeling claustrophobic inside of a hotel room, head over to New Orleans City Park. Since it’s a bit of trek from the French Quarter, consider getting there as part of the fun. Take the streetcar up Canal Street Streetcar (City Park) to the end of the line. If you happen to take the Canal Street Streetcar (Cemeteries) by accident, just walk down City Park Avenue to the park. On the way, you’ll pass Greenwood and Cyprus Hills Cemetery, as well as Delgado Community College.
Once in the park, you’ll find yourself in the midst of a beautiful city oasis, complete with lakes, rambling trails, a huge stand of live oaks that are excellent for climbing, and the New Orleans Botanical Garden and Museum of Art and Sculpture Garden, among other attractions. The sculpture garden, with over 60 amazing sculptures, is especially fun for kids to explore. You could spend an entire day in the park.
Carousel Gardens Amusement Park and Storyland
Also within City Park are two other gems for families, the Carousel Gardens Amusement Park and Storyland, which sit next to each other. Although Storyland is showing its age, we still love it. From the Three Little Pigs, to Jack and Jill and Peter Pan, children can become part of the story while playing on life-size sculptures pulled from the pages of their favorite fairy tales. And of course what would Storyland be without story time? It is a great place for the kids to run and reenact the old tales.
Carousel Gardens Amusement Park is an old fashioned amusement park that dates back over a hundred years. There’s a wide variety of rides for kids of all ages, such as a Ferris wheel, spinning rides, small coasters, and of course a carousel with hand-carved flying horses. We especially enjoy the train ride that winds through City Park.
Carousel Gardens – $3 per person/per ride
Storyland – $3 per person
The French Quarter is iconic New Orleans, and to truly enjoy its spirit, stroll the streets in early evening. Pick up masks for the kids at any drugstore on Canal Street, and let the children dance to music of the street musicians who come out as the sun sets. Find a restaurant serving po-boys, and have an early dinner, or visit Remoulade, the informal and family-friendly sister restaurant of the famous Arnaud’s. But stay away from Bourbon Street as night falls, unless you want your kids to have an education about what college students do while away from their parents.
Located in historic Jackson Square in the French Quarter, The Cabildo and The Arsenal are two museums that stand side by side in the midst of bands, artists, and street performers. You are not going to find too many people that sing the praises of these places, by I highly recommend spending some time there, especially if your kids are history buffs, like mine. They’ll enjoy learning about the history of New Orleans and seeing the displays of weaponry. I visited both places on my first trip to New Orleans and have returned with each trip. I always tell first time visitors that if they want to get a quick history lesson on New Orleans, then this should be a stop. The museums also contain local art.
600 St. Peter St
The Cabildo: Hours – Tuesday – Sunday 10 am – 4:30 pm
Adults – $6 Children under 12- free
The Arsenal: Hours – Tuesday – Sunday 10 am – 4:30 pm
Adults: $6 Children under 12 –free
The Café du Monde is my only must see (or eat) restaurant. You’ll find a lot of places that say they have the best jambalaya or the best po boys, but without a doubt in anyone’s mind, Café du Monde has the best beignets. Enjoying a beignet (fried dough heaped with powdered sugar) while drinking a cup of café au lait (chicory coffee with scalded milk) is a New Orleans highlight. Relax and enjoy the music (there’s always a busker outside) as you eat an unmatchable treat. And remember, if you enjoy the music (or any street performance for that matter) or snap a picture of a performer, show your love with a tip.
If you don’t want to wait for a table, get to the café early (before 8:00 a.m. on the weekends). But even if there is a line, don’t be deterred because the beignets are worth the wait and the line moves quickly. Another option is to use the take-out window and then walk to Woldenberg Park, which sits along the Mississippi River. Enjoy your café au lait and sugared dough while gazing at the Steamboat Natchez and the loaded barges sailing up and down the river.
Café du Monde only takes cash and a large cup of coffee and order of beignets will run around $6.50.
800 Decatur Street
Open 24 hours a day
After you are done visiting Café du Monde, walk through the French Market for some great souvenirs and keepsakes. The French Market is also a great place to pick up delicious pralines, a concoction of sugared nuts for which the city is known.
Away from the French Quarter is the National World War II Museum. I have been to the National World War II Museum a few times now and am captivated each time I go. Floor after floor is packed with artifacts, military vehicles, displays, and lessons from the war. Some of the imagery might be too intense or scary for young children, so parents will need to walk side by side with their children and censor as necessary.
One of my favorite components of the museum is the WWII veterans who walk through the museum and are stationed at different points within the museum. My grandfather fought in the war but has passed on. Having my children be able to discuss the time period with these great men is a wonderful opportunity for them and me.
945 Magazine Street
Kids (K-12th grade): $13.00
Hours: Open 7 days a week 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
If you didn’t take the streetcar to City Park, but still want to take a ride just for the fun of it, take the St. Charles streetcar to the Garden District. Relax and take it all in as the streetcar passes magnificent mansions at a leisurely pace. This is a perfect low-key afternoon activity if your kids are tired from walking and playing all morning.
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