In the Big Easy, weather during subtropical winter months can be unpredictable, but the city’s indoor attractions, many of which are situated a short walk or taxi ride from downtown, offer visitors numerous options for spending an enjoyable afternoon.
New Orleans’ 300th anniversary in 2018 is just around the corner and a splendid place to start is the Louisiana State Museum, a collection of museums and historic structures that include the Cabildo and Presbytere, both of which flank St. Louis Cathedral, the Old U.S. Mint, the 1850 House and Madame John’s Legacy. The permanent Cabildo exhibit, “Mardi Gras: It’s Carnival in Louisiana” offers a window into the annual celebration and riotous rituals of Mardi Gras. The Hermann-Grima House, 820 St Louis St., is a meticulous recreation of a circa-1831 residence that brings the visitor face to face with life in 19th-century New Orleans. History is brought to life every Thursday in a cooking demonstration that expertly shows how meals were prepared in a typical New Orleans Creole household.
The Historic New Orleans Collection, 533 Royal St., is presenting wonderful slices of New Orleans' past with changing exhibits including "An Architect and His City: Henry Howard." For the more studious there is the Williams Research Center, 410 Chartres St., featuring the exhibit, "At Home and At War: New Orleans 1914 to 1919,” from Dec. 9 to May 7. In conjunction with the HNOC, an art exhibit, "Awash in Colors: Seldom Seen Watercolor Paintings by Louisiana Artists,” runs from Jan. 21 to May 21 at the Laura Simon Nelson Galleries.
On the edge of the French Quarter are two must-sees for children of all ages: Aquarium of the Americas and the Audubon Butterfly Garden & Insectarium. The Aquarium of the Americas features its new Great Mayan Reef, a penguin exhibit, Amazonian Rainforest, and a huge tank exhibit depicting the Gulf of Mexico. The aquarium's sister facility, the Insectarium, is only a block away and has all the bells and whistles of a modern, interactive museum experience.
Elsewhere, in the Central Business District, is the huge National World War II Museum, 945 Magazine St., home to more than 100,000 artifacts from the global conflict. This modern high-tech attraction was recently ranked one of the top 25 museums in the world. Nearby is the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., called the most comprehensive assemblage of Southern art in the United States, which offers both permanent and traveling exhibits, and live music Thursday evenings. Also unique to New Orleans is Mardi Gras World, 1380 Port of New Orleans Place, which takes visitors behind the scenes to show what it takes to help create what has been dubbed “the greatest free show on earth.”
This attraction was ranked one of the top 25 museums in the world.
A streetcar ride from downtown to the end of the line brings you to City Park, a sprawling urban park whose “front door” is the New Orleans Museum of Art, 1 Collins Diboll Circle. A world-class art museum, NOMA is home to numerous permanent collections, including European, American, Oceanic, pre-Columbian, Latin-American and African artwork through the centuries.
If you have children and relish the chance to venture far afield into the heart of Louisiana’s colorful Cajun Country, the Bayou Country Children's Museum, 211 Rue Bettancourt in Thibodaux, offers an interactive, hands-on approach to our local culture. Dozens of opportunities for real-time exploration include climbing onto a full-sized sugar harvester, spotting waterfowl from a duck blind, tossing Mardi Gras beads, experiencing a severe weather simulation, climbing aboard a duck boat and oil derrick.
In Southeast Louisiana there are many ways to escape the winter elements and become immersed in our history, culture and romance. If you have a hard time deciding, just hop on the New Orleans Sightseeing Tour bus and jump on and off at the attractions that suit you best.
By Chris Champagne