Our first day was spent hanging out in the French Quarter (get an overview of the area with these maps). It’s a historical, unique place that our boys loved. You may be worried about the stories you’ve heard of very adult-type activities on Bourbon Street. The stories are probably all true, but the strip clubs and rowdy bars are confined almost entirely to Bourbon Street itself. There’s a lot more to the French Quarter that is fun for families.
A good place to start is with a buggy ride through the Quarter. Your driver and tour guide will tell you all sorts of interesting tales behind the old buildings and its people (some of it even true!), and you’ll get a feel for the culture and history of the French Quarter. After our buggy ride the first morning, our 10-year old son pestered us nonstop to take another ride, but at $12 per person, you’ll probably just want to enjoy the ride once. Several companies provide tours with prices set by the city – just choose one of the buggies lined up in front of Jackson Square.
When you return to Jackson Square, cross the street and take a break at Café Du Monde for beignets (French donuts dusted with liberal amounts of powdered sugar) and café au lait (cocoa for the kids). It’s all deliciously messy.
From Café du Monde, walk up to the Moonwalk (a boardwalk along the river) to give the kids a view of the mighty Mississippi. Be sure to point out that you had to go uphill in order to see the river and that the levees help to protect the city from flooding. It’s a strange concept and a beautiful view. While on the Moonwalk, we encountered a jazz musician playing the saxophone, a real treat for our own sax-playing 8th grader.
Stroll around Jackson Square to take in the artists and street performers who gather there each day. There are definitely fewer performers than there were before Katrina, so you might see more on a weekend day. Our boys were fascinated by a mime-like guy whose whole show was to stand perfectly still.
With kids along, browsing through gift shops is a must, and the quarter is full of them. Our boys bought real alligator heads and New Orleans t-shirts, while my husband and I picked up some Café du Monde coffee and seafood boil to help recreate those New Orleans flavors at home. The whole family will also enjoy a stroll through the French Market, a combination local produce market (with plenty of regional specialties) and large flea market. It’s located at the end of Decatur Street.
There are many wonderful choices for lunch in the French Quarter, including some outdoor venues with live music, like The Market Cafe. You really can’t go wrong in sampling the local dishes at any restaurant you see. Some of our kids’ favorite foods include red beans & rice, jambalya, and crawfish pie. Most places have plenty of classic kid favorites, if yours are less adventurous.
You don’t want to leave New Orleans without trying an authentic muffeletta (a huge, round sub-type sandwich with ham, cheese, salami, and a unique olive relish), and one of the best places to get one is the Central Grocery on Decatur Street, near the French Market. A half-muffeletta is plenty of food for two to share. While you’re there, grab a bag or two of Zapp’s Potato Chips, the best chips you’ll ever eat, made right in Louisiana. Our favorite flavors are Cajun Crawtator and Cajun Dill. Be aware, though, that the line at Central Grocery can be long at lunchtime. You can also order a decent muffeletta at many of the Quarter’s lunch spots.
If you’re too tired from all that walking and eating, head toward the river and grab a ride back toward your hotel on the Riverfront line of the New Orleans Streetcar for just $1.25 per person.