Sugary beignets, swingin’ music, and street magic are just the start to a spellbinding weekend in the Crescent City.
The fun-filled French Quarter isn’t just for bachelors and bachelorettes anymore. New Orleans is a kid-friendly destination with attractions easy to reach via foot or mule-drawn carriage. Despite traveling a week after Mardi Gras, we decked ourselves out in colorful beads and sauntered down (there’s no rushing in N'awlins!) the eclectic and enchanting streets in search of “joie de vivre.” As they say in New Orleans, “Laissez les bon temps roule!” (That’s “let the good times roll” for all you New Orleans newbies.)
If you fly to New Orleans like us, give a quick wave to the large Louis Armstrong statue at the international airport, named in his honor, before hoping on a golf cart shuttle to the rental car center. It’s a 25-minute drive to the French Quarter, where we parked in a daily lot on Canal Street. It wasn’t crowded on a weekday, and it wasn’t as pricey as one may expect.
What to do & where to eat?
We walked past several shops with Mardi Gras merchandise en route to the French Quarter, and my girls were drawn to the masquerade masks. Meanwhile, my husband was preoccupied by his quest to eat lunch at Johnny’s Po-Boys (511 St. Louis St.). There are 48 po-boys (Louisiana’s version on the submarine sandwich) on the menu. Do yourself a favor and split a sandwich. You’ve got lots of walking (and dancing) to do.
Make your way to Jackson Square in front of the majestic St. Louis Cathedral, right next to a line of mule-drawn carriages offering tours of the Quarter. We wound up with a driver named Ms. Sparkles and a mule-icorn (mule + unicorn!) named Claudia. Our 30-minute ride was a hit with the kids; we skipped any seedy bits of the Quarter, thanks to Ms. Sparkles’ expert navigation. Plus, there weren’t many folks on the streets who’d had too many Hurricanes at that time of day. We passed the popular Omni Royal Orleans and heard about a ghost that tucks in guests at night! Cost: $15-20/person, negotiate before you ride.
Next hit the ever-popular Café Du Monde (800 Decatur St.) in the French Market for fresh beignets, café au lait, and hot chocolate.
KidTripster Tip: The cafe only accepts cash for dine-in services. Be prepared to wait if you want a table during peak hours. Alternatively, get your beignets and coffee to go from carry-out window, where credit cards are accepted. Find seats on benches nearby, overlooking the Mississippi River.
We needed to dance off all that beignet sugar on our shirts. Luckily, we happened upon an jazz performance in front of the cathedral. We stayed until the last trumpet sounded and were happy when a magic show took its place. When the kids were nice and quiet, we stepped inside the cathedral to take in all of its wonder. Cost: Free; donations accepted.
Where to stay?
Many hotels in New Orleans tout kid-friendly amenities and space for families, but we found a great deal for our family of four, plus my parents and another family of three via Airbnb. New Orleans is teeming with quaint guesthouses, cottages, and bed-and-breakfast places. From the comfort of our rental condo, we ordered gourmet pizza and delicious appetizers delivered from Little Vic’s (719 Toulouse St.) and called it a night.
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What to do & where to eat?
After stuffing ourselves silly the day before, we somehow woke up starving. We held our noses down a bourbon-drenched Bourbon Street and enjoyed brunch in the courtyard at The Court of Two Sisters (613 Royal St.). Serenaded by a jazz trio and surrounded by dripping fountains, the courtyard has a casual yet elegant atmosphere for families with small children. We all opted for the brunch buffet and weren’t disappointed. My youngest had three helpings of jambalaya topped off with her first taste of king cake, followed by moans of jealousy from the other children as she found a gold baby trinket inside. When the kids rushed the king cake table with fingers crossed for trinkets of their own, the servers secretly brought me prizes to stuff in their cake.
Opt for the streetcar, as you’re going to be too stuffed to walk. The Charles Street Line takes passengers on a sightseeing tour of stately mansions via uptown and through the campuses of Tulane and Loyola Universities. The Riverfront Line ventures to the Aquarium of the Americas, the shops at Canal Place, the Riverwalk Marketplace, and Harrah’s New Orleans Hotel and Casino. The Canal Street Line extends beyond downtown and ends at New Orleans City Park, where families have 1,300 acres of green space to roam, including a theme park, fishing, boating, mini-golf course, and more sugar-coated beignets.
KidTripster Tip: The Streetcar costs $1.25 each way (exact change needed). A variety of passes can be purchased in advance online.
In the evening, we headed to Daisy Duke’s Express (123 Carondelet St.) for dinner. We weren’t disappointed by the Baby Daisy Combo or the the price of just $5! Acme Oyster House (724 Iberville St.) is another great place for an early dinner out with little ones.
What to do & where to eat?
New Orleans has an incredible array of kid attractions, including the Audubon Zoo, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, and the Louisiana Children's Museum. If you are visiting in the summer, the Zoo has a recently updated Cool Zoo spray park featuring a lazy river and water slides, a great way to beat the southern heat! But if you are looking for something a little outside of the norm, check out the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, which is the largest museum in North America completely focused on insects. Here, you can learn about Louisiana’s native wildlife and get up close with critters that may even be edible! Cost: Youth (2-12) $15; Adult $20.
KidTripster Tip: If you have more time, purchase a combo ticket for the Zoo, Aquarium, Entergy Giant Screen Theatre, and Insectarium for a lower price.
The Steamboat Natchez hosts a one-of-a-kind calliope concert at 1:45 p.m. that we watched from the dock. If we had more time, we would have gone for a daytime harbor cruise that offers an optional buffet lunch, steam engine room tours, live narration, live jazz music, and awesome views of the barges making their way up and down the Mississippi. Cost for cruise only: Youth (6-12) $12.25; Adult $31.
After all of that eating in New Orleans, your children may want to hone their culinary skills. Sign up for a hands-on cooking class with Crescent City Cooks, where you’ll prepare and sample Louisiana classics like shrimp creole, seafood gumbo, and jambalaya. Cost: varies. That way, you can relive your fantastic New Orleans weekend around your table at home!
Carla Corban Kath lives in Boston with her husband and two daughters. She grew up fighting the humidity in Mississippi and has had flat hair ever since. The only thing that makes her hair stand up is spiders... and a day with no sugar.