I have a tradition with my kids that each one gets an alone trip with me to a US city of their choice for their 13th birthday. My oldest chose one of my favorite cities for his trip– New Orleans! One of the best things about having kids is being able to share my favorite things with them, so I was so excited to plan this trip with him.
With over 300 years of history, including being part of Spain, France, Louisiana, and even its own state, New Orleans has its own unique character and flavors. The town has also been strongly shaped by slaves brought there. You will also get a feel of the Caribbean, as New Orleans was a major stop on trade routes. We wanted to experience the culture and learn about the area while doing things that piqued his interest.
Whether you are looking for things to do in New Orleans with teens or adults, our trip to New Orleans will help make your own New Orleans 3-day itinerary to suit your desires. Many of our tours were hosted by the companies at my request, but I will always let you know my honest opinions.
We began our vacation with a one-day road trip around the area outside of New Orleans. Read about our time to get ideas of day trips to take from New Orleans. I also explore the history of what makes New Orleans distinct from the rest of the South and what Creole and Cajun mean.
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Two Days in New Orleans
We then spent our last two days enjoying New Orleans. I could spend just a week eating here! There are certainly more things that are worth seeing here, but we only had two days. For more in-depth information on New Orleans, check out A Cajun in Cali– she grew up here!
Exploring the French Quarter
Although the French Quarter is small, only 78 square blocks, it is the heart of what you imagine when you think of New Orleans. It is the oldest section of town, started in 1718. In spite of the name, most of the current buildings aren’t French but rather Spanish in style. Some unique features include two-stories buildings with balconies or galleries. They are generally brick and stucco, protecting them from fires that had ravaged the area in its early history. They have courtyards, or inner patios, where families would congregate to keep cool. The area is easy to navigate, as the streets are laid out in a grid.
Should I visit Bourbon Street with my teen?
Although this is the most famous street in New Orleans, I am not a huge fan of crowds. Even less of a fan of drunken crowds, we didn’t spend time on Bourbon Street. Even when I visited New Orleans with adults in the past, I have not spent much time there. One reason New Orleans is known as a party town is that you can drink freely on the street within the French Quarter. The drink of choice is the Hurricane, made of rum and fruit juices, usually in a souvenir glass.
If the French Quarter is the heart of New Orleans, Jackson Square is the heart of the French Quarter. The name comes from the statue in its middle, General Andrew Jackson, the hero in the Battle of New Orleans. For over 50 years, the square has been an artist’s haven, and you will still find artists both creating and selling. It is the perfect place to stroll, set among pedestrian streets and entrenched in history.
St. Louis Cathedral
On the far side of the park from the water is North America’s oldest cathedral in continual use, St. Louis Cathedral. It is free to enter as long as mass or a ceremony isn’t taking place. You can do a self-guided tour with their pamphlet for a dollar or luck out with a docent tour.
Washington Artillery Park
Right across the street from Jackson Square is the waterfront Washington Artillery Park. On the way, you will see horse-drawn carriages which give tours of the area. Here you can find the tricentennial sign, pictured above. This is a great place to watch the sunset or get a glimpse of the Mississippi River.
Museums in the French Quarter Worth Visiting
There are many reasons that I love traveling, but learning is a big one. Museums are the perfect place to take in information, and here are some French Quarter museums that are worth your time.
This building is actually the oldest building still standing in the Mississippi Valley. Inside it is a museum, which at present has an exhibit about the history of the Catholic Church in New Orleans.
Now a Louisiana State Museum about state history, this building overlooking Jackson Square was once part of the Spanish government.
This state museum educates about the culture of New Orleans’ celebrations and has a display about Hurricane Katrina. It is also right next to the St. Louis Cathedral.
New Orleans Pharmacy Museum
514 Chartres St
The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum in Alexandria, Virginia, is one of the most interesting museums I have ever visited. Read more about that museum. If you aren’t planning on getting to Alexandria soon, be sure to check this one out. They not only share what pharmacies were like when they started but make a lot of sense out of the current state of drug culture in the US.
New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum
So many of the stories about New Orleans concern voodoo, so it is worth learning some of the real history. More recently, my son and I did a walking Voodoo tour with through this museum.
