Why New Orleans Has My Heart and How to Visit with Young Kids and Have a Blast

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We have some history in New Orleans. Daniel grew up there and I think that’s where he picked up his appreciation for good food–something I’m really glad he brought into our family culture.

NOLA’s also about halfway between Waco, TX (where I went to college) and  our hometown, Tallahassee, FL. Daniel and I met in New Orleans one weekend when I was a freshman and we were “just friends” before officially getting back together.

I stayed with a friend’s cousin in her dorm room at Loyola. He stayed with a high school friend at Tulane. And we wandered around finding bookshops and eating crepes and turtle soup and happening upon wedding parades. We sat in Preservation Hall and listened to musicians play in the very spot where Jazz was born. We rode streetcars and walked the city that February weekend.  And luckily for me, it was chilly enough that I could insist that he put his arm around me “just to keep me warm.” Because I tend to be completely head over heels in love with him cold natured. We ate beignets and stayed up late drinking coffee with chicory and ever since New Orleans has been a magical place to me.

Since getting married, we’ve visited several times, but we’ve never taken the kids. Traveling with a preschooler, a toddler, and a baby is an overwhelming prospect, but since we had a wedding in Texas to attend, we decided to give it a shot and introduce the kids to New Orleans. And I have to admit that the whole experience was pretty magical.

So here’s my tips for having an enjoyable trip to NOLA with tiny little humans in your care:

1. Make the drive part of the vacation. Audiobooks (we had Charlotte’s Web, Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone, and Little House in the Big Woods), sticker books, and SO MANY SNACKS. I said yes to all the things they always want at the grocery store that Mean Ol’ Mom (that’s me) usually says no to: trail mix, granola bars, juice packs, cookies, and veggie sticks (AKA champion of keeping an 11-month-old baby happily chomping away in a car seat for 7 hours).

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2. Choose a hotel close to the streetcar line. We stayed in a lovely hotel right on the streetcar line in the Garden District, the Maison St. Charles. There were restaurants galore in walking distance and we just had to hop on a streetcar to go anywhere we wanted. Our kids were so thrilled to be riding a streetcar, they didn’t even care where we were going. Fun was already being had! And we avoided having to navigate unfamiliar streets with a baby who has no fond feelings for her car seat. One ride on a street car is $1.25 and you can just pay when you hop on. We got an all day pass for $3 each (these can be purchased when you get on as well) and made good use of them.

Hooray for streetcars!, Baby Gwen seemed to say.

The Maison St. Charles was charming and beautiful, too.

3. Get a good night’s sleep. Because of the set up on our room (one master bedroom with a large bathroom and a pull-out bed in the living area) all five of us could fit comfortably. And we used the brilliant trick of putting the baby’s pack n’play in the bathroom (she has her own room, hurrah!). We left plenty of time for winding down and snuggles to help the kids fall asleep in a new place so that they would be well-rested to explore the city.

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4. Take advantage of a good hotel breakfast before exploring the city. A significant portion of parenting small children is tweaking circumstances to avoid having tired, hungry, or thirsty children who are more prone to major meltdowns. And nothing makes kiddos more volatile than hunger. Blood sugar drops and all hell breaks loose. So…don’t just throw a granola bar at them and rush out to see the sights. Have some eggs at your hotel. Jam on a cup of yogurt. Eat ALL THE BACON. And what’s more exciting to a preschooler than pushing a button on a machine resulting in an infinite supply of juice?! So much fun, and you haven’t even seen anything yet!

5. Forget the stroller. Maybe if you’re a super expert stroller pusher, having a stroller would work in the city. We saw plenty of families using strollers. I just prefer using the ERGO for the baby and holding hands with the little ones. That way it’s easy to navigate the cobblestone streets in the historic districts and jump onto a streetcar without maneuvering a big stroller. And if you make the big kids walk, then they’re much more likely to nap which is a huge win in my opinion.

