“Wait. You’re bringing him?” “You’re taking a baby there?” “What are you going to do with a toddler in New Orleans?”
This past December, as we planned a short trip to New Orleans, we were met with so much surprise when people found out we were making it a family trip. Like every other aspect of parenting, everyone has an opinion on how to travel as a family and where to travel as a family.
After spending just a few hours in the city, though, we realized that there was no reason to worry. New Orleans can absolutely be family-friendly. Even though we weren’t there for nearly long enough, we found lots of free and frugal things to do in New Orleans with kids.
Here are some of the highlights!
Beignets are incredibly cheap and incredibly delicious. And it’s a good thing because we learned that HP actually would rather eat a banana than his own beignet. Totally fine — more delicious food for Mom and Dad. (We tried a few, and we definitely love the original Cafe du Monde location the most!)
Walk the Parks
There are lots of different parks in New Orleans. We were staying in the Central Business District, but we found the city to be very walkable during mornings, afternoons, and evenings. We did bring an umbrella stroller, which came in handy for traveling to and from our destinations, but once we got to Louis Armstrong Park, we gave our toddler free rein. Our explorations of the park lasted well over an hour and could have easily stayed longer, except the clouds (and subsequent rain) started to roll in.
Stroll the French Quarter
Our son was a huge fan of people busking on street corners, happily dancing to any and all tunes they were playing. We followed the excellent advice of a friend and made our longest visit to the French Quarter an early morning one. The crowds were nonexistent, and we had a lot more time to admire the architecture. Carriage rides are very popular with tourists; though we didn’t take one, HP delighted in seeing mules everywhere.
Watch the Steamboats
At the time of our travels, our son was only two. That means two important things: he still takes one long, glorious afternoon nap…and he has a nonexistent attention span. As a result, we didn’t actually take any boat rides. Instead, we spent as much time as we could walking along The Riverwalk admiring the steamboats and everything else that chugged up and down the Mississippi.
Hop on a Streetcar
HP is a Daniel Tiger fan, so we thought that meant we’d do virtually nothing besides ride the trolley cars around the city. That was not the case. Instead, HP was really big on simply watching them pass. The Washington Artillery Park was a prime location to see boats and streetcars, so we spent a lot of time there.
Had we taken a ride, they would have been super affordable. We are definitely filing this information away for our next visit!
Visit the Malls
Since we visited right before the holidays, we knew two things: we were taking a gamble with the weather and we were bound to see lovely decorations. We got the weather we feared — more than 24 hours of nonstop rain (it was still in the upper 50s!) — so we spent quite a bit of time indoors one day. Our hotel wasn’t far from the shops at Canal Place or the Outlet Collection at the Riverwalk.
We didn’t buy anything of note (socks on clearance at Carters!), but we did spend a lot of time admiring the Christmas decorations. Plus, the outlet mall has a free indoor climbing place that’s perfect for toddlers. It also features a huge covered outdoor patio that gives you prime viewing of the Riverwalk. If you time it right, the cruise ships are docked, which was hugely fascinating to HP.
Stroll Through a Cemetery
Out of respect for the people who were paying for tours, we didn’t see St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. Instead, we walked another block down and went to St. Louis Cemetery No. 2. It’s a hauntingly beautiful Catholic cemetery. There’s no admission, so we didn’t have to worry about cutting our time short (or imposing on anyone else’s!).
There’s also a brand-new outdoor playground about a block away. Everything was still rain-soaked, so we didn’t let HP explore it. Again, we made a mental note for the next visit!
Enjoy the Decorations and Arts
If the weather was more cooperative, we could have spent days just wandering around taking in all of the holiday decorations. Even if you’re traveling there outside the holidays, there seemed to be art on every corner. We noticed quite a bit of variety in the Central Business District and the Warehouse District. Of course, the French Quarter was full of it as well.
Other Tidbits About Our Trip
Obviously, our trip to New Orleans was just that–our trip. I’m positive that when we return, we won’t have a carbon copy experience, and that’s OK. After highlighting our favorite free things to do with a toddler in New Orleans, I wanted to answer some of the other questions we’d been asked most often.
When did you go?
We traveled right before Christmas in December 2019. Due to the holidays, we were only able to spend three nights there. The temperature was a nice reprieve from Chicagoland (it was in the 50s and 60s), but a storm carried in a ton of rain. We carried umbrellas with us during our first morning of adventuring, but we quickly realized that our coats and our toddler’s umbrella stroller with a canopy were more than enough. People did keep apologizing to us about the cold and the rain.
