Noteworthy stops around New Orleans
I knew what to expect: The French Quarters, po’ boys, Mardi Gras, revelers, jazz, swamp pop, crawfish, Gumbo, and Bourbon Street. I’d heard all about it.
The notorious partying and the abundance of food, drink, and music found in the maze of streets have made New Orleans famous.
To be honest, there really wasn’t a lot of allure for me in going to The Big Easy. I’m not a foodie nor do I find night life and crowds of people to be attractive.
I know, party pooper, right?
Warm and Sunny: The Choice
The destination was chosen as a late winter getaway from the painfully never-ending cold of the northern states. It was a chance to see a new area and thaw out. Besides, the flights into NOLA were comparably cheaper than other warm weather hot spots.
Arriving early in the afternoon on a Wednesday, I pointed the car straight in the direction of the French Quarters. My hope was that the city wouldn’t be crazy busy midweek and that I’d have the luck of finding free parking.
Score! Having found a great parking spot, there were two overarching desires:
1. Quell my noisy ravenous tummy
2. Do it while tapping my toes to some fantastic live jazz
Having done my research, I knew where I wanted to go to satisfy both desires but the venue didn’t open until 4 p.m.
A couple of hours of moseying around the streets and shops of New Orleans gave me a good taste of the variety of products, foods, and entertainment to be had in this bustling city. Just as I’d heard, the options were infinite.
My focus today was to fill my belly with scrumptious Louisiana fare while listening to live local jazz. The highly reviewed venue on Frenchmen Street did not disappoint. Gumbo, beans n rice, Cajun mac and cheese (it was a sampler dish – I’m not that gluttonous!) and fantastic live music supplied a rush of NOLA ambience.
Party time or quiet time: Decision made
After a few hours of good food and lively music, my chariot awaited me in the increasingly busy streets of New Orleans. It was time to head in the direction of my quiet room outside of this soon-to-be rollicking playground for adults.
I had quite the itinerary for my week so I planned to do more last minute research and sleep well for the days ahead.
Being that I’m not a foodie, shopaholic, or reveling party girl, my intention for this trip was to find hidden gems around the NOLA region. Here are a few of the fun, educational, and cultural things I found to do during my weeklong adventure…
Destination #1: Jean Lafitte national historical park
Located in the heart of the Mississippi river delta just ½ hour south of New Orleans, Jean Lafitte had it all: swamps, alligators, birds, peace, quiet, and 4 miles of boardwalk and walking paths to immerse myself in the Louisiana bayou.
After my loud afternoon/evening in the heart of the Big Easy, the atmosphere here was heavenly. I couldn’t breathe in enough of the tranquil air.
After 3 glorious hours of strolling through the bayou, I couldn’t wait to experience the rest of my intended itinerary outside of the confines of the city.
World Record Holder: Lake Pontchartrain Causeway
Just north of New Orleans is Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. It is known as “the world’s longest bridge over a body of water”. I had to drive it just “cuz”.
Side note: I have this crazy fetish to see, do, taste…anything that is the world’s “-est”. Yes, one of my stranger qualities.
Driving the 23.83 miles over Lake Pontchartrain brought me into the small eclectic town of Covington.
Historic and Eclectic: Covington Louisiana
Considered a suburb of New Orleans, Covington boasts boutiques, breweries, specialty shops, restaurants, and “The Trace”- a 31 mile paved bike path. The plan for the day? Rent a bike and pedal my heart out in the warm sunshine along the Tammany Trace. Of course, a bite to eat, Louisiana style, was a desired stop along the bike route as well.
Done and done! A dreamy sunny day, 34 miles biked, sweet tea and fried potatoes eaten, swamps and lakes enjoyed, and a glimpse of quite a few small towns in Louisiana experienced. Heavenly!
Causeway views and walking paths: Mandeville Louisiana
The next morning I ventured into the city of Mandeville along the north side of Lake Pontchartrain. In search of a place to walk, enjoy the lake, and soak in the view of the world record holding causeway, I stumbled upon another hidden secret. Mandeville is the spot for all three!
