New Orleans isn’t typically considered a day trip destination. After all, the Big Easy is the star of Louisiana. What could be better than the home of jazz, Mardi Gras, and jambalaya?
As it turns out, many towns outside the Crescent City have a lot to offer. Between warm beaches, unforgettable historical tours, and great shopping, you might wonder why it took you so long to explore.
If you’re ready to plan your ultimate Bayou State adventure, you’re in the right place. Join us as we leave the French Quarter and check out some nearby sites.
Let’s hit it!
Discover New Orleans
New Orleans is a wonderland of history, food, and culture. Thanks to a melting pot of influences from its earliest African, French, and Spanish citizens, it’s one of the most unique places in the country. The crescent-shaped city was founded in 1718 and today draws over 17 million travelers annually.
Since water surrounds New Orleans on all sides, it’s an ideal place for boat tours. You can take in the views from a steamboat or venture into the bayou and explore the swamp. And don’t forget the streetcar lines that are made for sightseeing.
The Crescent City is a mecca for music. As the birthplace of jazz, New Orleans is home to dozens of nightclubs and venues where you can catch live music any day of the week. And although it may be known for its legendary Mardi Gras celebrations, the Big Easy hosts other events, such as music and literary festivals.
One of the best ways to experience New Orleans is through its restaurants. Get a drink on Bourbon Street, then wander to the French Quarter for coffee and pastries. By dinnertime, you’ll be ready for a hearty bowl of jambalaya, fresh oysters, or a crawfish boil.
Best Day Trips Around New Orleans
New Orleans is a famous destination on its own. But it’s also an ideal spot to branch out into side trips. There are tons of things to do and see beyond the Big Easy.
Here are five of our favorite places to scout outside of town.
#1 Barataria Preserve
In the mood to see an alligator or a majestic water bird? Barataria Preserve is one of the best ways to see Louisiana’s wild side. This national park is only 25 miles south of the city. Better yet, the drive is only about 40 minutes, making it a great day trip option.
Barataria Preserve contains four unique ecosystems. Venture through 26,000 acres of marshlands, bayous, swamps, and forests. You can observe rich plant and animal life by exploring miles of hiking trails. For even more insight, join one of the morning Wetlands Walks led by park rangers.
The preserve is also excellent for fishing and hunting. Depending on the season, folks with permits can hunt deer, hogs, squirrels, rabbits, and certain waterfowl. If you want to get out on the water, you can try kayaking or canoeing. Just keep an eye out for alligators!
Where should you stay? We’ve got you covered: 7 Best New Orleans RV Parks with Video Tours.
#2 Whitney Plantation
The U.S. slave trade played a major role in southern Louisiana’s development. Rather than forgetting this dark period of American history, the Whitney Plantation aims to preserve it for future generations. The 200-acre estate now serves as a museum, hosting thousands of visitors every year.
While many plantation tours focus on the grandeur of the historic manors, the Whitney Plantation focuses on the perspective of the enslaved African people who lived on the grounds. You’ll learn about their experiences and living conditions, as well as their contributions to the Whitney estate and the economy of the South.
Notable sites include the Antioch Baptist Church, a portion of the main plantation house, and the buildings enslaved people lived in. There are also several on-site memorials. You can tour the plantation on your own or with a guide for more in-depth information.
Planning a day trip to the Whitney is easy, as it’s only 50 miles from New Orleans. Drive west on I-10 for one hour, and you’ll be there, ready to immerse yourself in the history of this massive estate.
#3 Gulfport, Mississippi
Gulfport is the perfect beach getaway no one knows about. And the hour-and-a-half drive time from New Orleans means it’s great for a day trip.
Because of its location, Gulfport’s waters are warm and inviting for most of the year. Gulfport Beach is the biggest in the area and offers several miles of sand and surf. Simply pick a spot, set out a towel or a chair, and relax! You can rent a jet ski or kayak if you’re in the mood for adventure.
If you want to set sail, take the ferry to Ship Island. Here you’ll find ample opportunities for bird-watching, snorkeling, and exploring the historic military base onsite. There’s also Jones Park, a peaceful space by the Gulfport marina with tons of walking paths, a splash pad for kids, and even a replica lighthouse.
After a full day of exploring, you’ll be hungry. Order oysters at the Half Shell Oyster House, or treat yourself to a great steak at BR Prime. Then end the night with a stop at Fishbone Alley, where you’ll discover live music, art, and delicious cocktails.
#4 Lake Pontchartrain North Shore
At a modest one-hour drive from New Orleans, Lake Pontchartrain’s north shore, known by locals simply as “the Northshore,” is an unlikely day-trip gem. The area is just 50 miles away and stretches from Covington to Slidell. There’s so much you can do while exploring the area, and it’s easy to customize your visit.
This part of Lake Pontchartrain is home to tons of museums. Check out the Basin Maritime Museum to learn about lighthouses and ships, or head to the Bayou Lacombe Museum for information on the Indigenous people who predated the area’s European settlers. If you’d prefer to admire the architecture, the Otis House is a well-preserved Craftsman home from 1885.
The Northshore is an ideal spot for swamp tours and gator-watching. Cajun Encounters in Slidell includes a boat ride, interesting historical facts, and up-close alligator sightings. But for a truly special experience, you can watch one of these reptiles hatch at the Insta-Gator Ranch and Hatchery in Mandeville.
Food, drinks, and shopping are abundant on this route. Try a beer at the Abita Brew Pub or enjoy a jazz brunch at Palmetto on the Bayou in Slidell. Then hit the farmers market in St. Tammany for everything from barbecue to Middle Eastern cuisine to handcrafted preserves. Finally, you can’t beat downtown Covington’s antique stores and art galleries.
Wondering about dipping a toe in? Is Lake Pontchartrain Safe to Swim in (or Will Alligators Get You)?
#5 INFINITY Science Center
If you’re visiting New Orleans with the kiddos, you won’t regret taking them on a day trip to the INFINITY Science Center. The museum is just across the Mississippi border, about one hour from downtown.
The INFINITY recommends about three hours to peruse the entire facility. In addition to outdoor butterfly gardens and the Biome Boardwalk, the museum has two whole floors of interactive galleries, exhibits, and presentations.
The Earth Gallery occupies the first floor. Learn how tropical storms form in the hurricane prediction lab or get in the deep dive simulator for a trip to the bottom of the ocean. There’s even a collection of over 200 carnivorous plants.
Head to the second floor for the Space Gallery. Here you can immerse yourself in a true-to-scale replica of part of the International Space Station. You’ll also see real NASA artifacts like a space suit, moon rocks, and shuttle rockets. No matter their age, your kids will love it, and so will you.
Experience More with New Orleans’ Day Trips
You could spend weeks exploring every corner of the Crescent City. From lively nightclubs to engaging historical sites, there’s no shortage of entertainment here.
But if you’ve visited before, you might consider branching out. A day trip is a fun, easy way to learn more about the region, and there’s plenty to explore just outside of New Orleans!
Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA
To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).
You should give it a try!
As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.
Become a FREE CAMPING INSIDER and join the 100,000 campers who love to score the best site!
We’ll send you the 50 Best Free Campsites in the USA (one per state). Access the list by submitting your email below: