Bring the Kids to the Bayou!
Our family's urban adventure to New Orleans
Granted, it’s going to be awhile before anyone can travel again – or at least feels comfortable making plans to stay in hotels, tour public spaces and dine in restaurants. But when you do, consider New Orleans. After COVID-19, NOLA will be one of the places that needs visitors most in the U.S., as much of its economy relies on tourism.
I was pleasantly surprised after we visited last summer and discovered that the jewels of Crescent City certainly go beyond delicious Cajun Creole food and French Quarter (although these were major items to check off our list!). NOLA’s diverse urban core and surrounding environment can please guests with a variety of interests, from foodies and history buffs to outdoor adventurists and craft beer fans. It’s rare to find a destination that packs such a potent punch – or shall I say Hurricane? 🍹
Our family had five days to spend in NOLA during our move-cation from Tennessee to Texas, and we tried to fit in a little of everything above. I’ll admit, out of our three destinations of the trip, I was most excited to visit New Orleans because I love Cajun cuisine and historic architecture!
Many people would not consider bringing their kids to New Orleans because it’s known for Mardi Gras and other seemingly adult-centric activities, but we did our research and found that there were actually more kid-friendly activities than we could accomplish during our trip! From the information I gathered, the sweet spot age would be about 5-12 for your kids to be completely entertained because there are so many educational activities that would interest this age group, like a youth ghost tour through the French Quarter.
However, from City Park, a large oasis in the city center, to a ride on the Ferry ride across the Mississippi to Algiers Point village, there’s plenty to do with young children. The paragraphs below highlight our trip as well as some activities we’d like to return and do.
Where to Stay
There are plenty of historic hotels in NOLA, but we prefer to stay in airbnb’s when we travel with the kids. My friend Danielle who lived in the area for several years recommended the Uptown or Garden District as safe neighborhoods to stay with the kids, yet still be close to all the action, dining and shopping areas.
We chose a colorful Mardi Gras bachelor pad in the Lower Garden District, just southeast of Magazine Street, a popular corridor for locals as well as visitors. Let it be known that “Lower Garden District” is a much different neighborhood than the “Garden District,” especially at night. In the Garden District, you’ll find million dollar Victorians and upscale boutiques, restaurants and grocers (a blend of regional chains and independent businesses). As you head East toward downtown on Magazine Street as well as South toward the Irish Canal neighborhood, the neighborhood drastically changes.
I found the food and shopping experiences much more interesting in the Lower Garden District - and even some amazing breweries closer to the Mississippi River in Irish Canal. Small business boutiques and ethnic restaurants could surely pay cheaper rent in this area, it seems. But the Victorians and historic homes, while still elegant, look much more shabby, and we were nervous to go out in our neighborhood after sunset with the kids or for a run. Lucky for me, Crossfit NOLA was in the Lower Garden District, so I dropped in for a 5 a.m. workout with no problems from anyone early in the morning.
The French Quarter is a safe place to stay as well, but there will always be a lot of crowds, as it’s the main tourist attraction. For the timing, New Orleans is unbearably hot in the summer. We visited in mid-June due to our move, and the temps were soaring in the 100’s and we discovered what it truly meant to be “down in the swamps.” The humidity was terrible – I would probably go back in early Spring or Fall if I had a choice. However, the timing made lodging very cheap. We stayed in our St. Mary’s Street five-bedroom house for about $50 per night (unheard of for a popularly traveled town, from my experience).
Activities, Dining and Shopping
We spent our first day in NOLA exploring the Lower Garden/Garden District and all of its historic beauty. I went for an early morning run every day and drooled over the stunning architecture. If you enjoy history, design and running, there are actually organized running tours offered here. I didn’t get a chance to take one, but would like to with a few running buddies in the future.
My son was only nine months old at the time, so we did a stroller walk that morning to District Donuts & Coffee Bar – a must taste! – and then on to Coliseum Square Park – a quiet, pretty space in the District with a fountain and plenty of 19th century homes to gawk at. This area was intended to be the site of a large coliseum and cathedral which never materialized.
Later that day, we went to the Rum House on Magazine Street, a Caribbean and Latin American Taqueria. The tacos were incredible with all the Caribbean spices we had been craving, and the rum drinks were reasonably priced and refreshing. After living in Tennessee for 3.5 years and not trusting the seafood except for in fine dining establishments, I was determined to get my fill of all things derived from the sea, beginning with fried oyster tacos...a first for me!
