So you received orders to New Orleans. Show of hands, who knew there were military bases in New Orleans? OK, maybe it’s common knowledge for the Navy or Marines, but it was definitely news to this Air Force member.
There’s actually quite a bit of military presence in Louisiana and the surrounding area. In addition to the Marine Corps Support Facility, New Orleans and Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Belle Chasse (Louisiana Air National Guard, Coast Guard and Marine Reserves), Louisiana is also home to Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City, Fort Polk in Vernon Parish, and Camp Beauregard in Pineville. Also, about 45 minutes north of New Orleans, just over the Mississippi border is Stennis Space Center, a rocket propulsion testing facility for NASA and the Department of Defense. Stennis also hosts several Navy tenant units including the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command. Further afield is Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi, just over an hour away. It’s a bit of a longer commute but totally doable if you’d like to be in the New Orleans area.
So now you know there is a military presence in the New Orleans area, and it’s totally possible to get stationed here. And guess what? If you do, just know that it is truly an awesome place to spend a few years.
We live on what is called the Northshore, meaning on the north side of Lake Pontchartrain with New Orleans to the south. Here, in St. Tammany Parish, the main towns of Mandeville, Covington, Madisonville, Lacombe, and Slidell offer a great place for families wanting to be close to New Orleans but not directly in the city. Many families, like ours, choose to live on the Northshore and commute into the city or to Mississippi.
What is SO amazing about living in the New Orleans metro area? Come close and I’ll tell you all the best-kept secrets …
The Northshore area just outside of the city is ahhh-mazing for families! This area is filled with tons of families and many of the events, activities, and amenities are family-friendly. Within 15 minutes of us are several parks, playgrounds, family-friendly restaurants, outdoor sports facilities and athletic clubs with tons of services. One of our favorite places is Fontainebleau State Park, complete with a splash pad, beachfront, campground, playground, and gorgeous old oak trees draped in Spanish moss.
Another great area is the Lake Pontchartrain lakefront. This area boasts bike and walking paths, a splash pad, playground, and beach area. We like to stop for ice cream and head over to the lake to play and watch the sun go down. Another of our favorite areas is a covered playground (a must for the hot Louisiana summers), fenced in and complete with a real fire truck for the kids to climb on. Even better, it’s right next to a gorgeous little children’s museum that our kids love.
The St. Tammany Trace is a 31-mile long bike trail connecting the towns of Mandeville, Covington, Abita Springs, Lacombe, and Slidell. Each town hosts a weekly farmers and craft market at their respective trailhead. In the summer, Mandeville has outdoor music concerts and family-friendly movie nights.
If this wasn’t enough to convince you this area is awesome, lets jump across the lake.
In New Orleans, there is the newly built Louisiana Children’s Museum in City Park. City Park is a beautiful park featuring an antique carousel, botanical gardens, a lake with boat rentals and the enchanted Storyland playground with storybook sculptures from Grimm and Mother Goose nursery rhymes. Then there’s Audubon Park and the Audubon Zoo with its new lion exhibit and cool zoo water park. I really could go on and on about all the amazing activities the area has to offer. We just arrived at our two-year mark and have barely scratched the surface!
Awesome public schools
Many of the towns here on the north side of Lake Pontchartrain have public schools that have been labeled as some of the best in the state. This is one of the big advantages the north shore has over the south shore. The New Orleans school scene can be a bit overwhelming in the sheer variety of options. There are private, public and charter schools and the process for enrolling varies greatly among them. The website New Orleans Mom has some great information on their schools here.
I know when most people think of New Orleans, they think of Mardi Gras craziness … which DOES exist. But a majority of Mardi Gras activities are actually very family-friendly. We have taken our three littles to parades in Mandeville, Covington, Metarie, and New Orleans. The daytime parades are usually a safe bet, and you will see TONS of kids and families. It’s essentially a big street party with music, food, entertainment, and the kids get a ton of great throws like beads, candy, snacks, and small toys. Our boys always take home big bags full of things, and they have a blast shouting “throw me something, mister!”.
Hanging out with thousands of our closest friends for a little Mardi Gras fun. Note we are in t-shirts in February! We periodically drag everything out of the closet and let them play ‘Mardi Gras’ around the house. It makes a great rainy day activity.
One thing you can say about South Louisiana is these folks know how to have a good time. Once the heat of summer starts to cool down enough to be bearable, the festivals begin. They’ve got one for every kind of food you can think of – beignets, crawfish, strawberries, fried chicken, po’boys, macaroni and cheese, etc. Not to mention Mardi Gras and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which is an epic, multi-day ode to music and all things New Orleans cuisine. We’ve seen artists from Bonnie Rait to Trombone Shorty and Tom Petty and everything in between.
There’s Southern Decadence – this one you’ll need a sitter for – The New Orleans Film Festival, Crescent City Blues and BBQ Festival and Oktoberfest. We already have tickets for the November Fete de Fromage. YUM! Then there are the holiday-related events like Boo at the Zoo, Ghost in the Oaks, Monster Mash, Halloween Snack and Shop, Donuts with Santa and Celebration in the Oaks. There is always something going on!
For the most part, we are blessed with great weather most of the year. Yes, it’s the South, and it’s hot and humid, but that is why we have pools and air conditioning. It starts getting warm in March or April and the heat can last until November. But the summer months are the really hot, humid time. During the sticky summer weather, we get outside early for playtime and come inside around 10 a.m. when it gets too hot. Or we go to one of the many pools or splash pads in the area. Many neighborhoods have a community pool and lots of families belong to a fitness center that includes a pool. Most have summer memberships as well.
Outside of summer, the weather is truly gorgeous most of the year. The spring and fall are beautiful with warm days and cool nights and it’s not unusual to be walking around in jeans and a t-shirt in December. If this Northeastern girl ever feels homesick for fall weather, well, not having to shovel snow in November can go a long way.
Every area has local cuisine and regional specialties. However, I have to admit that New Orleans just has a little extra something special going on.
As a port city, New Orleans cuisine is a blend of French, Spanish, Italian, Creole, Cajun, Caribbean and African influences and cultures. My husband is originally from here, and now I know why he loves the food so much. Mouthwatering roast beef po’boys, sugar-coated, piping hot beignets, spicy, savory gumbo, rich buttery crawfish Monica …I’ve had some of the best meals of my life here. New Orleans doesn’t mess around when it comes to its food!
New Orleans boasts a pretty diverse mix of people in and around the city. Many people come to New Orleans for school or work and decide to stay. We’ve made friends with locals and transplants from Sweden, Haiti, and Puerto Rico. There’s definitely a bit of a down-home cosmopolitan vibe going on.
Distinctive character and charm
From the food to the architecture, there’s just something special about New Orleans that worms its way into your heart. It’s colorful and full of flavor and just a bit messy. But that’s part of its charm as well. There’s really no other place quite like New Orleans.
The music, the food, the culture, Mardi Gras … its culture, customs and cuisine are so unique. Of all the places my husband and I have lived together, New Orleans ranks as one of our favorites.