1. Shop ‘til You Drop—Atlanta style

North Georgia Premium Outlet Mall. Photo courtesy of Atlanta CVB/Kevin Rose, Rose Studios, Inc

In the New Orleans-Atlanta showdown, we refuse to give in to the ATL’s perceived dominance: the Falcons, for instance —who ‘dat?

But when it comes to shopping, Atlanta, alas, can claim bragging rights for some of the best selection and diversity of stores in the South.

Now, you may say that the cute, charming shops of the French Quarter and Magazine Street are as good as anybody’s, and you’d be right. But a city of 5 million people—like Atlanta—tends to attract big-name stores. Not always high-end names—rumors linger that ultra-cheap, Euro Lite sensation H&M may or may not open an Atlanta location—but the big-name stores that you hear (or read) have all the good stuff.

Malls.
Even though some people don’t consider a mall to be a satisfying shopping experience, Lenox Square and catty-corner Phipps Plaza in the Buckhead section are home to some good purchase power: The former houses a soon-to-be expanded designer wing (Neiman Marcus, Kate Spade, St. John Boutique) with more stores opening this fall; the latter has Nordstrom, Tory by TRB, Intermix and Jeffrey/Atlanta. Farther downtown, Z Gallerie in Atlantic Station, a newish,
open-air, mixed-used development, offers a home-furnishings alternative to Pottery Barn.

Boutiques.
In-town Atlanta is full of walkable neighborhoods that give rise to cool boutiques—some glitzy, some gritty. The areas of Little Five Points and East Atlanta Village are home to edgy clothing and home-furnishing shops as well as purveyors of vintage. North Highland Avenue in the Virginia-Highlands and West Paces Ferry in Buckhead can be more elegant, and even far-flung suburbs are home to some desirable labels and even a bargain or two.

Discount.
In metro Atlanta, you don’t have to pay full price if you don’t want to. Heck, some of Atlanta’s TJ Maxxes stock designer clothes (Prada and the like) in a fashionista’s mini-jamboree called “The Runway.” Filene’s Basement (Buckhead) and Nordstrom Rack (Buford) save you pennies off their department store prices. And not one, but two outlet malls within an hour’s drive can give you a retail fix on a budget. (We prefer the North Georgia Premium Outlets in Dawsonville, home to Saks Off Fifth, which holds frequent and excellent sales.)

Miscellany.
For French flair, go to Ballard Designs’ Backroom in Atlanta and Roswell, where you’ll find discounted items from the catalog that offers more fleur-de-lis motifs than you could fit in one Uptown living room. Trader Joe’s grocery recently opened a few Atlanta locations, luring customers with prepared foods and inexpensive but decent-quality wines, including the infamous “Two-Buck Chuck.” The Cook’s Warehouse (three locations) is jam-packed with everything you need for your kitchen, except the chef. The DeKalb Farmers Market (Decatur) stocks your pantry, with a vast and truly impressive selection of imported non-perishable foods.
Bring an empty suitcase for your loot, and rent a car to reach the out-of-the-way locations. Yet, even after all of that shopping—and soaking up  Atlanta’s exciting energy—it has little of New Orleans’ enchanting disposition.

Shopping in Atlanta: www.atlanta.net/Visitors/Shopping.html.

Getting there:
By car from New Orleans, take I-10 east. In Alabama, merge onto I-65 north (exit 20) to Montgomery. Merge onto I-85 north (exit 171) toward Atlanta. Air: Delta or AirTran.

Travel time: 6 to 7 hours by car, or a 1-hour flight.

—by Faith Dawson


2. For History Buffs

Louisiana State Museum plaza. Photo courtesy of Baton Rouge CVB

Is your TV permanently stuck on the History Channel? If so, then you don’t have to go far to immerse yourself for a weekend of Louisiana history, because Baton Rouge is home to a number of museums where you can get your fix.

Start your trip by booking hotel reservations at the Hilton-Baton Rouge Capitol Center, itself part of Louisiana lore, as it was once the Heidelberg Hotel. Built in 1927, this hotel became one of Huey P. Long’s hub of power: his famous phrase “Every Man a King,” was turned into a song by him and Castro Carazzo here; he lived at the hotel during a dispute with the Lt. Governor Paul Cyr; and then there was the Tunnel—which was what Long used to sneak to and from the old King Hotel across the street.  The hotel has gone through a recent renovation and is central to all of the museums and other historic places you’ll want to visit. (And by the way, the tunnel—now closed to the King Hotel—is now a private dining room and wine cellar).

