You've seen the French Quarter and Garden District, ridden the St. Charles streetcar, taken a swamp tour, hit the music clubs and had your fill of Bourbon Street bacchanalia. Now what?
Head out on the highway, looking for adventure; whatever direction you set off from New Orleans leads to a fun-filled experience. Here, we’ve mapped out six easy-to-navigate road-trip routes to stimulate your wanderlust.
Canoe & Trail Adventures
Cross the 23-mile Lake Pontchartrain Causeway (the world’s longest bridge over water), and you’ll discover the “Northshore,” a welcome retreat for Crescent City dwellers since the late 1800s. Just off the causeway, Canoe & Trail Adventures gets you out the car and into the water with daily, three-hour eco-conscious explorations of Cane Bayou, which feeds into the lake. Nocturnal types are catered to with monthly “Moonlight Paddles,” held on the Saturday evening nearest the full moon.
Set the GPS for this charming Victorian village north of Cane Bayou. Once popular for its medicinal waters, today, beer drives visitors eager for a taste of the Abita Brewing Company’s daily tours. Oddball art fans get their fill at the Abita Mystery House, a throwback to roadside Americana with offbeat installations like “Darrell, the Dogigator,” while outdoor enthusiasts will want to hit the Tammany Trace, a 28-mile rails-to-trails bike path that winds through four additional Northshore communities.
Global Wildlife Center
Further north is the small town of Folsom, home to a massive wildlife preserve with 900 acres and more than 4,000 free-roaming exotic animals. Safari tours in open-air wagons allow visitors to get up-close and personal with bison, elk, giraffes, zebras, kangaroos, camels and more. Splurge on a feed bucket if you want to make fast friends, or on a more intimate private Pinzauer tour, which allows you to get even closer and linger longer.
River Road, a twisting two-lane highway just outside of the city, follows the Mississippi bend for bend to an entirely different era. Start your time travel at nearby Destrehan Plantation, with stately Nottoway, 70 miles to the north, your end goal. In between, you’ll spot a number of opulent antebellum homes open to the public interspersed with Oz-like oil refineries. There’s no way to visit them all in one day; fortunately, a few offer overnight accommodations. Extend your trip and bed down near the halfway point at Houmas House Plantation and Gardens, which treats guests to complimentary breakfast and a free tour of the historic property.
Want to pass a good time, cher? Head for Breaux Bridge, the “Crawfish Capital of the World,” where Café De Amis’ Saturday morning zydeco breakfast is more about dancing than dining. Hungry for more? Southern Living named nearby Lafayette “the South’s Tastiest Town” for its growing number of foodie hot spots, such as The French Press. Even hotter is the scene at Avery Island 40 minutes south, home to Tabasco. The famous hot sauce factory is open for tours daily, along with the island’s Jungle Gardens and egret preserve.
No, not the French château; we’re talking the vibrant Vietnamese community in New Orleans East. A 30-minute drive from the French Quarter puts you in “Little Vietnam,” where you’ll think you’ve sidestepped into Saigon during the weekly farmer’s market Saturdays at sunup. Late-risers and weekday-explorers will want to load up at Dong Phuong bakery on what The New York Times calls the most authentic banh mi bread in the U.S.