I’m Erik (find me on Instagram at @NolaPapa), and I’ve lived in New Orleans for almost 20 years, so when I say I’ve explored every inch of this city, you can believe it. Yet, now that my hunky husband and I have two beautiful girls (Alli Mae is one and a half, and Ella is almost a month old) I’m exploring this city with new eyes and even more excitement because I get to share it with them.
New Orleans is a treasure trove filled with unique and fun outings for the whole family, especially in the summer. And in my humble opinion, LGBTQ families have it pretty good in the Crescent City. Whether you’re exploring the French Quarter, visiting the Audubon Zoo or Insectarium, or traversing the swamps on a guided tour, there are so many things to do as a family. Plus, the culture here is so rich you could make a good roux out of it.
So, let’s crack open this treasure chest and find the fun stuff!
LGBT Family Vacation Ideas
5 Free Things To Do With Your Kiddos
The best things in life are free, after all.
1. The Fly — Located behind Audubon Zoo, right along the river, “The Fly” is an absolutely perfect place to play a game of bocce ball with your kids, have a barbecue or crawfish boil, or even just throw down a blanket for a picnic to watch the barges float by.
2. Lafitte Greenway — One thing that my young family likes to do more than anything is bike. We love to pull out our little tot-trailer and hook it to one of our bicycles and head out on the open road. One of my most favorite places to do this is Lafitte Greenway. It’s 2.6 miles and is perfect for cycling or taking a long walk. Once you see it for yourselves, you’ll know what I mean. And what’s the perfect “after bike ride” treat? A snowball, of course.
3. Decatur Street: Another favorite, hitting up Decatur Street. We throw the stroller in the back of the car and head out to the French Quarter. Decatur Street runs parallel to The Mississippi River and is filled with fun things to do. One place we always go, rain or shine, is the French Market, which starts where Decatur and North Peters streets split. Whether you want to find a fruit and vegetable stand or an authentic African mask, French Market has it. You can also grab lunch in the new food court area. The market is open from 7 a.m. – 4 p.m. every single day.
After you get your fill of the French Market, walk over to the Moon Walk, located along the River near the Aquarium, and watch the ships float past. Just find a bench, grab a cold drink and enjoy the beauty that is New Orleans.
4. Audubon Tree Of Life — I have gone to Audubon Park for as long as I have been in New Orleans. It’s a smaller park located in Uptown in New Orleans. It has a gorgeous lagoon in the middle with a walking track that winds around it. It’s perfect for an afternoon walk with the kids. Just beyond the park is an iconic landmark that I think everyone should be introduced to at least once: The Tree of Life. This tree is about 500 years old and was originally called the Étienne de Boray Oak. She’s absolutely gigantic with limbs that stretch to the sky and a mystical root system below, perfect for your little ones to climb on and explore. This, my friends, is my all-time favorite picnic spot – hands down! You can find The Tree of Life on East Drive in New Orleans.
5. City Park — This is my favorite free place to bring my family in the summer. With so much to see and do, you’re sure to spend all day making awesome memories with your kids. I like to pack a bag full of white bread for the ducks, throw some sandwiches and chips in a basket for us, and head out to find the perfect tree to eat them under. It’s also the perfect backdrop for pictures of the entire family! Bring your camera, or make sure your smartphone is charged; you’ll want to snap as many pics as you can here.
For all you adults who are really kids at heart, Douglas, my husband, insists we ride the train every time we visit. However, this requires a $5 ticket per person. So come prepared with a little cash if you want to go for a ride on the train.
Another area of City Park that’s fun for the little ones is Storyland. Filled with sculptures and play areas that bring children’s stories to life. It’s sure to capture the imagination of every kid – even a grumpy one.
5 Spots for Family Fun
These come with a fee, but are tons of fun for children and adults alike.
1. Cool Zoo — Basically, it’s a wet n’ wild splash park located in Audubon Zoo. You don’t find many water parks in New Orleans, and this one is one of the best. It’s ideal for your family after a hot and steamy trip to the zoo — just make sure you bring your swimsuit! You can either buy combo tickets to both the Water Park and Audubon Zoo, or you can just buy single tickets to the Cool Zoo. The Cool Zoo is open 7 days a week from May 27 until Aug. 11. From Aug. 12 through Sept. 4, it’s only open on weekends. Combo tickets for the zoo and Cool Zoo are $24.95 for kids and $29.95 for adults.
2. Swamp Tours — If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, go on a swamp tour! It is just like what you have seen on television, but better: you can see the wildlife and smell the open air for yourselves (plus, no commercials.)
Gators, bald eagles, nutria… you name it. See it all on a fast moving, sharp-turning, spinning air boat. Just bring your fisherman hat to keep the sun off and wear plenty of sunscreen. Daily tours run from March 1- October 31, and tickets are $26 for kids (ages 6-12) and $49 for adults.
3. Planation Tours — I absolutely love Cajun history. This was another one of my favorite things Douglas and I have done together. I will be thrilled to do it again when our girls are a little older. So, if you have slightly older children, definitely put this on your do-list. These plantations are breathtaking. You really have to experience it for yourselves to grasp what I am talking about. The history coupled with the beauty is worth every penny.
Prices below include two tours:
Laura Plantation and Oak Ally Plantation.
Transportation to and from tours are also included.
4. Children’s Museum — One of the absolute coolest museums around is hands-down The Children’s Museum. This place is packed wall to wall with unique exhibits that are sure to pique any child’s interests. Seeing your kids smile as they run and play will make you and your family want to come back week after week. The Children’s Museum is open Monday-Saturday from 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. and Sundays from 12 p.m.- 4:30 p.m.
5. Painting with a Twist: Got a rainy day on your hands? No worries! Painting with a Twist is just a phone call away. Even when the weather is perfect, this is a creative and fun outing the whole family can enjoy. (Side note: Painting with a Twist is also a huge ally for the LGBTQ community. This local company sent more than $23,000 to Orlando when the tragedy happened at Pulse in 2016.)
They genuinely care about us and they employ many LGBTQ Americans all across this country.
Want to meet new friends?
There is a Facebook group called NOLA Gay Families that is great for meeting new friends! They meet pretty regularly, and the people are some of the nicest people my partner Douglas and I have met. I highly encourage any gay parent living in or visiting New Orleans to look them up. You’ll find me, and many other LGBT families, living out our dream of being a loving, happy gay family at these events that they put on for the community.
For more information and news on the city’s LGBT community, sign up for New Orleans’ LGBT e-newsletter here.