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A Staycation guide for Louisianians

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Big Easy Fun

Few cities have the allure of New Orleans. Its charms are known all over the world, and its restaurants, hotels, museums and cultural activities are a magnet for tourists. Those in the know, however – especially those who live near the city – realize that the Greater New Orleans area holds lots of lesser-known delights just a short hop from the city itself. A staycation is the ideal time to explore one of Louisiana’s most exciting regions.

New Orleans has museums to suit just about every interest. Don’t-miss venues include the Ogden Museum of Southern Art; the Contemporary Arts Center; the Cabildo and Presbytère buildings in the French Quarter; and Mardi Gras World, where you can get a behind-the-scenes look at how the parade floats are built.

One of the most moving places to visit is the National World War II Museum, which tells the story of the Greatest Generation and the battles fought in Europe and in the Pacific, on land and sea and in the air. The recorded interviews with veterans are poignant; other exhibits show how life was on the home front.

The Historic New Orleans Collection on Royal Street in the Vieux Carré tells the story of the city’s past through exhibits and research materials.

Families will especially enjoy the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas and Entergy IMAX Theatre and Audubon’s spectacular zoo. A fairly new venue, the Audubon Insectarium, gives an up-close look at the smaller critters we all live side by side with. The Louisiana Children’s Museum, just a brief walk from Canal Street, is packed with hands-on, educational activities children of all ages will enjoy.
Another treat for children is City Park, where kids can play in Storyland, feed the ducks and ride paddle boats. Woldenberg Park, which borders the docks on the Mississippi River, is another good place for children to run around. They can watch the ships on the river and ride the ferry across and back.

In the nearby town of Folsom is an unusual spot, the Global Wildlife Center. During a 90-minute safari tour, you can see giraffes, zebras, camels, elands and other animals. You can even feed them.
Of course, just wandering through the French Quarter, or Vieux Carré, is an ideal way to spend an afternoon or two. On Royal Street, you can take in the magnificent antiques stores, and later, you should get out and experience the nightlife on Bourbon Street.

Another fun staycation activity – one you may have always wanted to do but never had time for – is to board the streetcar at Canal Street and St. Charles Avenue and ride all the way up the Avenue, through the Garden District, known for its beautiful mansions and huge trees, and into the Uptown area. At the end of the line, get off and walk a short way to Camellia Grill, a favorite with college students and locals. After your meal, take the car back to town, enjoying the breeze and the sounds of the city.

Just a short trip from downtown is Longue Vue House and Gardens. The classic Revival mansion, built by Edith and Edgar Stern, is filled with original furnishings and surrounded by a wide variety of gardens. Longue Vue provides a look at a way of life few people ever experience.

New Orleans also has a full complement of cultural activities, including symphony concerts, ballets, operas and stage shows. In nearby Jefferson Parish, the Jefferson Performing Arts Society offers plays in several venues.

Generations ago, New Orleanians escaped the heat of the summer by crossing Lake Pontchartrain to visit what is now called the Northshore. The communities of Covington, Mandeville, Madisonville, Abita Springs and Hammond, among others, offer a plethora of activities including bicycling along the Tammany Trace; shopping in Historic Downtown Covington; grabbing a beer and a burger at the Abita Brew Pub; and feasting on fresh shrimp, crab and oysters. Covington has become famous for its Three Rivers Art Festival, which draws art-lovers from miles away. The Madisonville Wooden Boat Festival is another popular destination. Many New Orleans cultural groups, such as the symphony orchestra, offer shows on the Northshore, as well.

If vacation means getting outdoors to you, New Orleans has many fine golf courses, such as the TCP Louisiana Golf Course, a member of the state’s Audubon Golf Trail. At Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve’s Barataria Preserve in Marrero, you can canoe, follow nature trails and learn about the area’s unique topography.

Dining, in all its variations, is a big part of visiting the Greater New Orleans region. The city itself is famous for its elegant white-tablecloth restaurants, such as Antoine’s, Arnaud’s, Commander’s Palace and Brigtsen’s. But locals know neighborhood spots, such as Jacques-Imo’s on Oak Street, Venezia’s in Mid-City and Praline Connection on Frenchmen Street, offer delicious food and lively atmospheres.

Traditional treats include enjoying café au lait and beignets at Café du Monde, where you can sit and watch the world go by, or buying a muffuletta (an Italian stuffed sandwich) at Central Grocery downtown and then sitting on a bench by the Mississippi River to eat it.

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