Your day of history can begin with a little sustenance at the hotel’s breakfast buffet, or if you’re going light, head over to PJ’s Coffee House which is diagonal to the hotel in the Shaw Center of the Arts. This multi-cultural center houses the LSU Museum of Art and its museum store, the Brunner Gallery, the Manship Theatre and Tsunami restaurant (which serves sushi and nightlife). The LSU Museum of Art has a number of changing exhibits culled from their own collections or from others. After the museum, the Old State Capitol should be your next stop. Of a unique Gothic Victorian design, it’s an architectural folly that now houses the Louisiana Center for Political and Governmental History.

My favorite exhibit is the room that recreates Huey P. Long and other politicians’ speeches. Step on the podium, push a button and you hear the speech, see it (via old TV film) and read a teleprompter on which the speech scrolls. And don’t forget to pay a visit to the animated, life-size Long—just like those ones you see at Disney World.

Walk down to the river where you can stroll through the Louisiana Arts & Science Museum, housed in an old railroad depot along the Mississippi River. There are art, history and science exhibits. While the scope is broader here—unlike the Old State Capitol, it’s history focus isn’t just on Louisiana—there is the interesting Egyptian tomb exhibit, and if there are kids along for the trip, lots of interactive science displays and the Irene W. Pennington Planetarium, adjacent to the museum. Next on your list should be the USS Kidd, a World War II Fletcher-class ship that has been converted into a museum about naval life. At this point, you may want to soldier on—or go back to the hotel and relax. Depending on your level, the next group of museums are all centrally located around the State Capitol Building. My recommendation is to go ahead and visit the State Capitol Building, and go to the others on your second day. But whatever day you visit the State Capitol, you should check out the spot by the elevators where Huey P. Long was shot (it’s marked by a plaque), then take the elevators to the observation deck on the 34th floor, which will give you a view of the Mississippi River, the city and its outskirts. The deck closes at 4 p.m., so be sure to get there in time.

Right next door is the Old Arsenal Museum, located on the grounds where the only Revolutionary War battle was fought outside of the original 13 colonies. The building is an old powder magazine and the displays are about military history. For a complete history of the state, head over to the Louisiana State Museum, which has two permanent exhibits—“Grounds for Greatness: Louisiana and the Nation” and “Louisiana Experience: Discovering the Soul of America.” 

“Grounds for Greatness” explores Louisiana history, as well as its politics, agriculture and their affects on the nation and the world. “Louisiana Experience” is a road-trip like exhibit that takes you through the different regions of Louisiana, exploring each one’s unique culture.

Your final stop on this history tour—as it is also on the way out of Baton Rouge to New Orleans—is the Rural Life Museum and Windrush Gardens. Here you’ll find more than 20 buildings from the 19th century that represent the rural life of Louisianans. The gardens were designed by renowned landscape designer Steele Burden.
After this trip and upon your return to New Orleans, you may be smarter than
a fifth grader—unless you brought one with you.

Baton Rouge: Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center, 201 Lafayette St., 225-3-HILTON, www.hiltoncapitolcenter.com; Louisiana Arts & Science Museum, 100 S. River Rd., (225) 344-5275, www.lasm.org; Louisiana State Museum, 660 4th St., 800/568-6968; Old Arsenal Museum, State Capitol Grounds, 225-342-0401; Old State Capitol, 100 North Blvd., www.sec.state.la.us.osc; Rural Life Museum & Windrush Gardens, 4650 Essen Lane, 225/765-2437, www.rurallife.lsu.edu; Shaw Center for the Arts, 100 Lafayette St., 22/346-5001, www.shawcenter.com; State Capitol Building, 900 N. 3rd St., 225/342-7317;

Getting there:
  From New Orleans by car, take I-10 west to Baton Rouge. When you approach downtown, stay to your right, as you will bear right onto I-110. Stay to the left and take the Convention Street exit for downtown Baton Rouge.

Travel time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

—by S.L. Strachan


3. Eat, Drink and Be Merry at Beau Rivage

Jia Sushi Bar. Photos courtesy of Beau Rivage



Beau Rivage, the plush casino located in Biloxi, has fully recovered from Katrina’s onslaught. Its re-opening date, August 29, 2006, exactly a year after the hurricane, was intended to make a statement: Wicked Katrina could not keep the place down. More than a recovery story, Beau Rivage seems to be the epicenter of the Mississippi coast’s recovery. It is the largest employer, busiest vacation destination, most active entertainment source, most complete shopping area, top spa operator and the most important purveyor of fine foods on the coast. Oh yes, and there is also gambling—lots of it. Now owned by MGM Mirage, Beau Rivage was designed with a mix of gambling and diversions similar to the big guns in Las Vegas. It is possible to spend a fulfilling weekend there without once spinning a wheel.

