This winter we found ourselves headed back to Cajun country. We enjoyed our time last year in Baton Rouge, seeing the sights and getting to call that city home for a spell. Jason was able to choose between a few jobs sites in the area, so he chose to work in Covington so we could be closer to New Orleans and get a feel for a different area of the state. We ended up staying in Slidell, which is just 30-40 minutes north of New Orleans on I-10. We have enjoyed getting to settle in and explore the area, and wanted to share a few highlights.
The French Quarter
One of the areas that people always think of when New Orleans is mentioned is the French Quarter. It is a beautiful place to walk around and enjoy the rich architecture and heritage. There are many shops to stop into and just as many restaurant to get a bite to eat. One of the most famous places to get coffee and beignets, Cafe du Monde, is located in the French Quarter. The Mississippi River runs next to the area, and you can enjoy a stroll alongside of it, watching the boat traffic go by.
One of the things that New Orleans is famous for is how they like to celebrate with parades. That’s right, I am talking about Mardi Gras! If you happen to be in New Orleans during the part of the year that they aren’t having a parade every day, you can still see the floats in all of their glory, and even get to see the works in progress.
A visit to Mardi Gras World gives you a behind the scenes look at what it takes to make the spectacular floats that roll down the streets. It is literally a year round, full time job. You get to take a guided tour through the workshop and warehouse space, with all of your questions being answered. The cool part? After the tour is over, you are allowed to wander around for as long as you want, giving you the time to linger and marvel at the creations, past and present.
If you like to spend some time outside, New Orleans has a fabulous city park where you can find just about any outdoor activity to do. The 1,300 acres is loaded with jogging trails, bike paths, fitness zones, playgrounds, lakes, and field space. They have bicycles and boats to rent, so you can tour the park at your pace. The City Park is home to the New Orleans Museum of Art, which includes an outdoor sculpture garden that you can walk through.
Also located here is the Botanical Gardens, Storyland, Carousel Gardens Amusement park, and a miniature golf course. These all have an admission fee associated with them, but if you are going to be in the area for awhile, like we have, then getting a family pass is the way to go. Not only does it get you into Storyland, the Botanical Gardens, and the amusement park attractions for free, but also offers discounts on ride admissions, food, and miniature golf. After two trips for our family, it paid for itself, so all subsequent trips have been a bonus. Speaking of bonus, there is an eatery on the grounds called Morning Call, which is open 24 hours. In addition to some Louisiana favorites, such as red beans and rice and jambalaya, they serve up some delicious beignets and cafe au lait.
The park is full of live oak trees, which of themselves are absolutely beautiful, but in the winter the park transforms into Celebration in the Oaks, where they decorate with a bajillion lights. Admission to this is included with the family pass, and it is definitely worth the trip to see all of the lights and holiday decorations.
If you really want to get out, I would recommend taking a swamp tour. Cajun Encounters is located in Slidell, so for us it was an quick trip. They also offer city and plantation tours if getting up close with some wildlife is not your forte.
You will get to ride in a small boat through the Honey Island Swamp, which is a protected nature area. Each trip is a unique experience, and even in the winter time we were able to see plenty of wildlife out and about. As a bonus, the tour goes past a village that is only accessible by boat.
If you love nature, you most likely have heard the name Audubon. Well guess what? New Orleans is where they are located, with several branches of the Audubon Institute to visit. We knew that this was not a zoo to be missed, and we were correct.
If you would rather stay inside with the kiddos, there is a fun children’s museum in New Orleans. We love getting use out of our ASTC membership, and this one offered a free admission with our membership. We were pleased to discover that this museum offered several exhibits/activities with a local flavor. They have a swamp area complete with cabin and reading hollows in some trees, a shipping port with various boats that need a crew, and an interactive area highlighting local architecture and buildings.
If you are looking to find some history, there are a few places to visit in the area. The Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve offers six different areas to explore the history of the area. You can explore the culture of the area, natural areas and wildlife, and experience the battlefield and cemetery from the battle of New Orleans.
If culture is your thing, then you can check out the New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park while in the French Quarter. Not only will you learn about the history and roots of jazz in the area, they will also connect you with current performances in the area so you can experience a live performance.
Of course, both of these Parks offer the Junior Ranger program for the kids to get involved and learn about the history on their level.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of things to do in the area, but it is a list of some noteworthy items that we have found. Our biggest encouragement is to get out and explore!