I plan some of our trips based on my bucket list, but others are based on where I can find less expensive or convenient flights. When Alaska Airlines had a flight sale last fall, most of the destinations were for cold weather locations (NY, Boston, etc), but New Orleans popped up and it was too hard to resist! We went for our “babymoon” when I was 8 months pregnant with Julia and had an amazing time, so I couldn’t wait to take both kids.
Where We Stayed
James is not the world’s best sleeper, especially on vacation, so I wanted an apartment for this trip that would allow some separate sleeping spaces, and I didn’t want to be right in the French Quarter near all the noise (we stayed at the Hotel Mazarin last time and it wasn’t loud, but there was definitely more activity and they didn’t have suites that I can recall). I found a 2 BR place on Booking.com on St. Claude Ave in the Bywater neighborhood. The area isn’t flashy, but it felt like we were locals and I liked that we could walk to places to eat. There was also an easy bus line on the same street and another one 4 or 5 blocks away that took us downtown. We loved the porch swing and I would have loved to spend time on the back patio but there was enough on and off rain that it wasn’t practical. The owners have renovated the place recently and everything looks modern and clean inside. There were bunk beds in the smaller bedroom and a queen sized bed in the master. The master bath was so big that we tried putting James’ pack and play in there the first night, but it was too bright during the day, so we switched for night 2 (Peter and Julia took the master, while James and I slept in the 2nd bedroom). There were minor annoyances like the next door renters being loud in the middle of the night, or the heat acting odd (if the doors were closed, the bedroom would get really hot and the rest of the house would stay comfortable, so we had to leave them partially open all the time), but I would definitely stay there again and it was a good value.
What We Did
Our non-stop flight from Seattle landed a little after 5 p.m. and we had issues with the rental company having the wrong rate (I used AAA for a discount and the free child seat, but they STILL haven’t gotten it right), so we didn’t get near our rental until close to 7 p.m. Luckily, I’d researched our first night’s dinner ahead of time and we stopped in at St. Roch Market to check out the vendors. We were able eat quickly and enjoy a great cocktail before we went back to the apartment.
On our first full day, we walked a few blocks up the street for coffee at Satsuma Cafe before heading out to Storyland in City Park. For $5 for anyone over 36″ tall, we played for almost 2 hours on the storybook-themed play structures (along with a huge school group, but at least they were nice!). During a very short period of time when Carousel Gardens is open (it’s basically late February through May), admission to the adjacent amusement park is also included, but we easily filled up our allotted time. Julia especially loved the dragon slide and the 3 Little Pigs houses with a fun “wolf phone” that made your voice deeper when you spoke into it.
New Orleans’ park situation is interesting – there’s this giant City Park with 3 or 4 playgrounds and lots of green space, but the rest of the city seems a little devoid of playgrounds, so we really made the most of our stay. We popped over to Wheel Fun Rentals to rent a single surrey for a spin around the park ($27 for one hour, but if you rent before 12 p.m., the 2nd hour is free!). James slept in the carrier for most of the ride while Julia enjoyed the view from the front seating space that’s perfect for kids. As we finished our lap, I realized my phone had fallen out of my back pocket, so we had to go around again searching for it. Luckily, some kind person had turned it into the Cafe du Monde cashier since it had all my pictures from the morning!
We drove out to the Warehouse District for lunch at True Food Kitchen and then returned to the house for afternoon naps, waking Julia to take the bus to the French Quarter to catch a show at the legendary Preservation Hall. The timing worked out well – we walked up at 5:45 pm (on a Wednesday night) and were the second group in line for the 6 p.m. show. When we came years ago, I had pre-booked “big shot” tickets because, at 8 months pregnant, I didn’t want to chance having to sit on the floor. With two little kids, I figured the $50/ticket charge (you’d have to reserve for kids, too) for a specific show we might not make wasn’t worth it and it worked out for us. Tickets were $20/ticket for the grown-ups and our kids got in free (<5 years old), so it was a big difference. The staff were very friendly and made sure to let us know where to park our stroller and where to use the restroom beforehand (no bathrooms inside and no food allowed, although you can use the restroom next door at Pizza Dante’s for $1 or a purchase, and you can bring in drinks). Julia and I sat on the cushions in the front row since all the benches were full with “big shots” while Peter stood with James in the carrier in the back. The show started about 10 minutes late (it’s 45 minutes long), so we had plenty of time to get settled. Julia enjoyed being up front and clapping for all the musicians as they finished their solos, and several of them gave us an extra smile (ours were the only kids in the audience for that particular show, but it’s a family friendly venue). James didn’t do as well, but Peter was able to pop in and out of the open side door when he pouted. They are SERIOUS about their no recording/no phones policy. We didn’t have ours out, but the people next to us were using a portable charger and got called out loudly because the band leader thought they were using a phone.
