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.
However, the Big Easy has plenty of great activities and things to do for people of all ages—including a few attractions that are aimed specifically at teenage audiences, whether your teen prefers shopping, eating, or high-energy outdoor adventures.
Preservation Hall is a legendary jazz venue that offers traditional music nightly in a lively atmosphere that teens can't help but enjoy. Fortunately for parents, Preservation Hall is an alcohol-free and open-to-all establishment.
Even if jazz isn’t your kid’s thing, 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.
Although the big noise-protection headphones you have to wear may be pretty nerdy to a teenager, everything else about a tour on a giant fan-powered airboat is pretty cool.
There are several companies in New Orleans that offer these unique tours, and your hotel concierge may have coupons or discounts available for some of them. Airboat Adventures is a popular choice, and as they do hotel pickups, so it’s a good option if you’re in the city without a vehicle.
Sports have a rich culture in New Orleans, and many of the city's residents take great pride in their hometown teams. If your teenager is a fan of major-league or minor-league sports, there are plenty of opportunities to catch a game at the city's various arenas and stadiums throughout the year.
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.
You can also check around for college games; there are a 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.
Ranked as one of the best history museums in the country, the World War II Museum in New Orleans is anything but a dusty old history exhibit. 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.
See the City by Kayak
Not much soothes teenage angst like a day on the water, and active teens will enjoy paddling their way down the historic Bayou St. John waterway in mid-city by kayak. Bayou St. John is home to some beautiful houses, and several companies along its waterfront offer guided tours of the bayou.
Kayakitiyat is a well-respected tour company that offers paddles for both beginner and advanced kayakers. Additionally, Bayou Paddlesports offers guided tours and kayak rentals for a reasonable price and hosts monthly night adventures on the water as well.
Take a Cooking Class
If you'd like to give your teen a valuable lesson in cooking while visiting New Orleans—which is known for its rich culinary history—take a class with one of the city's most well-respected chef personalities at Langlois Culinary Crossroads or the New Orleans Cooking Experience.
Cooking classes for families and teenagers are offered throughout the year at many other culinary institutions across the city including the New Orleans School of Cooking, Crescent City Cooks!, The Mardi Gras School of Cooking, and Casa Pelican.
There’s no shortage of places to shop in and around the city. Whether your teens are in need of some new clothes or they just enjoy shopping, there are plenty of shopping malls to choose from in New Orleans.
However, 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.
Although not particularly teen-friendly at night or during city-wide holidays and festivals, the French Quarter is a great place to take your teens in the daytime. Whether you enjoy the architecture on a ghost tour or you just wander through its shops for souvenirs, there's plenty to do in the Quarter that teens can enjoy.
Be sure to check out the voodoo shops scattered throughout the French Quarter. While you're there, you can also enjoy breakfast at the famous Cafe du Monde—known for its beignets—and tour one of the many art galleries centered around Royal Street.
When it comes to learning about local lore while seeing a lot of the city, many of the walking tours in New Orleans may be a bit boring for most teenagers, and you can take your teen on a haunted ghost tour of the city instead.
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!
The LaLaurie Mansion is one of the most popular and feared haunted houses in the city. Try the ghost and vampire tour from French Quarter Phantoms or the tour with a local performer and vampyre Lord Chaz.
Pay Respects at Above-Ground Cemeteries
New Orleans is known for its Gothic-style above-ground cemeteries, and if your teenager is a fan of the macabre, he or she will also enjoy visiting one of the city's many expansive homes of the dead. Lafayette Cemetery is the city's oldest, but the most popular one to visit is St. Louis Cemetary #1, which has the tomb of the "Voodoo Queen" Marie Laveau.