Wednesday, January 26, 2011


A gal I know on the FIVE IN A ROW boards was asking for advice about going to New Orleans with kids. She wanted to know what were the highlights and how to make things safer and easier.

I waxed so eloquently on the wonders of the Crescent City, that I decided to share my recommendations here.

We live about 3 hours from New Orleans and have frequently gone with our kids, their friends, and over the summer, with my visiting friend and talented author Claudia Mair Burney. When we first got married, we visited NOLA a couple of times and then we didn't go back for several years. It just seemed so seedy and dirty and creepy when we went in the early 90's. When we returned right before Katrina, the atmosphere had changed markedly. The city has really made an effort to clean some things up and become more family friendly. Yes, there are still some really raunchy and occultic parts, but there are many, many wonderful elements, too.

Some of our top favorite spots and things to do include:

1. DEFINITELY beignets at Cafe DuMonde. If you are going to be there on the weekend, either get there super, super early or shoot for going late morning if you must go in the morning. We often wait and go mid-afternoon when the it usually isn't crowded.

2. Walk along the river walk which runs alongside the Mississippi River where it borders the French Quarter. Along the river is a nice, not-crowded spot to be. You can watch the boats, listen to sidewalk musicians, and just relax.

3. CENTRAL GROCERY! Home of the world famous muffalettas. My oldest daughter fantasizes of marrying the heir she loves it so much! It also has a lot of very interesting grocery items to look at such as jarred octopus. If you go right at lunch, the line may be out the door --- but not to worry, it moves fast. Their menu is very, very small and much of it is carryout so even though the line may look outrageously long, you won't have to wait but 10 or 15 minutes. It is worth the wait and as I said, you can look at the cool stuff as you anticipate that first bite of muffaletta amazingness. Visit this website for more information on this N.O. landmark:

4. MASKARADE --- this is THE best mask shop in N.O. in my humble opinion and unlike most of the shops, the shopkeeper is absolutely delightful, actually acts like she's glad you are there, and is a fount of knowledge about masks AND New Orleans. We took my daughter and her friends there when we went for her 16th bday. She not only didn't have a problem with us trying on all the masks, but allowed photos. Many shops do not allow this. It is just a block or two from Jackson Square, the heart of the Quarter. If you go, tell the shopkeeper (if it is the distinguished lady pictured here) that the "Mississippi lady who homeschools her 7 kids and has a daughter that is going to attend Holy Cross College" sent you. Here is a link:

5. Sometimes visitors who only have a short time in the city don't want to do the zoo or aquarium. They figure they can do lots of zoos and aquariums in other parts of the nation. I do understand this but let me add this plug. Both attractions have worked hard to include some elements unique to Louisiana and the Gulf Coast so this does make them special. The zoo has a special Louisiana section featuring lots of swamp animals and the aquarium highlights many of the creatures that live in the nearby Mississippi Gulf Coast as well as some of the swamp critters. But that said, if I had to choose between spending lots of time exploring the French Quarters and do other uniquely New Orleans things and those two things, I'd skip 'em, too.

6. RIDE THE TROLLEY! You can get on it several places around the French Quarter. In this photo we were loading up one block off of Canal Street in order to ride to the Garden District which is a lovely, mostly quiet area filled to the brim with beautiful architecture, lovely gardens, quaint shops, great eateries, and other charming elements. When we took our daughter and her friends, my husband had gotten a map and some information for us. We rode it out to a historic cemetery (Lafayette) in a gorgeous neighborhood and spent time exploring it before doing a walking tour of the surrounding area. Anne Rice, who has written some wonderful books about the life of Jesus Christ, lived there growing up and we wanted to see her home, the chapel she attended, and other places associated with her life.

7. Peruse the artists, listen to the musicians, and watch the performers on Jackson Square. There is so much to soak up. One time a couple of the girls with us got beautiful henna tattoos.

8. THE FRENCH MARKET has a lot to look at as well as fun things to buy and regional yummies to try. CAFE DU MONDE & CENTRAL GROCERY are part of that district. There is a flea market and farmer's market and always musicians and artists. There is one regular vendor we discovered last time who sells a lot of things from Africa. Of course, I spent a lot of time there.

7. BENNACHIN'S! Okay, so this place is not cajun, creole, or even Southern, but how can this African loving girl resist eating at a fabulous West African restaurant nestled in the French Quarters? But bring cash! They don't accept the plastic stuff. Oh, and make sure you use their bathroom. I know, I know, sounds weird. But it is the only place I know of where Mona Lisa peers at you from the wall above the toilet. Yep, they share a bathroom with the next door pizza place.

We have found it is best to park in the one of the to-pay lots next to the JAX BREWERY building. This was a huge beer factory that now has been converted into shops and restaurants. We've never had any safety issues there and it is within walking distance of all the attractions in and around the French Quarter. Another plus is that there are good, clean public bathrooms located inside the brewery which makes a nice last minute stop before hitting the road for home.

We have been probably 5 or 6 times over the last few years with some or ALL of our 7 kids and both with and without my husband. We've never had anything unsafe happen...well, except for me almost getting run over by a trolley car because I was taking a photo and not paying attention. But other than that, as with any big city, you have to be careful, but if you're out in the day time and using your common sense, you should be fine.

WE LOVE NEW ORLEANS!!! In fact, we love it so much our oldest daughter is planning on moving there to live in a year and a half and I KNOW we're going to be making plenty of road trips down to the Big Easy.

Enjoy your visit and as the cajuns say, laissez les bons temps rouler!*

*Let the good times roll.

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