If you are considering moving to New Orleans with kids, New Orleans Mom is here to help you navigate family life in New Orleans! Whether you are looking for preschools and daycares in New Orleans or a family-friendly restaurant in New Orleans, we have you covered! Most families fall in love with living in New Orleans. After all, we do have Mardi Gras!
10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Moving to New Orleans
Moving to New Orleans is a whirlwind of emotions for most people, and my experience was no different. My move from Denver to New Orleans was both exciting and tragic. After months of planning, my husband, beagles and I arrived uptown in early August … 2005. My husband was eager to begin his new future at Tulane Law School. Our eyes were bright with possibility, yet we were completely unprepared for what was to come. I barely had enough time to unpack all of my treasured belongings before the storm hit; most of them were wedding gifts that would be enjoyed much less than the lifetime that was intended. We lost everything. Because we only had a few weeks here before the storm struck, the city we now know is the one that has since been rebuilt.
We are the reNew Orleans.
For me, falling in love with New Orleans was not easy. In fact, there were times of disdain and loathing before love grew in its place. I look back now and think, if only I knew then…it would have been so much easier. I would have saved myself from so many puzzled looks and confused nights. I am now raising a family in New Orleans and have settled into the city as my true home. New Orleans is a wonderful place to raise a family, once you get used to the quirks and unique qualities. Whether you decide to settle down on the Northshore, out in St. Charles Parish, or even on the Westbank … there is so much to enjoy about living in New Orleans with kids.
If you know you are moving to New Orleans, we highly recommend that you bookmark our Moving to New Orleans Guide.
Things I Didn’t Expect About New Orleans
- Mardi Gras does not take place in one night on Bourbon Street! Mardi Gras is a several week long season dedicated to family-friendly revelry, excess and quality family time. Yes, FAMILY time. We place our young children atop huge ladders (with a seatbelt and parent to anchor it, of course) and let random strangers throw heavy, hard shiny beads at them. All while we sip a cocktail and enjoy the company of our fellow parade goers (whether we know them or not). At the end of the night, our kids had more fun here than at Christmas! And, the good news is, they get to do it again and again for weeks! There’s football in the street, music, bright lights, good convo, sweet treasures and a fun FREE time had by all. It’s extremely excessive and extremely fantastic. Schools are closed, workplaces run at a minimum and we, the good people of New Orleans, enjoy all that our great city has to offer!
- Taking your kids to the French Quarter during the day can be fun! New Orleans is essentially like having 24/7 access to history lessons to immerse your family in. When we go, we stick to Decatur Street and take a candy store tour. There are a bundle of local candy makers up and down Decatur Street that will be happy to provide your little one with a sweet treat to keep them happy while you shop the local markets. On a cool day, it’s a favorite! Personally, I can’t not get a milk chocolate and cashew tortue. On the way back to the car, you can walk by the river and enjoy the sights and sounds. The French Quarter is full of history, restaurants and fun corners waiting to be explored … and yes, we recommend visiting New Orleans with kids.
- Taking your kids to feed the nutria … I mean ducks … is an experience none of you will forget! There is an AWESOME park in Metairie called Lafreniere Park. It’s a sanctuary for birds that the kids love. I used to love taking my small kids there to feed the roving hordes of fearless ducks, chickens, swans, turtles, egrets and … nutria. It’s a great place to exercise, let the kids play, and even take a ride on the carousel. Lafreniere Park – with its ample parking and space to run – will be a definite favorite for your family. And yes, I realize that feeding ducks is not always advisable, but I do think it is a treasured local past time that is okay to enjoy sparingly. Within Lafreniere Park is also a lovely splash pad. With its mild spring and hotter than hot summers, New Orleans and the surrounding area are – of course – home to dozens of splash pads, pools and other fun spots for water play!
