13 Homegrown Louisiana Gems
Louisiana is a treasure trove of homegrown gems. From festivals and historic buildings to parks and museums, our state is packed with both indoor and outdoor opportunities for fun. Pack a day bag and let’s go!
Within One Hour of Baton Rouge
1. Capitol Park Museum
Baton Rouge has so many interesting places to discover, so let’s start right here! Visit the Capitol Park Museum to dance, learn, and explore the amazing exhibits. In the music studios, you can sample all manners of Louisiana songs and artists. Follow the historic timeline of Louisiana from Native Americans to colonists, to enslaved people, to controversial politicians. Discover our waterways with the 48’ shrimp trawler or the Civil War submarine. Explore Louisiana region by region as you explore our diverse history and culture. My little ones especially enjoy sitting in the deep sea fishing chair and reeling in the big one!
2. The Whitney Plantation: 40-Minute Drive
Highly recommended by my friend, Teryn B., is The Whitney Plantation. The Whitney is the only Louisiana plantation that teaches its visitors about life in the South from the perspective of an enslaved person. This beautifully preserved property includes slave cabins, a freedman’s church, detached kitchen, outbuildings, and 1790s owner’s home. A favorite among visitors are the incredible Children of the Whitney sculptures. The sculptures represent enslaved children at the time of the emancipation and include stories of their lives. This excursion is recommended for older children and those who can handle the mature content.
3. St. Francisville: 45-Minute Drive
I always receive a lot of input on ideas, but none with the passion of Kailee H., who raved about her hometown of St. Francisville. “The boat drop, the plantation homes, the gardens, walking downtown, the yummy restaurants, the quirky shops. It’s got so many pretty sights!” she explains.
I needed clarification about a boat drop, this being a new term to me. “It’s where our old ferry used to cross between St. Francisville and New Roads. We have the Audubon Bridge now, so the ferry no longer runs. Now it’s used to take personal boats out on the Mississippi and a place for the American Queen to dock on its run down the Mississippi. It’s down where the Bayou Sara community was before St. Francisville was ‘born’.” As Kailee says, there is something for everyone in her hometown!
One-to-Two Hours from Baton Rouge
4. Swamp Tour: 1 Hour Drive
Drive east or west for an opportunity to spray on the bug repellent and explore the Louisiana swamps. To the east, Honey Island Swamp Tours enchant visitors with the lush greenery and abundant wildlife. Or, go west to Henderson Bayou in the Atchafalaya Basin, the largest wetland in the country! The Atchafalaya Basin is where the Atchafalaya River meets the Gulf of Mexico and affords visitors an opportunity to explore marshes, bayous, swamps, and a variety of wildlife. Great for children who can remain seated in the tour boat without too many reminders.
5. New Orleans City Park: 1 Hour, 10-Minute Drive
Stroll in the shade of 600-year old oak trees, release your inner child in Storyville–a literary character themed playground, boat along waterways decorated with beautiful waterfowl, or learn something amazing in the Louisiana Children’s Museum, there is truly something for everyone in New Orleans City Park. Leave the picnic at home and come ready for the powdered sugar beignets of Café du Monde where lunch items are also available. Do pack sunscreen, bug spray, plenty of water, and the stroller for little ones because it’s great for the whole family!
6. Fontainebleau State Park: 1 Hour, 15-Minute Drive
Take a nature break and enjoy this sprawling park on the banks of Lake Pontchartrain. Build sandcastles on the beach and watch the sailboats drift by, or take a more active approach on the miles of trails through the forest and over the marshlands on boardwalks. Local mom Laura R. shares, “We went for a daytrip! The lake is great for kayaks and boats. There’s also a fishing pier. There is a deck trail that’s through the swamp where we’ve seen alligators. They’ve also got a playground, a splash pad, and a big bathhouse. Cabins, too!”
For a visit back into civilization, pop into the charming town of Mandeville where the kids can enjoy the waterfront park and mom and dad can have a great meal at one of the many eateries. When you are ready for adventure again, helmet up and ride the Tammany Trace bike trails. For a weekend experience, rent one of the cabins over the lake. We did this once and our girls beg to go back!
