Last month we made a last minute decision to tag along with my husband on a business trip to one of my favorite U.S. cities, and I’m so glad we did. I fell in love with New Orleans during a series of visits in my mid-twenties, and have been anxious to get back ever since. I was taken aback when a few people reacted negatively when I told them we were taking the kids, because apparently the only NOLA they know is the inebriated, late-night party version. While that can be fun (I recommend experiencing Mardi Gras once when you’re young, like I did), it is only a small piece of the picture. There is so much to love about the historic city: the people, the food, the music…distinctly American but often French-infused. In fact, I feel it’s the closest to France you can get in the states. New Orleans is celebrating it’s tricentennial (wow) this year, and has conveniently been named the #1 place to visit by The New York Times. I’m sharing our whirlwind 72 hour trip in it’s entirety – my favorite family-friendly spots, itinerary ideas, and tips…plan a visit, and bring the kids!
The first stop after checking into our hotel was the iconic Café Du Monde because, well…beignets. I prepared the kids to try their first “French donut” for days, and while they didn’t share my level of excitement, they enjoyed themselves. Notice Henry’s technique of flipping it upside down for his first bite – of course he was wearing black pants. We coached them about holding their breath and not laughing near the powdered sugar, but neglected to review the proper way to hold it (hashtag parent fail). Afterwards, we wandered around the square admiring the Christmas decor before venturing deep into the French Quarter. As the sun set, we headed back to our hotel via bike taxi (these guys were awesome and arrived within minutes of our call). It was really fun for us all and allowed us to see a lot more of the Quarter since the kids were getting weary. We ordered room service and all went to bed early – day two was going to be even busier!
Day two began with my husband sneaking out of the hotel room at 5 am to go to work – we (me and the kids) were to be on our own for much of our time in New Orleans, which was challenging but worth it. After breakfast at the hotel restaurant, we walked two blocks to ride the historic St. Charles streetcar. Traveler tip: be sure to have exact change, or purchase the Jazzy Pass. It was surprisingly tricky to get two toddlers safely onto the car while navigating payment and getting seated quickly – once I got the pass I could breathe a little easier. We rode the line all the way to the Garden District, and just wandered a bit admiring the architecture and lush gardens. We stopped for snacks and coffee at the very cool Rue de la Course, a destination I had bookmarked for it’s unique setting (in a historic bank building) and French name, bien sur. Parents be advised: it is a study destination for college students on weekdays and is extremely quiet (i.e. not suitable for all children). Soon after we were back on the streetcar, headed to Audubon Park for some playtime!
Did I mention we had the most beautiful weather I’ve ever experienced in New Orleans? Highs in the 60s with hardly any humidity – such a gift. We were all smitten with Audubon Park, which has so much to offer. The children’s playground was amazing, surrounded by towering old oaks, a pond, and a walking trail. A big point of interest for families is the Zoo, although we didn’t make it there this time. We watched the ducks on the pond and people-watched, where the kids had a “forrest and jenny moment” on the park bench. We hurried back to the hotel so that they could nap for a very special evening performance at….drumroll…Preservation Hall. As a jazz lover, giving the kids their first live jazz experience there was big for me, and I booked tickets immediately after we confirmed our flights. The early shows are family-friendly, and the intimate venue really kept them engaged. The “Big Shot” reserved seats are totally worth it with kids – guaranteed entry, no waiting in line, and the best seats in the house. No photos are allowed, and while we got a few pre-show iPhone shots for the sake of posterity, it was truly an evening of unplugging and savoring the moment. We finished the night with a delicious dinner at Domenica, located inside the Roosevelt hotel which is especially magical at Christmas.
We began our third day at The French Library, which I had been foaming at the mouth to visit since it opened in 2016. A destination for Francophiles both big and small, it is filled with French children’s literature, toys, and French-inspired clothing. Marie + Henry really enjoyed storytime, and we met up with my friend Juley Le and her adorable infant son James. While I could have stayed there all day, we walked down Magazine Street, where I quickly became nostalgic for the pre-kid days when I could wander and shop at my leisure. We had lunch at La Petite Grocery which was surprisingly kid-friendly, and snuck a peak at the kids playing outside l’ecole française (le sigh). Back on the streetcar, we spotted a very interesting sight, and I impulsively hopped off with the kids to get a closer look. Built from pieces of a former restaurant atop the Eiffel Tower, the Eiffel Society is a party venue that prides itself on being “a piece of Paris in New Orleans”. It was a bit unkempt but the love locks outside the gate were a nice touch. We were soon joined by daddy for more adventures…
If you like ice cream, or coffee, or better yet – the two combined, don’t miss the Drip Affogato Bar. Owned by my friend Juley (whom we met earlier that day), it is a very hip and delicious destination in the Warehouse District. The chic, minimal space is the perfect backdrop for their incredible treats. The kids loved the ice cream, and we swooned over the affogatos, of course (hashtag not sponsored). With our time in the city dwindling, the sugar helped fuel the kids for a jam-packed afternoon, ha! I have always wanted to see Lafayette Cemetery but somehow never made it there, so we rode the St. Charles over and arrived just as the gates were being locked. We explained the history to the kids and took a few photos, to include: a lucky one precariously holding the camera inside the gates, and a funny one of the kids holding their noses proclaiming “something is stinky”. Our last dinner of the trip was at Cochon, which I had heard such great things about. While we didn’t expect them to be very kid-friendly, they actually had Wikki Stix for them to play with, to our delight. The meal was quite memorable, and we all slept soundly that night after a long day and a decadent dinner.
We only had a few hours in the morning before heading to the airport, but I intended to make the most of it. I took the kids back to the French Quarter – we started at the French Market, and even though it wasn’t open, there were many photo opportunities. Heading back towards Jackson Square we stopped for a closer look at the Jeanne D’Arc statue. A fascinating fact: the city of Orleans, France (where Joan of Arc has so much history) will officially become a sister city this year for the tricentennial. This excites me, as I have a very personal connection to Orleans. My father lived there for a few years during his military career, and my brother was born there. I’ve visited it numerous times and admire it greatly – it is a beautiful, historic city that has been given new life in recent years (much like New Orleans). It is another example of the French connection there, solidifying my passion for the city. After one last stop at Café Du Monde and an epic photo fail in Jackson Square (below), it was time to leave. Bye for now NOLA, we love you and hope to return soon!