Places to Eat in the French Quarter
It’s crowded and touristy, but it is also so New Orleans, so you must go! It basically only serves two things- beignets and coffee. A beignet is a square donut covered, and I mean covered, in powdered sugar. They come three to a serving and are big, so we shared an order. The coffee has chicory in it, an additive from hard times when coffee was difficult to come by. It is unique, but we like it and usually take a can home with us.
When you arrive, it seems like chaos. There will most likely be a long line. Usually, the line is for to-go orders. Don’t bother thinking it will save you time. The table service is very efficient, and the beignets are very messy, so they are best eaten at a table. Sometimes there is a line for tables but grab one as soon as it’s empty. Grab it even if it isn’t clean. They will come and clean your table soon. Waiters only accept cash and also sell souvenirs.
Mr. B’s Bistro
201 Royal Street
The Brennan Family has been running restaurants in New Orleans for three generations. The restaurants are generally upscale creole food and have impeccable service. We had dinner at Mr. B’s and were very happy with everything. The waiter recommended the barbecue shrimp and said people traveled from abroad for it. I assumed they were using hyperbole. After tasting the buttery roux and succulent, tender, huge gulf shrimp, I don’t think they were. I cannot recommend it more.
I have been to another Brennan restaurant repeatedly over the last twenty years, Commander’s Palace in the Garden District. I have to admit, on this visit, the food was just OK. Not worth getting out of shorts to meet the dress code. The only thing notable there was the turtle soup, which is worth trying and much better than elsewhere in town. My son and others love their bread pudding with bourbon sauce.
1201 Royal St
You don’t have to pay a lot for good food in New Orleans. Some of the best eats are sandwiches bought in the middle of the night from a corner market. Grab a po’ boy sandwich– fried shrimp is my favorite- dressed simply with lettuce, tomato, and remoulade. The other local sandwich you must try is a muffuletta, a fabulous torrent of Italian meats on a thin bread with a green olive salsa. So good!
Best Thing to Do at Night in the French Quarter
Witches Brew Ghost Tour
You can’t go to a city that is three hundred years old, with such a strong cast of characters, without taking in a ghost tour! We did the 4-in-1 tour, which covers ghosts, witches, vampires, and, of course, voodoo! I have been on some really cheesy ghost tours and some great ones. Great ones teach you something while you getting creeped out. They also keep everything believable. This was definitely a great one!
Our guide is a born storyteller who really made the history of the city come alive. The walking tour takes place in the French Quarter, so not only is it a great way to get a bit of a scare, but it is also the perfect way to learn about the area.
I have since returned and added these two museums to my experiences:
This is officially the US WWII history museum, and you can spend a whole day learning about how the US contributed to victory in this war.
I had a fabulous time in California building the Rose Parade floats. It would be a pretty cool thing to see the parade-builders in New Orleans building their floats all year long and learn about this festival synonymous with the area.
Explore New Orleans Outside of the French Quarter
Explore New Orleans’ Cemeteries
I am generally a fan of cemeteries. I find them calm and beautiful, so have visited them around the world. New Orleans cemeteries are my favorite! Because New Orleans is built on a swamp, the tombs are above ground. The result is gorgeous and unique resting places for many of the famous characters and historical figures of the area. I am going to talk about the two we visited on this visit to New Orleans.
St. Louis Cemetery #1
425 Basin St
I think visiting this cemetery is one of the most essential things you should do when you come to New Orleans. This is the oldest (1789) and most famous cemetery still in New Orleans. It houses the remains of many famous New Orleaners, including Delphine LaLaurie (of the LaLaurie mansion), Etienne de Boré (who brought sugarcane to the area), and Ernest N. “Dutch” Morial (first African-American mayor of New Orleans).
The most famous grave is of Marie Laveau, the Voodoo priestess who sort of created New Orleans’ form of the religion. Probably because of people vandalizing her grave, you can no longer enter this cemetery without a guide. If you arrive without one, the gatekeeper will find a tour group for you to join. Or you can pre-book your tickets for a small group tour of the cemetery here.
