The weird and wonderful spirit of New Orleans goes beyond its city limits, with nearby destinations to swamplands, beaches, Cajun Country, and monuments of Antebellum and Civil War history. While you’ll get your fill of great dining in New Orleans itself, small restaurants on the city’s outskirts often highlight the best fresh seafood, cajun and creole dishes, and lesser-known flavors the area has to offer. These are the best day trips from New Orleans.
Abita Springs: The Abita Mystery House and Abita Brewery
Crossing Lake Pontchartrain to what New Orleanians refer to as "The North Shore," you’ll find the charming town of Abita Springs, best known for Abita Brewery, Louisiana’s most famous local beer. The brewery’s tap room is open daily, with guided tours Wednesday through Sunday (and Abita-made sodas for the kids). Just outside the brewery entrance, you can hit the Tammany Trace Trail, a repurposed railroad line that now serves as a hiking and biking path through the entire North Shore area.
Locals will tell you of an equally worthwhile destination in Abita Springs, known as the Abita Mystery House: a little museum full of oddities, collections and, well, plenty of mystery. Owner John Preble’s personality and sense of humor shine through in the strange walkabout that is a tour of the Abita Mystery House, self-led (though John is often around), and open every day for $3.
Getting There: Drive across Lake Pontchartrain on the Causeway Bridge to LA-59, about an hour from downtown New Orleans. There is a toll ($3) for returning to the south side of the lake.
Travel Tip: The 23.8-mile, two-lane bridge across Lake Pontchartrain is a fascinating feat of engineering, but driving at night or in inclement weather can be nerve-wracking for novices.
River Road: The Historic Whitney Plantation
Former plantation homes dot the historic River Road, a country byway following the Mississippi along the west bank of the river, and most are now museums dedicated to the Antebellum period and plantation life. There is no plantation home quite like the Whitney Plantation Museum: It’s the only plantation museum in the country dedicated to the lives of enslaved people. The 90-minute guided tours take you through the restored sugar plantation, memorials dedicated to the daily lives and operations, and offer a broader, somber look at the legacy of slavery in Louisiana. Guided tours are required to visit, and tickets can be purchased ahead of time. The plantation is closed Tuesdays.
Getting There: Follow LA-18 toward Edgard/Vacher to get to the Whitney Plantation, located in the historic district near Wallace, Louisiana. There is no public transportation to Whitney, but several popular tour companies in New Orleans (GrayLine Tours, BigEasy, Cajun Encounters) offer transportation to the plantation museum and combined plantation tours.
Travel Tip: Purchase tickets online ahead of time to avoid sell-out days in spring and early summer. Prepare for weather (which in Southern Louisiana can mean heat, humidity, and rain storms), because most of the tour is outside.
Bay St. Louis: The Mississippi Gulf Coast Scenic Byway
About an hour east of New Orleans lies the little beachside town of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, a charming stop on the way to other Gulf Coast destinations or an enjoyable day trip on its own. Aside from miles of beaches, Bay St. Louis is home to a charming downtown, two casinos, and the Starr Boarding House, the leading role in Francis Ford Coppola’s motion picture, "This Property Is Condemned."
Along the water, The Blind Tiger in Bay St. Louis opens its beachside patios for island-inspired drinks, live music, and casual, fresh seafood. If time permits, take a drive along Highway 90, a scenic Gulf Coast beach road hugging the Gulf of Mexico.
Getting There: Take 1-10 to 90, about 60 miles from downtown New Orleans. Continuing on Highway 90 across the Bay St. Louis bridge, you’ll follow the coast to more Mississippi towns, beaches, and cities like Gulfport, Biloxi, and Ocean Springs.
Travel Trip: When visiting the Mississippi Gulf Coast in late summer or fall, seafood lovers must try the Royal Reds: a deepwater shrimp species larger and sweeter than common shrimp, with a taste and texture comparable to lobster. The Blind Tiger, and most other seafood restaurants along the coast, serve these beauties fresh during season.
