5 Things to Do in New Orleans (with and without Kids)

Great music, iconic food, and the best time of day for beignets.
view of French Quarter and river in New Orleans with St. Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square in foreground
(Photo: Justen Williams/New Orleans & Company)

It’s time to clear up a long-held misconception—that New Orleans isn’t a very kid-friendly destination. New Orleans is amazing for adults, yes, with 21-and-up jazz clubs and music bars, long meals, museums, and more. But as a family vacation spot, New Orleans is equally packed with fun. You just have to know where to look.

On a recent trip to New Orleans, knowing that I wanted to write this exact story, I dove in and tried out iconic experiences for adults and kids. Here are my favorite suggestions for making the most of the city both with (and without) kids. 

Things to Do in New Orleans for Culture and History

view of room at VueOrleans showing jazz musicians on screens
Vue Orleans is a great way for kids and adults to learn about New Orleans (Photo: Christine Sarkis)

New Orleans with Kids: Vue Orleans

I wasn’t quite sure what I had signed up for when I got a ticket to Vue Orleans, just that it offered views from the top of the Four Seasons by the water. But from the moment I entered the highly interactive space, I was hooked, and think that this newish museum is an absolute must with kids. 

Here’s what Vue Orleans calls itself: a “multi-level interactive cultural experience celebrating New Orleans.” That’s all true once you know what’s inside, but that description doesn’t do it justice. So here are the details.

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As you walk in, you’re suddenly surrounded by the celebratory sounds of jazz and parades, plus a variety of tall screens and more traditional wall exhibits that share the history and culture of the city. The screens and projections are interactive–you wave your hand over them to select topics and then videos pop up to tell you about, say, the culture of parades, Mardi Gras, and the Blue Dog. There are people-sized screens where you can hear stories from actors dressed up as real historical figures who tell their stories, figures including Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, Marie Laveau, and a Chitimacha Chief

As you wander through the exhibit, you get to a restaurant counter where you learn about the iconic foods of the city (I almost passed by this without sitting down, and I’m so glad I stopped; it was a highlight). Think king cake, red beans and rice, pralines, and muffuletta. The next stop is a room dedicated to music. Here, there’s a screen that takes you through different music genres the city is known for, including jazz and bounce.

From there, you go into a room surrounded by screens for a video tour through the history of New Orleans, and then into that time-machine elevator for the trip to the indoor 360-degree observation deck, which has more exhibits (my favorite was one where you try your hand at piloting a river barge) plus different tools to help you learn more about the city as you gaze out on it. The second floor of the observation deck has a cafe and an outdoor viewing area. 

New Orleans without Kids: Ogden Museum of Southern Art

There’s not anything kid-unfriendly at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art; rather, I loved the chance to visit without kids because it allowed me to move at my own speed through a story of Southern and New Orleans identity told through art. 

Located a short walk from the French Quarter in the Warehouse Arts District downtown, the museum showcases its collection of more than 4,000 paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures, and crafts in two buildings: a former library built in 1889 and a modern five-story glass building.

As the ticket seller suggested, I started at the top and worked my way down. After Vue Orleans, where I had gotten an immersive history lesson, the experience here felt more subtle but just as important. Some of my favorite pieces were: a print by Ben Depp of a life ring floating near a wrecked boat after Hurricane Ida—it’s a bright red circle in a sea of black. There was also a painting by Richard Wilt called Farewell that shows two women doing laundry outside their small house as World War II military planes fly low through the sky. 

It’s a lovely museum that takes on race, erasure, gender, history, and joy, sometimes all at once. 

Music in New Orleans

hallway of Preservation Hall all-ages music venue before a performance
Preservation Hall has daily shows and no age restrictions (Photo: Christine Sarkis)

New Orleans with Kids: Preservation Hall

A lot of the city’s greatest music takes place at 21+ spots, which rules out kids. But Preservation Hall is an all-ages French Quarter spot with nightly shows. The vibe is sweet and low-key; think wooden benches and standing room, a stage that’s just an extension of the wood floor, and old posters telling the story of music over the decades. 

First started as a place for elder jazz musicians to continue to make a living doing what they love, the non-profit organization hosts both its collective of musicians and visiting special guests. It offers four to six shows a day (afternoon and evening) 360 days a year, so it’s easy to find a time that will work for your family. Prices are in the $25-$50 range, and shows last about an hour, which is the perfect length for a full experience with kids.

New Orleans without Kids: Frenchman Street

Bourbon Street is New Orleans’ most famous thoroughfare, and there’s plenty of music, picturesque French Quarter buildings, and tens of thousands of revelers most nights. But to me, it’s Frenchman Street (between the French Quarter and Marigny) where the music and magic of New Orleans seem most alive. 

