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Things to Do

Family Affair: Summer Fun in NOLA

No matter your child’s or family’s interests, New Orleans has options when it comes to exploring with kids.

The ladybug roller coaster at City Park. (Photo: Rebecca Ratliff)

Springtime is wrapping up in New Orleans, with summer vacation hot on its tail. Summer is the perfect time for families to get out and enjoy the best of the city before kids head back to school.

FOR THE OUTDOORSY FAMILY

For your fill of thrills, head to Carousel Gardens Amusement Park at New Orleans City Park. This urban park is one of the largest in the country, with more than 1,300 acres in the heart of the city. Carousel Gardens is also home to the iconic Lady Bug Roller Coaster, recently restored and fabricated in Germany. It’s bigger and faster than its predecessor, but just as cute.

Carousel Gardens Amusement Park, home to the infamous Ladybug Roller Coaster. (Photo: Rebecca Ratliff)

Carousel Gardens’ namesake carousel is worth a trip to the amusement park alone. This century-old wooden carousel features hand-carved and painted “flying” horses and other creatures that date back as far as 1885.

However, City Park is not limited to Carousel Gardens. Try City Putt for a round of mini-golf, or stroll through the Botanical Garden to see more than 2,000 plant varieties from around the world. The park even rents bikes so you can explore more of its grounds. When you’re ready for a break, stop in at Morning Call for classic New Orleans beignets and a café au lait (note: it’s cash-only).

If your child loves watersports, rent kayaks and head to Bayou St. John. Most rental companies, such as Bayou Paddlesports, have child-sized kayak options.

This sculpture comprises a small portion of the expansive sculpture garden in City Park. (Photo: Rebecca Ratliff)

FOR THE ARTISTICALLY INCLINED

Also located in City Park is the New Orleans Museum of Art, which hosts a variety of family-friendly activities in the summertime. With a focus on creativity, the museum offers StoryQuest literature explorations, summer art camps, and family workshops led by teaching artists. After exploring the museum, families can peruse the adjacent Besthoff Sculpture Garden, which features 64 artworks beneath towering oak and magnolia trees.

The Audubon Zoo. (Photo: Paul Broussard)

FOR ANIMAL LOVERS

To cool down in the heat of summer, check out Audubon Zoo’s Cool Zoo Splash Park, which features a fun and relaxing lazy river called Gator Run. The Gator Run includes two sand beaches as well as water cannons and water curtains. The splash park features three other splash zones, including a special zone just for toddlers.

For a drier experience, the zoo offers Kamba Kourse, a ropes course with three dozen elements to test agility and balance. You can choose the course best suited to your child’s age and experience level.

Giraffes at Audubon Zoo. (Photo: Paul Broussard)

Beyond its human attractions, Audubon Zoo is ranked as one of the top zoos in the country and includes exhibits dedicated to endangered and exotic species like whooping cranes, leopards, and white alligators. The zoo’s various petting zoos and feeding demonstrations offer a hands-on experience for kids and adults alike.

Take in the wonders at the Audubon Aquarium. (Photo: Paul Broussard)

If your kids are more into aquatic life than terrestrial, travel downtown to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. The aquarium offers a walk-through tunnel Caribbean reef exhibit as well as a 400,000-gallon Gulf of Mexico Exhibit. To fully immerse yourself in the experience, try the aquarium’s Maya Dive Experience, which allows visitors to scuba or snorkel through the Maya Reef Exhibit. Visitors also can go backstage with the aquarium’s Penguin Pass to meet a penguin up close and learn more about the bird and its habitat.

Kids can get up close with creepy crawlies at the Audubon Insectarium. (Photo: Cheryl Gerber)

FOR KIDS WHO LOVE CREEPY CRAWLIES

If your kids would rather be chasing butterflies than swimming with flounder, the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium is more your style. With live insects from around the world including beetles and Black Widow spiders, the Insectarium lets visitors get up close and personal with the building blocks of the planet. You can even taste bug dishes, including “Chocolate Chirp Cookies” at the Insectarium’s “Bug Apetit” Café. Finish up with a stroll through the butterfly garden – just be sure none of the winged beauties have stuck around on your clothes when you leave.

The drum kit at Preservation Hall. (Photo: Paul Broussard)

FOR TINY TOE-TAPPERS

Kids with rhythm (and those searching for it) will love Preservation Hall, where they’ll hear a traditional live jazz performance. All-ages shows are performed daily at 8, 9, and 10 p.m. The acclaimed Preservation Hall Jazz Band tours the world, but they never miss a show at home.

SoFaB pays tribute to culinary traditions in the South, such as barbecue. (Photo courtesy Stephen Binns)

FOR FAMILY FOODIES

To experience the culinary side of New Orleans, head over to the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. With exhibits documenting the culture of food and drink throughout the South, the museum is a great resource for examining the roots of Southern culinary culture. The museum offers free admission to children under 12, and if you’re hungry, the on-site restaurant Toups South features (what else?) delicious Southern food.

If you’re looking for a sweet treat, try a New Orleans snowball. These icy treats come in a variety of flavors, colors, and styles. Hansen’s and Plum Street Snowballs are always family favorites!

Steamboat Natchez. (Photo: Rebecca Ratliff)

FOR THE SEAFARING (AND TRAVELING) SET

If you have a future engineer or sailor on your hands, then a cruise on the Steamboat Natchez will have their wheels turning. The last authentic steamboat on the Mississippi River offers daily cruises to the tunes of their iconic calliope. From the steam power to the currents of the Mighty Mississippi River, kids can glean insight about physics – or just enjoy the ride.

If your child is fascinated by city views and fun rides, hop on the historic St. Charles Avenue Streetcar. You can all the way from the French Quarter to Audubon Park!

A streetcar rolls along St. Charles Avenue. (Photo: Cheryl Gerber)

FOR CURIOUS KIDS

At the Louisiana Children’s Museum, kids can participate in learning activities ranging from human anatomy to the intricacies of grocery shopping.

The museum recently received the National Medal for Museum and Library Services, the highest honor in the nation for museums and libraries. Beyond its permanent exhibits, the Louisiana Children’s Museum will be hosting a variety of themed camps this summer, from circus skills to basic architecture.

The Louisiana Children’s Museum. (Photo: Paul Broussard)

Older (and braver!) kids may enjoy a cemetery tour, where they can hear some of New Orleans’ famous spooky stories and see the above-ground graves. St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 and Lafayette Cemetery are typically the most popular for tours.

If your kids want to learn about the history of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, sign up for a tour at Mardi Gras World. Here, your family will learn about the historical traditions behind the celebration and gain an appreciation for the artists and architects who build the breathtaking floats.

A look inside at Mardi Gras World. (Photo courtesy Mardi Gras World)
No matter your interests, New Orleans has options when it comes to exploring with kids. From our renowned food and music to our world-class museums and wildlife institutions, kids can have it all in the Crescent City.


Ann Marshall Tilton and Kelley Pettus contributed to this article. 

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