You need to take a tour of the cemeteries to realize what you are looking at. In all of the cemeteries, the crypts contain multitudes of bodies. They add another body to the same crypt every two years. Both of these cemeteries contain thousands of bodies, even though they are one square block large.
Right behind the cemetery is the Basin Street Train Station. It is worth stopping in to see a map of areas affected by Hurricane Katrina and displays about historic railroads in New Orleans.
After our tour of St Louis Cemetery #1, we grabbed the street car and headed into the Garden District. While we were there, we were able to explore…
Lafeyette Cemetery #1
1416-1498 Washington Ave
This is the oldest of the city-operated cemeteries, about 200 years old. Unlike St. Louis Cemetery, which is owned and run by the Catholic church, this cemetery is non-denominational. It has been the scene of many movies and the inspiration for books and graves, such as the Vampire Lastat’s tomb. Because it isn’t guided, you can take your time walking around and exploring or taking pictures.
If you would like a tour of this cemetery, book a two-hour tour of the cemetery and the Garden District here.
Exploring the Garden District, New Orleans
If you love architecture, you will love exploring the Garden District. The architecture in the French Quarter is mainly Spanish. You will find a distinct difference in the newer residential Garden District, which was planned and built in the late 1850s. Newly rich locals wanted a place to build large mansions outside of the Creole area of the French Quarter. Later smaller Victorians were built among the larger antebellum-style mansions with their surrounding gardens.
Tip for the women: The sidewalks in the Garden District are extremely uneven. Wear comfortable, stable shoes, or you will turn your ankle!
Shop and Dine on Magazine Street
This street has more of a small-town feel. In fact, you may find yourself getting into a conversation with a friendly local here as you grab a bite to eat or shop on this eclectic street.
Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Balls
When Cali (of a Cajun in Cali) recommended that I use my calories eating in New Orleans eating a snow cone, I must admit, I thought she was a bit off her rocker. But these are not your average snow cones! Sno-Balls are a New Orleans fad. There are many stands all around the city. They are much finer than a course snow cone.
The flavorings are made from cane sugar, and at Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Balls, some of the flavorings are homemade. My son ordered a house-made grapefruit and basil sno-ball. Once again, I thought, “Are you crazy? That sounds horrible!” I ordered a tiger’s blood. Mine was good and unique, but his was phenomenal. So phenomenal that I ordered another grapefruit-basil sno-ball and ate it myself. It was that good!
Where to Stay in New Orleans
The last time I visited New Orleans with my husband, we stayed in the Garden District. It is more residential and quiet and convenient to the street car. On this trip, we were planning on spending our time mainly in the French Quarter. I also wanted to minimize late-night travel alone with a teen for safety’s sake, so we stayed in the French Quarter. We felt extremely safe at our hotel.
Hotel Indigo, French Quarter
We loved our hotel in the French Quarter! Due to their age, the rooms in the French Quarter are generally small. My 14-year-old son does not want to share a bed with his mom. It is really hard to find a decently-priced hotel room in the French Quarter with two beds. Not only did this room have two beds- it had a separate room for a low price. The rooms either have a balcony or are on the cute courtyard- how very New Orleans. It was quiet for sleeping and very secure. At night, the courtyard is locked and guarded. It was an easy walk to everywhere in the French Quarter.
How to Stay Safe in New Orleans
When I shared my plans to take my son to New Orleans, many people were worried about our safety. In all my travels to New Orleans, I haven’t felt any less safe than I do in any busy, touristy city, such as Paris or New York. Here are some rules I live by when traveling to these places.
- If you feel uncomfortable, get yourself out of the situation. I am, by nature, a nice person. I am always worried about hurting people’s feelings. Living on the border of the Western Addition (a rough neighborhood) in San Francisco taught me that it is OK to cross the street to get away from someone who makes you feel uncomfortable.
- It is fine not to get engaged in a conversation. There are many hustlers in New Orleans. They will con you into giving them money. They can get aggressive if you fall into their trap and don’t pass over the money. Do not let them draw you into a conversation in the first place.
- Don’t travel into dark alleys or places where other people aren’t.
- Use common sense.
What do you think is essential to do in New Orleans? Let me know in the comments.
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