Heading to New Orleans for NBA All Star Weekend? Then you’re in for loads of great basketball, which is almost a shame because as a destination, New Orleans is a town like no other.
Infused with music and good food, NOLA literally feels like there’s a party around every corner. The people are welcoming, the architecture fanciful—from the French Quarter’s iron balconies to the Garden District’s mansions—and with ghost stories the backstory of so many attractions, there’s lots to spark the imagination.
Here’s our select pick of the Big Easy’s many attractions. There’s so much to do you may forget all about why you came to town!
New Orleans City Park: New Orleanians have been kicking back at this 1,300-acre outdoor oasis, since 1854. Kids can play hide and seek in the five-acre Besthoff Sculpture Garden before parents sneak a peek at the Picassos, Monets, and Georgia O’Keefe’s in the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) just next door. Kids will also enjoy StoryQuest, the popular enactments of children’s literature held every Saturday. The entire family can refuel at the museum café before heading back out to hit one of the many biking, jogging, and walking paths or stopping by Storyland playground, where the giant Dragon Slide and Captain Hook’s pirate ship are just two of the larger-than-life fantasy creatures to climb. If you have time, the Carousel Gardens Amusement Park is charming with its restored historic carousel dating back to the late 1880s. Tearing the kids away will be tough but if you’re headed back toward the French Quarter, talking up the ride there just might do it.
New Orleans Streetcar: Getting around New Orleans by streetcar is easy and fun. For just $1.25 per person, the Canal Street line—or any of the city’s three lines—will take you from the New Orleans City Park back toward one of New Orleans’ other remarkable spots, the mini Amazon, Caribbean, Mississippi River, and Gulf Coast marine habitats to be found on the edge of the French quarter and the Mississippi at NOLA’s waterfront Aquarium.
Audubon Aquarium of the Americas: If your children are into marine life, this is a must, with each habitat as engrossing as the next. Accessible by a plexiglass tunnel, the Caribbean Reef will wow kids as jumbo stingrays and sharks swim all around. Over at Adventure Island’s play zone, they’ll be the ones moving as they learn all about marine life by crawling on and climbing up the interactive exhibits. The real showstopper: a 2,600-gallon touch pool where visitors can get up close and personal with cownose rays.
Audubon Insectarium: What’s not to love about an Interactive museum devoted to bugs—the largest of its kind in North America! Located in the U.S. Custom House on Canal Street, the museum will teach you and the kids why insects have been central to evolution, while giving you a bug’s-eye-view of various habitats and sending you on a tour of a Louisiana swamp. What not to miss: daily cooking shows over at the Bug Appetit buffet, where chefs prepare insect delicacies!
Canal Street Ferry: New Orleans is famously a waterfront town, so why not take in the views from aboard this tug. The free 10-minute trip leaves from the ferry dock next to the Aquarium every half hour and costs only $2 per person, which is a very small price to pay for the impressive Mississippi Nola skyline views that come with your ticket.
Lalaurie Mansion: We promised you ghosts and, according to locals, this famous address has been haunted by the slaves who served the mansion’s cruel owner since the 1880s. For sites hauntingly beautiful, New Orleans’ cemeteries are said to have their fair share of spirits, but they also feature beautiful statuary
Preservation Hall: Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton came from New Orleans, and every day it feels like the whole city is playing music in their tribute. If you’re visiting with kids, this is the place to hear great jazz. Just three blocks from the Mississippi, the “no smoking, no drinking, all ages” venue is lined with wooden benches that fill up fast every night to hear musicians, many in their 70s and 80s, tune up to play New Orleans Jazz.