The only downside to being in the French Quarter was that there didn’t seem to be many restaurants that were both allergy and kid-friendly (most of the nicer places who really know what’s in their food are fancy). Peter tried to take us to a wine bar/restaurant, but their menu specifically said no allergies besides gluten free could be accommodated, and it was also basically empty and not kid-friendly. We ended up at Pere Antoine’s out of desperation and it was okay – they were nice to our kids and did several checks on the food Peter could eat (although we had some trouble explaining it). However, there was basically no ambiance and it took a really long time to get our check, so I probably wouldn’t go back. I used to do more research about restaurants where Peter could eat, but had less time prior to this trip and also figured that with the proximity to water, there would be more simple fish options.
With rain in the forecast for our second day, we dropped by the local cafe and then took a bus to the Audobon Aquarium of the Americas (they offer military and AAA discounts, as well as bundles with the zoo and insectarium). Julia and James loved the fish tunnel right after the entry and spend a long time there before he passed out in the baby carrier. Julia was having a tough day of tantrums, so we spent a lot of time trying to keep her from waking up James, while also progressing through the aquarium with varied success. The stingray touch pool (there was even a baby stingray!), kids play area (for kids <42″ tall, although there were several bigger kids there), and the Gulf of Mexico exhibit were big highlights. We were even just in time to catch a feeding in the Gulf exhibit – the “target feeding” for the bigger fish like the sharks and rays made it easy for us to predict where to look for the feeding action. Julia loved climbing in the Amazon Rainforest and it was nice to feel like we were outdoors even on a rainy day. I’m not sure we would have gone to the Aquarium if the weather had been better, but it was a great stop and they did a nice job of adding local character to the exhibits and showing things we don’t see at our own aquarium in Seattle.
We wanted to go to the Green Goddess for lunch, but the space was pretty small and there were no high chairs, which isn’t great for James’ current stage of wiggly grabbing, so we went back up the street to the Governor (where there were high chairs and a changing table). My Shrimp Clemenceau was good, but service was slow and inattentive (maybe everyone in the Quarter is sick of tourists and kids). Everyone felt tired after a long day with quite a bit of walking (we’d forgotten the stroller at the house because we’d been dealing with a toddler tantrum and were in a hurry to leave), so rather than do another activity, we just took the bus back to the house for naps and had an easy dinner at St. Roch Market.
When I had researched activities for this trip, I really wanted to go on a plantation tour, specifically the Whitney Plantation that was recommended by Traveling Child (love her blog!). However, I never received a response from the plantation about suitability/preparing young children for a tour and with a 1 hr drive plus a 1.5 hr tour during which they’d need to be respectfully quiet, we decided to pass for this trip. However, we did make it out to Cajun Pride Swamp Tours for their 9:30 a.m. tour. Booking online saved us quite a bit and the kids were free (<4 yrs old). We had a charming boat captain/tour guide (Captain Tom) who has spent his life in the bayou. He had the sort of stereotypically Louisiana manner of speaking (rambling, sociable, eager to please and share information; I heard the accent described as Southern by way of Brooklyn, and that sounds about right), although if English weren’t your first language, it might be hard to follow. The reptiles of the bayou aren’t as outgoing in winter, but we saw two small gators, several birds, many raccoons and a few turtles. The boat ride was also pretty relaxing and it was a beautiful (but chilly) day out, so I’d do it again.
We drove back into town for lunch at Sweet SoulFood (a vegan soul food place) and then parked near Louis Armstrong Park so that we could easily walk into the French Quarter. We stopped at Mask Gallery on a whim to peek at their beautiful leather Mardi Gras masks, attempted to go to the waterfront Cafe du Monde (but skipped it because the line was so long), walked through Jackson Park, and stopped to watch a band play on Royal Street before getting beignets at Cafe Beignet (they were okay, but much bigger than Cafe du Monde’s, so not the balance of sugar:doughnut that I prefer) and walked through Louis Armstrong Park (no playground and not super stroller friendly). James managed to fall asleep just as we were finishing our walk, so Peter walked to the house while I drove Julia back via a grocery store and then conned her into a nap.
