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Louisiana Day Trips: New Orleans and Beyond

Updated on August 19, 2017
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

Planning a Louisiana trip can be overwhelming. There is so much to see and do! I’ve compiled a list of day trips in New Orleans and beyond that the whole family will enjoy. I recently had the privilege to explore the charming city of New Orleans, as well as the wonders of nature and life on the bayou in the surrounding areas on a fun-filled family vacation. We were happy to have made very good use of the limited time we had available. Each day was chock full of fun! I hope you find this list of day trips helpful.

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

1. DAY ONE: Plantations, Boardwalks, and Swamps

(Day1: Stop 1)
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.

  • Tour: Guided tours are given through the plantation and historical grounds.
  • Learn: Slavery, complex family dynamics, and how the plantation was built.
  • Explore: The plantation with its Live Oaks, gardens, and outbuildings.

Address: Laura Plantation
2247 Highway 18 Vacherie, LA 70090


(Day1: Stop 2)
Oak Alley Plantation:
Enjoy lunch in a located within this beautiful plantation setting across the street (Route 18) from a levee holding back the Mississippi River.

  • Plantation: Take a tour through the plantation (if desired).
  • Grounds: Stroll through picturesque grounds lined with Live Oak Trees.

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

NOTE: Everything that I ordered was exquisite and super delicious (Mint Julep Flight, Shrimp-Crab-Okra Gumbo, and Crawfish Etouffee Over Fried Fish). Yum!


(Day1: Stop 3)
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).

  • Turtles: Watch lively turtles swimming in the pond (near entrance).
  • Caged Critters: Learn about animals inside the visitor center.
  • Staff: Helpful staff give talks about their animals.
  • Trail Map: Ask for a map in the nature center to use on the boardwalks.
  • Caution: Cover up and/or bring bug repellent. Critters can be dangerous (alligators, snakes, snapping turtles, Eastern Lubber Grasshoppers, etc...), so respect nature and keep your distance. Boardwalks may be slippery.

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


(Day1: Stop 4)
Alligator Ranch:
Learn more about alligators by visiting this alligator ranch and hatchery. Watch eggs hatching, listen to talks, hold a baby alligator, and/or get a tour of the facility.

Address: Insta-gator Ranch & Hatchery
74645 Allen Rd. Covington, LA 70435
(Closed Mondays)

NOTE: I didn’t know about this place until after my trip, but I wish I had. If you’ve gotten a chance to visit this facility, please share your experience.


Riverboat on the Mississippi
Riverboat on the Mississippi | Source

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

(Day 2: Stop 1)
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 from my experience with this particular tour:

  • Location: Tour guide met us on the corner of Royal and St. Peter Street.
  • Sighting: Brief sighting of the Voodoo Bone Lady walking to her store.
  • Walk: Tour guide led us to the cemetery (keeping us in the shade).
  • Break: 10-minute break at Basin St. Station (restrooms, snacks, drinks).
  • Duration: Tour lasted around 1 hour 45 minutes.
  • Pictures: Photos allowed, but not video in St. Louis Cemetery.
  • Stories: Told by the tour guide at the cemetery.
  • End: Go outside the cemetery gates (self-navigate to next stop).
  • Location: Depends on the company chosen (all tours are different).

NOTE: The cemetery gets really hot, so stay hydrated! Also, take advantage of available restroom facilities, since it is very difficult find restrooms to use without buying something first in the city of New Orleans. There are a small number of public restrooms that have limited hours.


(Day2: Stop 2)
Lunch on Bourbon Street:
There are many restaurants to choose from in New Orleans, but if you’re looking to experience a little taste of Bourbon Street (during tame hours of the day). Choose from a list of restaurants.

NOTE: I chose Bayou Burger (503 Bourbon St., New Orleans). I got a deep fried bayou burger (Yum!). Food and drinks were great! Kids can get Root Beer (if desired).


(Day 2: Stop 3)

Stop for a Beignet:
Save room for dessert! A trip to New Orleans isn’t complete without trying a fresh Beignet (preferably with a Cafe Au Lait)! Choose from a variety of restaurants serving this yummy treat.

NOTE: I chose Cafe Beignet (600 Decatur St, New Orleans, LA 70130), since it was in a convenient location (before hopping on the riverboat). Their live music, cafe au lait, and beignets were a big hit!



(Day 2: Stop 4)

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.

NOTE: I chose Natchez Steamboat Cruise (right behind 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 heavy rainstorm half way through the cruise. This gave us the opportunity to listen to the wonderful live jazz music going on inside!



(Day 2: Stop 5)
Voodoo Museum:
Learn more about voodoo. It is different than it is portrayed in the movies!
Address: New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum
724 Dumaine Street New Orleans, LA 70116



(Day 2: Stop 6)

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!


Eastern Lubber Grasshopper
Eastern Lubber Grasshopper | Source

3. DAY THREE: Swamp Tour, Jean Lafitte Area, and Nature Preserve

(Day 3: Stop 1)
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.

  • Covered: Sturdy boats with protective canopies from the sun and rain.
  • Duration: The swamp tour lasts 1 hour and 30 minutes.
  • Things to See: Alligators, flowers, plants, buildings, and birds.

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



(Day 3: Stop 2)
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.

  • Information: This visitor center has a helpful attendant to answer questions.
  • Marionettes: An animated display of puppets tell the story of Jean Lafitte.

