Now many of you may laugh or even guffaw when you read “Kid-Friendly New Orleans”, however, the headline is true! New Orleans is a kid-friendly town. I’ve always said, “New Orleans is a small town disguised as a big city.” That small town aspect makes it very manageable with children of all ages. Truth be told, kids like food, music, art and people just as much as the rest of us. We all know, New Orleans is blessed exceeding abundantly with unique food, accessible music, streets that flow with art and colorful people.
So let’s dig in and find out what wonderful things the Big Easy has to offer the little people. One of the great things about New Orleans is that you can play outside with great ease year round. City Park, at the end of Canal Street / City Park streetcar line is a fantastic place to explore – indoors and outdoors. The streetcar is an exciting way to get there, and it is usually very easy to park there too. The park continues to grow and add lovely activities and adventures.
The main entrance to City Park at the end of Esplanade Avenue has the highest concentration of activities. They include the New Orleans Museum of Art with the adjacent Besthoff Sculpture Garden. In the garden, kids can run and play and most exciting….they can TOUCH the artwork. The Big Lake has a big walking path, boat rentals that allow you to explore the lagoons that are filled with birds, turtles, and lush foliage, and bike rentals too. Rentals of all sorts, kayaks, gondolas, pedal boats, stand-up paddle boards, bicycles, surreys, coupes, quad bikes, kids bikes, and more.
Other activities in the park include the Carousel Gardens, Storyland, playgrounds, dog-runs, botanical gardens with the fabulous train garden inside, equestrian center, hiking paths, putt putt golf, regular golf with a driving range, Morning Call Coffee (serving beignets and cafe au lait) and festivals of all sorts.
If you want some indoor play, try one of the outrageous indoor playgrounds…BooKoo Bounce or the Monkey Room.
Then of course there is the French Quarter, which is very exciting for kids. My only no-no here is to stay clear of Bourbon Street – not because of the drinking but because of the X-rated photos on display at the various “gentleman’s clubs”. However, Royal Street and Jackson Square are filled with street musicians, performance artists, and visual artists. A delightful area to stroll and shop.
One of the things that you may not think about doing with the kids is going in to the antique shops. Sounds crazy? It’s actually a wonderful opportunity to explore history and hear some exciting stories. Many of the antique shops are very welcoming to the young people. They need to build a future clientele after all. The Times-Picayune recently highlighted several of the shops that encourage young visitors.
High on my list is Cohen & Sons Antique Coin and Gun Shop. The fourth and fifth generation of Cohen’s are now behind the counter, so they recall being kids in the shop and bring their kids to the shop. They get excited about sharing coins from shipwrecks, cane swords, confederate $10 bills – known as a “dixie”, toy soldiers, and other interesting artifacts that can really appeal to the young.
M.S. Rau Antiques also has a staff that enjoy sharing stories about objects in the store. The sales team here encourages the experience of handling rare objects – the weight, texture, and, smell of an antique . These can be interesting history and engineering lessons as you learn about the inner workings of a grandfather clock or music box. If you are there at the top of the hour, you will get a real earful.
Last shop mentioned is Lucullus, a culinary antique shop on Chartres Street. Owner Patrick Dunne was quoted as saying “Many of our pieces have stories attached. It’s nice to put an 18th-century piece into the hands of a child and tell them that it came from a castle beside a river, that it survived because it was beautiful and has passed through many other hands before them. Children respond to that kind of history. It’s a civilizing experience.”
So, don’t hesitate to bring the kids into an antique shop.
Also located in the Quarter is the Jazz National Historical Park that offer many kids programs from performances by world renowned children’s author and performer Johnette Downing, the Junior Ranger Program, songs for Junior Rangers, and plenty of resources to introduce your kids to jazz.
