New Orleans is the ultimate family road trip destination. It’s right off I-10 so it’s easy to get to, and it’s packed to the gills with things to do: great food, history, art, outdoor attractions, a gorgeous city center, and great food. And yes, I meant to say that twice.
If you have a weekend in New Orleans — better make it a long one — here’s what you should see, eat, and do for the perfect family vacation.
Where To Stay In New Orleans
Stylish and eclectic, luxurious yet down-to-earth, that’s the Pontchartrain Hotel in a nutshell.
Checking into this 1927 hotel in New Orleans’s charming Garden District feels a little like stepping into a Cary Grant movie. The lobby is timeless, all marble walls, gilded columns, and glass chandeliers. Metal keys hang from tassels behind the reception desk. And the rooms are just as classic, soft greens and pink with lots of vintage touches. Our suite had a velvet sofa and a modern, ultra-comfortable bed.
The hotel has two bars: the rooftop Hot Tin, with stellar views, and the Bayou Bar, where you can catch jazz at night. There’s also a full-service restaurant called Jack Rose, but more on this later.
We loved our stay and how accessible everything was. We enjoyed walking around the district’s beautiful architecture, and if we wanted to get somewhere farther away, we just hopped on the streetcar.
Where To Eat in New Orleans
New Orleans is a global epicenter for good eating. Beignets. Étouffée. Gumbo. It’s hard to think about the city without thinking about food. We were only in town for two nights but had memorable dinners both evenings.
Our first was at the Columns Restaurant & Bar, a classy spot in an Italianate mansion. If you’re craving a gourmet meal or craft cocktail where you’ll feel like a local, Columns is the spot. We ate outdoors on the porch with a view of the garden and Saint Charles Avenue. This is NOLA’s open-air living room, a place to kick back and chat with friends over drinks and small bites, but you’ll see families there too.
We thoroughly enjoyed our meal From the falafel-like zucchini hushpuppies and the lamb skewers to the bacon-marmalade-topped burger to the dreamy honey-sweetened icebox cake (a tip from our server), this is melt-in-your-mouth good, if you’ll pardon the cliché.
Our second night, we dined at Jack Rose, the award-winning restaurant inside the Pontchartrain Hotel. The restaurant’s art-covered lounge and candlelit rooms set the mood, but it’s the food we’re still talking about weeks later.
The chef-driven menu has a Creole twist. Get the duck and andouille gumbo to kick off your meal in true Nawlins style. From there, I recommend one of their seasonal pastas. My pick was the Fettuccine Nero, with a generous portion of scallops, wild mushrooms, and noodles made fresh, soaking up the creamy parmesan sauce.
And then there’s dessert. For us, it was the white chocolate bread pudding under a scoop of corn ice cream, rum caramel, and corn crisps and the ube tiramisu pistachio cake topped with crunchy kataifi. Both were surprisingly light and so sweetly satisfying that I tear up a little remembering them. (I only wish I were joking…)
Since our dinners were a bit fancy, we went casual for breakfast and lunch. Here are a few sure bets.
Parkway Bakery & Tavern: Serving up hearty po’ boy sandwiches since 1911, Parkway Bakery is a NOLA institution. Grab a seat at one of the outdoor picnic tables and dig into a gulf shrimp po’ boy. Get a large if you want leftovers.
Avenue Cafe: New Orleans isn’t exactly known for health food. But if you’re craving a smoothie or a salad, Avenue Cafe serves both. It’s also a great spot for a quick breakfast close to the Pontchartrain Hotel.
Turkey And The Wolf: Hailed by “Bon Appétit” as one of America’s best new restaurants, Turkey And the Wolf is a hip, creative sandwich shop. Order the fried bologna sandwich or a collard green melt, and you’ll see what the fuss is about.
Hivolt: Near Magazine Street and a short walk from the Pontchartrain, this cafe serves coffee and smoothies, but we went for their souper bowl, a hearty breakfast soup swimming with dumplings, veggies, and a boiled egg.
Things for Families To Do in Downtown NOLA
The French Quarter, the city’s oldest neighborhood, is the heart of New Orleans and home to some of its iconic landmarks.
At the top of your list should be Jackson Square, a small park by the Mississippi River and surrounded by historic buildings. Across the street is the world-renowned Cafe Du Monde, known for turning out beignets, (French-style doughnuts) covered in powdered sugar, and cafe au lait (dark-roasted coffee mixed with hot milk). Get both and enjoy them on one of Jackson Square’s benches.
