Louisiana Day Trips: New Orleans and Beyond

Updated on April 25, 2018
Joan Dragonfly profile image

Sharing my experiences from a recent trip to New Orleans and its surrounding areas.

Bourbon St., New Orleans
Bourbon St., New Orleans | Source

Planning a Trip to Louisiana

A trip to Louisiana can be very exciting as well as overwhelming. There is so much to see and do! After a fun-filled family vacation to the charming area, I’ve compiled a list of day trips in New Orleans and beyond that the whole family will truly enjoy! We were happy to have made very good use of the limited time we had available. Each day was chock full of fun!

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans? When that's where you left your heart. The moonlight on the bayou a creole tune that fills the air. I dream about magnolias in bloom and I'm wishin' I was there.

— Louis Armstrong
Laura Plantation; Vacherie, LA
Laura Plantation; Vacherie, LA | Source

Day 1: Plantations, Boardwalks, and Swamps

Laura Plantation Tour:
Learn about French Creole culture, how the plantation was impacted during Americanization, and a lineage of women who were left to successfully run the plantation on their own.

  • Guided tours are given through the plantation and historical grounds.
  • Learn about slavery, complex family dynamics, and how the plantation was built.
  • Explore the plantation with its Live Oak trees, gardens, and outbuildings.

Address: Laura Plantation
2247 Highway 18 Vacherie, LA 70090

Oak Alley Plantation
Oak Alley Plantation | Source

Oak Alley Plantation:
Visit this beautiful tree-lined plantation across the street (on Route 18) from a levee holding back the Mississippi River.

  • Eat an amazing lunch at the plantation's restaurant.
  • Stroll through picturesque grounds lined with historic Live Oak Trees.
  • If time allows, tours within the plantation are available.

Address: Oak Alley Plantation
3645 Louisiana 18, Vacherie, LA 70090
(Restaurant serves lunch only)

Everything that I ordered was exquisite and super delicious. I ordered the Mint Julep Flight, Shrimp-Crab-Okra Gumbo, and Crawfish Etouffee Over Fried Fish. Everything was excellent. The chefs really paid attention to detail with how the food looked and tasted. The restaurant had an incredible historic atmosphere. We didn't take the tour through the plantation, but we did walk through the grounds.

Bluebonnet Swamp
Bluebonnet Swamp | Source

Blue Bonnet Swamp Nature Center:
This nature center has a great display of numerous live caged animals, turtle pond, convenient restroom facilities, and a nicely constructed boardwalk with two short loop paths and one longer path (ask at the desk for a trail map).

  • Watch lively turtles swimming in the pond near the entrance.
  • The visitor center has a great collection of caged animals to learn about.
  • Their helpful staff gives periodic presentations about their animals.
  • Maps of their boardwalks are available at the visitor center.

Address: Blue Bonnet Swamp Nature Center
10503 N. Oak Hills Parkway Baton Rouge, LA 70810
(Closed Mondays)

Caution: If you are planning to use the boardwalk, be sure to cover up and/or bring bug repellent. There were a lot of mosquitos. Please be careful of the critters that may be encountered while on the boardwalk, such as alligators, snakes, snapping turtles, Eastern Lubber Grasshoppers, etc..., so respect nature and keep your distance. The boardwalks can be slippery, so watch your step.

St. Louis Cemetery: New Orleans
St. Louis Cemetery: New Orleans | Source

Day 2: Cemetery Tour, Bourbon St., Beignets, Riverboat, and Voodoo

St. Louis Cemetery Guided Tour:
Meet up with a tour guide (at the intersection of their choice) and take a walk down the streets of New Orleans all the way down to the cemetery. Although there are many companies you can tour with, we chose The Voodoo Bone Lady Cemetery Walking Tour. Here are the details of my experience with this particular tour:

  • Our tour guide met us on the corner of Royal and St. Peter Street.
  • We got a brief sighting of the Voodoo Bone Lady walking to her store.
  • The tour guide led us to the cemetery while keeping us in the shade.
  • Take a 10-minute break at Basin St. Station (restrooms, snacks, & drinks).
  • The tour lasted around 1 hour 45 minutes.
  • Photography is allowed in St. Louis Cemetery, but not the use of video.
  • The tour guide gave a thorough history of the cemetery and beyond.
  • At the end of the tour, you will self-navigate outside the cemetery gates.

All tours are different depending on which company you tour with. Staying hydrated is a must! The cemetery can get extremely hot. In general, take advantage of any available restroom facilities, since it is very difficult to find bathrooms to use without being expected to buy something first in the city of New Orleans. There are a small number of public restrooms that have limited hours and are not in the most convenient locations.

