Food tours, live jazz, swamp excursions, and beignets on every corner
While many make their way to New Orleans for the annual Mardi Gras festivities or nights on Bourbon Street, I recently spent an extended weekend exploring the French Quarter and beyond with my tween and found it to be a great option for families. The food scene cannot be beat and there’s so much to do from a newly renovated aquarium to nearby swamp tours to live jazz performances. We’ve planned your trip for you so follow along and get ready to make your way to NOLA!
Things to Do in New Orleans with Kids
1. Visit the newly renovated Audubon Aquarium and Insectarium.
Plan to spend a few hours visiting these spots located right along the Mississippi River. They recently reopened after undergoing extensive renovations and kids will get a kick out of the Audubon Aquarium’s touch pool where they can get up close to sting rays. The African penguins are just the entertainment you need to keep the kids engaged. Discover the wetlands of the bayou and find out what animals make it their home.
Then head next door to the Audubon Insectarium where all the creepy, crawly creatures are on display. Touch stations welcome the brave to learn about beetles, larvae, and more. Our favorite spot was Bug Appétit where you can try out ranch or barbecue-flavored crickets along with other bug treats. The immersive butterfly garden was a real treat with these gorgeous creatures surrounding you as you walk through the exhibit.
2. Immerse yourself in art at JAMNOLA.
There’s so much art on display in New Orleans from street art covering the buildings to artists selling their creations around Jackson Square. JAMNOLA celebrates this creative spirit by immersing you in 17 art exhibits where you can see how a Gatorade bottle can be turned into a lamp and so much more. Kids will love climbing inside a crab pot to be cooked along with the crawdads and then checking out their reflection in the mirrored wallpaper.
After your JAMNOLA visit, walk around this neighborhood to check out the street art that adorns the buildings. We loved the nearby Bywater Brew Pub for its casual atmosphere, delicious eats, and beer selection.
3. View the city from above at Vue Orleans.
Right along the waterfront is this fun, immersive activity that your whole family will enjoy. Vue Orleans gives you a taste of New Orleans history through interactive exhibits and then sends you up to the top floor for a 360-degree view of the city down below. Kids will love trying their luck at navigating a barge through the Mississippi River in the interactive game and you can snap some great pics from the indoor and outdoor levels.
4. Learn about history at the National World War II Museum.
Not to be missed, this museum offers a multimedia look into World War II with a huge amount of artifacts and personal stories to lead the way. Kids will be amazed to stand next to tanks and view WWII airplanes from below. Be sure to get tickets for the Beyond All Boundaries 4D experience that brings personal accounts of the war to life. Kids will also enjoy The Walt Disney Studios and World War II exhibit.
5. Take in a live jazz performance at Preservation Hall.
This was our favorite activity of all when we visited New Orleans and you need to make sure you get tickets while you are there. Even those who are not necessarily jazz aficionados will enjoy listening to a traditional New Orleans jazz performance in this ultra-small venue that has been open since 1961. Shows last 45 minutes and you’ll want to line up in advance as seating is open within the section you purchased. You can even meet some of the musicians after the show!
6. Taste Creole and Cajun classics on a food tour with Tastebud Tours.
A great way to learn a little history about an area and taste some delicious eats along the way is on a food tour. We loved our Tastebuds walking tour of New Orleans where we got to learn about the history of the po’boy (and try one) as well as the correct way to pronounce “pralines.” We got tastes of muffuletta, jambalaya, gumbo, and pralines along with lots of walking through the French Quarter.
7. Visit The Presbytère to learn how the area was impacted by Hurricane Katrina.
On Jackson Square in the French Quarter, you’ll find this state museum where you can pop in and learn about Louisianna’s history. Permanent exhibits focus on Hurricane Katrina and Mardi Gras and kids will love the interactive portions.
8. Check out the parade floats at Mardi Gras World.
Even if you visit New Orleans in the off-season, you can get a taste of Mardi Gras by visiting this massive warehouse with in-progress parade floats, previously exhibited floats, and a short video that shares the history of the event. You’ll even get a sample of king cake!
9. Ride the streetcars up Canal Street.
The too cute streetcars that make their way through New Orleans are a bit of history that you’ll definitely want to check out while you are in town. Snag a “Jazzy Pass” if you think you’ll be riding a lot as it will give you a full day (or more) of unlimited travel. Bonus: there are discounts for kids!