- New Orleans has the best local grocers. And food. Fight me. New Orleans is blessed to still have several local, family-owned grocery stores for your shopping pleasure, with each having their own specialties. For example, Dorignac’s is the best place to get alcohol, beef and bakery goods, in my opinion. Their petit fours and turtles are second to none. Langenstein’s is best for their prepared foods (“better cheddar” dip topped with some pepper jelly … just yum), fried chicken and meat department. Their twice baked potatoes are worth every single calorie. Canseco’s recently renovated the Old Metairie location and is another true gem. Zuppardo’s is another local favorite with fantastic service. Don’t waste all your time at the corporate grocers; you’ll get that small town service at the local grocers and even start to recognize the lovely folks who stock the shelves. Yes, they’ll talk to you and get to know you; embrace it! I’ve really come to enjoy knowing my deli person and my butcher, something I never knew I was missing before. Then, when you are ready to go out to eat in New Orleans we have food like nowhere else! There’s even fabulous dining worth driving to on the Northshore. Don’t miss one of our absolute favorite date night spots either.
- City Park has something fun year round, and New Orleans does have green space! Often times when you see pictures of New Orleans, you see houses and buildings but not much in the way of green space or trails. I wish someone had told me about City Park before we moved here. It offers playgrounds, putt putt, Carousel Gardens, fishing, paddle boats, nature walks, swan boats, golf…the list goes on and on. My favorite is the Celebration in the Oaks event to kick off and celebrate the holidays in December. It’s romantic, fun and family oriented. You can get some tasty rum punch and walk through the park. My boys love the train display. Heck, I love the train display. If you’ve never been, go; it’s truly something you must see!
- Jazz Fest is the Super Bowl of festivals, but French Quarter Fest is free! There is never a shortage of festivals here, so you will not be bored or looking for things to do in New Orleans. New Orleans is NEVER in shortage of fun things to do, and Jazz Fest tops most locals’ list of favorites. It’s becoming a religious holiday, and you must go and perhaps, bring your children! However, French Quarter Fest should not be overlooked! You don’t have to pay for a ticket (so you can leave freely in the event of a toddler meltdown) and you can roam the Quarter and get EXCELLENT festival-style food from top rated New Orleans restaurants all while listening to all the music you can handle! It may not be (insert fave national band here), but who needs them!? This is New Orleans! Let your kids dance, eat and enjoy the local sounds.
- Mardi Gras parades are not random. It’s actually one of the more organized things that New Orleans does. Parades are run by Krewes, each one having their own traditions and scheduled parade. You’ll find your favorite! If given the opportunity, don’t pass up on the opportunity to ride. It’s like being a rock star for a day. If you move here, be prepared to enjoy Mardi Gras with kids – period. I wasn’t expecting that.
- The Saints and LSU are a religion, not a sport, so tread lightly if you disagree. Even if you don’t get it now, chances are, you will. The Saints in particular were instrumental in the city’s recovery, serving as a source of PRIDE, COMMUNITY, and a sign of REBIRTH. Don’t mess with them boys. Note that kids often wear their Saints or LSU clothes to school on Fridays to show support! I was not a huge football fan prior to moving here, but the gathering of the entire region every Sunday en masse all in support of a common goal eventually won my support. It’s sort of hard not to fall in love with the enthusiasm here.
- For my kids, the Zoo, Aquarium, Children’s Museum and such are not just places for field trips. We go often, and since the city is geographically small, it’s SO easy to hop from one place to the next! If you become a member of many of the local family venues, there are even members-only events at night that make for a great family date night! For example, the Zoo hosts a Halloween party called Boo at the Zoo that is incredible for all ages. I wasn’t expecting to regularly go to some of these attractions because in many cities they are touristy, low quality or not easy to access. That is simply not the case in New Orleans! However, brace yourself for the challenge of figuring out the school system in New Orleans. That is not for the faint of heart.
- Last, but certainly not least, most of the world is separated by the proverbial six degrees of separation. In NOLA, it’s more like two degrees of separation. This city brings new meaning to the old saying, ” it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Just this past weekend, I was at a hotel at the last minute, on a busy weekend, trying to get the room we wanted. As it turned out, I knew the hotel manager’s mother. We got to talking, and ultimately he was able to work some magic to help my husband and me out! He even sent a bottle of wine and fruit basket to help complete our much needed stay-cation. AMAZING! Thanks, Bradley! Most people here are extremely friendly and truly willing to help. If there is something you’re struggling with resolving, ask around. Someone will likely have a solution that you wouldn’t have known to consider.
