Those of us who live here already know that New Orleans is a great place to raise kids. We enjoy an eccentric culture, and there are tons of cool events, festivals, and museums at our disposal. But there’s one family of museums and parks that stands out above all the rest — and that’s Audubon Nature Institute.
Nature isn’t usually the first thing to spring to mind when thinking of New Orleans, but it should be, considering it’s home to the Audubon Zoo, Aquarium of the Americas, Butterfly Garden & Insectarium, and Louisiana Nature Center. Whether you invest in an annual membership or just visit on sporadic occasions, these facilities, whose purpose is to celebrate the wonders of nature, always provide a rich, rewarding experience for the whole family!
Its incredible picturesque setting on the site of a former sugar plantation is one of the zoo’s finest features. Live oaks, old growth, tropical plants, and fountains abound, adding a gorgeous, lush backdrop to the exotic mix of animals from around the globe — from primates of Africa to pachyderms of Asia, and everything in between. In addition to daily animal presentations, chats, and feedings, highlights include the Cool Zoo spray park, Gator Run lazy river, carousel, and train. The latest news: the long-anticipated Jungle Jaguar expansion is complete, and now open to the public! Its featured attraction is a nocturnal creatures house, filled with an exotic array of species, including vampire bats, zebra tarantulas, ringtail cats, night owl monkeys, and more. The zoo’s signature events include the Zoo To Do gala, Zoo to Do for Kids, Boo at the Zoo, Zoo Year’s Eve, Dinner & a Zoovie nights, Safari After Dark overnight campouts, and summer/holiday camps for kids. Hours: Tuesday – Friday, 10am – 4pm; Saturday & Sunday, 10am – 5pm
Audubon Aquarium of the Americas (French Quarter)
Perched alongside the Mississippi River at the edge of the French Quarter, this world-class aquarium takes visitors on a tour of the underwater world, as well as the rainforest. Highlights include the walk-through tunnel under a Caribbean reef, the Stingray Touch Pool, Parakeet Pointe, Entergy Giant Screen Theater, and the enormous Gulf of Mexico Exhibit, where gigantic sharks, tarpon, rays, and sea turtles swim in 400,000 gallons of water. Signature events include Scales & Ales, SEAlabration, among others. Hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 10am- 5pm
Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium (French Quarter)
Located in the old U.S. Custom House building on Canal Street, North America’s largest museum of its kind is dedicated to insects and their relatives. Visitors can use all five senses as they wander through a multitude of exhibits, including the Bug Apetit cafe (where you can sample insect-infused dishes!), a Louisiana swamp, an awards show for bugs in a 4-D theater, and a tranquil indoor Asian garden filled with thousands of butterflies and other creatures. Signature events include Crawloween, Jingle Bugs, and Hoppy Thanksgiving. Hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 10am – 4:30pm
Audubon Louisiana Nature Center (New Orleans East)
This cherished community resource has finally rebounded after getting flooded during Hurricane Katrina. Its 86 acres of hardwood bottomland forest, located adjacent to Joe Brown Park in New Orleans East, has reopened with modern buildings, beautiful nature trails and new programs celebrating the wonders of nature. Other highlights include a planetarium, classroom pavilions, a botany center, and an interpretive center. Hours: Walking Trails, daily from 8am – 4pm; Exhibit Hall: Wednesday – Sunday, 10am – 4:30pm
Other properties include:
- Audubon Park and Riverview
- Woldenberg Riverfront Park
- Freeport-McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center
- Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species
- Audubon Wilderness Park
Visit the official website for more information on the Audubon Nature Institute, its various parks and facilities, individual ticket prices, and memberships.