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6. Find kid-friendly restaurants. By this, I do not mean go grab chicken nuggets. Part of introducing a kids to a new city is introducing them to the regional food culture, right? We tried to strike a balance of eating really amazing New Orleans food, but not attempting a quiet restaurant environment where we (and others) would be stressed out by the squawks of small children. The first night we ate at Deanie’s Seafood and OH MY HEAVENS. Best shrimp I’ve ever tasted. And Crawfish Etouffee! And my five-year-old’s brand new white t-shirt was covered in red sauce and it was completely worth it. The second night we walked from our hotel to Copeland’s. The entrees were delicious, but it was the Daquiri and cheesecake that will be etched in my mind forever. We didn’t let the kids sample the Daquiris, despite our preschooler’s insistence that they were “caffeine free” and therefore fair game. Sorry kid, enjoy your cheesecake. (And he did.)

7. Visit the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. This was the perfect afternoon adventure. We got the kids out of the sun and they explored to their hearts desire.

Penguins? Yes, please.

I kept an eye on the preschooler (the hare) while Daniel minded the toddler (the tortoise).

8. Visit the Audubon Zoo. I love this zoo. It is huge and you could definitely spent an entire day there. We spent a whole morning and Benjamin acted as navigator:

This was the one time it was nice to have a stroller (we just rented one at the zoo). The kids got worn out and Lucy fell asleep right before we got to the elephants which was what she had been excited about seeing all morning.

But we were able to tickle her until she perked up and found the elephants THRILLING. And…they are really cool. If you had to pick between the Aquarium and the Zoo, I would recommend the Zoo, but Daniel prefers the Aquarium.

9. Visit the French Quarter. Morning in the French Quarter is perfectly family-friendly (if you stay away from Bourbon Street). While New Orleans nightlife can be wild, I’ve always been surprised at how low-key the city is. It really is the Big Easy. People stop to chat. It’s southern culture at it’s finest. When I went to Mardi Gras with Daniel’s family a few years back, I was surprised to see that many of the parades are family events. Definitely not the wild and craziness I had anticipated (although those do exist.) But, I recommend caution and staying out of the French Quarter 5pm and later if you have children in tow.

10. Go to Mass at the Cathedral. Even before we converted to Catholicism, we loved visiting the St. Louis Cathedral (OK, maybe part of the draw is the Cafe du Monde is right across the street). It was a treat to attend morning Mass there with blogging friend Julie and her family. And the word on the street is that St. Patrick’s and St. Mary’s Assumption are also absolutely gorgeous churches with great liturgy.

11. Don’t forget Cafe du Monde. Really. DON’T. A Cafe au Lait and plate of beignets…..it really doesn’t get any better than that. Although, you might want an outdoor adventure planned after little ones consume that much powdered sugar…(we immediately followed up our visit to Cafe du Monde with walking the city and wearing them out at the zoo!)

I think my favorite moments of the trip were just walking around and exploring the city. Being on an adventure together. The whole experience made me want to attempt other trips with the kids when the budget allows. It’s definitely a little different experience to travel with small children, but I’m thrilled with how it turned out and how much fun we had together!

A few places to eat that we didn’t make it to this trip, but that we LOVE are Camellia Grill (best pecan pie of your life!), Mandina’s, and Mother’s. And next time we really want to visit the Shrine of Bl. Francis Xavier Seelos.

Have you ever visited New Orleans? What are some of your favorite places in the city?

A big thanks to New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau for helping us set up this trip.  

Post contains Amazon affiliate links.

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Comments

  1. says

    We went two years ago with our three oldest about the same ages as yours are now. Definitely worth the wait to get mufalettas atthe corner store deli place (i obviously have a great memory… but its famous, so not hard to find if you ask around) and the insectarium is a fun place to go that is unique and not likely to be found anywhere else.