Deep Fried Hamburger
Deep Fried Hamburger | Source

Lunch on Bourbon Street:
There are many restaurants on Bourbon Street to choose from. It is much easier to visit during their tamer daytime hours, especially if you have children. We chose Bayou Burger located at 503 Bourbon Street in New Orleans, which was a comfortable restaurant and sports bar with many TVs. I got a Deep Fried Bayou Burger, which was delicious and the beer was great! Visiting Bourbon Street at night is a whole other experience and is not meant for children. Bars will not allow children to stand idly near their entrance ways, so nighttime on Bourbon Street is meant for adults only.

Beignet from New Orleans
Beignet from New Orleans | Source

Stop for a Beignet:
Save room for dessert! A trip to New Orleans isn’t complete without trying a fresh beignet, which goes perfectly with a cafe au lait! Out of the number of New Orleans restaurants serving beignets, we chose Cafe Beignet located at 600 Decatur Street in New Orleans, since it was in a convenient location and had a little time to kill, before hopping aboard the riverboat. The cafe's live jazz music added the perfect touch!

Riverboat on the Mississippi
Riverboat on the Mississippi | Source

Riverboat Cruise:
Take a relaxing narrated riverboat tour on the Mississippi River. See massive barges and ships, as well as hurricane-destroyed docks. You may choose a cruise with or without the meal option. We chose the Steamboat Natchez Cruise (right near Cafe Beignet; 600 Decatur St, New Orleans, LA). It was nice to sit in the shade with a breeze on the lower deck on a nice set of table and chairs. However, we were grateful to have the option of going indoors, since we encountered a fast-moving rainstorm halfway through the cruise. This gave us the opportunity to listen to the wonderful live jazz music going on inside! Another riverboat cruise option is the Paddlewheeler Creole Queen (shown in the photo above), which we got a nice view of while riding the Natchez. It was a great photo opportunity!

Voodoo Museum:
Learn more about voodoo. The history behind it is so much different than it's portrayed in the movies!

Address: New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum
724 Dumaine Street New Orleans, LA 70116

Dinner in New Orleans:
There are so many great places to eat in New Orleans, so read up on suggestions and reviews. We chose Deanie’s Seafood and we were not disappointed. I got the crawfish pizza. It was really good! Instead of bread before the meal, they served us boiled red potatoes (that came from a crawfish boil). It was worth the trip just to get those delicious potatoes!

Alligators
Alligators | Source

Day 3: Swamp Tour, Jean Lafitte Area, Nature Preserve, and Carriage Tour

Jean Lafitte Swamp Tour:
Thankfully this was a covered boat tour through the swamp since a last-minute heavy rainstorm passed through while we were on it, but that didn’t stop us from having a wonderful time and saw countless alligators! We didn’t even get wet. The tour guide even pointed out one of their shacks along the tour, where a movie was filmed.

  • Climb aboard sturdy boats with protective canopies from the sun and rain.
  • Swamp tour lasts around 1 hour and 30 minutes.
  • Get a great view of nature, such as alligators, birds, flowers, plants, more!

Address: Jean Lafitte Swamp Tours
6601 Leo Kerner Lafitte Parkway Marrero, LA 70072

Jean Lafitte Visitor Center:
Besides picking up a few brochures and asking the friendly staff about the best places to dine out, their marionette puppet showcase is a must see! The history of Jean Lafitte lines the back wall, with frame after frame of animated puppets and interesting information. It is here that you’ll get a true sense of what Jean Lafitte was all about and why the area was named after him.

  • A visitor center is available for information with a helpful attendant.
  • See the series of animated marionettes telling the story of Jean Lafitte.

Address: Town of Jean Lafitte Tourist Information Center
799 Jean Lafitte Blvd. Lafitte, LA 70067 (Closed Mondays)

Des Familles
Des Familles | Source

Restaurant Des Familles:
This lovely restaurant hit the spot! We were seated in the dining room overlooking the birds and alligators visiting in their backyard bayou. It was worth the visit just for the view and atmosphere, but their food was exquisite as well! I got the turtle soup and alligator stuffed mushrooms. The food was so delicious and the drinks were amazing!

Address: Restaurant des Familles
7163 Barataria Blvd Crown Point, LA 70072

Barataria Preserve: My Video of an Alligator Under the Boardwalk.