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



(Day 3: Stop 3)
Restaurant Des Families:
This lovely restaurant hit the spot! We were seated in the dining room overlooking their backyard bayou and we had the pleasure of watching an alligator swim by with many beautiful birds all around. 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. Everything was so delicious!

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



(Day 3: Stop 4)
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 Visitor Center (which we never found, since our GPS got confused). For the few random trails 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 below). There were also numerous large Eastern Lubber Grasshoppers (caution: toxic) that we were told would make a person sick, if they touched them and then didn't wash their hands afterwards. Please be sure to take the proper precautions (such as, bringing bug repellant, staying hydrated, being aware of slippery boardwalks, keeping a safe distance from wildlife, bringing a map to prevent getting lost.

  • Visitor Center: Should be your first stop to take a map and get your bearings.
  • Trail Map: May include surrounding roads to help avoid getting lost.
  • Wildlife: Lush vegetation is home to birds, insects, reptiles, amphibians, etc…
  • Boardwalks: Offer a more pleasant hiking experience (but can be slippery).

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



(Day 3: Stop 5)
New Orleans Carriage Tours:
Take a guided tour on a mule-drawn (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 Ride: Drawn by a handsome well-dressed mule.
  • Guided Tour: Learn more about the beautiful and historic city of New Orleans.
  • Canopy The carriage is covered to protect riders from sun and rain.
  • Theme: Tour types: Haunted, History, French Quarter, Private, etc...
  • Location: Carriages may be boarded near Jackson Sq. (Decatur St).
  • Duration: 30 minutes or 1 hour (depending on availability).
  • Evening: Some carriages may run until midnight.

Address: Carriage pickup at 700 Decatur Street
(check-in at booth on location, if purchased online).



(Day 3: Stop 6)
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

Barataria Preserve: My video of an alligator under the boardwalk.

Barataria Nature Preserve

Alligators
Alligators | Source

4. DAY FOUR: Cajun Swamp Tour, Gardens, Aviary, and Tabasco Museum

(Day 4: Stop 1)
Champagne Cajun Swamp Tours: We boarded a medium-size uncovered boat (different than what we experienced on the Jean Lafitte Swamp Tour, mentioned earlier), 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 the pesky bugs away. 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 tours. I enjoyed Lake Martin’s natural setting. It gives off a true backwoods bayou feeling, the way nature intended (some other swamp tours can seem a bit more commercialized).

  • Lake Martin: Swamp tour is given in a natural setting on a beautiful lake.
  • Alligators: We saw countless alligators sunning, hiding, and swimming.
  • Bird-Lovers: We saw so many varieties of large birds!

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


(Day 4: Stop 2)
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.

  • Map: Cypress Island Preserve trail map covers areas surrounding Lake Martin.
  • Visitor Center: Limited hours of operation (see site's link below for details).
  • Closings: Trails for alligator nesting (June - Oct.); Southern Lake Martin closed to boats (Feb. - July).

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


(Day 4: Stop 3)
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: On-site restaurant with a nice view of the gardens.
  • Caged Birds: Many types of birds in conveniently located cages on site.
  • Jefferson House: Take a tour through the beautiful 1870 mansion.
  • Gardens: Walk along a path of flowers, plants, trees, fountains, etc….
  • Map: Handout of the Rip Van Winkle Gardens can be obtained on site.
  • Short Movie: About the history of the grounds (air-conditioned room).
  • Rental Cottages: Beautiful historical cottages are available for rent.

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


(Day 4: Stops 4, 5 & 6)
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 to be travelled. There are optional pit 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 (watching factory workers sort through bottles to ensure a quality 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.
  • 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 taste test samples in their country store gift shop.

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

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

5. DAY FIVE: New Orleans Aquarium, Insectarium, Zoo, and more!

(Day 5: Stop 1)
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 (french pressed coffee with steamed milk), as well!

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



(
Day 5: Stop 2)
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.



(
Day 5: Stop 3)
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. It is a very interesting and worthwhile exhibit, but In hindsight, I wished I had done this on a different day, since visiting this made us late for the zoo, which closes promptly at 5pm, so we weren't able to see all of the exhibits.

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



(Day 5: Stop 4)

Audubon Zoo:
This is a fabulous zoo that you’ll want to devote a LOT of time to (at least 2.5 to 3 hours). It was much bigger than we expected, so we were unable to see all of the exhibits. We saw most of it, but were disappointed that we were rounded up and forced to ride their zoo train at closing time, which brought us to the exit. We arrived at the zoo around 3:30pm and the zoo train picked us up at 5:04pm, so we should have built in more time for this attraction. They are open until later on the weekends, so it may help to go during those days.

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



(Day 5: Stop 5)

Haunted Carriage Tour:
After dinner and ice cream in New Orleans, we booked (online) an 8pm (1-hour long) history and haunted carriage tour. It was so much fun and the sunset we were fortunate enough to see was gorgeous! Our tour guide was fabulous and taught us about the history of many old buildings and their (haunted) occupants. I personally thought I would be scared after the tour, but it was more fascinating than anything else. 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. It was so much fun. We had one other family taking the tour along with us (that we didn’t know). The more the merrier! We even got to see an exciting portion of the city that we hadn’t see yet (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: History & Haunts Carriage Tour
700 Decatur St. New Orleans, LA (in front of Jackson Square).
Check in with on-site booth before boarding.

New Orleans Ghost Tour
New Orleans Ghost Tour | Source

WORDS OF CAUTION:

There are 3 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.

© 2017 Joan Dragonfly

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    • Joan Dragonfly profile image
      Author

      Joan Dragonfly 3 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 3 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.