Kids are going back to school within days, so if you're looking for one last final treat for them before summer ends, the Louisiana Children's Museum is the perfect place. I took a gander last week for the first time with my husband and stepkids, and when I started looking around I could only think one thing: This place is rad.

For one thing, it's mercifully air-conditioned. Like, deep chill. For another, it's not really a "museum" in the traditional sense, although there is cool relatable art and a place where kids can learn art. But it's more like a wonderland or a discovery place. Or maybe it could be called the biggest, coolest play room ever. It's also totally New Orleans. Back home we have an amazing place called COSI that is similar and I'm sure that other cities have the same kind of thing, but it wasn't totally specific to the area. The Louisiana Children's Museum is all about New Orleans and Louisiana and slyly teaches kids about the state they're growing up in, from explaining the difference between a "shotgun" and a "creole cottage" in the interactive architecture area, to the kinds of exports and imports that come through the Mississippi River in the exhibit called "Little Port of New Orleans." And miraculously, they make something like imports and exports sound really cool instead of really boring.

There's also a Winn Dixie grocery store where kids can get a pretend grocery list, take the cutest little shopping cart (sorry, buggy) and start picking out eerily realistic toy pieces of French bread and boxes of red beans and rice. There are even pretend packages of ground beef and shrimp in the make-believe meat department. I kept thinking to myself I would have loved this as a kid. Hell, I was loving it now. The only way it could've gotten cooler was if Willy Wonka (the Gene Wilder version) showed up and unveiled a river of chocolate and candy mushrooms.


There's even a New Orleans-style "cafe" where parents and guardians can mercifully sit at tiny tables and chairs and, in a sweetly comical role reversal, be served lunch or dinner by little ones. Kids put on aprons and pretend to be cooks, servers and bus boys and girls, hilariously clearing tables, grabbing tiny mops to wipe up non-existent spills and even grabbing toy cups of coffee from the toy coffee machine for their mystified moms and dads who were certainly thinking "if only."

Here is what my stepdaughter served me:


Pancake hot dogs, honeydew melon tacos and steak with a side of carrot mayonnaise. Pineapple and peas for dessert.

You can't find a more creative flavor combination anywhere else. Take that, New Orleans chefs.

There's also an art studio, a bubble room and a bayou filled with stuffed animals and kids' books, among others.

It's great because while some things made specifically for kids can be torturous for adults (Dora, Chuck E. Cheese), The Louisiana Children's Museum is just so cool that it transcends the kid/adult divide.

The only thing negative that kept going through my brain was OMG fomites! Having just watched Contagion about five times because HBO currently has it on repeat and I have the need for something going on in the background at all times while I work on my computer, I couldn't help but be hyper-aware of just how many hands or toddler mouths had touched my pancake hot dogs or my rubber cup of coffee. Or what kind of creepy crawlies were creeping all over the Legos downstairs at the mini Lego land, or on the make-believe eggs and chickens at the pretend old-time farmers market. 

But fear not! I noticed that the lovely fomite fairies at the Louisiana Children's Museum had installed dispensers of hand sanitizer pretty much everywhere.

The museum's summer hours (through Sept. 4) are Monday-Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.

I recommend going on a weekday. The day I went, it was pleasantly uncrowded so the kids could pretty much do whatever they wanted without having to wait at all. And because for me, I'm sure that as cool as the place is, if it's crowded to the max with kids running around and screaming, the relatively benign thought of fomites would turn into an all-out fear of the zombie kid-pocalypse in about 10 seconds flat.