New Orleans: Activities for children

New Orleans Activities for children

If you are heading to New Orleans, Louisiana with children, then Bourbon Street is probably not for you, at least at night. There are, however, plenty of things to do in and around the city that the whole family can enjoy.

Audubon Zoo

The Audubon Zoo is located off of Magazine Street near Audubon Park. The zoo is consistently ranked in the top 10 in the country. It features areas specifically for children, including a carousel, a petting zoo and other kids’ rides. The park is broken up into different sections based on from where the animals come. The Asian section features lions and elephants while the Louisiana section takes you on a walk through the Bayou. Here, you’ll see raccoons, alligators and Louisiana black bears. The zoo is open throughout the year, except certain holidays.

Walk Through the French Quarter

While you want to keep your children as far away from the French Quarter at night, it is an interesting mix of sights and sounds during the day. You’ll walk past painted performers that only move when you give them a tip or pass by them. Listen to local street musicians, including singers, bands and individual performers. You can also shop for local trinkets, including Mardi Gras beads, souvenirs and masks at the French Market. Or, buy some local art in Jackson Square for deeply discounted rates over the local galleries.


The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas takes you past swimming jellyfish, hidden seahorses and fish of all colors and types. The main section features a tank full of sharks, stingrays and tuna. This tank looks like the base of an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico. You can also buy a ticket to the IMAX Theater connected to the aquarium, which shows IMAX nature movies. The aquarium also has a large gift shop that sells toys and stuffed animals. There is also a large touch aquarium, where your children can feed the stingrays and touch sea life.

Swamp Tours

Just a short ride from downtown New Orleans, you reach the swamps, for which Louisiana is known. But, you can do more than just look at the swamps. Book a swamp tour aboard an airboat. These high-speed boards have a large motor on the back that looks like a giant fan. These boats take you deep into the swamps, and experienced guides will point out birds like herons and egrets. You’ll also pass alligators in their natural habitat. You’ll probably also see nutria, which are a non-native, invasive species of rat, which are now filling up Louisiana’s swamps and bayous. Depending on the area, you may also see remnants of the 2010 BP Oil Spill.

Plantation Tours

If you have older children that are interested in history, take them to one of the many plantations in the area. These were actual working plantations that date back before the Civil War, where cotton, sugar and similar products were grown. Some even still have the slave quarters from that era. Two of the closest plantations are Ormond and Destrehan located in St. Charles Parish, which is off of River Road. River Road runs throughout the state, and many plantations are located along this two-lane road.

The Origins of Jazz in New Orleans

New Orleans after the civil war had the distinction of being one of the most racially and ethnically diverse cities in the U.S. As the 20th century approached New Orleans expanded and the economics of the city changed. European immigrants, descendants from slaves and a group known as the Creoles of color all had to work side by side. These various ethnic groups would all contribute to the formation of jazz in some way.

Downtown Musicians

The “Creoles of color” was a group of people with a mixture of French and African-Haitian ancestry. They were different from regular Creoles who were of pure French ancestry. The Creoles of color were predominantly Catholic, spoke French and were well educated. Most were tradesmen, such as plasterers or cigar makers and lived downtown (below Canal street) in the French quarter.

A proper music education was important to the Creoles of color and many were taught by European immigrants. A standard Creole musical education would emphasize sight reading, musical notation and proper instrumental technique suited to play in an Orchestra.

Before and after 1900 there were many small orchestras, brass bands and string bands made entirely up of Creole musicians. Since most of these musicians were musically literate they could play comfortably for any level of Society. A gig for a Creole orchestra might range from a downtown restaurant to a private party for millionaires. The repertoire of a successful Creole band would include pop songs of the day, light classical music such as arias from French Opera and the latest ragtime hits.

Uptown Musicians

African Americans who descended from slaves lived “Uptown” above Canal street which was known as the “American” section of town. The uptown musicians were predominantly Baptist and laborers by vocation. Music was just as important to this group as it was to the Creoles but they did not have the same European music education the Creoles had. Since many of the uptown musicians could not read music they had to learn by ear or by rote which led to improvisation (making up on the spot).

The uptown bands were usually smaller than the downtown bands and they played mostly for uptown audiences. The most popular uptown band around the turn of the century was the Buddy Bolden band led by Charles “Buddy” Bolden (1877-1931). Bolden’s band was active from the mid 1890’s until 1907 when Bolden was declared insane and institutionalized for the remainder of his life.

Louisiana Segregation Laws

Jazz historians often site 1894 as being a key year in towards the development of jazz. By 1894 several segregation laws were passed that segregated anyone with any amount of African Ancestry from whites. Creoles of color, who formerly enjoyed nearly all the same privileges as whites, were especially bitter.

Before the segregation laws there was always tension between the different classes of African Americans. The downtown Creoles characterized uptowners as being crude while the uptowners thought the Creoles were snobbish. This attitude carried over into musical abilities of these groups. The downtown musicians, while acknowledging the creativity of the uptown musicians considered their music rough while the uptown musicians thought the downtowners music lacked emotion.

The Creation of Storyville

In 1897 legislation was passed to set aside a legal district within the French quarter devoted entirely to prostitution. This district was known as Storyville (named after New Orleans alderman Sidney Story who wrote the legislation) or just as the “district” to locals.

Throughout it’s 20 year existence Storyville provided some of the best paying jobs for musicians in New Orleans. Originally only solo pianists performed in the brothels of Storyville but as more dance halls and cabarets opened up they attracted some of best musicians from both uptown and downtown. Gradually uptown and downtown musicians began to perform together and borrow each others techniques.

Exodus from New Orleans

Even before Storyville closed in 1917 New Orleans musicians began to leave town. The competition was too great and bands began to look elsewhere for work, especially Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. The first New Orleans jazz band to leave town was the Original Creole Orchestra. A few years later another very popular Storyville band led by Creole trombonist Kid Ory left for California.

The Original Creole Orchestra ended up in Chicago in the late teens and cornetest Joe “King” Oliver became the new leader. In 1922 Oliver sent for his protégé Louis Armstrong to join him in Chicago who, along with Oliver, had been an alumni of the Kid Ory band in Storyville. Armstrong would become the greatest jazz soloist of the 20’s and 30’s and his music, along with the other pioneers, would evolve into big band jazz and modern jazz.