A brass band saunters down the avenue and dancers teach the jitterbug to passersby – all while the scent of fried beignets meld with sweet pralines. There’s only one place that brings together so much music, food and a jazz-stoked vibe all its own: New Orleans, or NOLA, as residents say (a stand-in for New Orleans, LA).
Give your kids a taste of the city’s magnetic charm at these iconic spots.
New Orleans is probably best known for its Mardi Gras party, but the city plays host to at least one festival each month – and most revolve around music. April includes the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which showcases Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon and Snoop Dogg. It’s held the last two weekends, and crowds top 400,000 ($65-$75/general, $5/ages 2-10).
For families, the April 7-10 French Quarter Festival is a bigger draw, probably because it’s one of the largest free music fests in the country. It packs in music stages and activities, including a kids tent. Children are welcome to stay late for a battle of the bands – featuring competing jazz groups – or dancing in the street.
Of course, you don’t have to go a festival to enjoy music. There are nightly jazz shows at the family-friendly Preservation Hall in French Quarter. Dedicated to promoting New Orleans-style jazz, the circa-1800s venue was praised by the likes of Louis Armstrong. Most shows last just under an hour, the perfect length for kids.
Fun in City Park
Covering 1,300 acres in New Orleans’ center, City Park is a gathering place for people and dozens of attractions. Take smaller tykes to Storyland. Among the 20 sculptures inspired by fairytales, kids can say hello to the three little pigs, ride down a slide of dragon fire or hop aboard Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage ($4/person).
Next door, visit Carousel Gardens Amusement Park, packed with 16 old-school rides like bumper cars, a miniature train, umbrella cars, Tilt-a-Whirl and Ferris wheel. If you only have time for one, go straight to the titular antique carousel, called “Flying Horses” by locals – some of the wooden horses, which rotate up and down, date back to 1885. In April, $4 rides run weekends ($4/admission, $18/unlimited rides).
Tucked in and around the park, find more playgrounds, towering 800-year-old oak trees, lakes, putt putt, a botanical garden and more.
Day at the Audubon
The Audubon Nature Institute includes three locations around the city – all worth a visit. A 20-minute car ride southwest of City Park and in a bend of the Mississippi River, the Audubon Zoo is one of the country’s best and has spider monkeys, giant anteaters, Caribbean flamingos and even a white alligator.
Downtown, check out the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas and the Butterfly Garden and Insectarium just a few blocks away. The insectarium in particular gives kids a peek into the lives of creepy crawlies. You can even try chocolate “chirp” cookies and other cricket-in-the-batter concoctions. Mealworm salsa, anyone?
Parking can be tricky. Where possible, venture out by foot, rent a bike or try a pedicab (bike cabs), carriage ride or streetcar.
4 must-have foods
New Orleans is nearly as famous for its food as its music. Savor these favorites.
- Beignets. These fried dough pieces coated in powdered sugar are best enjoyed at the storied Café Du Monde.
- Gumbo. This creole classic comes in a variety of versions at the Gumbo Shop. For kids, stick with the chicken andouille gumbo.
- Pralines. Locals will point you to Aunt Sally’s to sample pralines – the smooth, rich candies that are packed with pralines (pronounced praw-leen, not pray-leen, in NOLA).
- Po’boy sandwiches. A New Orleans-style hoagie roll. Try either the breaded, fried catfish or shrimp po’boy at Johnny’s Po-Boys, right in French Quarter.