To those of us who live here, New Orleans is indeed the center of the universe. But as wonderful as this city is, it’s not the only place worth visiting in these parts. Whether you’re on a family vacation or a relationship-recharging getaway, a road trip is just what the doctor ordered.
Houmas House Plantation and Gardens, La.
58 miles west, 1-hour drive
Houmas House Plantation and Gardens is an Antebellum gem just steps from the Mississippi River — Photo courtesy of Houmas House Plantation
Channel your inner Scarlett and Rhett with a visit to Houmas House Plantation and Gardens, a portal into what life was like in Antebellum New Orleans. Houmas House is one of the best-preserved of River Road's grand homes, thanks to loving restorations by local son Kevin Kelly. The plantation boasts stunning grounds and the outstanding Latil's Landing Restaurant, a culinary gem from Louisiana-born chef Anderson Foster.
Enjoy an elegant lunch at The Carriage House Restaurant, overseen by chef Joseph Dicapo, or a more casual buffet lunch at Cafe Burnside. Stay overnight in one of the 21 lovely cottages filled with art and antiques, and wake up feeling like a sugar baron. Cafe Burnside is open daily for lunch, and a special Sunday brunch menu is available at Le Petite Houmas. Houmas House also boasts an award-winning wine cellar.
Old Mandeville, La.
35 miles north, 45-minute drive
Take a swamp tour across the lake for close-up gator views — Photo courtesy of Louisiana's Northshore
Cross the 24-mile Lake Pontchartrain Causeway to the Northshore, where tons of activities await in St. Tammany Parish – a haven of family attractions, upscale B&Bs and unspoiled bayous. Base yourself in Old Mandeville, a gracious lakefront community with charming shops and restaurants in its small walkable downtown.
Rent bikes and cycle the Tammany Trace, stopping off to see baby gators at the Insta-Gator Ranch and Hatchery. Next, take a cool open Jeep ride through the Global Wildlife Center, a 900-acre preserve in nearby Folsom that is home to 4,000 free-roaming residents including giraffes, camels and bison. Book a swamp tour for up-close views of gators and other aquatic wildlife.
Reserve a table in advance at 527 Restaurant and Bar from longtime favorite chef Pat Gallagher. Showcasing steaks and seafood, like sautéed ruby red trout and fried oysters with pepper jelly and andouille sausage, 527 is serving up Louisiana flavor in a relaxed Northshore setting.
Fontainebleau State Park, La.
37 miles north, 50-minute drive
The cabins over the lake are back in Fontainbleau State Park — Photo courtesy of Beth D'Addono
Also across the lake from New Orleans, this 2800-acre swath of green is situated at the end of the causeway. Although it's not far from Covington and Mandeville, it feels a world away, glorious and isolated.
The park just reopened 12 cabins that have been closed since Hurricane Isaac struck the area in 2012. These comfy cottages are ideal for a family getaway, with amenities like flat-screen TVs, screened porches and fully equipped kitchens.
Reservations can be made via ReserveLaStateParks.com.
New Iberia/Avery Island, La.
135 miles west, 2.25-hour drive
Putting on a show at Rip Van Winkle Gardens on Jefferson Island — Photo courtesy of Iberia Parish
Even if you’ve toured Avery Island before, with its Tabasco plant, Jungle Gardens, wildlife and bayous, a new experience awaits. Restaurant 1868 is now open, a casual dining experience serving Tabasco-fueled Cajun comfort food inside and out. And for the first time in 26 years, visitors will be able to tour the processing plant on a catwalk, as well as visit an all-new museum and visitors’ center.
Stay a few nights at a local B&B and spend your days visiting Shadows-on-the-Teche Plantation, Jefferson Island's Rip van Winkle Gardens and New Iberia’s historic Main Street – familiar turf if you’re a fan of James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux novels. Don’t miss the historic Lejeune’s Bakery in nearby Jeanerette, an old school place for French bread and ginger cakes since 1884.
Lake Charles, La.
206 miles west, 3-hour drive
Get green along the Creole Nature Trail — Photo courtesy of Louisiana Travel
Lake Charles, the fifth largest city in Louisiana, is a little bit country and a little bit rock 'n roll. Known for its combination of outdoor adventure, Cajun culture, glitzy casinos and stately historic homes, Lake Charles has a multitude of great activities for every taste and budget.