Little things that I like to do with the kids while downtown include a visit to the 11th floor lobby of the Westin Canal Place Hotel. The lobby has HUGE picture windows overlooking the French Quarter and Mississippi River – really spectacular. Next to the hotel is the Canal Street Ferry where you can take a free ferry ride across the Mississippi River to Algiers Point (note: RTA just took over operation of the ferry so there may be a nominal charge now). Nonetheless, take the ride. We always walk downstairs on the ferry to the bottom level where you are outside and right on the water. Last time my son and I took this ride, we rode six times before he was ready to go.
Of course there is the Audubon Nature Institute, which includes the Aquarium of the Americas, the Insectarium and Butterfly Garden, IMAX (all of which are in or adjacent to the French Quarter), and the Audubon Zoo in Uptown. Besides general admission, all the facilities offer special packages such as a behind the scenes tour with the elephants at the zoo or the penguin pass at the Aquarium.
There are lots of tours and outings that are kid friendly as well. Mardi Gras World where many of the big Mardi Gras floats are built – this is BIG and COLORFUL. Of course the Louisiana Children’s Museum is designed for kids, so kid-friendly is an understatement. A bayou or swamp tour is always exciting. I find Cajun Encounters to be very accessible – its a short drive and family run. If you want to kick it up a notch check out an air-boat or helicopter tour. And the new double-decker buses that offer the “hop-on hop-off” tour with an open air top makes for an exhilarating day.
Besides all the free street music you experience in New Orleans, a few kid-friendly music options include Ogden After Hours – Thursdays at the Odgen Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans Museum of Art has a Friday evening program usually with live music, Three Muses on Frenchman Street offers delicious small plates and fun live jazz starting early, Kermit Ruffins Treme Speakeasy – another tasty dinner spot with live music that starts early, or check out the afternoon music programs at the Old U.S. Mint. There are farmer’s markets and art markets every weekend that offer live local music such as Piety Street Market, Freret Art Market, Palmer Park Art Market, and Armstrong Park Farmer’s Market to name a few. And keep a look out for the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra youth performances that happen several times a year.
Check out the Louisiana Music Factory to bring home some kid-friendly New Orleans music. Putumayo Kids has several New Orleans compilation CD’s.
Lastly, I’ll touch on a few family friendly eateries. Red Fish Grill is lively and colorful and if your kids get a little loud no one will notice. Deanie’s Seafood or Felix’s Restaurant both offer excellent seafood in a casual dining room. House of Blues offers all the highlights of the big easy – food, music, art, and people. Camelia Grill-Uptown or their sister restaurant in the quarter, called simply The Grill, is a very fun diner experience with excellent diner food. Angelo Brocato’s for gelato and Italian pastries is delightful. I find all the new eateries on Freret Street to be family friendly – my favorite being Ancora with the spectacular wood burning oven. Or dine on one of the riverboats.
You should definitely treat the kids to a sno-ball at Hansen’s or Plum Street.
Kid friendly fine dining includes Vincent’s on St. Charles Avenue where you’ll find plenty of local families dining at this delicious Italian ristorante. NOLA in the Quarter is so bustling that kid’s are not a disturbance, even if they cause a disturbance. I feel the same way about Palace Cafe on Canal Street – it’s very bustling and busy and fun to be in. Ask for a window seat to keep the kids busy watching the street activity. For old-school fine dining, try Antoine’s. Lastly, I’ll mention the new John Besh / Brian Landry restaurant Borgne. A friend dined here recently with a bevy of kids and she raved about how the staff was so very accommodating.
A few local resources for kids activities include: Macaroni Kids, Nola Baby, NewOrleansKids.com.
So get out and about with the kids in New Orleans.
Every thing lovely,
Out and About is a monthly blog (with weekly updates) by Leslie Compton of Every Thing Lovely, a special event and creative consulting team, and is sponsored by Key to NOLA Properties, a full service real estate brokerage firm specializing in furnished rental properties in New Orleans, Key to NOLA Properties and Every Thing Lovely have joined forces to provide a full array of services for travelers’ ( and locals’) personal and professional needs while in the Crescent City.