    • Haley says

      Ooo! What is that place called? Central Grocery? Is that right? We walked past the Insectarium and it looked really awesome. We’ll have to do that next time. :)

  2. says

    I have to say, this makes traveling with littles look so fun! I miss those days since it’s a completely different adventure with a teenager.

    The hubs and I went to New Orleans before children and I would love to go back and show our son!

    • Haley says

      I’m sure your son would love it! And a teenager would be old enough to enjoy going to Preservation Hall and hearing Jazz and other things that preschoolers aren’t quite ready for :)

  3. Laura Mike says

    I love NOLA too! St. Patrick’s is AWESOME. Go there next time you visit. My husband and I were there for vacation, picked St. Patrick’s for our Sunday Mass and did not regret that choice in the least.

  4. says

    Great post! I am from New Orleans and although I live in Georgia now, I travel back with my hubby and kids to see my family of origin often. You certainly hit the highlights for kids. Next time you might want to visit City Park. There’s a wonderful outdoor Storyland that my children love, as well as a fantastic sculpture garden (although warn your children ahead of time that they are NOT allowed to climb on the sculptures -we kept getting busted.) Swamp tours are fun too. The D Day Museum is great for older kids. Thanks for promoting my hometown!

  5. says

    This is a great article, thanks so much, Haley! My brother went to college in New Orleans and I really loved visiting. It has such a rich history and St. Patrick’s, I could look at the art in there for hours! But back to the kids, I love all of your suggestions! Given the unique beauty and the rich history, I think the place is totally doable for kids too. And your kids are adorable :-)

  6. says

    I got to visit New Orleans on a dance competition when I was 14. I loved it. Seeing a sax player in Jackson Square leaning on a lamp post at sunset – iconic. And I loved the French Quarter, too. We went to a little restaurant called “Carmello’s” all the time. That was in 1995 and I wonder what has become of it and if it survived Katrina. Being from Canada – New Orleans was definitely one of my favourite places in the States I’ve visited.

  7. Angela says

    Thanks so much for sharing your tips! It’s great to have some guidance on kid friendly travel.

  8. Tori says

    Our honeymoon cruise left from New Orleans, and after we got back we had a day to explore. The French Quarter is so gorgeous! And I loved the aquarium. We did end up in Bourbon Street, but though the music was nice, we probably could have skipped that :p

    I’m embarrassed to say by the time we came back, we had lost track of time completely and forgot it was Sunday again. But we were in Jackson Square when the bells rang for mass at St. Louis Cathedral, so we didn’t miss it!! Providence.

    • Haley says

      Aw, I love that! We were cutting it close trying to get to morning Mass on time and heard the bells loud and clear as we were running to the church, haha.

  9. says

    Hi Haley,

    I’ve never been to NOLA, but it looks like so much fun! It sounds like you had a blast with your family and fun was had by all! Beautiful family and photos! I love my ERGO carrier too! We are planning a Disney trip at the end of May with our 5 kids for the first time ever so I’ll be using the ERGO I’m sure and doing alot of planning :) I love your food tips so kids don’t get hungry and cranky. This, I’m sure, will be important as we explore ALL the fun at Disney :)

    • Haley says

      Oh my goodness, we love Disney, but we’ve never actually taken the kids, haha! You’re brave ;)

  10. says

    I’m so excited that you blogged about your trip to NOLA because my family (my parents and my little sisters who will be 16) is going there the first week of June. I don’t think we’ll be visiting the aquarium or the zoo since we’ll be doing more serious sight-seeing and such (my sisters keep insisting that they’re “grown ups” now, haha), but now I’m more convinced than ever that we have to go to mass at the cathedral – we’ll be there for Pentecost!

    • Haley says

      Oh fun! I would check out St. Patrick’s for Mass, too. I’ve heard the liturgy there is just beautiful and the pictures I’ve seen look amazing.

  11. says

    This is great!! I would love to visit New Orleans someday … but I think this post is full of great trips for traveling anywhere with littles. :) Thank you for sharing your tips!

