For those looking to expand their brain and not just their waistliney, New Orleans is home to some pretty cool museums and educational attractions. This probably comes as a surprise to most tourists, who often never step foot off Bourbon Street.
First and foremost is the award-winning National WWII Museum. Wanna see grown men cry? Check this place out. Originally started as just the D-Day Museum, it's gained such acclaim that they continue to expand and it now covers the entire war. It's located in the Central Business District and is relatively close to the downtown/French Quarter area. A long walk or a quick ride on the St. Charles streetcar will get you there. Don't miss the 4-D cinematic experience, Beyond All Boundaries, narrated and acted by some of Hollywood's biggest stars, including Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Tobey Maguire, and Patricia Clarkson. And when you're done, stop for a delicious bite to eat at The American Sector, a John Besh restaurant.
Have no fear, art lovers, because New Orleans has got a little something for you too. A ride on the streetcar down Canal St. and up N. Carrollton Ave. will drop you right off at the New Orleans Museum of Art. The museum sits on the corner of New Orleans' largest green space, City Park. Here at NOMA you'll find a wide variety of painting, photography and decorative arts. Outside the museum is the five-acre Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, one of the most important sculpture installations in the United States.
When it comes to art, though, I've always preferred the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. It's very close to the National WWII Museum in the CBD, just off Lee Circle and easily accessible via the St. Charles streetcar. Here you'll find more contemporary works exclusively from local and regional artists.
Also in the same area as the Ogden and WWII museums is the Louisiana Children's Museum. If you're travelling with kids, the myriad interactive exhibits found here make learning fun. Just be sure to bring your running shoes and lots of energy.
Made famous by The Meters song of the same name, the Audubon Zoo is a favorite among tourists and locals alike. You'll have to make your way uptown, where you'll find the zoo nestled in the middle of beautiful Audubon Park. There's plenty to see and do but it's all very manageable. Be sure to hitch a ride on the Swamp Train and stand atop Monkey Hill, the highest point in the city. You'll laugh when you see this "hill." And when you're done, you can walk around Audubon Park. Bring your clubs and play a round on the well-maintained golf course. You might even spot Drew Brees, who lives just off the park, playing with his kids. Cross the street and walk around the beautiful campus of nearby Tulane University
Located in the U.S. Custom House downtown, the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium is a newer attraction, having opened in 2008. If you think bugs are beautiful, this is the place for you. Highlights include the super cool Butterfly Garden that lets you walk among thousands of the former caterpillars, and my personal favorite the Tiny Termite Cafe, which gives you the opportunity to actually eat insects like crickets and waxworms.
Perhaps creatures of the sea are more your cup of tea. If that's the case, then head on over to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, also located downtown by the river. Take advantage of the new Backstage Penguin Pass, a new program that gives you the opportunity to go behind the scenes for a private session with an endangered African penguin. But my favorite exhibit is Caribbean Reef, a long underwater glass tunnel that completely surrounds you with ocean life.
You can save money by purchasing the Audubon Experience package and getting tickets to all three Audubon attractions, plus the IMAX theater. A good deal if you're spending a significant amount of time during your stay in New Orleans.