I love New Orleans – the architecture, the people, and, of course, the food. My earliest memories of the Crescent City come from a family vacation when I was around 5 years old. I can vividly recall standing at our hotel window in the Marriott on Canal Street watching the river traffic head up and down the Mighty Mississippi River. I can almost taste the fresh, sugary beignets at Café du Monde in the French Quarter. And I remember ducking out of the rain during our riverboat cruise on the Mississippi.
So I couldn’t wait to bring my kids to New Orleans so they could discover all the things I loved about this Southern city. And, selfishly, I wanted them to love it as much as I do. While we did visit some of the same sites I remembered as a kid, we also discovered that New Orleans offers many family-friendly activities and attractions.
One of our first stops, the Audubon Zoo is located a short 20-minute drive from the French Quarter. It features 1,500 animals, from pink flamingos and albino alligators to black-and-white striped zebras–and everything else you can imagine. From the moment you enter, there are animals to be found. By following the zoo map, you can take a circuitous route through the property, seeing a multitude of animals in mostly natural habitats. Some exceptions include the elephants, the cats (jaguars, tigers, leopards, etc.) and the albino alligator. We found it to be an easy way to navigate the zoo without missing anything.
Given that my children were pretty young when we visited New Orleans, I felt a traditional riverboat tour might be a bit much for them. There are two docked just across the street from Jackson Square: Steamboat Natchez and the Creole Queen. Deciding which one to travel on may depend upon the age of your children and how well they will cope with being on the boat for a while. Steamboat Natchez offers a two-hour trip, while the Creole Queen takes a 2.5-hour cruise.
I decided to save these for a future vacation, and instead opted to take the kids on the Algiers Ferry. Free for foot passengers, the ferry travels across the river from the New Orleans RiverWalk to Algiers Point and back again in roughly 20 minutes. This turned out to be a good way to get the kids on the river without risking a meltdown on a longer tour. The kids also loved taking a ride on the St. Charles streetcar, which transports passengers from downtown New Orleans out to the prestigious Garden District and beyond for just $1.25 per person each way (have exact change!). The bonus of a streetcar ride is you can stay on it as long or as short as you–or the kids–want. When you’re ready to head back to downtown, just hop off at the next stop and then hop on a return streetcar.
One area I couldn’t wait to take my children to was Jackson Square, which is filled with artists, street performers and musicians. My daughter loves to draw and paint, so I figured she would love seeing the various art works and styles. I was right; she ran from one art display to the next, exclaiming how beautiful or neat each one was. Fans of music and dance, both kids enjoyed listening and dancing to the many jazz musicians dotted around the square’s perimeter.
Of course, we couldn’t visit the French Quarter without a stop at Café du Monde for beignets and milk. We huddled around the little café table and awaited our order. Once these French doughnuts covered in powdered sugar arrived, we pounced on them like kittens fighting over a piece of dancing yarn. As always, this experience takes me back to my childhood like few others do, and I was thrilled to finally share it with my own kids. I just hope it – or one of the other experiences we shared – will remain firmly entrenched in my kids’ hearts and memories as they grow older and look back on their own childhoods with fondness.