New Orleans is more than just Bourbon Street — here’s what to see and do as a family

Feb 18, 2020

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New Orleans may have a reputation as a hedonistic party city but it also has family activities as colorful and varied as a string of Mardi Gras beads.

There’s a new museum for kids and another all about voodoo. There are riverboats and bright red trolley cars, a storybook theme park and a century-old merry-go-round. It’s enough to make your head spin. And there’s kid-friendly food, parks, zoos and music everywhere. As local residents know, all of that combines to make it a family-friendly city. 

Even Mardi Gras is kid-friendly, with daytime parades and festivities.

The city’s new airport makes it easy to get to, so here are 10 reasons why you should make The Big Easy your next family trip:

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It has a new world-class children’s museum

The incredible Louisiana Children’s Museum recently moved from a small space in the city’s Warehouse District to a massive complex set on 8.5 acres in City Park. The state-of-the-art museum focuses on early childhood development for children up to 8 years old. It’s filled with interactive activities highlighting local culture, like a music room loaded with instruments; a food section focusing on local delicacies like crawfish and gumbo, and a literacy center.

Louisiana Children's Museum (Photo courtesy of Visit New Orleans)
Louisiana Children’s Museum. (Photo courtesy of Visit New Orleans)

The museum has an outdoor space with decks, bridges, sensory and edible gardens, a floating classroom and interpretive wetlands. This being New Orleans, even the food at the Children’s Museum is superlative. The museum partnered with the local favorite Dickie Brennan restaurant group to open Acorn (a Dickie Brennan & Co. Café) at the museum. It has child-size booths and a menu kids (and parents) will enjoy. You can even decorate your own purple, green and gold King Cakes at Mardi Gras ($7 each).

General admission museum tickets are $14 per person for adults and children 12+ months; $12 for seniors and active military. 

Related: 7 reasons to love New Orleans

There are animals galore

Audubon Park is quintessentially Southern with massive oak trees and winding paths. Tucked inside the park is the Audubon Zoo, which debuted a new African lion exhibit last spring. There are also penguins and sea otters to see at the Audubon Aquarium near the French Quarter. Nearby, in the old U.S. Customs House, is the Audubon Butterfly Garden & Insectarium, North America’s largest museum devoted to insects. Or, go further afield on a swamp airboat tour and see alligators and other creatures in their natural habitat. Zoo tickets cost $22.95 for adults; $17.95 for seniors 65+ and kids ages 2-12, if purchased in advance online. Aquarium tickets are $27.95 per adult; $22.95 for seniors and kids. Prices are a few dollars higher when buying onsite. A dual zoo/aquarium ticket is available for $44.95 for adults; $34.95 for seniors and kids.

There are plenty of animals to see in New Orleans. (Photo courtesy of Visit New Orleans)
There are plenty of animals to see in New Orleans. (Photo courtesy of Visit New Orleans)

You can glide down the Mississippi on a riverboat

Put an iconic Mississippi riverboat cruise on your New Orleans list. You can book a cruise on the Natchez, the only authentic steamboat in the city, and check out the steam engine room. The cruise features live jazz onboard. Another boat, the Louis Armstrong, recently joined the Creole Queen doing paddlewheel riverboat tours on the river. For a shorter ride, hop on the Canal Street Ferry for a 10-minute ride for $2.

Enjoy a Mississippi River cruise. (Photo courtesy of Visit New Orleans)
Enjoy a Mississippi River cruise. (Photo courtesy of Visit New Orleans)

Related: The 7 most exciting new river cruise ships of 2020

Tell your kids about voodoo lore

The Crescent City has a long tradition of voodoo. Older kids will love discovering its history and culture. Head to the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum ($8 for adults 13–64; $6 for seniors 65+ and kids 12 and under) to explore historic voodoo relics, paintings and sculptures. You can schedule a walking tour (starting at $32 per person) to the St. Louis Cemetery and the tomb of Marie Laveau, the famous 19th-century voodoo priestess, or book a psychic reading, consultation, or find out about gris-gris (bags containing various items to ward off evil or bring luck).

Learn about voodoo with your kids. (Photo courtesy of Visit New Orleans)

Related: 10 things no one tells you about New Orleans

You can celebrate Mardi Gras all year long

Even if you’re not in town with your kids for Mardi Gras’ incredible parades leading up to Fat Tuesday (families can skip Bourbon Street at night), you can still visit Mardi Gras World. This massive attraction gives you a glimpse of an operating workshop that has been creating parade floats since 1947. This is a great place to learn about authentic Mardi Gras traditions while seeing incredible works of art in the form of floats and costumes. Bonus: Every tour ends with a slice of King Cake, which is actually hard to find if you’re not in the city during Mardi Gras season. Tickets are $22 for adults; $17 for seniors, and $14 for children.

Tour Mardi Gras World. (Photo courtesy of Visit New Orleans)
Tour Mardi Gras World. (Photo courtesy of Visit New Orleans)

The Mardi Gras Museum of Costumes and Culture is another temple to the tradition and is brimming with amazing costumes, including some that kids (and their parents — you know you want to) can try on. Admission is $12 for adults and $10 for seniors and students.

Related: A beginner’s guide to celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans

You ride a historic streetcar instead of a subway

Kids will get a kick out of riding a streetcar down the city’s wide tree-lined avenues. It’s a great way to tour the city ($1.25 a ride). New Orleans public transit, called the RTA, operates four streetcar lines throughout the city: The St. Charles line (ideal for mansion gawking in the beautiful Garden District); the Canal Street line (a great way to get to City Park); the Riverfront line (currently being served by the Canal Street line because of construction), and the Rampart line.

