Louisiana: New Orleans and surrounding area

I lived in South Louisiana for the first 18 years of my life and go back at least once a year to see friends and family. Thibodaux is my hometown.  We go back when we can for weddings, family events, and to see old friends.  If you want to explore south Louisiana, it’s actually a good place to set up home base and get a feel for the area.

First, a guidebook recommendation: An Explorer’s Guide Louisiana

The biggest challenge for us has always been a place to stay, since this is not a town big enough to support much of a hotel industry.  I have an excellent recommendation of a B&B:  the Dansereau House. Even if you have no plans to travel here, check out their website – it may change your mind.  It’s peaceful and run by some lovely people.

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A decent alternative is a new Hampton Inn on the edge of town. It’s clean and includes breakfast at a resonable rate.

Where to eat:

Sparky’s Seafood – don’t let the exterior fool you, pull in and go get some boiled seafood. If it’s crawfish season (spring) you’re in for a treat.

Fremin’s – Have dinner here, you’ll love it.

Things to see in the area:

The Acadian Cultural Center is where you can learn about the fascinating history of the Acadians, and it’s part of the National Park Service Jean Lafitte Historical Park and Preserve (don’t miss the junior ranger program)

Laurel Valley Village  – An old store on a plantation site that we visited often while growing up. You could buy 25 cent sacks of corn to feed the goats.  Several movies have been filmed here, including Interview with a Vampire and Ray.

Go to Houma to eat (it’s close and has great restaurants) or take a boat ride!  I haven’t done this since I’ve been on plenty of Louisiana boats, but I imagine going on a ride with a guide would  be something a newcomer would enjoy. These parts of the state are beautiful. A Cajun Man and Annie Miller’s Son’s Swamp Tours  get excellent reviews on multiple travel sites as recently as June 2016.

Hire a guide and go fishing.  Just ask around – everyone knows each other and you won’t find friendlier people anywhere.

 

Rough Guides just named south Louisiana one of the best places in the US to visit. If you’re going with kids, be sure to visit these sites.

For hotels, remember that New Orleans has a bustling tourism industry and plenty of hotels, so if you’re not there at a busy time you’ll find lots of empty rooms.  I usually prefer vacation rentals when traveling, but not in New Orleans. There are some sketchy places in the city and most areas you shouldn’t walk around at night (except in the Quarter).  So take advantage of going in the low season and use priceline or another travel site to get an amazing hotel deal. We’ve done it again and again! This is a not a place to ever pay top rate.  One excellent hotel recommendation for people traveling without children is the Columns Hotel on St. Charles. You won’t need a car if you stay here.

City Park, especially Storyland. I grew up going to Storyland and have never seen anything like it.

Cafe Du Monde or Morning Call for beignets. Both are delish! If you’re there in high season, Morning Call is less known to tourists.  If you make it to City Park, there’s a hidden Morning Call in the park that won’t be crowded at all.

Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium – if you have to pick among the aquarium, zoo and insectarium, choose the bugs! The other 2 are lovely but this is our favorite if only for its originality. The aquarium and zoo are much like you’d find in many other cities. (Side note – our favorite zoo in the world is in Berlin, Germany!)

National World War II Museum – this thing is beautiful.  Homeschoolers – do a World War II unit study and then go!

Don’t miss a drive through uptown, especially State Street and St. Charles Avenue. You’ve never seen homes like these, especially in spring and summer!  That said, my favorite time to visit is December through March, but avoid during Mardi Gras and Spring break! Mardi Gras is a lot of fun and more family friendly than most people think, but fighting crowds isn’t what I want to do when I visit with my kids.

Eat at at Boucherie, Cochon, Domenica and Shaya. Maybe twice.  Shaya needs reservations well in advance. Remember, many of the restaurants in the French Quarter are for tourists, so they’re either good and very expensive or just not great. But try Eat (a chef from my hometown of Thibodaux owns it) – we have had some wonderful meals there. Also, go get a muffaletta at Central Grocery (just look at it!). You just won’t believe how good a sandwich can be.  Another fun outing is dinner uptown at Crepe Nanou and then ice cream at nearby Creole Creamery (which is in a former McKenzie’s bakery shop.)

To find more highlights, check out Lonely Planet’s New Orleans guide.

Living in Austin, Texas, I can’t believe how many of our friends haven’t taken their families to New Orleans since the city often reminds parents of their party days! You won’t find hospitality in the US like this anywhere. Take the kids, and take them EVERYWHERE in the city. They will be welcome and you’ll love the city!

Here’s another great write up about traveling to New Orleans from a funny travel blog.

Day trips near Lafayette

Lots to see and good eats in New Iberia. Don’t miss the Rip Van Winkle Gardens.

St. Martinville

Lake Martin – Cypress Island Preserve (maintained by The Nature Conservancy). Bring binoculars for alligator spotting! You can also stay nearby at Maison Madeleine (highly rated online).