During the kids’ (and the husband’s!) naps, I snuck out in our neighborhood to do some boutique exploring 👜 👀. There were a lot of gems around the intersection of St. Mary’s and Magazine Street with handmade items – nicer souvenirs than something you might find in the touristy areas. It was here that I discovered Tchoup Industries (pronounced “Chop”), a small business that’s extremely passionate about using locally sourced materials in its products, which include an assortment of bags and accessories. I bought a durable waxed canvas fanny pack curated from upcycled shopping bags and use it everywhere from the trail to urban outings! As Tchoup Industries’ motto goes, “For City and Swamp,” the shop’s water-resistant bags are made to endure all sorts of adventures. The company prides itself on being environmentally conscious and educates its consumers and the public about protecting Louisiana’s wetlands.
After naptime, we headed to the NOLA Brewing Co. in the Irish Channel with a rooftop bar that overlooks an industrial area leading to the Mississippi riverbank. The beer was much needed after a long day with two toddlers, and the taproom was kid-friendly with games in the back and a tall wall on the rooftop bar that corralled the grumpy babies in. I sipped on some red beet-infused blonde ale while devouring fried boudin balls, which Addie also enjoyed.
On our second full day, it was time to take on the French Quarter! Our first mission of the day was to grab beignets and head to Jackson Square to take in the atmosphere in the heart of the New Orleans' oldest district that dates back to the 1700's. My dad had told me about his experience as a young adult when he stood in the square (that’s below sea level) and watched the riverboats pass above him and found it somewhat eerie. One generation later, we stood on these same steps leading to the river and took our family photo with St. Louis Cathedral in the background.
It was super hot, and the kids felt the heat, so we didn’t quite make it to Café Du Monde as planned to grab their famed beignets. Café Beignet was in our immediate vicinity, so we dropped in to appease Addie’s appetite. I’m glad we did because the Prohibition Era building and decor was quite nice, and the beignets were just as good as we’d hoped.
We walked around the square and Bourbon Street as much as the kids could tolerate – and I bought a Mardi Gras masquerade at a mask maker shop right off Jackson Square – before it was time to experience some authentic Cajun creole for a late lunch. We had hoped to try Brennan’s or K. Paul’s, which received raving reviews from locals, but it was a Sunday, and these were only open for dinner.
Thankfully, we stumbled upon the Royal House Oyster Bar, which looked too fancy to be kid-friendly, but it was, indeed. The staff was so accommodating and brought our starving kids some fruit and bread as soon as we sat down. I finally got to try some real N’awlins crawfish etouffee, and it was worth the wait! On our walk back to the car, we stopped in at NOLA Kids boutique off Chartres St. – a bit hidden – and bought some souvenir T-shirts and children’s bayou-themed books.
By the third day of sightseeing, the kids were over it and ready to get some energy out. We thought it was only fair to do something just for them this day to balance it out. So, we traveled to the burbs to Defy New Orleans, an indoor trampoline and air park. Addie had an awesome time (Rowan was too young at the time to jump), and we were pleased to see our girl doing one of her “normal” activities during this month-long move-cation.
In the afternoon, I stayed at the airbnb with our kids while Rhett headed to the National World War II Museum near our neighborhood. He enjoyed the experience as he walked through the tour, but recommended it as an adult attraction (or for older students learning about this era).
We spent our final day getting out of the city and onto the water. If your kids are over age 5 or have a lot more patience than ours, I would recommend doing a swamp tour through some of the wetlands near New Orleans. With our kids age 2 and under, I was scared they would fall out of the boat or get eaten by an alligator! Neither scenario was likely, but we didn't want to take any chances.
Another option to experience the Mississippi via a Riverboat Jazz Cruise aboard the Creole Queen. I REALLY wanted to do this, but the boat only goes in the evening, and my kids at the time did not behave well enough at night to last 2.5 hours. Now that it's been a year, I would consider taking them (currently ages 3.5 and 1.5).
So, the easiest option, yet still a fun way to experience a boat ride, was the historic Canal Street Ferry to Algiers Point - only a five-minute ride across the river with sweeping views of the New Orleans city skyline. We knew that once we arrived, there was an experiential playground, Confetti Park, waiting for us along with a little village to explore. We found a cafe nearby with excellent coffee and lunch, Tout de Suite Cafe.
Unfortunately, we had to catch our ferry ride and didn't have a chance to visit the quaint Folk Art and Blues Museum in the town that hosts art classes, tours and other community events. I would recommend waking up early and spending the morning in Algiers Point, but there may not be enough entertainment to last an entire day.
Later that afternoon, we hit up one more kid-friendly brewery, Urban South, that had loads of games and blocks for young ones to play with, in addition to food trucks that had something to please everyone for dinner. We preferred this brewery to NOLA for all of the activities to do while you sip.
Other Family-Friendly Activities We Missed
There were so many things we wish we could have done, but we were pretty limited by our young children's nap schedules and tolerance for sightseeing! Below are some activities we have yet to check off our list 📝:
Visiting the Mardi Gras World museum to learn about the event and see the annual parade floats being built throughout the year in preparation for the next year
Hiking in the wetlands! One great park less than 30 minutes south of NOLA is Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve