Plenty of eyebrows lifted when I mentioned our plans for a family vacation to New Orleans. Along with its party-hearty reputation, however, the city has plenty of kid appeal. And while it's true that you'll want to skip the Bourbon Street bars with kids in tow, there's no need to miss out on the city's music, food and festivity. Exploring New Orleans' family-friendly attractions might even introduce you to some local flavors you wouldn't have discovered otherwise.
The Audubon Nature Institute's attractions — including an aquarium, zoo and insectarium — get families up close with critters both local and exotic. The riverfront Audubon Aquarium boasts an Amazon rainforest and neighboring IMAX theater, while the nearby Audubon Insectarium draws adventurous eaters to the can't-miss Bug Appetit exhibit. At this insect snack bar, kids and parents can dare each other to taste delicacies such as Six-legged Salsa (made with mealworms) and Crispy Cajun Crickets (delegged and oven roasted, they taste like extra-crunchy sunflower seeds). Neither dish will make a Top 10 list of New Orleans cuisine, but it's an experience your family won't soon forget.
Combine a visit to the uptown Audubon Zoo with a walk through the surrounding Audubon Park, then find your way through the narrow residential streets to Plum Street Snoballs. The shop isn't easy to find — for starters, it's on Burdette Street — but you'll know it by the line outside: It's been serving up the area's signature shaved-ice treats since 1945 in flavors from almond to coconut cream.
Nature Institute, 6500 Magazine St.; audubon institute.org
Plum Street Snoballs, 1300 Burdette St.; eteamz.com/plumstreetsnoball
While much of the city's music scene happens in adults-only bars, plenty of restaurants and outdoor cafes offer performances in a kid-friendly setting. The French Quarter's legendary Preservation Hall welcomes youngsters: Spring for the $30 Big Shot tickets, and you can choose a showtime in advance and skip the line — which can form hours before the show. You'll also get guaranteed seats at the front of the venue. If you're not sure your kids will get enough out of the experience to justify the price tag, opt for a restaurant with live music. Check the listings at wwoz.org or pick up a free weekly Gambit newspaper for the entertainment listings, then call ahead to make sure kids are welcome. Our favorite venue was the brick courtyard of Musical Legends Park on Bourbon Street, home to Café Beignet, where we sampled the powdered-sugar-covered treats while tapping our toes to the house band amid statues of jazz greats. The park is free and features live music every day.
Preservation Hall, 726 St. Peter St.; preservationhall.com
Musical Legends Park, 311 Bourbon St.; neworleansmusicallegends.com
French Quarter fun
While evenings on Bourbon Street buzz with the kind of behavior you might not want to share with the fam, a daylight stroll is worthwhile — especially when you come upon a brass band inciting a spontaneous dance party on the street corner. (If you're leery of the tasteless T-shirt slogans and half-nude photos in the Bourbon Street shop windows, try a stroll down classy Royal Street as an alternative.) Make your way the few blocks down to the Mississippi River for a walk through waterfront Woldenberg Park, stopping near Café du Monde to watch the street performers who gather near Jackson Square.
Café du Monde, 800 Decatur St.; cafedumonde.com
Beyond the Quarter
To experience another side of New Orleans, head out to the 1,300-acre City Park. Here, families can rent bikes or boats, explore the free sculpture garden or visit the Train Garden, where 1/22 scale streetcars chug along 1,300 feet of track each weekend. For a family-oriented adventure, try a swamp tour by day or night: Many companies offer hotel pickup.
City Park, 1 Palm Drive; neworleanscitypark.com
Alisson Clark is a freelance writer in Gainesville.