7. Abita Springs: 1 Hour, 15-Minute Drive
My family and I discovered this little gem during a road trip to somewhere else entirely. We ended up loving this little side detour most of all. Abita Springs is a small and quirky town packed with personality. The town is centered around a central hub, so it’s easy to park and walk to most of the places of interest. For a yummy treat, stop in at the Abita Brew Pub where the food is terrific and there is often live music. Ready to explore? Let your imagination run wild at the Mystery House, packed with oddities and the bizarre. Let the kids run wild in the park and visit the farmer’s market. The Tammany Trace bike trail connects Abita with the rest of the 31-mile-long trace. There are even accommodations as unique as the town itself should you want to stay a bit longer.
8. Tunica Hills: 1 Hour, 15-Minute Drive
After an indoor climbing experience, our daughters wanted to go “real rock climbing.” While there are no mountains to climb in Louisiana, Tunica Hills feels pretty rugged! Located north of St. Francisville, Tunica Hills boasts over 5,000 acres of hilly, forested, undeveloped land. Dirt trails lead visitors through the forest and is a haven for bird and animal watchers. Bring your sunscreen, bug spray, plenty of water, and a picnic, as no facilities are on site for these necessities. Best for kiddos looking for an adventure in the wild and a car nap on the way home!
9. Acadian Village: 1 Hour, 15-Minute Drive
Step back in time as an early Acadian settler as you and your family explore this village made entirely of relocated and replica 1800s historic buildings. Farming, spinning cloth, and making candles are a few of the necessary life skills you will learn about as you experience the interactive exhibits and docents who are eager to share their knowledge and talents. Wear walking shoes, and bring sunscreen, your camera, and water for your day as an Acadian. Visit the General Store before you leave for authentic, handmade goods.
10. Avery Island: 1 Hour, 30-Minute Drive
Uniquely seated atop a massive salt dome is Avery Island in New Iberia. Leave the picnic at home and start your day at the McIlhenny Company, makers of the world famous Tabasco Sauce. Kids and adults will enjoy the interactive tour of the facility, the grounds, the general store, and the restaurant. Then, head over to Jungle Gardens, a 170-acre drive through botanical garden and bird sanctuary. There are plenty of pull-off stops to hop out and get a closer look (pack the bug spray). Also in the area are the Rip Van Winkle Gardens, historic Shadows-on- the-Teche home, Conrad Rice Mill (the nation’s oldest rice mill), Lake Fausse Pointe State Park, and a plethora of excellent dining options. This spot is great for all ages, but maybe bring a stroller for little legs!
Three Plus Hours from Baton Rouge
11. Kisatchie National Forest: 2 Hour, 45-Minute Drive
Kisatchie National Forest is the only national forest in Louisiana and includes large long-leaf pine forests and a plethora of wildlife. Stroll on the trails, enjoy the views, ride on the equestrian trails, enjoy one of the several lakes, or just relax at one of the campgrounds to get your fix of the forest. Be sure to bring your picnic basket, water, sunscreen and bug spray on your trip because you’ll definitely need them all.
12. Grand Isle: 2 Hour, 45-Minute Drive
Go south to explore the edge of Louisiana, where land meets the gulf. Here, you can enjoy a range of outdoor water activities such as fishing, crabbing, swimming, bird watching, boating, or simply relaxing. Bring shovels and pails for the kids, so they can collect treasures and even build epic sand castles. Enjoy the sights on the 2.5-mile nature hike. If you’re thinking more long-term, camping is also available for families, whether you prefer to camp in a tent or drive your RV to a camp site. Whichever you decide to do for fun, make sure that you bring sunscreen, bug spray, a picnic lunch, and plenty to drink for each member of your krewe.
13. Poverty Point: 3 Hour Drive
Head north to Poverty Point to explore a UNESCO World Heritage Site. American Indians built this site by hand, digging earth and transporting it basket by basket to the site to create a 72-foot mound in the shape of concentric half-circles. This 3,400-year-old site was a trading hub and remains a marvel of ingenuity and engineering. The Poverty Point website offers many suggested itineraries for a day trip to the site, including what to do, where to stay, and where to eat. This trip, and many of the suggested itineraries, are suitable for all ages.
No matter where you decide to explore this summer, Louisiana certainly packs an action and culture packed punch. Load up the car, make sure you have snacks and water, and get ready to be amazed. ■