Wandering from bar to bar to listen to music, or simply strolling the street and stopping to listen to performers stationed along sidewalks and even in intersections is an easy and fun way to soak up New Orleans’ music scene without much advance planning. If you need a break from the crowd, there’s a night market where artists sell paintings, crafts, jewelry, and shirts. 

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Caveat: I did not bring my kids for a night out on Frenchman Street, but honestly I think I would next time. Kids aren’t allowed in the bars, and it wouldn’t be a good fit for younger kids because it’s a late-night scene and you want your kid to be tall enough to maintain their personal space in a crowd. But … there’s so much music in the street, so many bands you can hear just by standing near an open window or door to a bar, and just so much general passion for music that I would absolutely bring my tweens out for a walk down Frenchman at night.

For a Great Night Out in New Orleans

Frenchmen Street nightlife band playing at club
You’ll find music clubs and bars all around the city, including along Frenchman Street (Photo: Zack Smith via New Orleans & Company)

New Orleans with Kids: Rock and Bowl

Situated a few blocks from the French Quarter in what’s interchangably referred to as the warehouse district or the arts district, Rock and Bowl is a good time for all. Part bowling alley, part live music venue, the spot also has kid-friendly eats (think chicken and fries, pizza, and burgers). Most shows are all ages (kids need to be accompanied by an adult, of course) and you can make a whole night out of bowling and music.

Bonus Option: New Orleans gets a lot of traveling shows from Broadway, many of which are kid-friendly. One evening, I shared an elevator at my hotel with a family with young children. Everyone was dressed up and I asked what they had done this evening. The kids both lit up as they described in great detail the show they’d watched. I vowed then and there that next time I bring my kids to New Orleans, we’ll catch a show too.

New Orleans without Kids: Music and Jazz Clubs

You don’t need to have a specific band or destination in mind when you go out in search of music in New Orleans. Just point your feet in the direction of the French Quarter, Frenchman Street in the Marigny, or check out the current live music calendar. Many venues are 21 and up, and the party goes deep into the night, so this is definitely an adults-only approach to fun in New Orleans.

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For Iconic Eats in New Orleans

Brennan's New Orleans restaurant birthday celebration cake
Brennan’s mixes updated New Orleans classics with kid- and adult-pleasing showstoppers (Photo: Christine Sarkis)

New Orleans with Kids: Brennan’s

I highly recommend Brennan’s Restaurant with or without kids, but I’m putting it here because if anyone in your family is having a birthday, the restaurant’s celebration dessert—which I’m not going to totally spoil for you but this picture will give you a hint—would be an instant trip highlight. 

Beyond the birthday fun, the dining rooms are beautiful, the service is warm and kid-friendly but also elevated, and the menu mixes classics with innovative twists that feel like a breath of fresh air if you’ve maxed out on gumbo and grits. 

New Orleans with Kids: A Moveable Feast

Think about New Orleans not in terms of a single meal but as a moveable feast. For classic experiences, try brunch at Broussard’s (or Brennan’s), dinner at Tujague’s and Tableau, a special meal at Commander’s Palace in the Garden District (reservations are tricky, so book way ahead), and an afternoon Pimm’s Cup at Napoleon House

Bonus: Perfect Time of Day for a Beignet

server at Cafe du Monde holding tray of coffee and beignets
Cafe du Monde’s famous beignets are served hot day and night (Photo: Cafe du Monde via New Orleans & Company)

New Orleans with Kids: Right After Breakfast (or Lunch)

Whether you’re going for the iconic white bag of powdered sugar and hot pillow of fried dough at Cafe du Monde or tasting your way through the city’s other top beignet options at spots like Cafe Beignet, if you’re with kids, timing your beignet stop for right after a well-balanced breakfast ensures that everyone gets to have a memorable New Orleans treat without a sugar crash to derail your day. At Cafe du Monde, impress your kids by showing them how to shake the bag to maximize all that powdered sugar goodness before you reach in for your beignet.  

New Orleans with Kids: Late Night

The late-night scene at Cafe du Monde is lively and fun, and there’s no better nightcap than a hot beignet. There’s usually a line, but that’s part of the people-watching experience. You can also pick up beignet mix and chicory coffee to bring home when you get your hot beignets (though there’s also a Cafe du Monde at the airport to pick up such edible souvenirs).  

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Christine Sarkis
A traveling parent and longtime travel writer and editor, Christine Sarkis is the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of FamilyVacationist. She is the former Executive Editor for TripAdvisor travel magazine SmarterTravel.com, she has spent nearly two decades finding and sharing the best places to go with an audience of enthusiastic travelers. Her stories have appeared on USA Today, Conde Nast Traveler, Huffington Post, and Business Insider. Her expert advice has been quoted in dozens of print and online publications including The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, and People magazine. She has also shared travel tips on television and radio shows including Good Morning America, Marketplace, and Here & Now. Her stories have been published in the anthologies Spain from a Backpack and The Best Women's Travel Writing 2008, and she is working on a travel memoir.