A word about the dining: “grand.” There is the usual variety of places: 10 options in all including a bountiful buffet, but two new destinations are making news. One is “Olives,” a Mediterranean-style creation of Todd English who has a restaurant by the same name in Las Vegas and who created Riche at the New Orleans Harrah’s Hotel. However, the super star destination is BR Prime, which specializes in steaks and seafoods and has a 35,000 bottle wine collection. This restaurant should be in five-star contention and could rival the best places in New Orleans. It may be the finest restaurant, not just on the Mississippi beach, but also on the entire Gulf Coast.
A steak and a glass of champagne at Beau Rivage would be a good way to toast the coast’s revival. Drink slowly and cherish the moment.

Beau Rivage: 875 Beach Blvd., Biloxi, (888) 567-6667 or 228/386-7444; www.beaurivage.com.

Rates: The Web site is good for providing details for various room rate combination. Not posted is a special rate ideal for a quick trip from New Orleans. Playing at the Beau Rivage Theater until June 24 is “Imaginaya,” an impressive dance, gymnastic and aerial performance by a Russian troupe. Special room packages start at $63 per person, double occupancy, plus tax.  The package includes deluxe accommodations, tickets to “Imaginaya” and a Theatre Snack Pack, which includes a small non-alcoholic drink, small popcorn and candy.

Getting there: From the New Orleans area the instructions on how to drive to Beau Rivage are so easy it is practically embarrassing. Take I-10 east until the Biloxi exit. Then take the exit south, toward the beach, to where it ends, right at the entrance to Beau Rivage. There’s not even a confusing curve in the road to worry about. If you prefer the more scenic Beach Boulevard (U.S. 90), keep on driving east to Biloxi until you see Beau Rivage. If you miss spotting the 32-story, 3.2 million-square feet-complex towering over the beach, you should not be driving.

Travel time: 1 1/2 hours from New Orleans.

—by Errol Laborde


4. More than Music, it’s Bonnaroo

Photo courtesy of Morgan Packard

Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival is a four-day, multi-stage camping festival held on a 700-acre farm in Manchester, Tenn., about 60 miles southeast of Nashville and northwest of Chattanooga. Though an eight hour drive from New Orleans, except for the usually lovely weather (you’ll need a light sweater for nights and early mornings) New Orleanians will feel right at home at this festival by local Superfly productions (they “bought the farm”—literally—this year!) and featuring many acts familiar to locals including: North Mississippi Allstars, T-Bone Burnett, Mavis Staples, the New Orleans Klezmer Allstars, and the Wild Magnolia Mardi Gras Indians. Though Bonnaroo started as a mostly jam band festival (it often closes with the remaining members of the Grateful Dead) in the past couple of years, Bonnaroo has grown. This year artists include: The Police, Tool, Widespread Panic, The White Stripes, Wilco, The Flaming Lips, Franz Ferdinand, Ornette Coleman, Spoon, DJs Sasha and John Digweed, Lily Allen and Dierks Bently among many others. Rolling Stone magazine named this “entertainment experience” one of the “50 moments that changed the history of rock and roll.”

Though the festival itself has a sense of humor (just look to This Tent, That Tent, The Other Tent, Where Stage and Which Stage) it also includes a comedy venue that features Lewis Black & Friends, Dave Attell, David Cross and the Flight of the Conchords among others—but arrive early, the line starts first thing in the morning for the afternoon’s entertainment. Bonnaroo’s 100-acre entertainment village (which includes the stages and a Ferris wheel) buzzes around the clock with attractions and activities including a classic arcade, on-site cinema, silent disco, theater performers, a beer festival, MLB Road Show™ and a music technology village. Vendors ply the usual clothes, posters, glassware and music but the food has a distinct vegetarian bent that meshes with the environmental awareness you’ll find permeating everything at Bonnaroo. The beer selection, however, is a pleasant surprise—hurray Abita!

Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival: www.bonnaroo.com. The event is confirmed to take place June 14 to 17 with the parking lot and campground open from 7 a.m. Thurs. June 14 to 3 a.m. Mon. June 18.