Barataria Nature Preserve:
This nature preserve is well worth the visit, but the area can be very confusing since there are so many different trails within the preserve. A printout of a map is a must unless you can find one at the Barataria Visitors Center (which we never found, since our GPS got confused). For the few random trails that we did find (Bayou Coquille Trail area), we saw so many beautiful plants, flowers, birds, turtles, lizards, snakes, and an alligator under the boardwalk (as shown in the video above). There were also numerous large Eastern Lubber Grasshoppers everywhere. Caution: these extra large bugs are toxic! Just touching one of these grasshoppers can make you sick if you don't wash your hands afterward. I've seen them to be either green or black in color. Don't take the risk. Please just keep your distance. They do pose nicely for pictures, though! Also, please be sure to take the proper precautions, such as bringing bug repellant for mosquitos, staying hydrated, being aware of slippery boardwalks, keeping a safe distance from wildlife, and bringing a map to avoid getting lost since it has happened to other tourists in the past.

  • Bring a Barataria Nature Preserve Map to get your bearings of their trails.
  • This beautiful preserve features birds, insects, reptiles, amphibians, and more!
  • Boardwalks offer a convenient walking experience (but can be slippery).

Address: 6588 Barataria Blvd, Marrero, LA 70072
(Visitor Center has limited days/hours of operation)

Barataria Nature Preserve

New Orleans Carriage Ride
New Orleans Carriage Ride | Source

New Orleans Carriage Tours:
Take a guided tour on a mule-drawn (these are not horses) carriage ride through the city streets of New Orleans. These carriage rides can be found lining the street and waiting for eager customers to hop aboard in front of Jackson Square on Decatur Street in New Orleans. There are so many different companies to choose from. We went with Royal Carriages and were so enchanted by the wonderful driver and mule team!

  • Carriage rides are typically drawn by a handsome well-dressed mule.
  • Learn more about New Orleans with a guided carriage ride tour.
  • Carriages are covered to protect riders from sun and rain.
  • Tour themes: Haunted, History, French Quarter, Private, etc...
  • Carriages may be boarded in front of Jackson Square on Decatur St.
  • Carriage rides run 30 minutes or 1 hour depending on availability.
  • Some carriages may run until midnight.

Address: Carriage pickup at 700 Decatur Street, New Orleans
(Note: There may be a check-in booth on location if booked online).

Dinner in New Orleans:
Please remember, there are so many wonderful places to eat in New Orleans, so do your research and decide what works out best for you. Sometimes it is difficult to plan every detail of your trip at once. On this particular evening, we tried Crescent City Brewhouse and their food, drinks, and atmosphere were wonderful!

  • Restaurant: This “brewhouse” is also a great family restaurant.
  • Bar: Very nice with intricate “jellyfish” lighting above the bar.
  • Food & Beer: The Crawfish Ettouffe & Weiss Beer were delicious!

Address: Crescent City Brewhouse
527 Decatur St. New Orleans, LA 70130

Source

Day 4: Cajun Swamp Tour, Gardens, Aviary, and Tabasco Museum

Champagne Cajun Swamp Tours:
We boarded a medium-size uncovered boat, which brought us out on Lake Martin with breathtaking views of this unique swamp. Our tour guide was very pleasant and knowledgeable. He answered all of our questions and told us about how there are no mosquitos in the area, since the vegetation that grows there, gives off a citronella-like effect that drives away these pesky critters. We were delighted to see so many alligators, turtles, and large birds! We were even fortunate enough to watch a Roseate Spoonbill fly overhead with its pinkish feathers beaming in the sunlight (reminiscent of a flamingo). This experience was dramatically different from our Jean Lafitte Swamp Tour, so it was definitely worth trying the two separate swamp tour experiences. I enjoyed Lake Martin’s natural setting. The location gives off an authentic backwoods bayou feel, the way nature intended.

  • Swamp tours are given in a natural setting on beautiful Lake Martin.
  • We saw countless alligators and turtles sunning, hiding, or swimming.
  • See many varieties of large birds. Perfect for bird-watchers!

Address: Champagne Cajun Swamp Tours
1151 Rookery Rd. Breaux Bridge, LA 70517

Cypress Island Preserve:
This nature preserve has nicely built boardwalks over the surrounding wetlands. We only came to walk the “Boardwalk Loop,” but there are other trails to explore, as well as a Visitor Center. We didn’t stay long since we had other places to go after this quick stop.

  • The Cypress Island Preserve trail map covers areas surrounding Lake Martin.
  • Visitor Center has limited hours of operation (see site's link below for details).
  • Trail closings for alligator nesting (June - Oct.) and Southern Lake Martin closed to boats (Feb. - July).