Visit the Creole Nature Trail Adventure Point to learn more about the area’s native wildlife and then take a spin on the Creole Nature Trail, home to more than 400 species of birds, alligators, wildflowers and miles of lovely beach.
Lake Charles is also the place for culinary creatives, both down-home and haute, with places like Rabideaux’s for boudin and fried seafood, Asia at L’Auberge Casino for Vietnamese, dim sum and sushi, and Calla, a tapas-style modern eatery from chef David Sorrells in posh Walnut Grove.
Morgan City, La.
87 miles southwest, 1.5-hour drive
Fried chicken and red beans and rice, just perfect at Rita Mae's — Photo courtesy of Beth D'Addono
Known best for its annual Shrimp and Petroleum Festival in September, this Cajun Country town is a green gem, thanks to its proximity to the natural beauty of the Atchafalaya Basin, the largest overflow swamp in America.
Moss-draped cypress, majestic oaks and an abundance of bird and animal life provide easily accessible outdoor adventures along secluded waterways. You can go fishing, bird watch or photograph nature and kayak along the Bayou Teche Paddling Trail.
Don’t think about leaving Morgan City without having lunch or dinner, or both, at Rita Mae’s Kitchen on Federal by the park. Serving home cooking for 23 years, this is the spot for friendly service and charming Southern cuisine. Try the fried chicken, crab burger and definitely the gumbo.
135 miles west, 2.25-hour drive
Cajun and zydeco music is always in the air in Lafayette — Photo courtesy of John Krupsky
The heart of Cajun Country, Lafayette is a fine base for exploring the region. If you can, plan your visit around Festival Acadians, held annually on the third weekend in September, for a flurry of Cajun food, music and heritage.
Every Friday during the spring and fall, Downtown Alive! presents live music, crafts and other activities in the downtown district. If you get really lucky, local son Michael Doucet of BeauSoleil may just be playing some Cajun fiddle.
Don’t miss the outstanding Zydeco breakfast every Saturday morning at Café des Amis in nearby Breaux Bridge, where you’re likely to run into the same dancers you saw the night before at the Blue Moon Saloon.
176 miles north, 3-hour drive
Antebellum charm at Monmouth Plantation in Natchez — Photo courtesy of VIsit Mississippi
Beautiful Natchez, Miss. stayed intact during the Civil War, which makes it one of the best places to see Antebellum architecture in the South. There’s history everywhere you look, from stately plantations to historic museums, dramatic cemeteries and the first college in Mississippi.
There's a lot to eat and drink in between touring, too: start at the Natchez Brewing Company for craft beer and then head to the Charboneau Distillery for artisanal rum. Wrap up your evening at the Under The Hill Saloon, a rustic local favorite by the river. If you get hungry, Roux 61, Pic Out Inn BBQ and Fat Mama’s Tamales are all top-notch local eateries.
Dauphin Island, Ala.
153 miles east, 2.5-hour drive
Dauphin fishing pier reaches into Mobile Bay — Photo courtesy of Faungg's Photos
Situated on a spit of land in Mobile Bay, this serene beach getaway is the ultimate place to get away from it all. Known as the Sunset Capital of Alabama, this laid-back island is all about beach time and fresh seafood.
Go fishing, spy birds at the Audubon Bird Sanctuary and take the ferry to Mobile for the day.
Come back for dinner at Skinner’s Seafood, where “the seafood you buy today was swimming in the Gulf last night.”
Ocean Springs, Miss.
92 miles east, 1.5-hour drive
Maisanos in Ocean Springs has one of the best wine collections in Mississippi — Photo courtesy of Beth D'Addono
This artsy little town sits close to the casinos on Mississippi's Gulf Coast, and is a quirky delight for art lovers and foodies alike – boasting more than 100 restaurants to try, many of them along the streets of the compact historic district. Colorful and sophisticated, Ocean Springs’ shopping is first rate and the locals are friendly.
In Ocean Springs, you'll find the best wine selection in the whole region at Maisano’s, with some 1,200 options for sipping. Owner Jonathan Maisano knows his stuff – he holds a certificate from the Court of Master Sommeliers.