You might not think kids and New Orleans if you haven't been here before - or if your experience is limited to the adult scene rife with strip clubs and drunks on Bourbon Street. But New Orleans is a city of families who just avoid the Bourbon Street scene with the kiddos. There is so much else to do around town, from more organized attractions to just soaking in the city's rich and vibrant culture.
Exposing the kids to live music is a must. Remember that bars don’t let in the under-21 set, and since most live music happens in bars, that’s an issue. Not to worry though. Kids are welcome at Preservation Hall, the hallowed jazz venue that attracts fans from all over the world. The sets are relatively short, so even the younger ones will have a great time. Street music abounds on Royal Street during the day, and street performers of all ilks busk for bucks around Jackson Square. A stroll down Frenchmen Street anytime after 5 pm or so will deliver street corner brass bands, as well as plenty of open doorways to catch some wafting tunes. Depending on the time of year, there are free concerts on Wednesdays and Thursday in Lafayette Square and Armstrong Park, all suitable for young ears.
Family attractions are plentiful on this side of Lake Pontchartrain, a world away from the excess of New Orleans. The Global Wildlife Center is the Northshore's answer to Disney's Animal Kingdom, an eco-friendly 900-acre predator-free animal park that offers 90-minute covered wagon tours to view the 40 species, 2700 animals in all, which live in the park. You're likely to see giraffes, antelope, Father David deer, dromedaries and bison on your Louisiana safari, which includes feeding the curious critters from an open air safari-like vehicle. There is so much to do for families on this side of the lake that you might want to stay over for a night or two.
Located on the banks of the Mississippi River in the French Quarter, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas offers visitors a chance to pet sting rays, feed exotic birds, and ogle sharks in their 40,000 gallon Gulf of Mexico exhibit, which simulates ocean life under an oil rig. The colors of a Caribbean reef are featured in a walk-through tunnel, while penguins and Southern sea otters always entertain. Home to more than 10,000 aquatic animals from all over the Americas, the aquarium also offers an in-house IMAX theater. If you have the time,for about $40 for adults and $27.50 for seniors or kids 2-12, you can bundle visits to the zoo, aquarium IMAX Theatre and Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium. .
A 16-acre haven of green located between the French Quarter and the Mississippi, Woldenberg Riverfront Park is a perfect place to unwind after a jaunt in the Quarter. There is some interesting public art, a riverside promenade, busking musicians and festivals that offer visitors a truly unforgettable New Orleans experience. Park goers can stroll the Moonwalk path for stunning views of the busy port, the Greater New Orleans Bridge and the Toulouse Street Wharf, as well. There are no shortage of characters and pan handlers as well, something you'll see everywhere in the city. If your kids aren't used to this aspect of city living, you might want to address it in advance.
Often called the heart of New Orleans, Jackson Square is full of energy and activity. The Square faces the Mississippi River and is directly across from the St. Louis Cathedral. In the shadows of the Andrew Jackson statue, erected for his illustrious performance during the Battle of New Orleans, you will find street artists painting during the day and jazz musicians by night. The gardens are great for a picnic or a leisurely stroll. This is one of the sites for the French Quarter Festival in April, where local restaurants set up stands and dish out delicious cuisine and New Orleans musicians entertain for free.
The largest green space in New Orleans, City Park boasts 1,300 acres featuring outdoor art, excellent sports facilities, the New Orleans Botanical Garden and the New Orleans Museum of Art, all surrounded by picturesque lagoons and sprawling lawns. There's a lake for paddleboat rentals, The Carousel Gardens Amusement Park with its antique, wooden Carousels Ferris Wheel, miniature Train, Musik Express and Bumper Cars. And don't miss Storyland, a Mother Goose themed playground where kids can meet Three Little Pigs, Cinderella's Pumpkin, the Cheshire Cat and Snow White. The whole family can enjoy boating, biking or picnicking under the Spanish moss-draped oak trees.
There was much hue and cry when new operators took over this formerly free ferry in 2014, but it's still only $2 to take this scenic ride, and kids ride for free. Although the ride across the Mississippi only lasts five minutes, the air-conditioned ferry offers spectacular views of the New Orleans skyline, particularly striking at dusk as the city lights begin to twinkle. Upon arriving at Algiers, a quaint historic neighborhood founded in 1719, visitors can walk the tranquil, tree-shaded streets lined with charming Creole cottages and Greek Revival mansions before grabbing lunch at a local cafe or a seat outside at one of the bars along the Point.
The New Orleans Streetcar is the preeminent mode of transportation in the Crescent City. Traveling through the middle of major streets such as St. Charles, Canal and Carrollton, the streetcar is an affordable method of transportation that allows you to soak in the sights as you move closer to your end destination. $1.25 gets you aboard, and if lucky, you'll have a street car operator that will act as a pseudo tour guide, pointing out important landmarks. The streetcar itself is of historical significance to the city. It is the oldest continually operating street railway system in the entire world, moving city-goers around since the 19th century.
The Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium is located inside the U.S. Custom House on Canal Street. It is the largest North American museum dedicated to insects. Adults and children alike will enjoy learning about the insect's contributions the the earth's diversity - although what giant roaches do for the world is still up for discussion. The Butterflies in Flight exhibit recreates a Japanese-inspired garden with free flying butterflies of various species. You won't want to miss the bug hall of fame – don't you want to see the largest cockroach in the world? And don't miss the gift shop, where the kids can buy buggy snacks for their pals back home. GROSS!
Audubon Zoo, located in Uptown New Orleans is a great place for a family visit. Home to over 2,000 animals, the zoo is open year round, from Tuesday through Sunday (seven days a week during the summer). Learning the eating habits of a Komodo Dragon under the Louisiana sun can get hot, so the Zoo features "Cool Zoo", a small scale water park complete with an alligator water slide. The zoo is located across the street from Audubon Park, and adjacent to "The Fly", a great place to relax and picnic in full view of the Mississippi River.
Hands on learning equals hands on fun at this spunky children's museum, where kids are encouraged to discover a world of wonder throughout 30,000 sq. ft. of learn-by-doing exhibits. Head upstairs where role-playing rules, at the Little Winn Dixie a grocery store complete with dairy cases and cashiers, a Kids' Cafe for budding chefs-to-be, an optical shop, and an art studio for creating. Whether they are learning what bones they use to ride a bike or loading up a cargo ship in the Little Port of New Orleans exhibit, children take an active role in their own learning. This museum is all kinds of fun, and geared to children from toddlers to age 12.