If I had written this article, it would have been titled, “10 Things I Never Knew I Missed About NOLA.”
Awe.. I too have left New Orleans. I feel like once this city gets ahold of you, a piece of you will forever remain! Thank you for your comment!
How do you decide where to live? There are so many options and pros and cons to all. I have a 7 th grade boy who will be going to Newman. I’ve looked from the West Bank to the East Bank and haven’t settled on a house yet. Please help?
Hi Maria! Welcome to NOLA! I’m sure you’ll find the perfect place for your family. There are lovely neighborhoods on both sides of the river. I would really make your commute to/from Newman during drop off and pickup. With construction uptown, traffic can really be horrific.
The neighborhood around Newman can be great as well. I personally spent time walking the streets in each neighborhood where I could get a “feel” for the culture. Whatever you decide, this isn’t a city where you can presume the neighborhood is safe simply based on location. You really need to see it in person.
Whether you stay Uptown, Old Metairie, or the West Bank, there are so many wonderful options that fit any family! 🙂 Hope this helps!
Love this! I want to go on a Candy shop tour with you! And you know, I’ve lived her all my life and visited Celebration in the Oaks more times than I can count, and I had NO IDEA they sold rum punch.
I’ll gladly do a Candy Shop Hop with you! It would be so fun! You’ll have to look for the Rum Punch next time! It really helps complete the night! 😉
I lived in New Orleans for three years and I agree with most of this article — except the part about Mardi Gras parades. I tried watching in several locations from Uptown to the Quarter, and every time I was met with drunk teens or drunker adults acting a fool and being extremely rude. I would suggest Metairie parades for a truly family-friendly experience.
Thank you for your comment! Yes, Metairie parades are a lot more tame, but I do like to take the kids to a few Uptown each year. We have had the most luck at the beginning of the route. To us, it seems that the farther down the route you go, the crazier it becomes!
I ve been NOLA just once and my experience has been wonderful. The Mardi Gras festival is one of its kind and i ve written down my memories in a blog just like you. Have a look at too my friend… https://swathiramaswami.wordpress.com/2013/09/06/down-the-memory-lane-at-new-orleans/
WHY Did you mention the Nutria! I love New Orleans but saw those things on Tv once and I have been terrified of crossing paths with one. When I’m in New Orleans, I freak out when ever a bush rustles. If I ever seen one in person, i’d faint (Southern Bell Style). They are my biggest fear about moving there!
Hahaha! Geneva, I feel ya. They are nasty. That being said, I’ve never seen one by my house. I only see them at the park and in the canals. They are nasty, but if you pretend they’re beavers, it’s not as bad. Just avoid looking at the rat like tail! Nutria need not be a worry!
We moved here 3 years ago, and what you said at the end…
…”Living here has been tumultuous. I’ve had moments of disgust quickly followed by moments of awe and admiration. We live not in a city, but rather a spirit; a tryst of good and evil that is both exciting and tragic. It reminds us of what we have to be thankful for, and we live to eat, pray and party”
….is the perfect description of how I feel about living in this city too! Could not have said it any better! It’s a love/hate relationship 🙂
I think the last bit, about NOLA being the epitome of six degrees of separation, is so true! Really, though… all of it. Living in New Orleans can definitely be a tumultuous experience at times, because we are a city so full of culture and different personalities, but it is so, SO worth it!
Love your article! It’s a great to know from someone who lived there with their kids. My husband and I are planning our moving to New Orleans for the middle of next year and we are very excited about it. My parents and my husband’s parents are living there for the last ten years and our kids are very excited for living so near to their grandparents. But they seem a bit nervous about the moving at all and I hope we’ll have not too many problems and go through this as smooth as possible. Liked your list and I’ll have it on mind wen we are there already, it seems to be very helpful for the kids to know their new city. Thank you for sharing!
Moving to new orleans need help finding a safe family neighbor, good daycare and public school..any helpful advice
Jamie, I see your article was written back in 2013. It is really good. I found it by searching “relocating to New Orleans”. The same search revealed an article comparing NYC & NOLA. The article was good but the resulting venomous dialogue threads were disturbing. Thank you for writing a sensible and relevant article. It was completely refreshing.