Related: The first-timer’s guide to New Orleans: Everything you need to eat, see and do

Take a ride on an authentic New Orleans streetcar. (Photo courtesy of Visit New Orleans)
Take a ride on an authentic New Orleans streetcar. (Photo courtesy of Visit New Orleans)

The city makes learning history fun

It’s almost impossible not to learn something simply by walking through the city. The French Quartour Kids tours (from $20 per person) puts on creative and fun themed tours for kids. Most popular is the Spooky Tour, which will have kids ghost hunting through the French Quarter. The Creole Kids tours take little ones back to the 1830s, during the city’s Golden Era. There’s also a special music tour for teens and a haunted twilight tour for those who are brave enough.

There are special tours designed just for kids. (Photo courtesy of Visit New Orleans)
There are special tours designed just for kids. (Photo courtesy of Visit New Orleans)

Another way to learn about the history of the city is at the Historic New Orleans Train Garden, which is hidden inside the Botanical Garden in City Park ($8 for adults; $4 for kids ages 3-12, free under 3). The Train Garden features typical New Orleans homes and buildings made with botanical materials, and small replicas of streetcars like those that traveled the city in the late 1800s. Visitors follow along the path representing the water surrounding the city and make stops along the track for brief histories of the neighborhoods.

Because there’s a 106-year-old carousel and a storybook theme park in City Park

In addition to the Children’s Museum and the Botanical Gardens, City Park is also home to a historic carousel that’s more than 100 years old, along with a small amusement park with 15 other rides (The Hines Carousel Gardens Amusement Park).

City Park Carousel (Photo courtesy of Visit New Orleans)
See the “Flying Horses” at the City Park Hines Carousel. (Photo courtesy of Visit New Orleans)

City Park also has Storyland, which has 20 storybook and fairytale character sculptures amid an adorable themed playground; City Putt miniature golf, and the New Orleans Museum of Art and its sculpture garden. (Pricing for Carousel Gardens Amusement Park and Storyland is $5 per person. Kids 36 inches and under get in for free. You can pay $18 per person for unlimited rides, or $4 per ride.)

There is amazing, kid-friendly food

New Orleans is known as an incredible food destination, thanks to its mashup of Creole, Cajun and international fare. Reserve a table at Brennan’s for a massive brunch spread or splurge on dinner at Commander’s Palace, where you can try New Orleans classics like crawfish étouffée, gumbo, jambalaya, and red beans and rice.

Josephine Estelle is a hip Italian spot inside the Ace Hotel that has a kid’s menu. Molly’s Rise and Shine is filled with vintage toys and posters and offers fun breakfast options.

Related: Every tourist in New Orleans makes these 11 mistakes

Dessert is exciting in this city: Get a classic beignet at Café du Monde (grown-ups should indulge in the iced coffee) and stop by any of the candy shops in the French Quarter to try pralines. On a hot day, nothing beats a snowball — a mound of shaved ice topped with fruit-flavored syrups. Hansen’s Sno-Bliz has been serving up these homemade treats since 1939.

Enjoy a snack at the  Cafe du Monde. (Photo courtesy of Visit New Orleans)

The music is incredible

Live music in New Orleans is everywhere and although the city has plenty of adult clubs and jazz joints, it also has several that are perfect for families. The legendary Preservation Hall in the French Quarter has been going strong with its famous house jazz band since 1961. Shows start at 5 p.m. during the week and at 1 p.m. on weekends, and last about 45 minutes. Over on Frenchman Street, which is lined with jazz clubs, the Maison allows kids at its early show, which starts at 4 p.m. during the week and for brunch at 1 p.m. on weekends. (Tickets are $40 to $50 per person.)

Listen to some music at Preservation Hall. (Photo courtesy of Visit New Orleans)

Bottom line

There is a ton to do in New Orleans when you’re traveling with kids. If we’ve piqued your interest in a family vacation to The Big Easy, there are plenty of points-friendly hotels to book:

If you have Marriott Bonvoy points, the Fairfield Inn & Suites New Orleans Downtown/French Quarter or the new Residence Inn New Orleans French Quarter Area/Central Business District are both good options starting at 30,000 points per night on off-peak dates. Unfortunately, the Fairfield Inn moves up to a Category 6 property on March 4 and will then cost 40k per night (off-peak).

The Moxy New Orleans Downtown/French Quarter and SpringHill Suites New Orleans Downtown/Convention Center both start at 20,000 points per night (off-peak). For 40,000 points per night (off-peak), you can book a room at The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans or the JW Marriott New Orleans. Note that The Ritz-Carlton moves up to a Category 7 hotels on March 4 and will then cost 50k points per night (off-peak).

For Hyatt loyalists, The Eliza Jane is just 15,000 points per night. Or, for 12,000 points per night, you can book the Hyatt House New Orleans Downtown or the Hyatt Regency New Orleans.

Hilton also has plenty of options, including the splashy Roosevelt New Orleans, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel (46,000 points) and the new Higgins Hotel New Orleans, Curio Collection by Hilton (40,000 points). Homewood Suites by Hilton New Orleans French Quarter is a more reasonable 28,000 points per night.

For IHG Rewards Club members, the InterContinental New Orleans and Crowne Plaza New Orleans French Quarter are 50,000 points per night but the Holiday Inn Express New Orleans – St. Charles is just 20,000 points per night and the more centrally located Holiday Inn Express New Orleans Downtown – French Quarter Area is 25,000 points per night and recently added to the rewards program is the more residential Holiday Inn Club Vacations New Orleans Resort, which rings in at 35,000 points per night.

Featured image by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

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