Do you know what a spy boy is? How about a boeuf gras? Mardi Gras is more fun when you have a deeper understanding of all the love, work, tradition, and money that goes into pulling off “America’s Greatest Free Show” every year. The museums listed below celebrate Carnival year-round with exhibits that capture the magnificent gaudiness and sparkling splendor of Fat Tuesday. Besides Liberace’s closet, you won’t find anything like this outside New Orleans.
Mardi Gras Museums
1380 Port of New Orleans Place
Mardi Gras World houses Blaine Kern Studios, which has been creating Carnival floats since 1947. Here you can go on a guided tour of a huge workshop where architects and artists create floats for more than 40 parades. Get a behind-the-scenes look at Fat Tuesday by viewing a video presentation, trying on costumes, and enjoying a piece of real New Orleans king cake (quite a coup out of season).
- Admission: $19.95 adults, $15.95 seniors and students, $12.95 kids
- Hours: One-hour tours are available every 30 minutes between 9:30 and 4:30 p.m.,
7 days a week
- Bonus: Free shuttle pickup from 20 downtown locations with ticket purchase
751 Chartres St.
Experience Mardi Gras on Jackson Square at The Presbytère, one of several jewels in the Louisiana State Museum crown. The Presbytere houses an exquisite collection of Mardi Gras memorabilia year-round: highlights of “It’s Carnival Time in Louisiana” include floats you can climb on, costumes to admire, a Mardi Gras record collection, historic throws, and more. Love a good museum shop? You’re in luck. If the lady who’s taking care of your cat doesn’t take to the souvenir Mardi Gras beads, your cat will.
- Admission: Adults $6, students, senior citizens, active military $5
- Hours: Open Tuesday – Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
713 St. Louis St.
Antoine’s, the country’s oldest family-owned restaurant, is home to twelve fascinating dining rooms where you can dive into great food and amazing history: dinner… and a show! While not exactly “Mardi Gras museums,” three of these rooms are named after the Carnival krewes – Rex, Proteus, and 12th Night Revelers – and the bar is named after the Krewe of Hermes. If you can take your attention away from the legendary menu, you’ll see that the walls are covered with photos, crowns and scepters from parades that rolled through crowds long ago. And here’s a little lagniappe: Don’t leave without sticking your head into The Mystery Room, where you can view a beret that once belonged to Groucho Marx.
- Admission and hours: Private tours are available upon request
The Germaine Cazenave Wells Mardi Gras Museum at Arnaud’s
813 Bienville St.
From 1937 to 1968, Count Arnaud’s daughter Germaine reigned as queen of 22 Mardi Gras balls– more than any other women in the history of Carnival. Today, you can view more than two dozen costumes, 70-plus vintage photographs, decorative masks, faux jewels, and ornate ball invitations.
- Admission: Free to the public
- Hours: Open during restaurant hours seven days a week
Backstreet Cultural Museum
1116 Henriette Delille St.
The Backstreet Cultural Museum, located in America’s oldest African-American neighborhood, showcases an amazing collection of Mardi Gras Indian regalia. Come see elaborate suits handmade with beads, feathers and stones – the result of a year’s worth of labor and love.
Artifacts relating to the North Side Skull and Bone gang are also on exhibit. In the early hours on Fat Tuesday, the gang roams the streets on stilts in handcrafted skulls and skeleton suits, alerting the city of the arrival of Mardi Gras. You’ll also see an exhibit honoring the Baby Dolls, a female African-American Carnival group who dresses in bonnets, bloomers and lacy socks. The Baby Dolls date back to the Storyville era (1897-1917).
- Admission: $10
- Hours: Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Closed Sunday and Monday
The Mardi Gras Museum of Costume and Culture
1010 Conti St.
Over the years, drummer, xylophonist, mime, clown, magician, and entertainment producer Carl Mack collected an impressive array of Carnival costumes. In January 2017, with the help of museum curator and director Helen del Giudice, Mack threw open his closet door to the world. The museum’s collection includes elaborate (not to mention heavy) costumes of Carnival kings and queens, hand-beaded Mardi Gras Indian suits, Cajun Mardi Gras attire, and more. The highlight of this new museum might just be the “costume closet.” Try on a little Mardi Gras, and take all the selfies you want.
- Admission: Adults $12; LA Residents $10; Youth, Students, Seniors, and Military $8
- Hours: Open daily 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.