Photos by Abby Altom
Family friendly……New Orleans? That’s right. There is a whole lot going on in this city during the daylight hours families can appreciate and enjoy. New Orleans (or NOLA, as you see it referred to often), is a city full of rich history, colorful traditions, a culture all its own, and cuisine that keeps calling you back for another visit. If nightlife is what you’re into, then you probably already know all you need to about this unique city. If you’re like us, you’re drawn to this southern gem for other reasons. We decided to take a drive and spend a few days with our children showing them the family-friendly side of the Crescent City (and share our choices with you as well).
Once a military plaza, this historic park was renamed for Andrew Jackson following the Battle of New Orleans. In the center of the park is a statue of Jackson which was erected in 1856. On the north side of the square is St. Louis Cathedral. The current building dates to 1789, but was expanded and largely rebuilt in 1850. The square is a hive of activity, surrounded by museums and shops, and frequented by vendors and street performers. On the south side of the square, you can board a horse-drawn carriage for a tour of the French Quarter, complete with historic narrative. Across the street is the famous Café du Monde, open 24 hours a day and known for its beignets and chicory coffee, served there continuously since the Civil War days.
Inside the massive warehouse on the Mississippi River, skilled artists, designers, and builders create the elaborate floats that travel the streets of New Orleans during the weeks of the annual Mardi Gras celebration. The 120,000-square foot warehouse is also the home of scores of parade floats and Mardi Gras float sculptures from the past.
Visitors see craftsmen at work on every aspect of creating the awesome floats, from design and construction to painting the final, detailed works of art. Tour guides also give great information on the colorful history and traditions of Carnival. Mardi Gras World completes approximately 500 floats every year, and floats built here appear in parades all over the world. And, even if you’ve never been to New Orleans or watched parades, you’ve probably seen their work—the Chick-fil-A® cows on billboards across the United States were built at Mardi Gras World.
Children and adults alike will enjoy a ride aboard the Steamboat Natchez. It’s not hard to find, either—the steam calliope beckons with tunes which can be heard all around the quarter. Enjoy a two hour cruise while listening to live jazz music and enjoying the views along the mighty Mississippi River. Check out the decks and the engine room to see how the paddle wheeler works, and even enjoy a meal during a dinner cruise if you desire. The river calls!
This isn’t just a war museum—it’s THE official WWII museum of the United States, as designated by Congress. This is not to be missed! TripAdvisor named the museum the #1 attraction in New Orleans, the #4 museum in the United States, and the #11 museum in the world. Located in downtown New Orleans on a six-acre campus, the Museum features immersive exhibits, state-of-the-art multimedia experiences, and an expansive collection of artifacts and first-person oral histories to take visitors inside the story of the war: why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today. The biggest building on the Museum’s campus is The U.S. Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center, which boasts an incomparable collection of wartime bombers and aircrafts. It is also home to the USS Tang, a remarkable interactive submarine experience.
This stop was not a planned event on our itinerary—we came across it during our horse-drawn carriage tour, and our two young adults thought this sounded like fun! Located in a renovated molasses warehouse built in the early 1800s in the heart of the French Quarter, classes are held here seven days a week. Cooking classes include group demonstrations or hands-on and are taught by local chefs trained in the traditions of Cajun and Creole cuisine. The kids had fun learning their way around gumbo, étouffée, bread pudding, and pralines! They definitely picked up some tips on making a roux and using the “Cajun Trinity” (onion, bell pepper, and celery). Even if you don’t take the class, there’s a full size general store here, too—loaded with cooking supplies, recipe books, and yummy delights.
The home of world-famous TABASCO® Sauce, Avery Island, Louisiana, lies about 140 miles west of New Orleans. Surrounded by swamps and marshes, Avery Island—one of five salt dome islands rising above the flat Louisiana Gulf Coast—is a beautiful place where the pepper fields grow, the factory hums, and the McIlhenny family and their employees continue to live and work as they have for generations. Tour the visitor center and the pepper sauce factory, then visit the 170-acre Jungle Gardens and see, in season, a variety of azaleas, camellias and bamboo. There are thousands of snowy egrets that nest on the island each spring on specially built, pier-like structures in a pond nicknamed “Bird City.” We also checked out the TABASCO Country Store®, where we found a wide array of products and souvenirs for sale, plus samples of the whole product line. We stocked up on our favorites for both home and gifts!
Dining is a major part of any New Orleans culture experience, and our visit was no exception. There are many choices from high-end restaurants (with a fancy dress code to match) to more casual, family-friendly eateries. On this trip, we chose the latter since we had kids in tow, one of which was a teenage boy who can put away the groceries! One of our favorite stops was The Court of Two Sisters, a restaurant in an 1832 structure with a beautiful, open-air courtyard. The daily Jazz Brunch buffet (9:00 am to 3:00 pm) is a fantastic way to sample local fare to find out your favorites. Our kids would never have tried turtle soup and Eggs Benedict if it were not for the buffet style dining option.
What do you get when you cross a Cajun cook, who spent time in Europe while in the military, then trained in the Landry’s restaurants? Mulate’s, known as the original Cajun restaurant, famous for preserving and celebrating the food, music, and culture found in the small towns and along the bayous of south Louisiana. Getting inspiration from the biergartens (beer gardens) of Germany, this venue features a dance floor, plenty of Zydeco, and (of course) great Cajun food offerings.
Where do we go when we visit New Orleans and just want great food? For us, it’s The Gumbo Shop in the French Quarter. Casual atmosphere and dining experience (and award-winning gumbo), and we’ve never eaten any dish there that wasn’t great.
Whether you have a week or just a few days, New Orleans really is a great destination for the entire family. In addition to the places mentioned above, the city is also home to the Audubon Zoo, consistently ranked as one of the nation’s best; the Audubon Aquarium, complete with more than 15,000 different sea creatures; and the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium for the adventurous family who loves nature (along with anything that crawls, flies or buzzes).
The sounds of jazz, the sight of street performers, the smell of Cajun cooking, the taste of hot beignets and coffee, the feel of a horse-drawn carriage being pulled through the quarter—NOLA is a city that utilizes all your senses and always leaves you anxious for your next visit, when you get the opportunity to “laissez les bon temps roulez”—Let the good times roll!