Getting there: By car, take I-10 east to I-59 north towards Hattiesburg, Miss., passing through Mississippi into Alabama. Stay on I-59 north, entering Georgia towards Gadsden. Continue on I-59 north entering Tennessee. Exit Chattanooga 2. From Chattanooga take I-24 west to the new exit (112) directly into the site. By air, there are direct flights from New Orleans to Nashville on Southwest Airlines. Bonnaroo’s festival site is accessible by car or RV, and shuttles from Nashville airport are also available. Camping vehicles are not allowed re-entry after Friday morning but if you choose to stay in a nearby hotel, day parking is offered via a separate entrance.

Travel time:
By car, 8 hours. By air, 1 1/2 hours, direct.

—by Morgan Packard


5. Teeing off with the next Tiger Woods   

Baytowne Golf Club. Photo courtesy of Beaches of South Walton

Maybe it was Tiger Woods who helped popularize the game of golf, because it seems that over the last decade or so the game has touched nearly every age group.
Now children can be added to the list of those who enjoy the sport that combines leisure, sunshine and yes, a bit of healthy competition. The Beaches of South Walton, located in the Florida panhandle, are just a few hours a way by car, and consist of 14 beaches—and nine golf courses. Each course is professionally designed, manicured and makes for enjoyable activity year round.

Currently, there are two kid-friendly golf courses at the Beaches of South Walton: Baytowne Golf Club and the Origins Course at WaterSound.

Baytowne Golf Club has been Sandestin’s most popular golf course for the past 20 years. After undergoing somewhat of a makeover, the course is now at its best.
Tracy Louthain, director of public relations and visitor services, says the Baytowne Golf Club now has views of the bay and beach, plus new water features, bunkers and elevation changes (check out the challenging uphill 13th hole), hole locations and lengthened fairways. The course also features junior tees and certification as a U.S. Kids Golf “Family Friendly” Course”—making it one of the few courses in the country that keeps juniors in mind.

The Origins Course at WaterSound is another ideal place for families with young ones to play golf. “It is for beginners,” says Louthain. This nine-hole course is “ideal for a parent or grandparent and child to team together,” she adds.

Golfing families should also be aware that there are special vacation packages available at the Beaches of South Walton.

A golf package is available at Camp Creek, exclusively for WaterSound guests. This gives visitors three nights in luxury accommodations and part of the deal includes spending a day with a golf pro, practice sessions, lunch, refreshments and a round of golf. Other packages are also available at WaterSound.

For Sandestin, Luau is one of the newest luxury beachside hotels. After a long day of golf, Luau offers a sunset observation deck and a large saltwater swimming pool, a hot tub, a children’s pool and close proximity to restaurants and market shops.
Another family golf package is available to Sept. 3 at the Bayside Inn at Sandestin. Starting at $260 a night, the package includes (in addition to accommodations) a round of golf, a kids round of golf and U.S. Kids Golf rental set, free with a purchase of an adult round of golf. There are also free amenities every day, including children’s activities, tennis, access to the Sandestin Fitness Center, transportation services and cane fishing poles, as well as biking, kayak and canoe rentals.

Family golfing at the Beaches of South Walton: The Beaches of South Walton, www.beachesofsouthwalton.com; Sandestin: 800/622-1038, www.sandestin.com; WaterSound, 6652 E. County Hwy. 30A, WaterSound, 800/413-2363, www.watersoundvacations.com.

Getting there: Sandestin: Driving from New Orleans, take I-10 east to Pensacola. Take exit 12 in Pensacola to 110. Take 110 to Hwy. 98 east. Drive approximately 65 miles to Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort. WaterSound: Driving from New Orleans, take I-10 east to Hwy. 331 south. At the intersection with Hwy. 98, turn east (left) and travel to Hwy. 283. Turn south (right) on 283 and head toward Hwy. 30A. Turn east (left) on Hwy. 30A and travel approximately 6 1/4 miles to WaterSound.

Travel time: 5 hours

—by Sarah Ravits

6. Wine a Bit – You’ll Feel Better

Photo courtesy of Fredericksburg CVB

The Texas Hill Country has a lot to offer—from tubing along the Guadalupe River to jetting down water slides at Schlitterbahn, from antiquing along the country roads to soaking in good ol’ Texas music at Gruene Hall—but what many a seasoned traveler hasn’t discovered is the abundant wineries dotted among the green hills of Central Texas. Similar to Napa Valley, the Texas Hill Country provides the perfect American recipe for wines, with a bit of kick.

