As a kid, I fondly remember taking a jaunt down Bourbon Street in the light of day with my Catholic grandmother. Whatever lewd sights or sounds that may have been present, I overlooked them (or was otherwise unaffected), and simply excited to be out and about beyond my usual borders. Perhaps my memory of Jazz Fest at 11-years-old is a more appropriate example. My memory of that warm April day consists of listening to music in the grass, eating taffy from the Roman Candy man, and experiencing my first porta’ potty. It is still a vivid and fond memory twenty years later.
Bourbon street aside, festivals offer a more unique outing for any family, allowing them to absorb some of the city’s authentic culture. And with the city’s Tricentennial underway, there’s even more ways for families to enjoy New Orleans. We crafted this guide just for you, so that you can enjoy it just as much as the next traveler. Although I am not a parent myself, I sourced tips from friends and family with children on how to best enjoy festival season in New Orleans.
For many local festivals, tickets for kids are heavily discounted or even free. Hogs for the Cause (March 23 and 24), for instance, admits kids under 12 for free. Jazz Fest (April 27-May 6) sells $5 tickets at the gate for children between 2 and 10 (accompanied by an adult), while kids under 2 are granted free admission. Other festivals, like the Creole Tomato Festival (June 8 and 9), are free for all, so if your little one has a wardrobe malfunction or meltdown, you won’t have to write off an early departure as a loss.
First, prepare to manage your own expectations. Make sure you are prepared to handle a situation if your child gets lost in the crowd. For those kids who are old enough to remember a parent’s cell phone number, or who may have a cell phone of their own, this may be less of a problem. However, for larger festivals like Jazz Fest where cell phone service may be limited, select a meet-up point or have a home base just in case. For younger kids, many parents write their cell phone number on their hand.
All parents are different. Some prefer to pack light, while others prefer to be overly prepared. One of the most important things is to decide how you will transport your kids and their stuff once inside a festival. While a stroller may be a convenient carrier, beware if it has recently rained as pushing it through muddy sludge may not be worth it. Crowded festivals may also make for a difficult time pushing strollers. For babies, especially when fest grounds are questionable, parents may want to bring a baby carrier like a BabyBjorn as well as a backpack. For kids who are old enough to carry their own small bags, pack their snacks, a water bottle, a change of clothes, and a kid-sized poncho.
Once inside festival grounds, food and drink prices are the same no matter your age. For certain festivals, guests are allowed to carry in food and beverage items. For instance, Jazz Fest allows factory-sealed water bottles. Especially in the warmer months, parents will want to ensure their kids are hydrated, and try to avoid high prices for bottled water on festival grounds. Some festivals (like Jazz Fest) also allow attendees to bring in food. Bottles with formula are typically allowed, though fests require you to have a young child in your party. Overall, the best plan is, when possible, to pack drinks and snacks both for convenience and to save a few dollars. For the younger kids, most parents can’t go anywhere with the diaper bag make sure to use it and pack plenty or diapers, wipes, and all the necessities.
Many miscellaneous items can be lifesavers. For example, since most local festivals feature live music front and center, a pair of noise-cancelling headphones can protect baby ears and help them doze off for a nap, if needed. An umbrella can be useful both in the event of a sudden shower and to protect from the sun’s rays. Sunscreen and hats are also musts to prevent sunburns. Once you’re prepared and packed, head out to one , two, or a few of these kid-friendly festivals.
Upcoming Family-Friendly Festivals
March 14 – May 30
Each spring, the Young Leadership Council presents a free, weekly concert series featuring local musicians. On Wednesdays from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., Lafayette Square in downtown New Orleans fills up with locals and tourists. The event is free for both kids and adults to enter and enjoy some great music and sunshine. Food, drink, and craft vendors are on-hand to fill those empty bellies. Bonus: The Wednesday at the Square grounds is a relatively small space, making it less likely for kids to get lost.
Hogs for the Cause is a pork-centric festival and contest featuring 85 barbecue chefs competing in seven categories, including whole hog, ribs, and sauce. Music acts include N.M.O. (North Mississippi Osborne), Turnpike Troubadours, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, and more. Proceeds from the festival benefit pediatric brain cancer patients and families. While adult tickets start at $25, kids under 12 enter for free.
The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden in New Orleans City Park hosts a family-friendly egg hunt from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Satuday, March 24. The event will keep kids busy, featuring egg hunts, a petting zoo, face painting, spacewalks, painting, crafts, a juggler, a magician, and more. If purchased in advance, tickets for non-NOMA members are $12 (adults and children) and include all activities and refreshments (except alcoholic beverages). Children under 2 enter for free.
When the neighborhood began its resurgence, a festival sprang up around it in the 1990s. Now, with over 150 local vendors, live music stages, and food and drink vendors, the Freret Street Festival is one of the premiere neighborhood festivals in the city. All are welcome for free. The festival also has a kids area with activities such as inflatables, a petting zoo, and arts & crafts.
April 27-May 6
Children’s tickets for Jazz Fest are just $5 (ages 2 to 10) and are hard to beat. Smaller and less crowded stages like the Fais Do-Do and the Jazz & Heritage stages, as well as tents like the Blues or Gospel tent can provide respite from the heat as well as chairs to sit in. Jazz Fest also has a Kids Tent with live music.
A Mid-City favorite, Bayou Boogaloo is the perfect family festival. Located on the banks of Bayou St. John, the festival is free. However, food and beverages are available for purchase. Children are encouraged to join in the festivities. Live music, including children’s performer Hope Stone, fills the weekend, though the kids are sure to dance to any beat, including the Wild Magnolias. Water sports, like kayaking, can keep the kids (and adults) entertained, and water sport companies will be on hand to rent equipment.
The Greek Festival, at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral, is an example of a church festival that has expanded to attract the broader community. Music, Hellenic dancing, toga wearing (on the Saturday of the festival), sweet treats, a market, a playground, and more will keep kids entertained all day. For picky kids who may be unsure about goat burgers or souvlaki, the Greek Fest also sells hot dogs. Though, we’re willing to bet any kid would love the baklava sundae! Admission is $8, and children under 12 enter for free.
June 9 and 10
The 32nd annual Creole Tomato Festival is a local favorite that takes place in the French Quarter. Several stages present live music, while food tents offering all things Creole tomato are located nearby. The festival, hosted by the French Market Corporation, is free. It also features a kid’s zone with engaging activities, including arts and crafts.
June 23 and 24
The Louisiana Cajun-Zydeco Festival, presented by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival & Founder, is another free local festival. Celebrated in Armstrong Park, the fest features music, food and drink for purchase, an arts market, and kids’ crafting and educational activities. Though the festival takes place in the summer heat, the park features shady spots, and festival organizers provide misting fans.
Come enjoy some quality family time and make lifelong memories at one of New Orleans’ many festivals.