It seems that December is a wonderful time to visit New Orleans. There weren’t really crowds (except for people who waited too long to go to Cafe du Monde!). Lots of other families seemed to have the same idea as us. There were families with kids and toddlers and babies everywhere!
But aren’t there homeless people there?
This section probably seems out of place, but it was the question that followed nearly every other question when we were asked about our travel plans. That means it’s probably worth addressing.
It’s true that if you visit New Orleans, you will absolutely see homeless people. That’s true of any big city. It’s also true of the very suburb in which I live.
I’m pointing it out specific to New Orleans for several reasons. I absolutely do not think that homelessness should deter anyone from visiting this city. I took heart to see several different vans that were part of dedicated outreach programs. Also, I later learned that New Orleans is working hard to effectively reduce their homeless population.
By happenstance, we walked by the Covenant House. HP was mesmerized by the Christmas tree in their courtyard. When I learned what the house was after doing a quick Google search back at our hotel, I decided donate the $50 or so that we came in under-budget for the trip. If you travel there and find yourself bothered by the homelessness, consider giving a small gift to one of the many four-star organizations supporting homeless populations.
But is it safe?
I was really shocked by the kindness of everyone we interacted with. (And also the biscuits we ate. I don’t know what I have been eating all of my life, but I can assure you that they were not biscuits.)
Of course, I think we could have found trouble if we went looking for it. I feel that way about every place I’ve traveled (and quite frankly, about where I live, too!).
I also know that the city felt downright subdued. Maybe it was a combination of the weather and the holiday season. Maybe it was because we weren’t traveling during Mardi Gras season. Or maybe I’ve simply spent too much time in other places like Las Vegas! Though there were plenty of people (kids, even!) slinging beads off balconies, we didn’t see any nudity or anything else that people worried about.
We try to be street-smart and respectful wherever we go, and I didn’t feel unsafe or uncomfortable at all. Generally, I was overwhelmed at how kind everyone was — from our cab driver (because I am secretly a 90-year-old woman, I still call cabs) to the airport workers and everyone in between.
Final Thoughts on Free and Frugal Things to Do with a Toddler in New Orleans
New Orleans is rife with activities to do with kids. From the zoo and aquarium to the insectarium and children’s museum, there are tons of excursions we missed out on. Due to how young HP was and how short his attention span is, we couldn’t really justify the cost of admission to many things that would be perfect for slightly older children.
When we return, though, we plan to do a lot more. He will be a little bit older, and hopefully, the weather will be more cooperative. Regardless, we had an outstanding time finding lots of fun and frugal things to do with our toddler in New Orleans.
So Tell Me…Have you ever been to NOLA? What did you enjoy?
Done by Forty
It’s been almost twenty years since I was last in New Orleans but my take on the city was very similar to yours. I thought it was safe, welcoming, and would have no problem bringing Baby AF. I didn’t visit during Mardi Gras so I’m sure my experience is different than some but, hey, that’s fine.
Great idea on donating a bit of the surplus to charities in the town you visit. I love that.
It’s such an interesting city! My mom’s dad and his family settled there when they came over from Italy. I had never been, and now I can’t wait to go back!
We are New Orleanians!! It made me so happy to read this post. New Orleans definitely has the same issues as most other large cities and I always tell people not to party late into the night on Bourbon Street but other than that, it is a cultural gem, foodie heaven and just a good dose of southern hospitality. Thank you for visiting and for your contribution to Covenant House.
Just found your blog and I’m loving it! I live in Mississippi and visit New Orleans whenever I get a chance, usually 2-3 times per year. It really is a feast for the senses, between the music and the food and the architecture. City Park and the NOMA Sculpture Garden would be great with a kid – there’s lots of room to run around, trees to climb, big interesting sculptures to explore, beignets just down the road, and free admission. We try to stay in a different neighborhood every time we visit to get a new experience. You’re right that the locals are typically so friendly. For older kids and adult visitors, I always recommend the Whitney Plantation museum. It’s the first plantation museum that focuses on the experience of enslaved people and the legacy of slavery, and it is life-changing. It’s about an hour drive outside of town along the Mississippi River, and it’s not free but admission costs go to preserving their crucial mission.
I am so glad that you added all of these ideas, Elissa! We cannot wait to come back, and it’ll be great to hold onto your suggestions for when our toddler is a little older. Thank you!