From as far south as New Braunfels to as far north as Lampasas, the wonderfully quaint area known as the Texas Hill Country offers more than 20 wineries, boasting a truly diversified bouquet. Rolling hills, myriad lakes and flowing rivers create the perfect landscape for grapes so hearty only the Lone Star State could claim them—and a community so welcoming only “Texan” could describe it.

Just the thing for a weekend getaway with your significant other or your friends, wine tours abound here. Although wineries are found throughout the area, dropping your bags at one of the many charming bed and breakfasts in Fredericksburg (There are almost 100!) and winding your way to one or all of the six wineries within minutes of the town will keep things easy. Sit and sip the afternoon away at Fall Creek Vineyards, an award-winning winery that’s received national recognition, or savor a glass of Dirty Girl at Torre di Pietra Vineyards—whatever you do, don’t miss the scenic views, full-bodied flavors or—everyone’s favorite!—gift shops. Most wineries are open for tours and tastings every day, and area wine events abound all year round.

Photo courtesy of Fredericksburg CVB


Texas Wineries:
Texas Hill Country, www.texashillcountry.com; Schlitterbahn, www.schlitterbahn.com; Gruene Hall, www.gruenehall.com; New Braunfels, www.nbcham.org; Texas Hill Country Wineries, www.texaswinetrail.com; Fredericksburg, www.fredericksburg-texas.com; Fall Creek Vineyards, www.fcv.com; Torre di Pietra Vineyards, www.texashillcountrywine.com.

Getting there: Southwest Airlines flies to both San Antonio and Austin, with a stop in Houston or Dallas. Then rent a car to drive to the Hill Country (between I-35 and I-10, and along U.S. 290. Southwest Airlines, www.southwest.com; Enterprise Rent a Car, www.enterprise.com.

Travel time: 3 hour flight from New Orleans to San Antonio or Austin. One hour drive to Hill Country.

—by Phaedra Friend


7. Some Like it Hot

Music meets the mountains in Hot Springs, Ark., June 3 to 16 for the 12th annual Hot Springs Music Festival. Grab a lawn chair and head north to hear nearly 200 international mentor and apprentice musicians perform live concerts in the casual atmosphere of non-traditional venues throughout Hot Springs National Park.

“To celebrate the park’s 175th anniversary, this season’s theme is ‘Public Domain,’ featuring music that focuses on the beauty of nature,” says Richard Rosenberg, the festival’s artistic director. “One concert, for example, presents an original jazz-band orchestration of Ferde Grofe’s ‘Grand Canyon Suite.’ At the same event, our audience will hear Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons’ concerto suite, spotlighting 12 violin soloists, one for each movement of the piece.”

Other “nature music” on the season’s program includes the “Hebrides” overture, Mendelssohn’s vivid musical portrait of remote windswept Scottish islands, and American composer John Luther Adams’ “Coyote Builds North America,” based on a Native American legend. Bedrich Smetana’s “Moldau,” a sound painting of its Czech river namesake, shares a program with the original choral/orchestral arrangement of Johann Strauss’ “On the Beautiful Blue Danube.”

Described as “boot camp for the Beethoven crowd,” the festival schedules performances in venues throughout the city’s historic downtown. Musicians pair off and improvise in the lobby of Mountain Valley Spring Company offices—housed in a 97-year old Classical Revival style building. Brass ensembles toot their horns at the Farmer’s Market. Chamber groups strum and hum in the elegant sanctuary of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. And the full orchestra revs up at Hot Springs Youth Center.

12th annual Hot Springs Music Festival: 501/623-4763 or go to www.hotmusic.org.

Rates: Festival Passes, $125, include guaranteed preferred seating for all concerts as well as a souvenir program book and a meet-the-musicians reception. Single concert tickets are $5 to $25. Rehearsals are free and open to the public.

Where to stay: The Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa and Embassy Suites Hot Springs are close to all performances. Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa, 239 Central Ave., Hot Springs, 501/623-7771 or toll free 800/543-1502, www.arlingtonhotel.com. Embassy Suites Hot Springs, 400 Convention Blvd., Hot Springs, 501/624-9200, www.hotsprings.embassysuites.com.

Getting there: Take I-10 west to Lafayette, then I-49 north to Shreveport. Zip up to Arkansas on LA 71 north to Texarkana, then hop on I-30 east to Malvern. Take AR 270 west the last 17 miles into Hot Springs. Travel time: Driving time from New Orleans to Hot Springs is about eight hours.