Ocean Springs: Walter Anderson Museum of Art and Gulf Islands National Seashore
Just past the city of Biloxi along the Gulf Coast is Ocean Springs, Mississippi, a quiet, picturesque town with restaurants, art galleries, and a small museum dedicated to Gulf Coast artist Walter Anderson, known for his ethereal portraits of coastal landscapes and wildlife.
Gulf Islands National Seashore, a national park with over 100 miles of protected Gulf Coast beachfront area, begins in Ocean Springs and stretches all the way to Florida. The park provides unspoiled views of the water, white sand beaches, and opportunities for camping, fishing, and boating.
Getting There: Take 1-10 East out of the city, about a 1.5-hour drive from The CBD or French Quarter in New Orleans. Alternatively, take Highway 90 for a slower route along the coast.
Travel Tip: When dining in Ocean Springs, try the fried chicken or catfish plates at Aunt Jenny’s Catfish Restaurant. After eating, request a tour of the historical property, which includes The Julep Room, a basement bar and favorite hangout of Elvis Presley.
Grand Isle: Fishing, Birdwatching, and Beaches
Popular for fisherman, birdwatchers, and beach goers, the drive south from New Orleans down to Grand Isle is an enjoyable experience on its own, past fresh seafood shacks, small business, and incredible views of places where the land simply melts away into water. The east end of Grand Isle is protected by state park, with a fishing pier, walking trails, and beach campgrounds.
With nearly 300 species of fish, Grand Isle is a fisherman’s paradise, and there are marinas, charter fishing companies, and kayak rentals available. For non-anglers, it’s entertainment enough to drive to the pier or beach and watch local experts at work.
Getting There: It's 100 miles (about a two-hour drive) south of New Orleans, 1-10 West eventually connects you south to LA-1 to get to Grand Isle.
Travel Tip: Before doing any type of fishing in Louisiana, take a few minutes online to purchase a Recreational Fishing License.
The North Shore: Fontainebleau State Park
You’ll explore the best of Lake Pontchartrain at Fontainebleau State Park, a picturesque lakeshore area with beaches, recreation and picnic areas, and hiking paths through swamp land and oak groves. For lunch, pack a picnic or check out choice restaurants in the nearby town of Covington, like Oxlot 9 or Lola.
For extra adventure, spend the night by booking a choice renovated cabin along the water, or one of the beach campgrounds. If you’re in the mood for a less rustic end to your day, book a room at the Southern Hotel in Downtown Covington, a renovated boutique hotel in a historical building.
Getting There: The park is 45-50 minute drive north of the city. Most of the drive (23.83 miles of it) are across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Bridge, one of the longest continuous bridges over water in the world.
Travel Tip: A guided canoe or kayak tour can be the best way to experience otherwise hard-to-access swamps and waterways around New Orleans, including Manchac swamp, and Cane Bayou, leading into Lake Pontchartrain. Check out Canoe and Trail Adventures for trip opportunities.
Algiers Point: History and Charm Across the Mississippi River
Take a short jaunt across the Mississippi River to explores New Orleans’ second oldest neighborhood, Algiers Point, first founded as private land in 1719. Local pubs and coffee shops have a small-town feel, and blocks of colorful shotgun houses and cobblestone streets resemble classic New Orleans neighborhoods. A walk along the levee path in Algiers Point includes great views of the river, St. Louis Cathedral, and the Downtown New Orleans skyline.
Getting There: The ferry runs twice an hour (check online for the schedule) and costs $2 cash, or can be paid for through the RTA app on your smartphone. Driving across the Crescent City Connection Bridge is another easy option, about a 10 to 15 minute drive from the French Quarter.
Travel Tip: Plaques along the Algiers Point levee walking path tell of the neighborhood’s long, strange history. At different times, it was residency to a private plantation home, a slave barracks, a colonial gunpowder magazine, and slaughterhouse.