Yup, with coffee in hand I was able to walk along the lake via a paved pedestrian path and soak in the view of the causeway in the distance. Locals said they thought the path was about 2 miles in length. Great for a morning jog or an evening stroll.
Swamp Life and high speed highway: the Manchac Bridge
Only about a foot shorter than its record holding neighbor, the Manchac Bridge was even more fascinating to me. Built over a rumored haunted swamp, the highway 55 bridge carried a glut of speeding cars over Lake Maurepas while a slower lifestyle took place below the concrete structure.
Houses on stilts, transportation by boat, and alligators for pets lie just below the parade of fast moving vehicles crossing the bridge every day. Were these permanent residences or were these weekend cabins?
My mind wandered to the considerable differences in upbringing we all have within the very same country.
Cotton or Sugar Cane: The Plantation Tour
There are many plantation tours around the New Orleans area. A little west of the Big Easy, I found an interesting plantation and registered for a tour.
For some reason I had cotton on my mind when showing up. I was shocked to find out I was on a sugar cane plantation. It also surprised me that the “foot” part of Louisiana harvested sugar cane while the “upper” part of Louisiana was generally cotton. (Information I learned on the tour based on the boot shape of the state.)
I chose a plantation which focused on remembering the slaves and the history of the conditions they lived through. It was a good reminder of where we are and where we have come from. We still have much to learn about equality on so many different levels.
Bayou, marsh, or Swamp: The Swamp Tour
There were so many swamp tours to choose from that I had to see what these attractions were all about. I also wanted to be educated in all things swamp.
The absolutely authentic boat tour was an incredibly educational experience. Our boat captain grew up in the swamps. He actually became a bit perturbed when we chuckled at the fact that someone would live in a swamp and have baby alligators as pets (snouts tied with rubber bands).
Teeth missing, beard full of leftovers, dirty t-shirt, and crotchety attitude, he was a genuine, home grown, wealth of knowledge of all things swamp. He even defined the difference between swamp, marsh, and bayou for us. Something none of us in his boat knew.
Local gastronomy and small town warmth: the Creole House
As much as I loved the sampler plate I had in the heart of tourist laden New Orleans, I was yearning to experience local food at an off the beaten path place. With a little befriending of some locals in the area, I found what I was looking for: the Creole House.
The small town of Paulina, population 1178, was my place to throw all caution to the wind and go whole hog (whole seafood?) on my order. Crawfish boolettes for an appetizer, the crab cake platter for the main course, and a beverage to boot. Maybe there is a foodie within me!
Between the boolettes with their flavorful side sauces and the mouthwatering crab cake with a side of sweet potato fries, I was lucky to drive back to the hotel with my eyes still open. Digestive sleepiness struck quickly.
Bumbled plans to noteworthy plan B: Avery Island
My plans were shifted a few times throughout my trip due to lack of attention to details. Louisiana seems to have more businesses that are closed on Sundays or are open odd hours in general.
That said, my hopes of visiting an Acadian Village on a Sunday turned instead into an educational visit to Avery Island, home of the world renowned Tabasco sauce.
The spontaneous plan B to visit Avery Island was exceptionally noteworthy. In addition to a very interesting and detailed walking self-tour of Tabasco’s history and production (free mini samples too!), the extended grounds have a drivable jungle garden area.
Numerous alligators and waterfowl inhabited this garden area. It was impossible to miss the wildlife. There were also walking paths, self-guided tours, and guided bird tours.
Overall, I would say the extra drive time to reach Avery Island was a winner of a ticket.
New Orleans and its surroundings: the summary
My late winter escape to Louisiana was a surprisingly beautiful, educational, active, and gastronomic pleasure. Both the busy city of New Orleans and the outlying areas have so much to offer in culture, nature, and activity that it’s hard to pinpoint a highlight. Maybe that is the highlight: the variety!
I would definitely recommend a trip into The Big Easy and beyond to all travel loving comrades. Better yet, Women on the GrOw will be offering a trip there in March 2022. Join us! In the meantime, travel on!