—by Rebecca McCormick


8. Under the Oaks

Oak Alley Plantation. Photo courtesy of Oak Alley Plantation

You really don’t have to go far to feel like you’ve not only entered another time, but another world when you spend a weekend at Oak Alley Plantation.

Located in Vacherie, this Greek Revival masterpiece built in 1839 is well known for its allee of oaks that line the driveway up to the house, as well as being the backdrop to a number of movies, “Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte,” “Interview with a Vampire” and “Primary Colors.” Another wonderful feature is that you can spend the night here—not in the plantation home, but in cottages nearby. These six cottages are in various configurations—some sleep four to eight people and have a central kitchen and living room, while others sleep just two and have their own living room, but no kitchen. A couple things are consistent in all of the cottages: the very comfortable Tempur-Pedic mattresses and none of them have TVs or telephones, which make your step back in time complete.

Our suggestion is to get there for the last tour of the day, then relax in your cottage. The staff is more than happy to make a dinner reservation at any of the area restaurants (Note: you need to let them know by 2 p.m. that same day), or bring your own food and make dinner. After dining it’s time to sit back on your screened-in porch to sip on a cocktail and read a book before you go to bed. Set your clock early, because you will want head over to the levee opposite the plantation to watch the sun rise in all of it’s a.m. glory. Even though there was no levee when the house was built, it’s not hard to pretend that you are a 19th-century gentleman or lady awaiting boats to come up the river.

The plantation serves breakfast and lunch, so head on back for a traditional Southern breakfast of eggs, grits, ham and coffee. If you want to stay nearby, but still soak up more atmosphere, Laura Plantation is a short drive from Oak Alley, and is a nice counterpoint to Oak Alley’s grandness. This colorful Creole plantation built in 1805 was ravaged by a fire in 2004, but has been lovingly restored by owner Norman Marmillion, who if you can, get him to give you the tour, as he is both passionate about the house and those who once inhabited it. You will also get a good sense of who a Creole is (not a Cajun) and how that society worked. The grounds also have restored slave cabins, to remind visitors that life on a plantation was not all mint juleps and hoop skirts.

At this point in the trip you may want to head back to Oak Alley for lunch or take a nap. Another option is a swamp tour, and check with the staff at Oak Alley about which one to go on. Whatever choice you make, it’s your weekend away from the everyday—and even better, you don’t have far to drive back to New Orleans. Unlike 19th-century travelers, going to and from New Orleans doesn’t take forever and a day.

Plantation R&R: Oak Alley Plantation, 3645 Hwy. 18, Vacherie,
225/265-2151, www.oakalleyplantation.com; Room rates are $115 to $145 per night, double occupancy, and includes breakfast. $20 for each additional guest. Children under 12 stay free. Tours are not included in room rate.

Tours: 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., daily, March to October; $10 for adults, $5 for students 13 to 18 years old; $3 for children 6 to 12 years old. Laura Plantation, 2247 Hwy. 18, Vacherie, 225/265-7690, www.lauraplantation.com. Tours: 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily; $10 for adults. Getting there: From New Orleans by car, take I-10 West. Take exit 220 (Boutte) to I-310 south. Take exit 10 to Hwy. 3127 north. Go for 23 miles and take Hwy. 20 north until you hit Hwy. 18, where you take a left.

Travel time: 45 minutes to 1 hour.

—by S.L. Strachan


9. Savoring Santa Fe

The Inn of Five Graces. Photo courtesy of The Inn of Five Graces

Go West, young man—and woman—to Santa Fe, New Mexico, which can offer the traveler from New Orleans a truly different experience outside (or inside) the United States. The American Southwest has its own distinct history, and while it shares a Spanish heritage with New Orleans, it diverged into its own unique culture. Founded by the Spanish between 1607 and 1610, it is the second oldest city in the country (St. Augustine, Fla. is older.) But don’t let its age fool you—the city has a vibrant arts culture that will embrace you on your visit. (And situated in the mountains at 7,000 feet, the summers don’t get as humid as ours.)