Address: Cypress Island Preserve Visitor Center
1264 Prairie Hwy, St. Martinville, LA 70582

Rip Van Winkle Gardens
Rip Van Winkle Gardens | Source

Rip Van Winkle Gardens:
Before visiting the gardens, we ate lunch at Jefferson Cafe, which was such a nice place with a great view of the gardens from there large (greenhouse-style) windows. After eating we walked around and toured the Rip Van Winkle Gardens. It is a very beautiful and relaxing place to spend an afternoon.

  • Jefferson Cafe Restaurant has a nice view of the gardens.
  • Caged birds can be found throughout the walk
  • Take a tour through the beautiful 1870 Jefferson House mansion.
  • Walk along the gardens of flowers, plants, trees, fountains, etc….
  • A map of the Rip Van Winkle Gardens can be obtained onsite.
  • Watch a short movie about the history of the grounds (air-conditioned room).
  • Beautiful historic cottage rentals are available onsite.

Address: Rip Van Winkle Gardens
5505 Rip Van Winkle Rd. New Iberia, LA 70560

Factory's Greenhouse
Factory's Greenhouse | Source

Jungle Gardens, Aviary, and Tabasco Factory:
Drive up to a toll booth check-in window to be guided through the gates and into the 170-acre Jungle Gardens on Avery Island (near Bayou Petit Anse). After entering the gates, you’ll find a gift shop, where tickets may be purchased to gain admission. You’ll receive a map that will lead you (by car) on roads that travel through the Jungle Gardens. There are optional stops to take along the way with helpful of numbered signs corresponding to numbers on the map. Some areas have short trails for hiking. Near the exit of the Jungle Gardens, is the Tabasco Visitor Center which you may opt to visit as well. It provides a history of how the Tabasco company was founded, the making of the sauce, and manufacturing. If your timing is right, you can watch factory workers sort through bottles to ensure the quality of their product.

  • Jungle Gardens: A natural setting along a dirt road to travel by car (with numbered stops indicated by signs that are also shown on the map provided with ticket purchase). Some numbered stops along the way have optional hiking trails.
  • Bird City Aviary: Bird-lovers will adore this boardwalk overlooking a wildlife preserve for migrating birds with raised natural-looking platforms to keep visiting birds safe from predators. They even offer bird tours.
  • Tabasco Visitor Center: Visit the Tabasco Visitor Center and grounds to discover how the company was founded, how the product is manufactured and stored, and tasting samples can be found in their country store and gift shop.

Address: Jungle Gardens, Bird City Aviary, and Tabasco Factory
Hwy. 329, Avery Island, LA 70513

Source

Day 5: New Orleans Croissants, Aquarium, Zoo, Crawfish Boil & Haunted Carriage Tour

Breakfast at Le Croissant D’or:
“Croissant D’or” means “Croissant of Gold,” in French. If you’ve ever wanted to try a chocolate croissant, this is the place to try one! This bakery has limited hours, but they have so many unique baked goods to try. Don’t forget to accompany your baked gem with a delicious Cafe au Lait, which is a french pressed coffee with steamed milk. The restaurant has a charmingly quaint atmosphere. We ate in the atrium-style room in the back and it was just perfect! They serve breakfast and lunch.

Address: Le Croissant D’or
617 Ursulines Ave, New Orleans, LA 70116
(Closed Tuesdays)

Audubon Aquarium of the Americas (New Orleans)
Audubon Aquarium of the Americas (New Orleans) | Source

Audubon Aquarium:
The Audubon Aquarium is a great place to visit for people of all ages! There is so much to see and explore. Watch the otters swim and play, the jellyfish undulating in their soft-rhythmic manner, seahorses cradling themselves as they cling their tails to the seaweed, and so much more!

Address: Audubon Aquarium of the Americas
1 Canal St, New Orleans, LA 70130

Note: When purchasing tickets online, please note that if you go for the group package (includes access to Aquarium, Insectarium, and Zoo), then you should be aware that all three of these attractions are in totally separate locations, so plan accordingly.

Audubon Insectarium:
This building is located in the U.S. Custom House (Federal Building), so bags will be checked and people are scanned for illegal paraphernalia. Once inside, there are many rooms and displays to take a look at. Make sure to keep track of time! It is a very interesting and worthwhile exhibit, but in hindsight, I wished I had gone through the bug exhibits much more quickly since we ended up being late for the zoo, which closed promptly at 5 pm, so we weren't able to see all of the zoo's exhibits.

