There is no place like home, especially when home is New Orleans. Though I left the Crescent City 25 years ago, I love to go back each year.
One of the most common questions I’m asked is, “Can I take my kids there?” By all means, yes! New Orleans is brimming with attractions that appeal to children and curious, adventurous adults alike. I particularly enjoy taking my children one of the best cities in the South and, frankly in the entire world. In fact, National Geographic proves my point as it just named New Orleans one of the top 20 destinations to visit — in the entire world! Of course, New Orleans has Bourbon Street and all of its allure, but it also has gorgeous parks, amazing museums and food for even the pickiest at your table.
Why it’s such a fun trip:
New Orleans comes by its European look and attitude naturally. It truly is the original cultural melting pot. French (twice), Spanish and American flags have flown over New Orleans. These cultures, mixed with African, Carribean, German and Sicilian immigrants have created family histories and influences as rich as ya mama’s gumbo! In 2005, Hurricane Katrina and cracking levies dealt New Orleans one of the most devastating blows any modern city has endured. Every single citizen was affected and some feared the city was beyond recovery. However, the decade since has proved to be a renaissance of sorts. United by tragedy and deep seated pride, the city has come back better than ever.
Though there are still contradictions and imperfections (the former mayor and governor are in jail, for example), the city is a gem and a great destination. Mardi Gras and scads of annual festivals are tons of fun and reason enough to visit, but the city is inviting and entertaining every day of the year.
Situated between the Mississippi River and Lake Ponchartrain, the climate is tropical, which, most of the year, is perfect. Patios are open and full practically year-round. Weather happens, though, so take a coat in the winter for the occasional chilly or wet day. Summer can be famously hot, but the city is much less crowded and the air conditioners all work well.
There really is never a bad time of year to visit this very navigable city; with plentiful cabs and a charming streetcar system, all the fun sights and attractions are easy to enjoy.
Great Places to Stay
New Orleans has every major hotel group represented. You can find accommodations that fit any type of budget or need you may have. In fact, you can go daily to sites like Travel Pony or Kayak and find deals du jour. However, this city is a great place to try something different, local and totally unique in the lodging department:
The Windsor Court Hotel is the grande dame of the New Orleans hotel scene. Started 30 years ago by a local Anglophile, one feels like British royalty here. It is unique and fancy and just got an astounding $22 million dollar facelift, but honeymooners and families intermingle easily.
For something in the heart of the French Quarter, The Hotel Monteleone is a winner. Started in 1886 and still run by the 5th generation of Montleones, rates start at $150 for this gorgeous, historic hotel. Even if you don’t stay here, stop in and have a drink in the Carousel Bar. (Yes, it’s revolving.) Packages like “All About Kids,” “Girlfriend Getaway” and “New Orleans Romantic Interlude” (ooh-la-la!) are available. The rooftop pool is an added perk.
For a wonderful local, neighborhood experience, try Maison Perrier. This gorgeous, historic bed and breakfast is run by New Orleans local Tom Schoenbrun and his wife Patricia. Just a block off St. Charles Avenue and the streetcar line, Maison Perrier is walking distance to quaint bistros and boutiques. This tucked away lovely place will make you feel pampered while giving you an up-close look at the gorgeous homes that make New Orleans a one-of-a-kind city.
Let’s get the party started:
There are so many wonderful things to see and do in New Orleans, but your first stop should always be Cafe Du Monde for beignets and cafe au lait. Go around back and watch them make the beignets through the large plate glass window. SB Tip: If there is a line, make your way to the indoor seating. It is still super cool and there’s hardly ever a line.
Walk off your sugar coma with a stroll on the Moonwalk, the boardwalk right on the Mississippi River, and then over to Jackson Square for street artists, pop up jazz players, dancers, palm readers and well, you just never know what will be going on! Step into the St Louis Cathedral, the oldest continuously operating cathedral in the United States and walk through St. Louis #1, the above ground graveyard behind the Cathedral, where Marie Laveau, the Queen of voodoo, is buried. From Jackson Square, keep walking on through the French Quarter. This area is so alive these days — from art galleries and boutiques on Royal Street, to handmade crafts, food and produce in the French Market, there is a lot to experience.
Fun Things to Do and See
Louisiana Childrens Museum: This is a great stop for younger children.
The National WWII Museum: This is a world class museum that really can’t be covered in one visit. The subject matter is important and fascinating, but emotionally heavy, so make sure your kids are age appropriate.
New Orleans Museum of Art & Sculpture Garden in City Park: Take the red line streetcar from the French Quarter and spend at least a half day here. The old growth live oaks provide a peaceful, shady respite from the pace of the city. The sculpture garden is a great way to sneak in some culture without too much pushback. There are cafes in the museum and in the park.
Audubon Zoo, Aquarium, IMAX Theatre, Insectarium: All are run by the lauded Audubon Institute. Visit one or hit them all. These are popular destinations for visitors and locals alike.
Ahhhh … The Food!
There is no end to the food options in New Orleans. You won’t be able to do it all, but here are a few highlights.
Two of our family favorites are Stanley’s and Camellia Grill. Right on Jackson Square, Stanley’s is the perfect location to start your day and enjoy everything from basic to over-the-top breakfasts. The Camellia Grill, located Uptown at the Riverbend or in the French Quarter, has the best omelettes, waffles and burgers in town. Go ahead and have a chocolate freeze with ice cream, too, while you’re there. For brunch, Commanders Jazz Brunch is the place to go. Pick a day and treat your family to this lovely brunch in New Orleans’ famed Garden District. It is Sunday dress, but the food and fun music are worth it. A walkabout around the area is a perfect post-brunch activity.
A trip to New Orleans is not complete without experiencing po-boys: a magical (and often messy) sandwich, served on crusty French bread with all kinds of deliciousness within. My favorites:
- Domiliese’s: Tucked in a cozy, Uptown neighborhood, Miss Dot and her family have been serving po-boys forever.
- Mahoney’s: Magazine Street favorite. Perfect if your shopping takes you Uptown a bit.
- Parkway Tavern: Definitely a destination, but the “surf and turf,” (aka roast beef, fried shrimp and gravy) are worth it.
Where a poboy lunch is grab and go, lunch at Galatoires is a dining experience in the old New Orleans tradition — complete with incredible service, stiff drinks and must-try specialities like puff potatoes and trout amandine.
Once you recover from your lunch haze with some afternoon activities, dinner options abound at every end of the spectrum.
- Mr. B’s Bistro is a classic New Orleans bistro, and though the authentic Creole food is upscale, the ambiance of this French Quarter favorite is more business casual. Their menu is certain to please any palate.
- Located in the Warehouse District, Cochon Bistro is known for its “Cajun Southern cooking.” Exposed brick and reclaimed wood set the tone for New Orleans’ version of farm-to-table dining offering locally sourced menu items deliciously.
- Frankie and Johnny’s is an Uptown neighborhood local favorite. Their baskets of crawfish and tunes from the jukebox are a great way to cap off a day in the city.
There’s so much more I could talk about that’s worth a look-see when you visit — the shops on Magazine Street, the sno-ball stands on corners all over town, the early show at Preservation Hall. Today’s post merely scratches the surface. For now, though, as the locals say, laissez les bon temps rouler! Let the good times roll!
Special thanks to SB staffer Wendy Gatto and New Orleans friend Michelle Villere for their great photos today.