New Orleans With Teens ~ Ten Top Tips
Stroll the French Quarter
Teenagers may not be known for their love of architecture and history, but the cobblestones, balconies and intricate ironwork of the Quarter can be transporting. And what better time to be transported from life's stresses and strains than the turbulent teen years?
If you can get them away from their electronic devices and they start looking up, down and around, they may succumb to the charms of this old French neighborhood.
Obviously some "charms" are inappropriate for under-21s, but most of the strip clubs and off-the-charts drunkenness are confined to Bourbon Street. If you stay off Bourbon with your kids, especially at night, you might find this a great place to wander.
Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo is a French Quarter institution and a perfect choice for quirky NOLA souvenirs. The French Market will also appeal to teens who like shopping, or eating, or (my favorite) shopping while eating.
Eat your way through the Big Easy
New Orleans is known for its fabulous Cajun/Creole cuisine, rendered everywhere from classic upscale spots like Antoine's and Arnaud's to the justifiably beloved Emeril empire to neighborhood spots offering their own twists on the city's spicy, tangy, cultural-melting-pot flavors. Teen foodies will love it. But if new foods are a tough sell for your teens, try someplace with a broader but still NOLA-infused menu.
Crescent City Brewhouse, 27 Decatur Street, has plenty of space and takes reservations. Acme Oyster House, 724 Iberville Street, has simple fried seafood platters & non-seafood po-boy sandwich options as well as oysters (of course) and regional dishes.
The wonderful Cafe du Monde is the standard-bearer for those crisp, airy, powdered-sugar covered donuts called beignets that few teens (or parents) will be able to resist. But Cafe Beignet has equally tasty beignets; offers other breakfast and lunch dishes too; and, unlike Cafe Du Monde, takes credit cards. There are two locations: 334 Royal is indoor and closes at 5 pm, while 311 Bourbon is outdoor, closes at 6 pm, and features live jazz sets most days.
Soak up the music
Speaking of jazz, if your teens have any connection to that fabulous, made-in-America genre – say, if they’ve played in a school jazz band – they’ll enjoy the sounds of New Orleans, especially off Bourbon, where bluesy rock cover bands seem to have taken over much of the musical turf. The challenge is finding live jazz venues that allow under-21 listeners.
The famed, all-ages Preservation Hall is by far the best bet for a family jazz experience in New Orleans. Advance tickets don’t come cheaply but will spare you a long wait in line with a grumbly adolescent, plus they guarantee first or second row seats in this small, crowded-but-worth-it venue.
Other options for relaxed jazz listening with minors are restaurants, like the aforementioned Café Beignet’s outdoor location or the pricey but delicious jazz brunch at Muriel’s (pictured).
Or you can combine music with sightseeing on a riverboat jazz cruise…
Cruise the Mighty Mississippi
While not the only riverboat offering family-friendly cruises, the Steamboat Natchez stands out as an authentic steam-powered vessel like teens may know about from Mark Twain novels. The engine room will appeal to mechanically inclined kids, while almost everyone should enjoy the relaxed rhythm of the boat’s massive, churning wheel.
Dinner cruises on the Natchez offer great sunset views, and if you’d rather eat somewhere else before or after – as our family did – you can purchase jazz-only tickets that allow you to enjoy the live Dixieland band without partaking of the buffet meal.
Explore American history
Is your teen a history buff? Even if the answer is “not so much,” the National WWII Museum will bring to life what they’ve learned in school about this devastating conflict and America’s response. There truly is something for everyone here, from military strategy and cool planes to compelling personal stories from those involved – male and female, young and old – on the battle and home fronts alike.
The Tom Hanks narrated movie is worth the extra fee and will appeal to young attention spans, but try to allow at least a couple of hours in the galleries, too, if you can. Teens will leave with a deeper understanding of just how quickly and capably their country pulled together when it really mattered.
Boat the bayou
“Swamp tour” doesn’t sound very pretty, does it? Yet you and your teens will be amazed by the beauty of the bayou, as presented by Honey Island tour company guides. These folks have grown up on the bayou and know it like the backs of their hands, from the abundant, lovely willow trees draped with Spanish moss to the critters large and small who inhabit the bayou.
Most teens will enjoy the bragging rights and Instagram opportunities involved in being surrounded by gators, which – as you might expect -- are plentiful. (The Honey Island guides lure them over with hot dogs and marshmallows, which bothered me somewhat, but at least with our guide, this was in the context of an obvious overall respect for the animals and nature, so I didn’t dwell on it.)
Though it’s wise to bring sunscreen and bug spray, covered boats keep out most of the intense sun, and dragonflies do a great job eating the mosquitoes, especially on the morning tours. Honey Island provides round-trip van transport right from your hotel to the boat launch, too, if you request it when booking the tour. The whole operation is cash-only, something we found a lot in NOLA, so visit the ATM before your excursion.
Get your creepy-crawly on
New Orleans boasts a well-regarded zoo and aquarium, but we don’t have a bug-specific attraction here in Chicago, so my teens and I decided to check out the Insectarium. We all learned a lot (tarantula terror is mainly a Hollywood construct, while mosquitoes truly are the bane of human existence….more dragonflies, please!), and the butterfly garden was especially pretty and relaxing. Even my bouncier, more restless kid enjoyed sitting still as butterflies perched on his head and shoulder.
Meet the Marigny
The Marigny (pictured) is a lively neighborhood near the French Quarter, with brightly colored "shotgun" houses, a cool outdoor arts & crafts market, and music from venues like the Spotted Cat and Snug Harbor (both 21 & up, alas) spilling out onto the sidewalks of Frenchmen Street -- as well as street musicians to enjoy for the price of a tip in the hat. We had a great family brunch in this 'hood at the Ruby Slipper.
Hop on the streetcar
I thought my teens -- lovers, as young kids, of all vehicles running on tracks -- might be too jaded to care much about the streetcar. But not having been to San Francisco yet, they seemed to enjoy the novelty of our ride on the historic St. Charles line, which dates back to 1835 and can take you to the Garden District, the zoo, Tulane University & more. There are two other lines as well: Canal Street and Riverfront. Springing for a "Jazzy Pass" gets you unlimited N'awlins streetcar and bus rides for one day ($3 per person) or 3 days ($9 pp).
Peek behind the scenes at Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras World was on our to-do list, but sadly we ran out of time...
All you need to do is call, and a colorful van picks you up for a tour of the place where Mardi Gras floats, giant masks, etc., are created. It's a cool thing to do if you're not in NOLA for the actual Mardi Gras, which is perhaps not the most family-friendly time to visit -- and is certainly not the most budget-friendly one.