Address: Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium
423 Canal St, New Orleans, LA 70130

New Orleans Audubon Zoo
New Orleans Audubon Zoo | Source

Audubon Zoo:
This is a fabulous zoo that you’ll want to plan your visit for at least 2.5 to 3 hours. It was much larger than we anticipated, so we were unable to see all of the exhibits. We saw a bit of it, but we were disappointed when we were rounded up and forced to ride the zoo's train back to the exit when the park closed at 5pm (we arrived at 3:30 pm), so we should have built in more time for this attraction. The zoo is open later on the weekends.

Address: Audubon Zoo
6500 Magazine St, New Orleans, LA 70118

Source

Dinner at Cajun Seafood, New Orleans:
We went in search of a place that could provide us a great Crawfish Boil, so after some careful research, we went with (Uptown) Cajun Seafood. It was absolutely delicious, despite the fact that the woman behind the counter told us we had just missed crawfish season, so they were hard to come by and also the shells were already very hard. They were delicious anyway and the woman showed us how to open the crawfish correctly. I guess that was why it took us until the end of our trip to find this yummy treat! Being from New England (and being used to eating almost every part of a lobster), I was shocked at how much of the crawfish is actually wasted. We were told to only eat the tail meat. I wish I had a nutcracker to see if there was any mean inside those little claws!

Address: Cajun Seafood (Uptown)
2730 South Broad Ave., New Orleans, LA 70125

New Orleans Ghost Tour
New Orleans Ghost Tour | Source

Haunted Carriage Tour:
We booked an 8 pm (1-hour long) history and haunted carriage tour online. It was so much fun and the sunset we were fortunate enough to see was gorgeous! Our tour guide was fabulous and told us the history of many old buildings on our route and their (haunted) occupants. I always worried a ghost tour might be too scary, but it was actually fascinating! All I could think of was how beautiful New Orleans was at night and the magical feeling of being on a mule-drawn carriage ride on a balmy evening. There was one other family that rode with us on our carriage ride, which was fine. We even got to see an exciting portion of the city that we wouldn't have seen otherwise (Frenchmen St. area), which was beautifully lit for the evening. There are many carriage tour companies to choose from, so check around for rates, times, and availability.

Address: Haunted Carriage Tour
700 Decatur St. New Orleans, LA (in front of Jackson Square).
You may need to check in with an on-site booth before boarding.

Words of Caution:

There are 4 important things to keep in mind when visiting Louisiana:

  • Limited Restrooms: It is very difficult to find a restroom you are allowed to use in New Orleans without being told that you must buy something first. Public restrooms are few and far between and have limited hours. We even tried to blend in at a hotel and found that you needed a room card-key to get into the bathroom in the main lobby. So if you are somewhere that has a restroom (when you’re out to eat or wherever), make sure you use that bathroom before you leave because you never know when the next restroom will be available. Also, note that some places that you think should have bathrooms may not (such as a sit-in bakery).
  • Stay Hydrated: It is so easy to become dehydrated in Louisiana. It is very hot and humid. You can count on sweating constantly. When we visited New Orleans in July, it was humid and 95 degrees every day. Storms would quickly pass and knock the temperature down to around 75 degrees, but only briefly, until the sun came back out and it was hot and extra humid once again.
  • Rain & Storms: We visited Louisiana in July (and hoped we didn’t get stuck in a hurricane, which we didn’t, thankfully) and we were surprised to find that it rained very hard (usually accompanied by thunderstorms) on a daily basis. Sometimes even twice a day, but the storms passed through quickly, so it didn’t stop us from having fun. However, it is best to plan ahead and have access to ponchos and umbrellas at all times. These rainstorms literally materialize out of nowhere.
  • Use of Video: Many tourist attractions will mention that taking photos are okay, but taking video is not allowed. Every place has their own policies, so make sure to ask before taking photos or video.

Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Joan Dragonfly

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      • Joan Dragonfly profile image
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        Joan Dragonfly 9 months ago from New England

        You are right! We did have two counts of semi-aggressive panhandling incidences, while visiting NOLA! Nothing too serious, but alarming none-the-less. Thank you for the comment Ryan!

      • Fullerman5000 profile image

        Ryan Fuller 9 months ago from Louisiana, USA

        Being from Louisiana I have taken many trips to NOLA. And I have yet to see it all. Such a beautiful and unique city with plenty to see and do. I feel you have nailed some of the finer points of the city to explore. Also I would advise to stay in groups especially if you are out at night. NOLA has become more violent in the tourist areas which is tragic. Great article.

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