3 Days in New Orleans for a Family Vacation

New Orleans is immensely appealing to family travelers because of its penchant for spectacle — colorful houses, frequent street parades and general revelry. In fact, even the city’s carnival season is considered by locals to be a time for families, despite the debauchery that frequently makes headlines. The city also has a fabled restaurant scene, featuring flavorful fare and plentiful portions.

What’s more, a New Orleans trip can be cheaper than visiting many other popular destinations in the U.S., and the city is geographically compact, so visitors can explore a lot in a relatively short time, like a long weekend, and get the most value for their trip to the Crescent City.

The shoulder seasons, October to November and May to June, offer lower rates and milder weather. Though costs dip considerably in July and August, the heat and humidity can be staggering. Plan to spend significantly more during the big festivals in the spring, usually February through April.

Here is a three-day itinerary — with a bonus day, if you have the time — to enjoy a New Orleans family vacation over a long weekend.

How to Get There

Fly in to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, about 11 miles west of downtown.

Where to Stay

The Dauphine Orleans Hotel offers a rare mix of historical ambiance, a central French Quarter location, good rates, decent-sized rooms and a pool. You’ll find similar perks amid the lush, overgrown boulevards of the Lower Garden District if you book at the nearby Hilton New Orleans on St. Charles Avenue.

Part of Royal Street is closed to vehicular traffic for a few hours each day, giving French Quarter visitors the freedom to roam.


Day 1: The French Quarter

While Bourbon Street tends to be an adults-only playground, there is plenty for families to do in the rest of the French Quarter. First, wander down Royal Street, a block away from Bourbon. As you appreciate the buildings, let the kids know that instead of yards, these old-school, Spanish-style townhouses (despite the name, most French Quarter buildings were built during the Spanish colonial era) boast gorgeous interior courtyards. You may catch a glimpse of one in the crack of an alleyway.

A chunk of Royal Street that extends from St. Louis to St. Ann streets is closed to vehicular traffic from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is a great place for checking out buskers, window-shopping and soaking up the Quarter’s historical vibe — keep an eye out for iconic neighborhood architectural elements such as wrought-iron balconies. Perhaps the best activity for families here is people-watching, on Royal Street or in Jackson Square, which is anchored by the magnificent spires of St. Louis Cathedral. Jackson Square is constantly packed with fortunetellers, street performers and artists, and immersing yourself in its eccentricity is a quintessential New Orleans experience for any age.

Can’t-miss food: Green Goddess, an outdoor restaurant tucked into a pedestrian alleyway, incorporates international influences into a menu that is inspired by the rich eclecticism of the French Quarter. There are vegan and vegetarian options for herbivores — but plenty of meat, too. Of course, no New Orleans trip is complete without classic Cajun food. Brennan’s, with its riotous pink exterior and resident pet turtles, is a classic Creole fine-dining restaurant that also happens to be overtly family-friendly.

See the sights of the Garden District and Uptown neighborhoods of New Orleans aboard the St. Charles Streetcar.


Day 2: Uptown and the Garden District

The leafy stretches and pillared mansions of Uptown and the Garden District represent an architecture far removed from the Franco-Iberian influence of the French Quarter. Take the kids for a ride on the St. Charles Streetcar, which rolls down wide St. Charles Avenue, lined with live oak trees.

If your kids like a bit of spookiness, venture into Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, one of the most atmospheric “cities of the dead” in a town known for its graveyards. The tombs were built above ground (the water table in the city is too high for below-ground burial). If a cemetery is too intense for the kids, the Audubon Zoo, off Magazine Street, is a beloved local institution, with 58 acres of lovingly landscaped outdoor exhibits, including a re-created Louisiana swamp.

If you need an air-conditioned break, consider a show at the Prytania Theatre, a one-screen movie house with a nicely curated selection of films. If your little ones need to run off some energy, The Fly is a popular park along the Mississippi River.

Can’t-miss food: Surrey’s Cafe and Juice Bar is a funky breakfast and lunch spot boasting local art and a menu that includes shrimp and grits and bananas Foster French toast that will whet even the pickiest eaters’ appetites. Speaking of sweet treats, The Creole Creamery is a long-standing family favorite for ice cream.

The Bywater neighborhood in New Orleans is known for its candy-colored homes and eclectic shops.


Day 3: Faubourg Marigny and Bywater

Located downriver (east) of the French Quarter, the Marigny and Bywater are notable for their candy-colored homes and air of unconventional coolness. Children may enjoy the area’s multicolored houses or the eclectic findings at thrift stores. If it’s the weekend, visit The Music Box Village, an interactive art installation and performance space that is best described as an inhabitable musical instrument. But the real joy for the younger set is playing in Crescent Park, a thoughtfully landscaped, 20-acre park that runs along the Mississippi River.

Can’t-miss food: Have breakfast at New Orleans Cake Cafe & Bakery, where the owners are cool with the kids and the crab omelet is to die for (to say nothing of the cupcakes). Nearby Pizza Delicious slings some of the best thin-crust pies in the South.

Visitors to the Barataria Preserve, 20 miles south of New Orleans, might see alligators and other wildlife in their wetland habitat.


Bonus Day: Options for In and Out of Town

You don’t need to book a swamp tour to see the Louisiana wetlands. Just drive about 20 miles south of the city to the Barataria Preserve, a slice of bayou administered by the National Park Service. You might just spy an alligator sunning itself as you stroll an easily walkable boardwalk path. On the way back to New Orleans, stop in Gretna to eat at Tan Dinh, widely considered one of the best Vietnamese restaurants in Greater New Orleans.

If you don’t feel like driving outside of the city, consider walking (or renting a bike and cycling, if your kids are big enough) part or all of the Lafitte Greenway, a 2.6-mile linear park connecting the Treme neighborhood almost all the way to City Park. Just off the Greenway is Second Line Brewing, whose kid-friendly outdoor space is often catered by food trucks.

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About the Author

Adam Karlin is a freelance writer and editor who loves culture, food, music, the arts, food, history, archaeology, spirits and, yes, food. He lives in New Orleans and publishes his work in a variety of venues.