I loved our evening plans – we took a fun walk to the Sneaky Pickle (I always enjoy walking through neighborhoods, and it was that gorgeous “golden hour”) for a spectacular dinner and then made our way to the Music Box Village. I saw this literal “village” made out of upcycled musical instruments and other spare parts in my research phase and stalked their calendar in hopes there would be something we could visit (they’re typically only open Saturdays and Sundays) and lo and behold, there was a 4-9 p.m. exploration time the Friday night we were there. The kids and I loved it! They could finally pull and bang on random objects to make a bunch of noise and no one was going to stop them. There were places to climb stairs, mirrors to gaze at themselves, sticks to use for hitting (instruments only, please!) – it was literally a musical playground. Peter thought it was a little too trippy (I could see how Louis Carroll would feel at home), but I could have spent more time there if it weren’t too close to bedtime.
For our last day, we asked Julia for her thoughts on what to do and she basically just wanted to repeat all the things she had enjoyed most. So, we rode a surrey in City Park, ate beignets at Cafe du Monde, played on two of the City Park playgrounds, ate lunch at True Food Kitchen, and then headed to the airport.
MSY is not my favorite airport for kids (no play area, lots of unnecessary going up and down escalators for check-in/gates, long shuttle ride to/from the rental car area), but it wasn’t bad either. We walked the kids to sleep separately and grabbed food (fries from Shake Shack for Peter and a po boy from Emeril’s for me) before boarding for our 5.5 hr flight back to Seattle.
Where We Ate
Only listing places I would happily return to – I found the French Quarter really challenging to find places that were both kid-friendly and allergy-friendly. I would love your suggestions!
St. Roch Market – individual food stands in an open hall. We loved the Elysian Seafood and Fritai (Haitian food) booths and the Mayhaw bar (really great cocktails). Everyone working there was kind and welcoming towards the kids and there were highchairs and a changing table, plus it was walking distance from the house we stayed in.
Satsuma Cafe – we loved the Dauphine St location that was a few blocks from where we stayed. The breakfast scramble (tofu or quinoa) was perfect for my allergy-laden husband, I loved the green eggs and ham croissant, and it was really kid friendly (kids menu, small kids table next to books and games, changing table and high chairs). We went back every day at some point for coffee, and they had multiple alternative milks, including oat.
True Food Kitchen – apparently this is a chain (we don’t usually search out chains, but we do look for places that are vegan-friendly since it helps with Peter’s allergies), but it doesn’t feel like one. Bright and cheery with fun decor (like mardi gras bead art and hanging plants), this place had lots of veggie-heavy options that were still kid friendly (like spaghetti squash casserole, a child size chicken teriyaki bowl, etc). There were high chairs and a changing table.
Sweet SoulFood – vegan soul food? Why yes, and it was fantastic! Served cafeteria-style where you choose which dishes you want and then pay, this place seemed to attract a really diverse clientele (black and white, young and old, tourist and local) and the food was great. Julia loved the mac and cheese (made with nuts, including peanuts, so we didn’t share with Peter), and I thought the beans, collards, and fried cauliflower were fantastic. I would have gone back for more if I’d had room.
Sneaky Pickle – great little homey spot. Their website said something about giving meat-eaters and vegetarians common ground and I loved that idea. Peter had a grass-fed burger that they modified for him. I had the greens (oh god, so good), roasted carrots with cashew yogurt, amazing pierogis with a smoked vegetarian filling and the bowl of food (to be fair, I was sharing with the kids).
New Orleans somehow manages to have a split between extremely kid-friendly (friendly people, street music, giant park with amazing play structures) and extremely adult-friendly (drinking on the street, fancy restaurants, late night clubs). I was grateful that we had already done some of the “must do” activities on a previous adults’ trip, which freed me up mentally to skip those and focus more on things the kids would enjoy, and to have a more relaxed pace. Our roughly 4 day trip seemed like enough, although there are several things I’d like to go back and do with them (most of which were nixed because of proximity to nap time), such as:
- Ride a streetcar – we used the mobile app (thank goodness for cities that don’t require cash on board or difficult to obtain passes) to ride several buses, but never managed to get on a streetcar (we did this on our previous trip though)
- Take the Canal Street Ferry or the Natchez steamboat – the ferry has had some maintenance going on and I never managed to check back on the status. The steamboat had sailing times that weren’t convenient and the trip was 2 hours, so we never made it on that either
- French Quartour Kids – I would have loved to do a Creole Kids or Spooky tour, but just couldn’t fit it around naptime.
- Whitney Plantation – I haven’t figured out what age would be best for this, but I think seeing plantation history from a slave’s point of view is really important and I’d like to go back.
- Mardi Gras World – We visited this giant warehouse where many Mardi Gras floats are built on our previous visit and I’d love to take the kids again. Touristy? Yes, definitely. But also really specific to New Orleans.
We really enjoyed our trip and felt like we got to experience a more local view of the city with kids (one of the perks of traveling with children sometimes!). Julia is already asking when we can go back because she wants more New Orleans Cooking School pralines on “her” porch swing!