If you’ve never been to New Orleans–or only been as part of a bachelor/bachelorette party, or during Mardi Gras in a drunken haze of an ill-remembered reverie–you may not think it’s a family destination. And that’s too bad. New Orleans has incredible food, culture, and things to do with your family. Here’s one day we had recently.
1. Stay Outside of New Orleans
Easter weekend, my family (wife and three sons ages 6,4, and 18 months) made the 6 hour drive from our house to New Orleans. Because it was spur of the moment, we weren’t able to land a room in the Garden District or the French Quarter for the price we wanted. Typically you are looking at $125+ a night in these areas and paying for parking, around $25 a day. Because we decided at the last minute, prices were much more.
Normally, I’d be bummed about staying outside of the Quarter or Garden District. However, we discovered the LaQuinta in Kenner has a bar and grill run by http://messinascatering.com/. The red beans and rice are amazing, as is the bread pudding. When we were about 20 minutes out, we called and they had the food waiting for us. Crawfish Etoufee, poboys, etc. This is indicative of the magic about the New Orleans area. Tremendous food and culture just kind of appear out of nowhere.
2. Visit the French Quarter
So after grabbing a couple sacks of Beignets and Café Au Lait at the Café Dumonde on Veterans, http://cafedumonde.com/locations, we headed into town. If you stay in Quarter and are an early riser, by all means go get your beignets at the original location. But each morning we hit Jackson Square the line was at least 200 feet long by 9:30. And I don’t know about you, but wrangling three kids in line for 45 minutes is not good times.
I always like visiting the French Quarter as early as possible in my New Orleans trips. Something about the wet streets, pungent odors of last night’s debauchery and funky Spanish architecture just puts me in a relaxed state of mind. It does the same to my kids. So we drank our Au Laits and walked around the Quarter. The sidewalks and streets are easy to push a stroller and there are a ton of neat shops and historical markers to stop and see.
On the square proper, artists display their goods, street performers tie balloons in funny shapes, pick pockets and con artists try to make an easy buck. Never make a bet with someone who approaches you. E.g. “I bet you five bucks I know where you got your shoes.” The correct answers is “On your feet.” Don’t ask how I know.
Protip: My strategy for con artists and hustlers is simple: offer to sell them a magazine subscription and ask for a cigarette. They will practically run from you.
3. Visit Audobon Park
After lunch at Camellia Grill, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camellia_Grill, the kids are antsy and we head over to Audubon Park and the Zoo. This zoo rocks, in part because they have animals escape at various times (though sadly, not intentionally). We’d just walked through the gates and were soon hustled into the gift shop. The threat level was announced as “Yellow” which after some questions I discovered meant, some animal not as nice as a bunny rabbit (ruling out an Easter bunny sighting) and not as mean as a tiger. Somewhere in between. Nonetheless, I felt it necessary to get the scoop from a pro regarding our safety.
Minutes turned to half-hours. I for one, began to feel intimidated and a wee bit anxious. Toys and gifts were being spread out all over the floors. I could barely walk. While the zoo keepers moved us into the gift shop for our safety, no one was looking out for the gift shop’s safety. Mad, sugar crazed toddlers were running rampant. Mothers were getting snippy, and I got several stern looks–from not just my wife. I put things back down. Thoughts of abandoning it all entered my mind, and some of others’.
Luckily, everything turned out OK.
4. Take in a Cemetery.
Don’t let the guide books fool you. Some cemeteries aren’t safe. One guide we talked to said, “Sure the cemetery is safe, but you can’t park anywhere safely nearby.” So I’d definitely recommend Lafayette No. 1. Its the oldest city operated cemetery in town and is in the Garden District which is both gorgeous and safe. A particularly touching tomb is dedicated to the Home For Destitute Orphan Boys, where a collection of small toys graces the front in lieu of flowers. The last child buried there died in 1849.
5. Play in the sand, have a drink, and experience real Louisiana seafood.
When I’m in Louisiana, I’m soaking up culture. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better place than http://middendorfsrestaurant.com/. Middendorf’s is specifically great because it’s just out of the way enough for your average tourist to frequent. So the people you run into are genuine. It has a big sand beach with fences and a small fountain the kids can play in. Bring a change of clothes or two. The bar is accessible from the play area, allowing you to enjoy a cold beverage while letting the kids play in the sand. The fences are nice because they keeps the little guys from escaping. The food is incredible and I particularly recommend the broiled Italian oysters and thin fried catfish. Susan likes the broiled stuffed shrimp.
So these are some things we’ve done in one day in the Big Easy. If you haven’t been to New Orleans, don’t let having a family stop you. What is your favorite thing to do in the Crescent City? Do you have any protips?