10. Head out to the swamp on an airboat tour.
Head out of the city for this half-day excursion that will show you all the wetlands that make up the area around New Orleans. An airboat is the best way to see alligators and other critters that live in the swamps as you get to zip through canals. You can also opt for a pontoon boat tour if you prefer a slower-speed adventure. Your tour includes bus transportation along with the boat ride.
11. See what life was like in 1850.
Head to the 1850 House in Jackson Square. You can walk through this home to see upper-middle-class life in antebellum New Orleans, the most prosperous period in the city’s history.
12. Learn about New Orleans’ ghostly past on a ghost tour.
A great way to learn about the city’s spooky history is to head out on a ghost tour. These will take you through the French Quarter and you’ll learn about the ghastly events that have taken place and the spirits that remain to this day. These tours are typically kid-friendly but ask in advance!
13. Spend the afternoon at Sea Cave, the dive bar arcade of your dreams.
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If you are looking for a break from all the walking and a spot everyone will enjoy, head to Sea Cave. This underwater-themed bar offers all-you-can-play arcade games and kids are welcome with parents until 6 p.m. They have snacks available and beers on taps—perfect for a relaxing afternoon.
Favorite Spots to Eat in New Orleans with Kids
The food scene in New Orleans can’t be beat and you’ll want to spend some time trying local favorites like jambalaya, crawfish etouffee, po’boys, and red beans and rice.
Top Spots in New Orleans for Breakfast
- You’ll find beignet spots on just about every corner in New Orleans and we recommend you get at least one beignet a day. A stop at Cafe du Monde is a requirement and the Jackson Square location often has musicians playing outside for a lively vibe. If the line is too long, there are other locations to choose from not too far away. Just down the street is Cafe Beignet where you can order from the bar in addition to getting your fill of powdered sugar-topped beignets.
- If you’re looking for the full brunch experience, make your way to one of the Ruby Slipper Cafe locations. The menu is full of sweet and savory choices with a half dozen Eggs Benedict options to choose from. The NOLA-style iced coffee will get your day going on the right foot and the pig candy bacon bites are not to be missed!
- Near the French market, you’ll find French Toast, a lovely spot for crepes, breakfast sandwiches, and French toast (of course). Go for the aebelskivers if you are looking for a pancake of a different sort—served with your choice of toppings including Nutella and lemon curd.
Top Spots in New Orleans for Lunch and Dinner
- For Cajun and southern favorites with a relaxed upscale vibe, head to Cochon. Focusing on locally sourced and seasonal ingredients, you’ll want to order a bunch of items for sharing. We had to try the fried alligator with chili garlic mayo (delicious!) as well as the house boucherie selection (also perfection!). Both were a hit with the adult and kid contingent.
- Before your night at Preservation Hall, book a table at Tableau, located just down the street. It takes up space in the heart of the French Quarter, right on Jackson Square, and has an elegant and welcoming ambiance. Best for families with older kids, Tableau offers regional favorites like shrimp and grits, duck and andouille gumbo, and turtle soup.
- NOLA Poboys serves up these traditional sandwiches in many variations from hot roast beef with gravy to fried shrimp. They are open late and located right on Bourbon Street.
- New Orleans Creole Cookery is the spot when you are craving Creole favorites like jambalaya. Go for the Taste of New Orleans and you’ll get jambalaya, crawfish étouffée, shrimp creole, and red beans & rice.
Best Spot for Pralines
- You can find “New Orleans’ Best Pralines” advertised on just about every street corner but we recommend you head to Laura’s Candies to try out this special treat. Here you’ll be able to try a number of different types of creamy pralines, fudge, fruit jelly slices, and more.
Where to Stay in New Orleans with Kids
The Westin New Orleans is perfectly located for all your New Orleans adventures. Get a room with a river view and you’ll be able to watch the comings and goings of the steamboats and streetcars. You’ll be within walking distance of the French Quarter and just steps away from the Audubon Aquarium and Insectarium. We found the rooms to be spacious and the staff super helpful at providing directions or recommendations. The location worked well because it was easy to get to everything in the French Quarter but you were away from the loud nightlife.
Want more information about New Orleans?
Visit the New Orleans & Company website for more information on what to do when visiting New Orleans, activities happening while you are there, new openings, and more.
—all photos and videos by the writer
Editor’s note: This trip was paid for by New Orleans & Co. but all opinions belong to the writer.