Listen as the clip-clop of hooves on antebellum cobblestone give way to a riverfront sax player’s solo, while the savory notes of jambalaya and freshly baked French bread tickle your nose. Parked on the shores of the raging Mississippi, “NOLA” grants visitors an authentic Southern experience, right down to the refreshing mint juleps and fragrant magnolia trees.
From thrilling swamp tours to swapping French Quarter ghost stories, and devouring poboys stuffed with tender gulf oysters, there is no shortage of unique, family-friendly activities in the Crescent City. If you’re heading to New Orleans with kids, here are my top 4 recommended activities along with 1 great place to eat and 1 great place to stay while there.
Activity 1: Ride the St. Charles Streetcar
The St. Charles streetcar, the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in the world, is a great way to get out of the French Quarter and explore the southern charm of the Garden District. Purchase a one-day Jazzy Pass for three dollars and hop on and off the streetcar at will along the 13-mile round trip route.
Its dark-stained mahogany benches with polished brass fixtures offer riders a stately seat from which they can meander past posh antebellum mansions, budding botanical gardens, and delectable eateries. Notable stops along the way include the Civil War Museum, the Audubon Zoological Gardens, and the Lafeyette Cemetery #1. Find out more: http://www.neworleansonline.com/tools/transportation/gettingaround/streetcars.html
Tip: During your St. Charles streetcar ride, don’t forget to look up. You’ll see signs of Mardi Gras past hanging from every limb of the Great Oak trees; Mardi Gras beads.
Activity 2: Climb Ancient Oaks in City Park
New Orleans’ City Park boasts 1,300 acres of enchanted outdoor space smack dab in the heart of the city. The 7th-most-visited urban park in the United States is a veritable kid mecca where you can lounge next to fairy tale ponds surrounded by a canopy of trees dripping with southern moss, watching swans elegantly glide by.
Get the lay of the land by hopping aboard City Park’s historic train for a ride around the blossoming botanical gardens or rent a paddle boat and explore the flora and fauna along the banks of Big Lake. With feet back on solid ground, head to the park’s old Casino building and set little climbers free on ancient Oaks, then chow down on piping hot beignets, lakeside. Find out more: www.neworleanscitypark.com
Tip: Be sure the check the City Park online events calendar to get the scoop on numerous outdoor musical performances happening during the Spring and Summer seasons.
Activity 3: Eat Beignets at Cafe Du Monde
Spring, Summer, Winter, or Fall, there’s nothing else more inherently New Orleans than a piping hot beignet covered in a hill of powdered sugar deliciousness, and there’s no other location more authentic to treat yourself to said delight than Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter. This iconic New Orleans cafe has been serving locals and tourists alike, their fill of cafe au laits, coffee with chicory, and beignets since 1862.
Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Cafe Du Monde serves Louisiana’s state doughnut made fresh to order without much fanfare, but just trust us, the taste makes up what is lacking in flair. If you think you might not be able to live without beignets once back home, buy a box, or ten, of their beignet mix, and enjoy a bite of New Orleans anytime you get the urge. Find out more: www.cafedumonde.com
Tip: Cafe Du Monde has no hostess and seating is first come, first served. The locals have developed a hover-and-plant approach, so if you spot a table that seems almost done, just hover near them, then plant yourself in their seat as soon as they vacate.
Activity 4: Step Back in Time at Houmas House Plantation
Named “The Crown Jewel of Louisiana’s River Road,” Houmas House Plantation and Gardens offers visitors an opportunity to experience the grandeur of sugar barons past. Voted Best Historic Mansion in the USA Today Reader’s Choice Awards, it was once described as “The Sugar Palace” and was, at one time, the largest producer of sugar in the country, turning out an astounding 20 million pounds of sugar a year.
What remains is a 38-acre glimpse into pre-Civil War southern life. After your tour, step back and enjoy the slow creak of a rocking chair, sip a fresh Mint Julep while the gentle breeze rolls off the Mississippi to cool your perspiring brow. If time allows, treat your taste buds to a 10-course dinner at Latil’s Landing, one of the Top 20 Restaurants in America, then burn off some calories by strolling through one of four inviting gardens. Find out more: www.houmashouse.com
Tip: For a bird’s eye view of the gardens, head to the Tea House at Mount Houmas, and whether or not you partake in adult refreshments, pop into the Turtle Bar to see this uniquely renovated garcionarre.
1 Great Place to Stay: Omni Royal Orleans
The Omni Royal Orleans is a 345-room, 4-Diamond AAA-rated hotel located in the heart of the famous French Quarter. Accommodations include standard guest rooms, suites, and luxury suites, befitting families of all sizes, and include complimentary access to a state-of-the-art fitness center and a rooftop, outdoor heated pool with views of the French Quarter and the Mississippi River.
At check-in, Omni Royal Orleans’ youngest guests are welcomed with an Omni Kid Crew backpack filled with mini-explorer necessities like binoculars, crayons, activity book with stickers, and other goodies to keep young minds active. And when you head downstairs to the Rib Room to gorge on exquisite French rotisseries and prime cuts, make sure to say hello to Dalton, their maitre d’ who has been proudly hosting foodies at this historic restaurant for more than 50 years. Find out more: Omni Royal Orleans
1 Great Place to Eat: Acme Oyster House
Give kids their first oyster experience at a New Orleans institution that’s been serving up fresh seafood fare since 1910. An oyster lover’s paradise, you can have these nuggets of the sea any style: oyster shooters, raw, charbroiled, rockefeller, or fried and stuffed poboy-style in the middle of crispy French bread.
Acme Oyster House’s no-frills, hole-in-the-wall vibe makes it the perfect kid-friendly atmosphere where you’ll dine with locals eager to advise you on all the best kept secrets of their special town. And don’t fret, for those who haven’t quite acquired the briny taste for oyster, there’s plenty of Cajun and creole delights to please your palate. Find out more: Acme Oyster House
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