Where to start? Well, for music lovers there’s the Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra, Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival (July 15 to Aug. 20)  and the Santa Fe Opera, which performs in an amphitheater with views of the mountains. Art? There are more than 300 galleries in Santa Fe, carrying a range of contemporary, Native American and other fine art. Local art and crafts? Santa Fe Flea Market (which is only open on weekends March through November) and the Spanish Market, hosted by the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, is July 26 to 29 and features Hispanic artists, local artists, food and much more. Rodeo? If you have a hankering to watch bull riding, the Rodeo de Santa Fe is June 20 to 23. Museums? Our choice is the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, which showcases this artist’s work. Her home is only open for tours April through November. And, if you’re a guest at the Inn of Five Graces, you can get a private tour of the home. The Inn itself is centrally located in Santa Fe, so many attractions, including dining, are only steps away. FYI to those thinking of marriage: this summer the Inn is offering “Elopement Packages” with special room rates, and a $200 charge for the ceremony. Remember, Santa Fe means “Holy Faith” in Spanish, so this may be the perfect spot for your own leap of faith.

Santa Fe: Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau, 800/777-2489; http://santafe.org; Georgia O’Keefe Museum, 217 Johnson St.,
504/946-1000, www.okeeffemuseum.org; The Inn of Five Graces, 150 E. DeVargas St., 505/992-0957, www.fivegraces.com; Rodeo de Santa Fe, Rodeo Grounds, 505/471-4300; Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, 505/471-4865, www.sfcmf.org; Santa Fe Flea Market, Tesuque Pueblo (outside of Santa Fe), 505/995-8626; Santa Fe Opera, 800/280-4654, www.santafeopera.org; Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra, 505/983-3530, www.sf-symphony.org; Spanish Market, Santa Fe Plaza, 505/982-2226, www.spanishmarket.org.

Getting there: Take a flight from New Orleans to Albuquerque, N.M. Rent a car to drive to Santa Fe. Car rental: All major companies. Airlines: American Airlines, www.aa.com; Continental Airlines, www.continental.com; Southwest Airlines, www.southwest.com, United Airlines, http://travel.united.com.

Travel time: By air, depending on the flight, 3 1/2 to 5 hours. One hour drive from Albuquerque to Santa Fe.

—by S.L. Strachan



10. Eat, Drink and Be Merry at Beau Rivage

Photo courtesy of South Padre Island CVB

Beau Rivage, the plush casino located in Biloxi, has fully recovered from Katrina’s onslaught. Its re-opening date, August 29, 2006, exactly a year after the hurricane, was intended to make a statement: Wicked Katrina could not keep the place down. More than a recovery story, Beau Rivage seems to be the epicenter of the Mississippi coast’s recovery. It is the largest employer, busiest vacation destination, most active entertainment source, most complete shopping area, top spa operator and the most important purveyor of fine foods on the coast. Oh yes, and there is also gambling—lots of it. Now owned by MGM Mirage, Beau Rivage was designed with a mix of gambling and diversions similar to the big guns in Las Vegas. It is possible to spend a fulfilling weekend there without once spinning a wheel.

Texas Beach Bum
Tucked at the tip of Texas is the prettiest beach in the state: South Padre Island. On the border with Mexico and in the southernmost region of the Lone Star State, the pristine beaches, warm waters and white sands of South Padre Island welcome wearied travelers from afar to bask in the sunshine, play in the waves and partake in the unique culture.

More than a Spring Break spot, this breezy community extends a laid-back escape from the norm. Flip-flops and shorts are all you’ll need to enjoy yourself on this island. Many transplants will rent a home for the weekend, week or month—and take it in on island time. All that’s required are long walks on the beach contemplating life, silly sandcastle contests and cool nights on your balcony listening to the waves—and maybe a romance novel or two.

Dining is an integral part of any vacation, and this tiny isle won’t let you down; so if you’re in the mood to eat, go where the locals go. For breakfast, pop over to the mainland for one of Manuel’s gigantic chorizo and egg tacos. (It’s more like a burrito.) After the beach, Blackbeard’s offers the best in casual surf and turf, with mouthwatering burgers and big-enough-to-eat-as-a-meal onion rings, abundant seafood items and a glorious deck that was made for fruity drinks and beautiful sunsets.

Or you can always try your hand at the reel, off a pier, the jetties or even in the deep sea. Fishing the bays and surf surrounding South Padre Island is world renown, whether you’re in it for the fun or the food. While casting in the surf can be amusing, chartering a boat and getting a local to show you exactly where the fish are biting is a bit more exciting. For a wealth of knowledge about the flounder, red fish and big-game fish swimming the waters, drop in at Fisherman’s Wharf on the bay – they’ll be able to lead you in the right direction.

