Most people from outside of the state think of Mardi Gras and wild New Orleans parties when they think of Louisiana. Mardi Gras is undoubtedly a one-of-a-kind event, and there's plenty of room to party all year in New Orleans, but the state has much more than that. From fantastic Cajun food and culture to stunning historic sites and beautiful forests and parks, the Bayou State has a little bit of everything. Whether you're planning a one-of-a-kind family vacation, a romantic getaway or a jam-packed adventure with friends, there are some things to see beyond the beaten path.
Located just a short walk from the famous French Quarter in New Orleans, Frenchmen Street is the place to go to listen to live music like a local. This street is lined with bars, clubs, and restaurants that feature live music every night of the week. Louisiana staples like jazz, blues, and zydeco are common, but you'll be able to hear almost every genre. The musicians here range from undiscovered gems to household names, but they all put on fantastic shows.
While you're in New Orleans, book a trip on the Steamboat Natchez. This old-fashioned steamboat lets you enjoy the city like people did back in the golden age of jazz. Both daytime and dinner cruises are available to fit your schedule, and both have live music and authentic Creole food. If you're a history buff, be sure to visit the steam engine room to see the inner workings of the ship.
No trip to Louisiana is complete without a plantation tour, and Oak Alley Plantation is one of the most popular. This National Historic site was once a sugar plantation but is now preserved as a living museum. Wander through the picturesque grounds to take in the lush beauty, then head indoors to learn about the history of the plantation and of slavery and sugar cane production in general.
If you want a break from the manicured plantation grounds, head over to Honey Island Swamp in St. Tammany Parish. This unique wilderness has the distinction of being one of the most pristine swamplands in the United States. The terrain and wildlife can be treacherous, so the best way to see the swamp is to book a tour from one of several operators in the area. Keep your eyes peeled for the abundant wildlife, including alligators, bears, owls, and water birds. There are even rumors of a Bigfoot-like swamp monster lurking among the cypress trees.
Bourbon Street in the French Quarter gets all the publicity, but have you ever been down Royal Street? This promenade of art galleries, cute shops, eateries, and wrought-iron balconies is just as charming as its famous cousin with a fraction of the tourism. Take a break from the neon lights and spend an afternoon shopping for unique souvenirs. Enjoy the street performances as you munch on goodies from Café Beignet. In the evening, join the resident ghosts for a drink at Hotel Monteleone.
If you like spice, you'll love Avery Island. This picturesque place is best known as the home of Tabasco Sauce, and the sauce factory is open for public tours if you want to see how this fiery condiment is made. There's also a delicious restaurant with a menu designed to showcase the flavor of the sauce. Afterward, spend some time exploring Jungle Gardens, a 170-acre preserve with everything from a manicured Asian garden to wild nature trails.
While touring a cemetery may be a bit macabre for some, LaFayette Cemetery is a popular tourist attraction in New Orleans. The unique geography in the area led to the creation of elaborate above-ground tombs which are featured in many films and television shows, and there are quite a few famous people interred in the cemetery. Guided tours are available, or you can roam the area on your own.
Every major country that fought in World War II has a museum dedicated to the international conflict, and The National World War II Museum is America's. Check out the rich collection of military artifacts and the interactive submarine, then get close to some original aircraft used in battle. The selection includes a B-17 Bomber and a P-51 Mustang with a red tail, just like the Tuskegee Airmen flew. Don't miss the Enigma code machine, a precursor to the modern computer.
This large, shallow estuary has shorelines in six different parishes, so there's plenty of room to explore. It is a great spot for birdwatching, with large populations of pelicans and eagles as well as other shore and water birds. Drive across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, the world's longest continuous bridge across the water, for a unique view. Afterward, spend some time exploring the lighthouses, nature trails and villages of the Northshore region.
New Orleans has a rich and sometimes dark history, which has attracted ghost hunters from around the world. If you're in the mood for some supernatural thrills, book a ghost tour with one of the local guides. They know all the legends and the best places to go to increase your chances of seeing a spirit. Voodoo tours also highlight the shops and locations where famous practitioners like Marie Laveau cast their spells.
Melrose Plantation isn't just any old farm. The estate is one of the largest ever built by — and for — free blacks. The plantation became possible when Louis Metoyer, a freed slave, received over 900 acres along the Cane River from his French father. Among the impressive structures is the African House, a mysterious building with unique Congolese architecture. It's also home to the African House Murals, a collection of nine paintings by famed folk artist Clementine Hunter.
New Orleans is known for its creative spirit, and the New Orleans Museum of Art helps to showcase it. With almost 40,000 pieces to take in, you can easily spend the day here. The NOMA collection is particularly famous for its French and American art, but it contains works from all over the world. Don't miss the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, where you can take in amazing sculptures in a beautifully landscaped outdoor setting.
Explore Louisiana history at Jean Lafitte Park. This area offers something for everyone, with plenty of nature trails to explore right alongside historic battlefields and educational exhibits. Visit the Acadian Cultural Center to learn how French Canadians helped created modern Cajun culture, and see the 1815 Battle of New Orleans through the soldiers' eyes as you stroll through Chalmette Battlefield. Check the calendar before you go, as there are often special music and culture events.
When the Acadian refugees settled near the Bayou Teche in 1765, they founded the St. Martin de Tours Church. It is the mother church for the Acadians, also known as Cajuns, and helped establish St. Martinville as the birthplace of Cajun culture. The current church building was finished in 1844 and is one of St. Martinville's most enduring Acadian legacies. Tour the restored church and cemetery to learn its history and admire the art and architecture.
The small town of DeQuincy is big on cultural heritage and enjoying the simple pleasures in life. These values are apparent at the DeQuincy Railroad Museum, which acquires, preserves, and displays artifacts from a bygone era. Housed in the 1923 Kansas City Southern Railroad Depot, the museum showcases its restored Mission Revival architecture and memorabilia donated by local railway families. Collection highlights include two vintage cabooses, a 1947 passenger coach, and a refurbished 1913 steam engine.