Too young to enjoy the sinful pleasures of Bourbon Street but too old (or too cool) to get a kick out of a carousel or playground, teenagers are a tough bunch to please on vacations, especially in a city like New Orleans. But it can be done! Whether your teen prefers shopping, eating, or high-energy outdoor adventures, there really are plenty of things for him or her to do in and around the city.
Listen to Live Music at Preservation Hall
This legendary jazz venue offers traditional music nightly in a convivial -- but alcohol-free and open-to-all -- an atmosphere where teens can’t help but enjoy themselves. Even if jazz isn’t your kid’s thing (and let’s be honest, how many teenagers are legitimately into trad jazz these days?), they’ll still be hooked on the energy and history of the place, and won’t be able to deny that the music is spectacular. If they need further convincing, show them the New Orleans episode of HBO’s Sonic Highways, where the Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl geeked out like a little kid over this venue and its spectacular house musicians.
Yes, the big noise-protection headphones are pretty nerdy, but other than that, everything about a tour on these giant fan-powered airboats is cool. There are several companies to choose from and your hotel concierge may have coupons or discounts available for some, so don’t be afraid to ask. Airboat Adventures is a popular choice, and as they do hotel pickups, it’s a good option if you’re in the city without a vehicle.
Catching the Saints in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome is the iconic New Orleans sports experience, but the tickets don’t come cheap. A better bang for your buck is probably watching the Pelicans play basketball in the Smoothie King Center or the Zephyrs play minor-league baseball at their field in Metairie. Check around for college games, too -- there are a whole lot of schools in the New Orleans area and all of them have the kind of rabid, passionate fans that make games a blast to attend.
Visit the WWII Museum
Dusty old history? Nah. The National WWII Museum is a model of contemporary curatorship, which is to say, it’s over-the-top cool. The museum features interactive exhibits, flawlessly-restored artifacts (including a B-17 bomber which is suspended from the ceiling), and even on-site WWII vets ready to answer questions and tell stories. It’s a fascinating experience that is educational but in a very synthesized, meaningful way.
Teenagers will love learning about the gory, eerie, and downright terrifying aspects of the French Quarter with a guided walking tour. It’s a great way to see the neighborhood and pick up a bit of history, though as you might expect, ghost tour guides seldom let the truth get in the way of a good story, so don’t take anything you hear as gospel. Still, these tours are a blast. Try the ghost and vampire tour from French Quarter Phantoms or the tour with a local performer and vampyre Lord Chaz.
See the City by Kayak
Active teens will enjoy paddling their way down the historic Bayou St. John waterway in mid-city. There are beautiful houses to see and stories to hear and lots of nature to take in. Not much soothes teenage angst like a day on the water, honestly. Kayakitiyat is a well-respected tour company that offers paddles for both beginner and advanced kayakers.
Take a Cooking Class
Time to expand that cooking arsenal beyond grilled cheese and microwaved nachos, kiddo! In a class with one of New Orleans’ most well-respected culinary personalities, your teen will enjoy adding Shrimp Creole or crawfish étouffée or bread pudding to their repertoire, plus perhaps some basic knife skills or knowledge of seasoning. There are lots of cooking classes in the city but the Langlois Culinary Crossroads and New Orleans Cooking Experience are both particularly recommended.
Go Bargain Hunting
There’s no shortage of places to shop in and around the city, but the Outlet Collection at Riverwalk Mall, just a stone’s throw from the French Quarter along the Mississippi River, is one of the only urban outlet malls in the country, and it’s particularly teen-friendly. Neiman Marcus Last Call, Skechers, Gap Factory Store, Aéropostale and PS From Aéropostale, Coach Outlet, and American Eagle Outfitters are just a few of the stores they’ll find here. Accompanying adults can enjoy the daiquiri stand in the food court, which will almost certainly help to quell the teenage chatter.