New Orleans East: Dong Phuong Bakery and Civil War Ruins
A trip east of New Orleans is a good excuse to visit Dong Phuong Bakery, a small, James Beard-Awarded Vietnamese bakery home to fantastic bread, banh mi sandwiches, sweet and savory pastries, and highly celebrated King Cake during the carnival season (January 6 until Fat Tuesday). A full restaurant next door serves Vietnamese staples like pho and spring rolls.
Continuing along Chef Menteur Highway, you’ll arrive at two notable Civil War ruins, Fort Pike and Fort Macomb. You can’t walk through the spooky fort ruins (more recently featured in a Beyonce music video, and the first season of HBO’s "True Detective"), but both are viewable from the road and several vantage points.
Getting There: 1-10 East connects with 90-east/Chef Menteur Highway, a 25-40 minute trip from New Orleans. The 94 city bus takes you to New Orleans East, leaving from the corner of North Broad Street and Esplanade Avenue in New Orleans.
Travel Tip: The area to the east of New Orleans (locally known as “New Orleans East”), Gentilly, and the Lower Ninth Ward were largely lower-income neighborhoods devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. On your way out of town, visit the little Lower 9th Ward Living Museum for a comprehensive history of the neighborhood before and after Katrina, as told by members of the local community.
Breaux Bridge: Cajun Culture and the Atchafalaya
One of the most adorable towns in Louisiana is Breaux Bridge, about two hours from New Orleans in the heart of Cajun Country. Highlights of Breaux Bridge and its surroundings include a small brewery, cajun restaurants, antique shops, and visits to Bayou Teche and the Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge. Every Saturday morning, Buck and Johnny’s restaurant in Downtown Breaux Bridge throws a Zydeco Brunch, with live local Zydeco music (a subgenre of Cajun rock), great food, and plenty of dancing.
Getting There: It’s a two hours-drive from New Orleans on 1-10 West through Baton Rouge, and therefore best to avoid rush hour times (before 9 a.m. or after 5 p.m.) when Baton Rouge — New Orleans commuters can clog the roads.
Travel Tip: For three days at the beginning of May, Breaux Bridge throws an annual Crawfish Festival with live music, cajun cultural events, and tons (upon tons) of boiled crawdaddies.
Bogue Chitto: Canoeing and Tubing
Adventures through the Bogue Chitto River, cypress-tupelo swamps, and other varied waterways start from Bogue Chitto State Park, which also includes a disc golf course, a lodge, campgrounds and cabins, and horseback riding and fishing opportunities. Bogue Chitto Tubing Center in Bogalusa arranges two-to-four hour float trips down the Bogue Chitto River, and two hour canoe and kayak rentals, including shuttles.
Getting There: A little over an hour drive from New Orleans will take you across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway to LA-25, Bogue Chitto State Park and its surrounding towns.
Travel Tip: Tubing on the Bogue Chitto River, a popular activity with groups in the warm days of late spring and summer, is a relaxing, longer day down the water. Navigating the river in a canoe or kayak is appropriate during cooler and warmer seasons alike, and requires a little more skill and energy.
The West Bank: Barataria Preserve and Vietnamese Dining
New Orleans’ closest preserved wetlands offer miles of trails and boardwalks through swamps, marshes, and bayous at the Barataria Preserve, part of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Nature Preserve. Rangers lead guided trail walks at 10 a.m. on Wednesdays through Sundays (stop at the visitor’s center for information on that day’s tour).
For lunch, experience another highlight of the West Bank: much of New Orleans’ Vietnamese immigrant population has settled on the West Bank, and sampling their casual cuisine (dishes like pho, spring rolls, and banh mi sandwiches) at restaurants like Tan Dinh is a true delight.
Getting There: It’s about a 30-minute drive across the river from downtown New Orleans (take US 90 BUS W to LA-45 S) to get to the Barataria Preserve in Marrero, La.
Travel Tip: Beware of alligator crossing! On warmer days you’ll see alligators of all sizes (mostly small) sunning themselves on rocks and branches in the Lafitte Park waterways. Don’t worry—they tend to keep their distance.