When you think of New Orleans, the term “child-friendly” probably does not come to mind. In fact, NOLA is probably right below Las Vegas on the list of places that you wouldn’t bring your kids to. Alas, I am here to tell you that you can, nay, should bring your whole family to this fine city. There is a lot more to do here than to drink on Bourbon Street. Actually, if you ask the locals, that’s the place to avoid.
I’ll admit – my first year or two living in New Orleans consisted of a lot of partying. As a Tulane undergrad immediately after Hurricane Katrina hit, my friends and I hardly ever left our campus and the surrounding uptown neighborhood bars. Every once in a blue moon some of the coeds would venture downtown to the French Quarter to bar hop or do the Hand Grenade challenge. What is the Hand Grenade challenge, you ask? It’s when you buy a famous Hand Grenade at the first Tropical Isle you come across, then drink it as you walk down Bourbon. If you finish your drink before you hit the next Tropical Isle bar, you win! And your prize is to buy another Hand Grenade and walk back the other direction and do it again. Yikes.
Fast forward ten years, and here I am as a mom who hasn’t had an alcoholic beverage in almost two years. Needless to say, things have changed. Since getting pregnant, I started seeing this city with fresh eyes wearing kiddy shades. When my wonderful nieces came down for my baby shower, I really got into full kid-friendly tourist mode. And here are my top picks for what to do with your kids on vacation in New Orleans.
Rent Your Baby Gear
Did you know you can rent baby gear in many cities? Just the thought of hauling a stroller, a pack-n-play, and more turns me off of traveling with a baby. Nowadays there are prices involved with every piece of luggage you check, and/or you have to figure out how to cram it all in the car. Instead, pay a moderate fee to borrow the supplies you need after you arrive. Less hassle! One company that has rental gear here in New Orleans is Rockabye Baby Rentals.
Stay Somewhere with a Pool
New Orleans has a tropical climate, so it’s hot here most of the year. Because of that, many of the hotels have pools. Swimming is a fun vacation activity for the whole family, so why not plan for some pool time?
Picnic in the Park
We have beautiful parks here in New Orleans. Take the streetcar uptown to Audubon Park. Your little ones will love feeling the breeze through the open windows of the streetcar, while you’ll all enjoy the view of giant oak trees and beautiful southern mansions lining the thoroughfare. If you ride the streetcar just a few blocks past the park, you’ll find the newly opened uptown location of the world famous Willy Mae’s. The downtown location usually has lines around the block, but the new location hasn’t picked up such a crowd yet. Shhh don’t tell anyone! You can eat in or get take out of their highly lauded fried chicken. I suggest you bring some chicken and sides back down to Audubon Park and have a picnic. Your kids will enjoy watching all of the funny ducks playing in the water, the ample room to run around, and the playground. You will enjoy the fried chicken plus all of the above kid activities.
Palmer Park Craft Fair
Since you’re already uptown, take the streetcar just a bit further to the end of the line at Carrollton and Claiborne Avenues. When you get off, you’ll find a smaller park called Palmer Park. There is another playground here, but the best time to come is on the last Saturday of each month. If your visit falls at that time, you will catch the monthly craft fair. There are booths with local artisan’s wares – a great place to pick up a New Orleans souvenir – and live music and good food.
Go to the Zoo and the Cool Zoo
The Audubon Zoo is also located uptown, across the street from Audubon Park on the Magazine Street side. It’s a great zoo – we got married there! There are elephants, monkeys, alligators, and much more. During the summer, the childrens’ water park called Cool Zoo is also open inside the zoo. It’s a great way to cool off and have fun during the hotter months of the year.
Go to the Aquarium and Insectarium
Along with the zoo, the Audubon Institute boasts an aquarium and an insectarium. Both of these are located downtown. One is on the riverfront and one is on Canal Street. I can personally attest to the aquarium being the perfect outing for a baby. Our baby boy stares in awe at the colorful fish when we visit. It’s a lot of fun.
Ride the Rides at Carousel Gardens
City Park is just as big as New York City’s Central Park, and is filled with as many wonders. One of those is the children’s amusement park, Carousel Gardens. There is a beautiful zoo-themed carousel, a ferris wheel, a small roller coaster, and many more child-sized rides. There is also a train that you can take around the park. During Christmas, everything is lit up in spectacular light displays as part of Celebration in the Oaks. You should definitely check that out if you’re here around the holidays. There are other events here during the year as well, such as the Easter egg hunt in the spring.
Let Your Imaginations Run Free at Storybook Land
Oh my gosh, ya’ll. I loooove Storybook Land. This is also inside City Park, adjacent to the Carousel Gardens amusement park area. This little park is filled with life-size figurines and playsets from fairy tales and other well-known stories. There is the woman who lived in the shoe, the three little pigs, and much more for your toddlers to play in. I wish I had been brought her when I was a kid – it’s like heaven for an imaginative little one!
Play a Rousing Round of Putt Putt Golf
Yes, more City Park activities. As of a few years ago, there is now a Putt Putt Golf course in City Park. Fun for all!
More City Park extravaganza! Botanical gardens may seem too boring and adult for children, but this is a great place to let your kids explore and walk/run their energy out. The model train set is definitely intriguing to kids, especially when they can go in and see the conductor working on the train pieces in his little train station house. And many different cultural events are hosted within the garden, such as an Asian exhibit that we saw last year.
Have a Latte while your children browse the French bookstore & toy store on Magazine Street
Transport yourself to France, a big influencer on NOLA culture, by heading to The French Library (www.thefrenchlibrary.com). This beautiful children’s bookstore is filled with French language picture books. There are also some English favorites — Eloise is one of my absolute favorites dahhling — and a learning and play area for children where different classes and workshops are held. Upstairs, you’ll also find an outpost of a local coffee company, so you parents can enjoy a latte or other beverage while your children browse.
Skip the Cafe du Monde Lines and Have Your Beignets at the Riverwalk Mall
Yes, Cafe du Monde is a must-see for tourists in New Orleans. However, you don’t need to wait in the ridiculous line at the main shop in the French Quarter. If you head to the river and into the Riverwalk Mall, you’ll find a Cafe du Monde inside. The lines are shorter here, but you’ll enjoy the same delicious pastries and coffee. Plus, you just have to go out the door and you’ll have a wonderful view of the Crescent City Connection bridge over the Mississippi River. There is plenty of space on this boardwalk for your kids to run around and have powdered sugar wars.
Have Lunch at the Lake
Even though I was born in New Orleans and came here for two semesters at Tulane, I had no clue there was a lakefront area until I moved back as an adult. Where had this been all my life? Pack a picnic from the nearby Robert’s grocery store and eat lunch looking at the sailboats on the lake. On weekends, the waterfront is more lively and you will probably see lots of people showing off their cool cars. If you’ve got some extra dough to spend, you can also eat at one of the restaurants on the water such as Landry’s.
While you’re downtown, find the big blue doors on Julia Street and go inside for a great Children’s Museum experience. I worked here for a while, so I can attest to the joy that is inside. There are lots of great S.T.E.M. exhibits, plus the fan favorite, Little Winn Dixie, where kids shop for groceries ( or “make groceries” as we say around here) with their own child-sized shopping carts.
Of course, your whole family will enjoy all the sights, sounds, and tastes of the French Quarter as well. Just keep those kiddies off of Bourbon Street.