When someone says “festival season” to me, the one of the first things that comes to mind is Coachella. But long before the annual music and arts festival began in Palm Desert, another season entirely captured America’s imagination: that of Louisiana’s favorite French city. With over 100 festivals year round, New Orleans is the prime destination for any type of vacation – but is especially friendly for families in the summer months.
From art and music to food and drink, seasonal celebrations, tours and an abundance of attraction, there is always something to do day or night on the banks of the lower Mississippi. Stroll the vibrant French Quarter or experience a free concert in Lafayette Square. Hop aboard a streetcar or play outside in the city’s 1300-acre City Park: complete with paddle boats, a Mother Goose-themed playground and an antique carousel. From Bourbon Street to beignets, no matter what time of year, fun is always in season in NOLA.
Immediately after school let out for the summer in early June, our family boarded a flight to the Crescent City armed with an itinerary that encompasses Creole cooking, 18th century historic structures, jazz music, ghost tours and cultural attractions – all part of a gumbo (pun intended) that has been simmering here for three centuries.
While searching online for an ideal home base, two properties stood out above the rest: The Higgins Hotel and the Loews New Orleans.
Honoring History, Heroes and Heartfelt Hospitality
Opened just two years ago on The National WWII Museum’s campus in the Arts & Warehouse District, The Higgins Hotel (HigginsHotelNola.com) harkens back to an earlier era. An Art Deco and period-inspired aesthetic and architectural influences are evident throughout the property – from its expansive lobby defined by a floor-to-ceiling mural looming over the reception area and a myriad of elegantly arranged WWII artifacts on display to each of its 230 spacious and well-appointed guest rooms and suites – all thoughtfully equipped with modern conveniences and special touches (think ultra-comfortable beds, stylish seating and pretty spectacular views of the cityscape).
Distinctive dining options here include Café Normandie for breakfast and lunch featuring sophisticated French-influenced fare and Rosie’s on the Roof – a local favorite for small plates, sandwiches and salads during the dinner hour. The latter paying homage to the new female American workforce of the WWII era. Rosie the Riveter is a cultural icon representing the women who worked in factories and shipyards during the war, producing munitions and war supplies.
The best part in my view? Its proximity to the neighboring National World War II Museum (NationalWW2Museum.org) – where we could incorporate history, education and inspiration into our vacation for a particularly memorable afternoon with our teenagers in tow. Our experience was defined by immersive exhibits, soaring aircraft and personal stories from Home Front efforts to the combat encounters of the American soldier abroad. If you go, don’t miss “Beyond All Boundaries” – a moving 4D cinematic journey produced and narrated by Tom Hanks that gave us all a greater understanding and deeper appreciation of the epic and global scale of the war that changed the world.
Leaning into Luxury
A Four-Diamond luxury property, Loews New Orleans (LoewsHotels.com) leans into the city’s love affair with art – starting at reception’s beautiful tiled mural and stained glass. Each of its 285 bright and spacious guest rooms and suites showcase original local artwork and iconic New Orleans images as accents.
As lovely as the views are in each accommodation, the vistas to behold beyond the wall-to-wall windows of this 22-story Big Easy high-rise are even more mesmerizing – nearby New Orleans neighborhoods ablaze in color, the city skyline sparkling at night and the magnificent Mississippi River, always a storied beauty to behold. Each of the generously sized rooms are finished in modern blues, grays and pops of bright color and characterized by thoughtful décor and Southern charm.
For our son who recently embarked on a regular fitness regime, 24/7 access to the fitness center’s state-of-the-art cardio and strength equipment was a huge bonus, while the indoor lap pool, whirlpool and sauna were more my speed for a little exercise and wind down at the end of the day.
Speaking of day’s end, Bar Peters at the Loews features Cajun-inspired entrees, light bites and hand-crafted cocktails influenced by the spirit of the city.
A friend recently turned me onto a super cool site (AtlasObscura.com) for the “definitive guide to the world’s hidden wonders,” which is where we discovered Muriel’s. New Orleans is no stranger to paranormal activity or classic Creole cuisine so we were anxious to sample both at Muriel’s Jackson Square (Muriels.com).
At this iconic French Quarter eatery, guests are said to dine amongst the patrons of the city’s past – there’s even a hidden séance room on the second floor where a special table is reserved each night for the spirit of the former owner (customers and employees have reported seeing objects moving around the room and voices emanating from the second floor when no one is there).
It’s easy to see why this establishment is so popular – in addition to its prime location in the heart of the French Quarter, Muriel’s menu is filled with regional favorites – including seafood specialties which were right up this seafood aficionado’s alley. The New Orleans seafood gumbo, crawfish and goat cheese crepes, shrimp and grits were a delicious introduction to creole cooking.
For Cajun Southern Cooking, we experienced Cochon (CochonRestaurant.com) for authentic, traditional dishes custom crafted from locally sourced pork, fresh produce and seafood. Set in a rustic, yet contemporary interior of a renovated New Orleans warehouse, the menu is characterized by a bevy of unique starters and main courses that make a meal here a truly memorable experience for the senses.
I’m particularly proud of our teens, both of whom have in recent years stretched their culinary palates. But none so much as on this trip where they had an opportunity to try crawfish pie, fried alligator with chili garlic mayonnaise, roasted pork belly with pepper jelly, bacon braised collard greens and fried catfish. My personal pick? The chicken and andouille gumbo – a hearty, rich, generously seasoned Creole stew.
And no trip to New Orleans would be complete without indulging in a few beignets at Café Du Monde (CafeDuMonde.com) – the famous fritters here are piping hot squares of doughy delight topped with confectioner’s sugar. Café Du Monde is not-to-be-missed – this French coffee stand is open 24 hours a day and has been in operation since 1862.
Sightseeing and Ghostly Sightings
The city’s only 360-degree observatory, Vue Orleans (VueOrleans.com) offers unparalleled views of this storied city in literally every direction you look – from the entire length of historic canal street to the way in which the Mighty Mississippi winds its way through NOLA. We ascended the 34 floors in less than 60 seconds – then had a ball challenging the kids to locate the landmarks from the previous days’ excursion.
If you’ve ever dreamed of stepping into a painting and are a fan of post-impressionism, don’t miss Van Gogh New Orleans: The Immersive Experience (VanGoghExpo.com). Ranked among the 12 best immersive experiences in the world by CNN, this touring exhibit is a 20,000-square-foot light and sound spectacular featuring two-story projections of the artist’s most compelling works. It is another singularly unique experience that is a both entertaining and educational family outing.
New Orleans is considered to be “the most haunted city in America” so no visit here would be complete without getting a little scare on. The Ghosts of New Orleans (GhostCityTours.com) is the No. 1 tour for families and children, but is also great for history buffs and fans of the paranormal. This all-ages walking tour takes you to some of the most famous haunted locations in the French Quarter, including sites of grisly murders and crimes where the victims are said to haunt the living today and homes of famous residents whose ghosts still walk the halls of their past lives (it’s no coincidence that the tour starts right across the street from Muriel’s, whose previous owner committed suicide on the second floor (in the area that once served as the slave quarters and is now home to the historic structure’s Séance Lounges) after losing his beloved home in a game of cards in 1814.