NEW ORLEANS For centuries, military planners and explorers have
admired New Orleans’ strategic position at the mouth of the
After all these years, it’s not a bad spot from which to launch
a day trip either.
Sugar-cane vistas and cypress swamplands, grand antebellum
plantation homes and sleepy rural towns loaded with Southern charm
and homespun cooking are a world away from the Bourbon Street
hubbub, but as readily accessible as the steering wheel of a rental
Here’s a sample of three rewarding day-trip destinations within
two hours of the Big Easy.
Follow the River
Just as no trip to San Francisco is complete without a drive
through Wine Country, no trip to New Orleans is complete without a
drive along Louisiana’s Great River Road. This country road winds
upriver past endless sugar-cane fields, through the heart of
About 35 miles west of New Orleans, clients will reach the small
town of Vacherie, and two magnificent plantations: Laura Plantation
and Oak Alley. At first, visitors might find Laura Plantation’s
architecture and colorful facade at odds with the typical staid,
white-columned image of Southern plantations. Built in 1805, Laura
is a fine example of a colorful West Indies-style Creole
plantation. Its front gallery faces the green levee of the
Mississippi River, while its rear gallery overlooks the cane fields
and a dozen outbuildings that include carriage houses, barns, two
cottages and a half-dozen slave cabins.
Legend has it that the Senegalese folk tales of “Br’er Rabbit”
were first told in the Western Hemisphere by Africans living in
Laura Plantation’s slave quarters.
Unlike idyllic winery stops, plantation tours are enlightening,
but sobering. At the Civil War’s onset, Louisiana had more than
140,000 slaves working in the hot sun on 1,600 plantations.
Visitors can choose from one of seven specialty themes, which
include tours focusing on Creole women, children, slaves and
architecture. 225-265-7690; www.laura plantation.com.
Just up the road from Laura is one of the most photographed
images in Louisiana: A tunnel of 28 oak trees (believed to be 300
years old) framing the white Doric columns of Oak Alley
The legendary alley of oaks predates the 1839 Greek Revival
mansion by some 150 years.
The view from the second floor gallery, which overlooks the
Mississippi River, is worth the trip itself.
If clients are not up to driving back to New Orleans, they can
spend the night at Oak Alley.
The Oak Alley Plantation Restaurant on the premises serves
breakfast and lunch. Generous, dependable entrees include New
Orleans staples such as red beans and rice, shrimp Creole and fried
800-442-7690; www.oak alleyplantation.com.
If the below-sea-level topography of New Orleans starts to get
wearisome, then point the car northwest a couple of hours and enter
a paradise of rolling hills that counter the swamps, bayous and
farm fields of southeastern Louisiana.
About 30 miles north of the state capital of Baton Rouge, St.
Francisville is a history buff’s dream town.
Your clients will find plenty to do among the town’s estimated
140 19th century structures, many of them arts and antiques
galleries, as well as top-notch eateries and bed-and-breakfast
Rare-book mavens should check out St. Francisville Antiques.
It’s full of first editions at reasonable prices.
West Feliciana Historical Society, 11757 Ferdinand St., St.
Francisville, La., 225-635-6330.
The Oakley House at Audubon State Historic Site is one of the
top attractions on any visit to St. Francisville. Built in 1806,
this West Indian-style home is where the naturalist John James
Audubon lived in 1821, and painted nearly 80 birds for his “Birds
of America” collection.
Oakley House, 11788 LA965, St. Francisville, La.,
The Mississippi Gulf Coast’s lengthy stretch of beachfront has
lured New Orleanians for nearly 200 years.
In the early 1800s, wealthy city folks built vacation homes
here. Today, a scenic drive along the Gulf Coast is probably the
most serene experience within an hour of New Orleans.
Many fabulous antebellum mansions remain along the coast, as
well as the casinos and resort hotels that continue to spring
Through it all, Bay St. Louis has remained a tranquil town on
the bay. Its old-town district is loaded with art galleries and
Between April and December, don’t miss Bay St. Louis’ “Second
Saturday” art walk, held 5 to 8 p.m. on the second Saturday of the
month from April to December.
Shops and galleries stay open during the celebrations, which
include featured artists, food and live music.
Good Eats in Bay St. Louise, LA.
" Bay City Grille, 136 Blaize Ave., 228-466-0590.
" Trapani’s Eatery, 116 N. Beach Blvd., 228-467-8570.
" Dock of the Bay, 119 Beach Blvd, 228-467-9940.
Information on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast region, including
lodgings, restaurants, attractions, activities and weather: