The best thing about living in Louisiana is the variety of destinations for easy summer travel. From the picturesque wetlands to the vibrant urban areas to the epitome of small town America, Louisiana has it all. This summer, with gas prices way up, the whole family can get away from it all without driving across the country. Take advantage of sugarcane plantations, historical parks, fascinating museums and the best restaurants in the country, all within short driving distance of home. Here are some of the best of the best Louisiana destinations for the Summer of 2007:
Iberville Parish is tucked between the swamps of the Atchafalaya and the bustling state capitol of Baton Rouge. This year Iberville Parish celebrates its bicentennial with a huge July 4 celebration, including a boat parade and the Persimmon Crawl Canoe Races. The Canoe races include an obstacle course in Bayou Plaquemines. The band Kanglaze will perform from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., while a children’s village will be alive with activity. Look for a good old fashioned Fourth, with sack races, pie throwing, Karaoke, a space walk, great food and of course, a fireworks display when darkness falls.
In Iberville Parish, visit Nottaway Plantation, the largest remaining plantation home in the South; the historic Plaquemine Lock, with its unique Dutch-influenced architecture and gleaming white tile exterior; the majestic St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, with its marble altar and intricate stained glass; beautifully restored historic buildings and quaint towns intermingling with the natural beauty of bayous, massive oaks and cypress trees. Amidst all this is the 800,000-acre Atchafalaya Basin teeming with wildlife. Find out more about Iberville Parish at www.IbervilleParish.com.
The Cajun Coast encompasses Morgan City, Berwick, Patterson and Franklin. A trip to the Cajun Coast is like stepping into another world. Just 90 minutes from New Orleans, you can celebrate Louisiana culture and traditions with food, fun and music at 16 festivals, some cited as among the best in the nation. Stroll a 19th century boulevard of cast iron street lamps and moss-covered oaks in the heart of a community with over 400 buildings on the National Register. Explore the exotic beauty of the Atchafalaya on a swamp tour. Visit antebellum homes, plantations and historic communities. Explore museums. Try your luck at the casino. Or, play a round of golf at the newest addition to the Audubon Golf Trail – The Atchafalaya at Idlewild.
Right in the midst of what National Geographic called a “hauntingly beautiful land,” every year in Morgan City the summer winds down with the Louisiana Shrimp & Petroleum Festival, this year from Aug. 31-Sept. 4. The oldest state-chartered harvest festival offers family entertainment, continuous live music by local and national acts, a huge arts and crafts show and sale, a children’s village, the Cajun Culinary Classic and the traditional Blessing of the Fleet and water parade. Best of all, there is no admission fee. For more information on the festival, call (800) 256-2931 or visit www.shrimp-petrofest.org. Find out more about The Cajun Coast at www.CajunCoast.com.
Much of the Louisiana culture is defined by the Mississippi River. RiverBarge Excursion Lines, Inc. makes it convenient to explore America, via the Mississippi. Settle into your comfortable stateroom and leave the navigating to the professionals. The company specializes in adventure, taking passengers off the beaten path. You will travel to places the interstate bypassed, on trips that last anywhere from four to 10 days. All inclusive pricing nets you six geographic regions of varied river itineraries, large staterooms, open seating for all meals, great regional music and food and scheduled shore activities combined with onboard entertainment. Port charges, gratuities and taxes are all included.
Start by exploring the possibilities on the Web site, www.RiverBarge.com. There you can find out about the vessels, pricing, amenities and schedules. After you have explored the Web site, you can book a trip through your travel professional, or you can call RiverBarge Excursion Lines at (888) 462-2743. You can use the e-mail option from the Web site, where you can also request a free brochure.
If you are in the market for a more distant vacation, some of the best cruises imaginable leave from the Port of New Orleans. In the past 10 years, the Port of New Orleans has invested more than $400 million in new state-of-the-art facilities. More than 6,000 ocean vessels annually move through New Orleans on the Mississippi River. More than 700,000 passengers sail through the Port of New Orleans each year. Carnival Cruise Lines, Norwegian Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines sail weekly to destinations in the Caribbean and Mexico. The Delta Queen Steamboat Company offers excursions along the nation’s inland river system. The above-mentioned RiverBarge Excursions’ hotel-on-barge River Explorer features a New Orleans/Memphis itinerary.
The Port now features the new 90,000-square-foot Erato Street terminal, with 1,000 parking spaces. Cruises leave from the Port of New Orleans to the Western Caribbean. Destinations include Cancun, Cozumel, Belize City, Costa Maya and Guatemala. Other cruises go to Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. Enjoy life on a traveling resort, all departing from the Port of New Orleans. Check out vacation possibilities you may not have considered at www.PortNO.com.
Closer to home, this summer is an ideal time to visit The Historic New Orleans Collection, located in the heart of the French Quarter, showcasing more than three centuries of Louisiana history – from settlement to the present day. THNOC’s holdings survey the region’s economic, social, cultural, culinary, and military history. Visitors are invited to tour the galleries at 533 Royal St. and visit the Williams Research Center at 410 Chartres St., where rare manuscripts and maps, Mardi Gras memorabilia and jazz artifacts, genealogical records and historical photographs are made available to the general public.
Don’t miss “What’s Cooking in New Orleans? Culinary Traditions of the Crescent City,” an exhibition on view through Nov. 17 at 533 Royal St., or “Portraiture of Jean-Joseph Vaudechamp,” an exhibition showcased in the new addition to the Williams Research Center, 410 Chartres St. On view through Sept. 22, the exhibition features a selection of stunning works of art by the 19th-century French artist who spent winters in New Orleans creating portraits of the city’s prominent French Creole residents. All facilities are free and open to the public, Tue.-Sat., 9:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. The Royal Street complex is also open Sun., 10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. (504) 523-4662. www.hnoc.org.
History is also the order of the day in St. Francisville, just 30 minutes north of Baton Rouge. St. Francisville, in beautiful West Feliciana provides a glimpse of a unique area of Louisiana. The plantation homes and breathtaking gardens are monuments of the adventuresome and creative English who settled this area over 200 years ago and built a southern empire quite different from the rest of Louisiana. Experience the simple pleasures with a drive through the beautiful countryside. Nature preserves, abundant bird and other wildlife, winding roads, moss-draped oak trees, ancient cemeteries, churches, and stately plantations speak for why it was here that John James Audubon painted at least 80 illustrations of his Birds of America in the 1820s. St. Francisville’s easy-going warmth and ambiance attracts birdwatchers, photographers, golfers, bicyclers, hikers, nature lovers and historic travelers for relaxing weekend getaways. The Bluffs, a beautiful Arnold Palmer golf course, hosts golfers all year long. Find the unique treasures of gracious bed-and-breakfast inns and hotels, art galleries, antique and unique gift shops and great cuisine that await the most discriminating of travelers.
The Hummingbird Festival is held the last weekend in July – the 27th through the 29th. Hummingbird biologists Linda Beall and Nancy Newfield will capture and band birds at two private gardens in the St. Francisville area. Visitors will have the opportunity to observe hummingbirds up close as they are weighed and measured. In addition, vendors will be at both homes with hummingbird plants, birding equipment, books, and crafts available for sale. Experts will be on hand to share advice about gardening to attract these fascinating birds to your own backyard, binoculars, and more. Visit www.stfrancisville.us or call (800) 789-4221 for more information.
Ruston and Lincoln Parish, located in North Central Louisiana, is a remarkable place to spend a little time and explore the secrets of the area. The 18-block Historic District offers shoppers a taste of everything that makes Ruston unique. From trendy boutiques to tasty southern cuisine, the possibilities are endless. Spend an afternoon reliving the lives of legends and heroes by visiting the Lincoln Parish Museum, Louisiana Military Museum or the Eddie G. Robinson Museum. Indoors or out, there is plenty to do in Ruston, the sportsman’s paradise, centrally located near three area lakes and parks. Come enjoy the Louisiana Chicken Festival in Dubach, Louisiana this September and the Piney Hills Mountain Bike Classic at Lincoln Parish Park in October. Visit www.rustonlincoln.com for more information.
If you had the pleasure of seeing the motion picture, Steel Magnolias, you already know what a beautiful town Natchitoches is. This is a town where you can experience the charm of the original French colony in Louisiana, established in 1714. The Landmark Historic District offers distinctive shopping, dining and attractions, while the town also features historic fort sites, museums, cultural events and festivals.
Natchitoches has some of the most beautiful bed and breakfast inns in the state, all within walking distance of Natchitoches’ Landmark Historic District.
This Summer, The Old Courthouse Museum presents “Rodrigue: Beyond Blue Dog,” featuring 10 portraits of Louisiana Pulitzer Prize winners and several of his newest Blue Dogs painted post-Katrina. The Old Courthouse State Museum is open Mon.- Sat., 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Call (318) 357-2270 for details. Also, July 21-22, Natchitoches/NSU Folk Festival is held in Prather Coliseum. For more information about Natchitoches, visit www.natchitoches.net.
Crowley is rich in history, culture and architectural design. With 200 structures on the National Register of Historic Places, Crowley’s Historic District is a classic example of superb Victorian residences that feature Queen Anne-style architecture and Eastlake galleries Take a driving or walking tour of this district. Crowley City Hall is located in the restored Crowley Motor Company building and is home to the Rice Interpretive Center and the J. D. Miller Recording Studio best known for its Cajun, zydeco, blues and country releases. Tour the center and studio were you can watch videos that chronicles the history of rice production in Crowley, the “Rice Capital of America,” and the history and talent that recorded at the Miller studio. In addition, tour the Grand Opera House of the South, the Rice theatre and take a driving tour of rice and crawfish country. This Oct. 18-20, come and join the fun at the International Rice Festival. Started in 1937, the festival features parades, rice cooking demonstrations, entertainment, dancing, carnival rides, arts and crafts and all types of food. Brochures and maps are available that gives you more information. Sound like fun? Find out more: (866) 665-4642 or www.crowley-la.com.
Located in Louisiana’s famed French Acadiana, Houma presents every visitor with sprawling plantations, a vibrant historic downtown, thriving fishing villages and lively views of some of the most beautiful wetlands around. Visiting Houma offers an experience blended with rich history, breathtaking scenery and a thriving culture. Explore the wetlands with one of Houma’s colorful guides. “Get hooked” on world-class fishing. Uncover age-old traditions at one of Houma’s museums and cultural centers. Tavel the scenic routes “along the bayou.” And, pass a good time at one of Houma’s many fairs and festivals, namely Mardi Gras, the Voice of the Wetlands Festival and the Grand Bois Inter-Tribal Pow Wow. Find out more at www.houmatravel.com.
A visit to Lafourche Parish will open your eyes to what natural Louisiana beauty is all about. The Jean Lafitte National Park Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center in Thibodaux tells the story of the Acadians who settled along the bayous and the wetland swamps of southeastern Louisiana, with extensive exhibits and artifacts. The Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center is located in Thibodaux along the banks of Bayou Lafourche. A spacious boardwalk affords an excellent view of the bayou. Several large plantations, including Madewood, Oak Alley and Laura are easily accessible in the area. Charter fishing, camping and great seafood restaurants are available throughout the area.
In Thibodaux, visit Laurel Valley Village, the oldest surviving 19th and 20th century sugarcane plantation in the United States, with over 50 original structures. Several movies were filmed here including A Gathering of Old Men, Interview With a Vampire, and Ray, the life story of Ray Charles.
Lockport is the home of the Bayou Lafourche Folklife and Heritage Museum. Housed in a National Register of Historic Places building, the museum has a wonderful collection of exhibits that depict early life along the bayou as well as traveling exhibits.
“Reel” excitement abounds in Lafourche Parish, one of the Top 5 fishing spots in the U.S. Fishing charters are available in the South Lafourche area down to Fourchon at the Gulf of Mexico. If a charter is not for you, cast your line into the Gulf at the public beach at Fourchon or just enjoy the cool Gulf breeze as you watch the waves roll to shore, or take a dip in the warm Gulf waters. Visit www.lafourche-tourism.org for more information.
Alexandria and Pineville sit on opposite banks of the beautiful Red River in the heart of Louisiana. Cultural and family activities abound here in the heart of our state. Whether you enjoy theater, dance, museums, music, history, ballgames or the zoo – we’ve got it all. Central Louisiana has something for everyone – from rodeos to ballet, from gumbo to sushi – whatever your taste may be. You can spend the morning shopping our unique shops, have a lunch of great southern barbecue or French cuisine, spend the afternoon enjoying the zoo or area plantations, stop in at a funky coffee shop, browse for antiques and enjoy a fine dinner filled with flavors from our diverse blend of cultures. Then lay your head to rest in a place where presidents have slept or a bed and breakfast overlooking a cotton field – the possibilities are endless. Come catch an Alexandria ACES minor league baseball game at the historic Bringhurst ballpark this summer or plan to spend the Fourth of July where our downtowns meet at the Red River, under a blanket of fireworks, while celebrating our annual Uncle Sam Jam festival. Central Louisiana is truly a way to get away from it all, without emptying your gas tank or your wallet. Visit www.apacvb.org for trip ideas and more information.
Avoyelles Parish, located in central Louisiana, has long been known for the warmth and friendliness of its people, its wonderful food, excellent hunting and fishing and interesting, beautiful historic locales. In addition, Avoyelles is also home to a number of cultural and recreational activities, and a land-based casino. Over 20,000 areas are lakes, bayous, and rivers, and the parish has been traditionally known as a “Sportsman’s Paradise.” Abundant in wildlife and fisheries, the parish boasts state wildlife management areas including Spring Bayou, Pomme de Terre, and Grassy Lake. National wildlife refuges include Lake Ophelia and Grand Cote.
A number of historic properties have been entered on the National Register of Historic Places. Many historic markers are also noted throughout the parish. Find out more at www.travelavoyelles.com.
No trip through the state of Louisiana is complete without outstanding food. Prejean’s Restaurant is located on the Interstate 49N Service Road, just two miles north of Interstate 10, in the heart of French Louisiana. The ambience is friendly and inviting, every guest is greeted by our very own baby gator, Tee Al. His older brother, Big Al, sits in the middle of the dining room guarding over Team Prejean’s most recent culinary medals. Live Cajun music plays nightly and on weekend mornings for breakfast.
Prejean’s not only offers the freshest gulf seafood, but also some of the juiciest steaks and wild game dishes. Prejean’s offers “Fine Dining with a Cajun Attitude.”
Take a chance this summer – you may just be the lucky one. Located in a Sportsman’s Paradise, Paragon Casino Resort is the only casino resort destination in Central Louisiana. Paragon has been attracting gamers from across the country for nearly 13 years. A land-based casino, Paragon features a 72,120 square foot gaming floor offering approximately 2,000 slot machines, 46 table games and a nine-table poker room. Other features include a 335-room hotel, five restaurants, a full-service RV resort with pads, cabins and chalets, Kids Quest childcare activity center, a state of the Arcade and Tamahka Trails professional golf course.
Paragon Casino Resort is currently undergoing an expansion project that includes a new luxury hotel, Spa La Vie, (a full-service spa), Quiz-Quiz, (an indoor tropical pool oasis complete with waterfall), a 40-foot ice bar, coffee shop, a new retail atrium complete with a Cajun village swamp scene including live alligators and three movie theatres. The new Mari Convention Center recently opened featuring a new showroom, the Grand Hall and the elegant Ballroom. A new Market Place Buffet with 550-seats and live, action stations is also open in the Mari Center. The remainder of the expansion project is scheduled for completion by the fall of 2007.
Paragon Casino Resort is located on Highway 1 in Marksville. The casino is owned and operated by the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana. For more information visit www.paragoncasinoresort.com or call (800) 946-1946.
This article appears in the Summer 2007 issue of Louisiana Life
In this WWLTV Eye on Carnival, our own Errol Laborde explains how the dancing groups that you will see in NYX, Muses and many other parades over the next week are the best new thing to happen to Carnival in years.