From here, you can admire the St. Louis Cathedral, which overlooks the park. And after you’ve eaten and dusted off the powdered sugar, you can step inside for a look. Self-guided brochures are only $1.
The French Market is a short walk away. Here you’ll find vendors hawking local and international wares. We arrived in the morning when sellers were still setting up, and several offered deals for their “first customers of the day.” Regardless of whether the deals were real, there’s real fun and haggling to be had.
Just outside of the French Quarter, Vue Orleans was our next stop. This family-friendly observatory and museum gives you a panoramic view of the city’s skyline, history, and culture. The lower levels are dedicated to tech-forward exhibits. You’ll hear local music, watch life-sized recordings of dance performances, and learn lots about New Orleans food.
Upstairs, enjoy a 360-degree view of the city, plus more interactive exhibits. Kids will especially like the ship navigation simulator, which lets you try your hand as a riverboat pilot.
Garden Getaway at Longue Vue
Longue Vue may be only a 10-minute walk from a streetcar stop, but its eight acres of gardens feel a world away.
Designed in the 1930s as a home for the Stern family, Longue Vue is largely the creation of Ellen Biddle Shipman, a pioneering female landscape architect. Shipman is known for lush plants, water features, and formal design — which you’ll find plenty of here, and the house blends with the gardens, with every first floor entrance opening onto the grounds.
Photo tip: Snap some pics from the south entrance, which gives you picture-perfect views of the portico gardens and the fountains of the Spanish Court.
But families have to visit the Discovery Garden. Here, kids can touch, dig, play, and even taste (with adult supervision, of course). Raised beds with herbs, vegetables, and flowers have signs that say “Please touch.” Nearby are areas where children can rake leaves, dig for worms, play in the sand, or feed thirsty plants from kid-sized watering cans. There’s even a secret garden with colorful sculptures, a bamboo tunnel, and places for parents to sit as kids tire themselves out.
If you’re planning to stop by Longue Vue, be sure to check their calendar in advance. The garden frequently hosts kid-friendly events. Most Saturdays, there’s the Vue Crew Kids Garden Club — a drop-off event where children ages 5-10 can learn gardening techniques and make nature-based art.
City Park’s Family Attractions
New Orleans’ City Park is one of the largest urban parks in the country, boasting an amusement park, mini golf, and its own Cafe Du Monde. Kids will love the rides at Carousel Gardens Amusement Park, including the Lady Bug roller coaster and the antique “flying horses” carousel. There’s also Storyland, a storybook-themed playground that littler tykes will enjoy.
But teens and adults will best appreciate the nearby New Orleans Botanical Gardens. The main alleyway from the entrance gives you a view of almost the entire 10 acres. They weren’t in bloom during my visit, but I’ve heard the rose garden comes alive with color in season, and the art on the grounds is stunning.
Speaking of art, the Besthoff Sculpture Garden is right outside the art museum and free to admire all 64 sculptures.
Mardi Gras World Is Year-Round
If I had to call out one highlight from our trip, it would be Mardi Gras World. If you’ve ever wondered how the huge carnival props for New Orleans’ big parades are made or how they look up close, this is your chance.
The tour starts out the right way: with a slice of king cake and a brief intro to Mardi Gras. From there, a tour guide leads you through a workshop and warehouse where parade floats are stored. It’s like seeing your childhood fantasies come to life — giant superheroes, Vikings, mermaids, dragons, cartoon characters, and more. And there is plenty of time for pictures.
The STEM fans in your family will like seeing how the stuff is made. You might glimpse artists shaving away styrofoam and a robot crafting new float pieces.
A Love Letter to NOLA
JAMNOLA, which stands for Joy, Art & Music – New Orleans, is an interactive art experience that celebrates everything that makes New Orleans special, and it was the perfect wrap-up to our NOLA family adventure.
It’s a good spot for mementos, photos or otherwise. If your kids like to pose for pics or play dress up, get ready! Snap a photo of them in a giant pot stirred by a human-sized, paddle-wielding crawfish (costumes and props optional), or pose for Instagram beside a bedazzled gator in the Bling Bayou.
The last room is a nod to legendary NOLA artists with oversized busts of Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino, Lil’ Wayne, and others. Be sure to grab a free branded cup on your way out. They’re a Mardi Gras tradition and make great souvenirs.