Whether you have the weekend or a week to spend in New Orleans, we offer options to keep the whole family entertained. That’s right, New Orleans isn’t just a city for adults to party the night away. There are plenty of surprising family-friendly options here, too.
By Alison Salas
New Orleans was originally known as Bulbancha, “the place of many languages.” Before the first Europeans came here, Bulbancha was a place where people from some 40 distinct Native groups interacted, traded, hunted and fished, and moved into and out of, due to rising and falling waters. Many of the places and locations known to tourists and travelers including the Port of New Orleans, the French Market, and Congo Square, served as places of trade and culture long before the arrival of Europeans. Like today, Bulbancha was a complex, multicultural place teeming with diversity and changes.
THE ROAM REPORT: NEW ORLEANS
Travelers: The Salas Family
Date: Two weeks in March 2021
Itinerary: French Quarter, Garden District, Mississippi River, Lakeview Neighborhood, Whitney Plantation
Budget: $250/day for lodging, food, and entertainment, including an Airbnb where we cooked some meals
THE GOOD STUFF
WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE 2, 3, or 5–7 DAYS
Two Days in Town Begin your time in New Orleans by visiting its most famous neighborhood, the French Quarter. This is one of those places that’s touristy for a reason. Every street and every block here has architecture and history you won’t find anywhere else in the United States. You’ll see plenty of street performers and live music as you wander around, so keep a few dollars handy for tips.
Here you can also sample the city’s favorite breakfast, or dessert, the fried and powdered donuts called beignets. Pronounced “BEN-yay,” they were brought to New Orleans in the 18th century by French colonists and Acadians, the French who came to Louisiana via Canada. Beignets became a large part of homestyle Creole cooking and forever associated with New Orleans. We recommend the venerable Cafe du Monde for beignets, but other establishments, including Cafe Beignet, are popular too, and each has their own personal take on these little doughnuts.
A foodie town, New Orleans is an epicenter of Cajun, Creole, and seafood eats. And if your little ones are feeling a little brave, enter into one of the vampire or voodoo-themed museums and shops. You can even book a voodoo tour of the Quarter from a real voodoo priestess! If you’re near the northern end of the Quarter, be sure to visit Congo Square to learn about its importance as a gathering space for enslaved people, and ultimately, the birthplace of jazz.
Focus your second day on the Garden District, which you can access by an old-time streetcar along St. Charles Ave. Keep your eyes open as you rattle along St. Charles, where you’ll see historic mansions with beautiful grounds and some of the most famous cemeteries in the city. (Because of New Orleans’ unique geography—the water table is very high—the ornate graves are all above ground.)
Get off the streetcar at Audubon Park to start your day, and traverse the sprawling grounds filled with mossy oaks and charming ponds, plus a large zoo. The park spans from St. Charles down to the Mississippi River. (If you work up an appetite while you’re near the park, The Vintage on Magazine St. has topnotch beignets that might even beat what you tasted in the French Quarter. The Vintage is also a great place for parents to enjoy a glass of wine or Champagne.)
Three Days in Town If you have an extra day to spend in New Orleans, revisit the lower portion of the French Quarter and Business District along the MIssissippi River. The largest concentration of street performers are near Jackson Square and the St. Louis Cathedral. You could also take a riverboat cruise on the Natchez steamboat (think Mark Twain) or visit the Audubon Aquarium. If you are looking to do a little shopping or buy souvenirs, there are several plazas and an outlet mall near the river too.
A Week in Town With a little extra time, consider booking a tour for a deeper dive into the sights you’ve seen. Popular options include French Quarter history tours, cemetery tours, ghost and vampire tours, true crime tours, and music tours.
And with an entire week in New Orleans, we recommend venturing beyond the historic and tourist centers to see where most of the citizens of New Orleans live. City Park in the Lakeview district is even larger than Audubon Park, and it’s home to a storybook-themed playground and small theme park, plus a sculpture garden, boating options, and many walking paths.
If you’re looking to experience flora and fauna, and have a sense of adventure, there are several swamps outside of the city to see. Pearl River to the east and Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge to the west both have swamp tours where you can get up close and personal with alligators, boar, raccoons, snakes, owls, egrets, and more.
Skip most of the plantations, which tend to romanticize the human atrocities that occured here. Instead, visit Whitney Plantation in nearby Wallace, Louisiana. This plantation is the only one in the United States that focuses on the experience of the enslaved people and de-emphasizes the opulence of the enslavers’ mansions and grounds. The experience will hopefully serve as a catalyst for important conversations in your family, as you digest the meaning of your time in New Orleans, but also as you reflect on the history of and modern-day life in these United States.’
GOOD TO KNOW
When to go New Orleans has a humid subtropical climate, with very hot and wet summers and mild winters. Fall, winter, and spring generally offer pleasant temperatures. However, early fall and late spring can become quite humid as the seasons change, so you may need to plan a midday break during these times.
The city is also famed for its Mardi Gras celebrations, which fall on the last day of the Carnival season, the day before Ash Wednesday. The city will be bursting with personality and parties during this time. (Sometimes too much personality and too many parties!) However if you visit anytime before or after, you are still sure to see plenty of purple, green, and gold decorations adorning the town. We visited a couple weeks post–Mardi Gras and still enjoyed the decorations on the businesses and homes. Before or after Mardi Gras is arguably the most family-friendly time to visit New Orleans.
What to budget Most families are looking for ways to save on vacation costs. Most of New Orleans’ visitors arrive by roadtrip in their own car, substantially saving on travel costs by avoiding airfare. We further reduced our expenses by renting an Airbnb that offered a weekly discount rate since the city is full of many beautiful Airbnb options, especially if you have a car and location matters less. We used our savings toward private tours, which run approximately $200 for a group of five. Dining out is comparable to most midsized U.S. cities.
Where to stay New Orleans is full of character and interesting corners, however if you want to be near the main tourist attractions you will want to stay in a hotel or Airbnb in the famed French Quarter. The adjacent Central Business District (downtown) lacks the French Quarter’s character, but would position you well between there and the beloved Garden District. For a picturesque shotgun home, look for an Airbnb in Marginy.
How to get around If you choose to drive to New Orleans, you can find plenty of street parking outside of the French Quarter using coins or the ParkMobile app to pay. If you are flying in or want to leave your car back at your Airbnb (parking is practically nonexistent in the French Quarter), Ubers are plentiful too. And while perhaps less practical but certainly more enjoyable, the streetcar covers a large section of lower New Orleans from the edge of the French Quarter through the Garden District. Purchase tickets through the New Orlean RTA’s GoMobile app.’
Alison Salas – February 2022
This Wisconsin mom has crisscrossed the globe with her husband and two children, documenting it all on her @FindingSalas Instagram feed and YouTube channel. Alison has lived abroad, taken a round-the-world trip, and traveled full-time with her family. Now living back in the United States, she jumps at any chance to get on a plane, train, or automobile to max out her leave time. With her family, she hopes to also bring an Indigenous lens to the travel community.
© ROAM Family Travel 2022 – All rights reserved
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