  12. says

    As someone from the New Orleans area, you totally nailed this! I live outside the city but everything you mentioned…yes yes yes. And I can totally vouch for the beauty of St. Patrick’s and St. Mary’s Assumption. Definitely visit them both next time you’re in town!

  13. says

    My husband & I are hoping to visit New Orleans this summer, so I’ll have to keep some of your recommendations in mind. Thanks for this, Haley!

  14. Amy R says

    Thanks for the tip about the zoo; our family went to the aquarium last visit and really enjoyed it. Another good Catholic site to visit is the Old Ursuline Convent, on Chartres, just a very short walk from the cathedral. It has gardens in front and behind, including a teeny hedge maze, that occupied our three small chden while my husband and I took turns exploring inside. Not a big place, but still interesting history, including a letter from Thomas Jefferson lauding the nuns and their work!

  15. says

    I went to NOLA once when I was young and single, and NEVER would have thought of it as a place to go with kids, but you have me convinced that we need to plan a trip there! It sounds wonderful and my kids would love it! Thanks :)

  16. says

    Your pictures are wonderful, and I loved following along on Instagram as y’all traveled!

    New Orleans looks like such a blast. I’ve been there once, but it was for a wedding, so I didn’t really have the time to explore all the highlights of NOLA. So I kind of don’t consider myself to have actually been there ;) I salivate over the food and the coffee. You’re making me want to go back even more now!

    Is there a particular time of the year that you recommend going?

    • Haley says

      Hmmm, I would maybe try to visit in the spring or fall when it’s not blazing hot. But I’d avoid Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, Voodoo Fest and other big tourist weekends so that you can enjoy the city without the crowds.

    • says

      Winters are wet wet wet. You might not want to do a Christmas excursion although….the decor is delightful!

      Personally I don’t find Jazz Fest clogs the city too much, but I’m not a NOLA native and I think my Italian uncle might argue me on that one, but, Jazz Fest is a-mazing.

      Thanks for covering this Haley! I love that you are a Southern blogger! I live a few hours out but my husband and I (and now three kiddos) love making weekend trips there. The city never gets old.

      And we do love our food in Louisiana, that’s the truth.

  17. Sarah Carafelli says

    Loved reading about your trip to NOLA. I was there as a uni student on a missions trip and would love to go back sometime to explore the city. I’m hungry for a beignet now! :) My hubby and I don’t have kids yet but what a fun idea for the future!

  18. Lindsey Rodan says

    Central Grocery! The best olive salad ever. I always buy a couple extra jars to bring home as gifts. Also, I have a friend who opened a restaurant called ‘La Boucherie’ and I highly recommend it if you and Daniel get a chance to be child-free in NOLA for an evening ;) Bread pudding made with Krispy Kreme donuts…I’m just saying.

    • Haley says

      We went to Central Grocery a few years ago and YES! We got olive tapenade and it was AMAZING. And that bread pudding sounds like something I need in my life.

  19. says

    I LOVED your recap! I grew up in NOLA and now live right outside the city and it was so refreshing to see all the fun sites through your eyes. You definitely hit all the right spots for sure :)

  20. says

    My husband and I went for a short just-us trip last summer and loved it–we hadn’t thought of it as a place to take our kids to, but this gave some great angles to consider it. One restaurant we discovered and loved was Cochon Butcher in the warehouse district–it’s next to and owned by the same chef as Cochon (which is fairly fancy), but Butcher is more of a sandwich shop. You can get authentic local food that’s not quite so pricey.

  21. says

    What a fun trip! My husband also grew up in NOLA and I’m so glad I’ve gotten to know the city through him and his family. There are so many wonderful places and foods to explore – thanks for spreading the word that it’s way more than the Bourbon Street tourist junk.

    • Haley says

      Yes! So thankful for Daniel’s family’s NOLA connection. I would never have known how wonderful it is!

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