New Orleans is a grown-up town in a lot of ways, but there are lots of activities to keep the kids interested, too. Here are Fodor's top seven picks for your family bucket list in New Orleans.
Aquarium of the Americas
Loads of exotic sea creatures, a penguin exhibit, and an interactive area where kids can get their hands wet make the Aquarium of the Americas a favorite family destination. Four major exhibit areas—the Amazon Rain Forest, the Caribbean Reef, the Mississippi River, and the Gulf Coast—showcase fish and animals native to their respective environments. A special treat is Parakeet Pointe, where visitors can get up close to hundreds of parakeets and even feed them by hand. There's a fun museum shop and an IMAX theater next door.
The amazing Audubon Insectarium features insects for everyone—from a beautiful exhibit on butterflies to gross-out fun with the bug chef, who'll dish up Cajun-fried crickets and other insect cuisine to adventurous eaters.
The beautiful Audubon Park is the perfect place to let the kids run free for a couple of hours. They can explore the lagoon complex, where they'll find ducks and an impressive (sometimes squawky) assortment of migratory birds nesting on Bird Island. The park is also home to the Audubon Zoo, consistently ranked among the nation's top zoos, where a wide array of animals are presented in exhibits that mimic their natural habitats.
Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World
If you're not here for the real thing, Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World at Kern Studios is a fun and family-friendly backstage look at the history and artistry of Carnival. The massive 400,000-square-foot complex, just upriver from the New Orleans Convention Center, has an enhanced guided tour through a maze of video presentations, decorative sculptures, and favorite megafloats from Mardi Gras parades such as Bacchus, Rex, and Endymion. Kids can also watch the artists at work.
There's plenty for the younger set to do at City Park, including two playgrounds: one with swings near the Peristyle, and a playground for older kids, just off Marconi Drive, that has more challenging things to clamber on. Storyland, a fairy-tale theme park, is open on weekends year-round, and features a number of sculptures created by Blaine Kern Studios, the maker of Mardi Gras floats. Adjacent Carousel Gardens Amusement Park has low-impact rides, including a Ferris wheel that offers incredible views of the park and city skyline, a miniature train that tours the park, and a beautiful 100-year-old carousel as a centerpiece.
From paddleboats to bike rentals, the park’s Big Lake, surrounded by 25 acres of wetlands, wildlife and walking, jogging and biking paths, inspires exploration. And if you’d rather relax, Robertaux of NOLA Gondola offers private tours of the park’s bayous and lagoons on his authentic Venetian gondola, the Bella Mae.
In the center of the park, next to the Great Lawn, kids of all ages have been flocking to the park’s newest attraction, the beautiful two-acre, 36-hole mini-golf complex, City Putt, which offers two courses highlighting cultural themes and icons from around the state and city.
French trappers, seafood vendors, and more than a few rowdy sailors traipsed through the open-air French Market stalls once upon a time. Today the place more resembles a bazaar, and alongside vegetable stalls, fresh juice bars, and charcuteries selling alligator-on-a-stick, crawfish, and Cajun sausages you'll find stands packed with jewelry, bags, cheap sunglasses, and antiques. The quality of the merchandise varies (it's a great place to pick up Mardi Gras beads and hot sauces), but the scene is a lot of fun—especially on weekends and whenever live music takes over the market.
St. Charles Avenue Streetcar
Three streetcar lines converge on Canal Street, but the historic St. Charles Avenue Streetcar packs the most bang for the buck-and-a-quarter fare. Following a route in use since a steam train first plied the avenue in 1835, the old-school streetcars clatter through the CBD, then roll along the oak-shaded median past some of the city's most exclusive addresses. Stops include Audubon Park, the Garden District, and the Riverbend shopping district.