South Padre Island: www.sopadre.com; Blackbeard’s, 103 E. Saturn Lane, (956) 761-2962; Fisherman’s Wharf, 211 W. Swordfish, (956) 761-7818; Manuel’s, 313 E. Maxam St., Port Isabel, (956) 943-4400.

Getting there: Southwest Airlines flies to Harlingen, with a stop in Houston or Dallas. Then rent a car or catch one of the many shuttles to drive to the island (U.S. 77 South to Texas 100 South) in about 30 minutes. Southwest Airlines, www.southwest.com; Enterprise Rent a Car, www.enterprise.com; Airport Shuttle, (956) 423-5467.

Travel time: 3 hour flight from New Orleans to Harlingen. Shuttle to island: 30 minutes.

—by Phaedra Friend


Bonus Trip!

Photo courtesy of Loew’s New Orleans Hotel

Rediscovering New Orleans—At Your Own Pace
Ever so occasionally the need to get away hits one huge snag: there’s no time to leave New Orleans. No problem as NOH&L has added a bonus trip that can solve (we think) this problem.

The phrase, “Be a tourist in you own backyard,” may sound trite, but does take on a greater significance when one needs to take a break. The great thing about taking a weekend vacation is New Orleans is that there is no stress of getting to the airport on time, no long hours of driving. And as someone who constantly postpones vacations, no matter how close or far away they are, it eventually becomes necessary to get that change of scenery. Yes, I’ve done it, and while you may not believe taking a vacation in your own town is worth it—trust me, it is. It feels decadent—and guess what, that’s the point.

This summer any number of hotels will be offering specials, so this season is the perfect time to rediscover the French Quarter and the surrounding areas. Two good places to stay are at Loews New Orleans Hotel or W New Orleans, which coincidentally face each other across the Poydras Street. I like this location because it’s an easy walk to the French Quarter, the CBD and Warehouse District.

Jackson Square. Photo courtesy of Loew’s New Orleans Hotel

You can start your weekend by either hunkering down in your hotel or exploring. For those who don’t want to venture out the first night, the Swizzle Stick Bar and Cafe Adelaide—run by the folks behind Commander’s Palace—are at Loews, while the Whiskey Blue and Zoe’s Bistrot make their chic presence known in the W. Both hotels have room service if you just can’t get out of the luxurious beds each one has. Feel like exploring some? Try Tommy’s Wine Bar in the Warehouse District for a relaxed glass of wine, then dinner at Tommy’s Cuisine (right next door), Emeril’s or La Cote Brasserie in the Renaissance Arts Hotel. If you happen to book the first weekend of the month, after dinner you can stroll down Julia Street visiting galleries that are open that time of the year. (By the way, Aug. 4, is “White Linen Night,” which includes gallery openings, as well as music and much more.) If the French Quarter beckons, then it’s a quick walk over. Here your choices abound with restaurants and nightlife. We could suggest some things to do—drinks at Napoleon House, oysters at Bourbon House, dinner at the Rib Room, music along Bourbon Street—but the fun of the French Quarter is not planning and discovering a new place—or rediscovering an old one—all on your own.

The next day is for sleeping in, then shopping—the Shops at Canal Place (Saks Fifth Avenue, Pottery Barn, etc.), as well as the unique boutiques and antique stores in the French Quarter are sure to lighten your wallet’s load. If you’re feet or hands need a little pampering, Loews has a spa that offers those services in addition to others. That night, well, you already have a plan—or not—but either way it’s your time to rediscover why New Orleans is so special—decadence included.

New Orleans:
New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, 800/672-6124, www.neworleanscvb.com; New Orleans Tourism, www.neworleansonline.com;  Loews New Orleans Hotel, 300 Poydras, St., 595-3300, www;loewshotels.com (Until Sept. 3, Loews is offering a special rate of $149 a night, including parking—a savings of $29 a day); W New Orleans, 333 Poydras St., 525-9444, www.whotels.com.

—by S.L. Strachan





You Might Also Like

The Beatles And Me

The Fresh That Binds

Very Vegan

Embracing the “diet of the depraved”

Screen Saver

Rene Brunet: A man and his movies

Passionate for Penguins

Backstage Penguin Pass

Add your comment:

Latest Posts

A Contemplation on Celebration

Just about every day has a designated cause or product.

POLS IN PRISON

NAGIN WAS THE LATEST; RICHARD LECHE WAS THE FIRST

Alliance Française

30 years of keeping French Culture Alive in New Orleans.

The Fab Four

Four things I think are great.

The Fresh That Binds