10 Perfect Summer Road Trips When You Need to Escape New Orleans

Get away without TSA.

There’s no doubt that New Orleans is the kind of place you can get lost in for so long, you can one day look up and realize you might need to update your permanent address. Between all the music, meals, festivals, and general goings-on, there’s plenty to distract you from the rest of the world. But still, we all need a little break sometimes, and luckily the city is within an easy drive from sandy beaches, national parks, and even a space center—all within a few hours’ trips. Here are our picks for the best day-cations, weekend getaways, and road trips near New Orleans.

Best Beach Getaway: Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

If you’d like a simple day out at the beach and you don’t want to have to drive more than an hour, Bay St. Louis is your best bet. Beautiful and uncrowded, this tiny town in Mississippi offers calm public beaches where you can read and relax. There are a handful of restaurants, art galleries and a fantastic local book store, making this the perfect place for quiet meals and sunset strolls. Oh, and there’s an annual summer Pirate Festival you really should check out.
Distance from New Orleans: One hour

John C. Stennis Space Center
Steve Martin / Flickr

Best Nerdy Getaway: John C. Stennis Space Center, Mississippi

This Mississippi NASA site is just over the border from Louisiana, and geeky types need weekend getaways, too. If the beach isn’t your thing, or you are in awe of the heavens above us, this is a cool, educational, and definitely different day-trip excursion. The Stennis Center is restricted access, but the neighboring INFINITY Science Visitors Center offers tons of different exhibits as well as the opportunity to actually go check out the top-secret NASA facility next door (while on a guided tour, but still).
Distance from New Orleans: One hour

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve
Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve

Best Gator Getaway: Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, Louisiana

Because of course Louisiana dedicates a series of parks to a bloodthirsty pirate. Technically there are six different sites run by the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, but we’re talking about the one in Marerro, in the Barataria Basin preserve. Lots of indigenous wetland wildlife to see, including alligators, nutrias, and more than 200 species of birds, including the snowy egret, the bald eagle, and of course, the pelican. Take a self-guided or cell phone tour and explore the many boardwalks that lead in and out of the bayous and forests.
Distance from New Orleans: 30 minutes

Cajun Encounters Tour Company
Cajun Encounters Tour Company

Best Full Swamp Experience: Honey Island Swamp, Louisiana

Louisiana’s bayous extend all over the state with unique indigenous plant and marine life ripe for exploration. Also, alligators. If you’re interested in checking out gators in their natural habitat, we recommend hiring a professional to assist you, as that will greatly reduce the chance of maiming, dismemberment, and death. Fortunately, the area boasts plenty of businesses that would love to guide you through the wonders of the swampy bayous of Honey Island Swamp or the nearby Pearl River in a flat-bottom boat or airboat.
Distance from New Orleans: 45 minutes

Best Cajun Culture Getaway: Lafayette, Louisiana

Venture to the heart of Cajun country with a trip to Lafayette and Breaux Bridge. Louisiana Cajuns are French-descended people who left the maritime provinces of Canada after the French and Indian War (the word Cajun comes from the word Acadian). Lafayette—also home to the University of Louisiana—is the largest city in the area and the culture is evident on just about every street corner. You’ll find not one but two historical villages (Vermilionville and Acadian Village), and a host of incredible spots to eat, drink, and make merry. Breaux Bridge, a small town a bit east of Lafayette (known as the “Crawfish Capital of the World”) is also worth a visit. Stroll the adorable downtown, pop into antique shops, and check out the Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge.
Distance from New Orleans: Two and a half hours

Abita Brewing Company
Abita Brewing Company

Best Craft Beer Getaway: Abita Springs, Louisiana

Abita Springs is more than the headquarters of Louisiana’s oldest and largest brewery—although, with Abita Brewing’s visitor’s center and self-guided tour option, you definitely want to get to that. The small, sleepy town’s park and trailhead with a historic pavilion, museum, and picnic tables is good for wandering, picnicking, and perhaps finding a place to nap with a beer. The eponymous springs no longer flow freely above ground, alas, but that water is used to make the beer which makes this town famous. Do not miss the Abita Mystery House. It’s a converted gas station which houses—a lot of random and weird stuff. It’s like walking into a hoarder’s apartment, only all the stuff is really cool to look at and no one is weighed down with a fallen pile of newspapers.
Distance from New Orleans: One hour

Whitney Plantation
Whitney Plantation

Best Historical Getaway: Edgard, Louisiana

While there are still many plantations in the South that offer property tours of the once immense working farms that this region was known for, it’s rare to find one openly and honestly portraying what life on these estates was really like for the people who were enslaved and forced to work the land. At the Whitney Plantation, you’ll learn the truth about what that experience was like, thanks to both interpretive art pieces and archival stories told by the enslaved people themselves. The visitor center exhibits can be wandered on your own, but you need to purchase tickets for a guided tour to see the plantation grounds in full.
Distance from New Orleans: One hour

Grand Isle, Louisiana
"OnlyByGrace" / Flickr

Best Fishing and Birdwatching Getaway: Grand Isle, Louisiana

Louisiana’s only inhabited barrier island, Grand Isle supplies New Orleans with seafood, especially shrimp and oysters. It’s also home to state parks, public beaches, a wildlife refuge, and a copious amount of birds and butterflies (perfect for birdwatchers, either hardcore or casual). It’s been a vacation spot for Louisianians for generations—including Kate Chopin, whose classic feminist novel The Awakening is set there. Only about 1,500 people live there permanently, but officials estimate a whopping 12,000 tourists come through every year. Make like a native and spend a lazy day fishing—hire one of the dozens of charter fishing companies on the island or check out the public fishing pier at Grand Isle State Park. If you’re not the fishing type, no worries, because there are plenty of places to indulge in the freshest seafood in the state. Grand Isle is at a serious threat from climate change and erosion, so if you can fit in a visit to this singular spot, it’s probably good to do it sooner rather than later.

Distance from New Orleans: Two hours

Ship Island Excursions
Ship Island Excursions

Best Getaway for Bringing The Whole Family: Ship Island

The Gulf Island National Seashore includes a lengthy stretch of the Gulf Coast and several barrier islands, but you can only visit one of these islands without access to your own boat, and that’s Ship Island. Because the island is 11 miles off Mississippi’s coast, you’ll need to hop on a ferry to get there, but the landing is an easy drive to Gulfport. Once there, you can check out the beach or explore Fort Massachusetts, which was used by the British in the War of 1812.
Distance from New Orleans: One hour and 15 minutes

Best Getaway for Sports Fans: Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Louisiana’s capital city is just over an hour away from New Orleans (fun fact: New Orleans swas the state’s capital until 1845, when state legislators decided they needed to convene somewhere a little more convenient), and it’s here where you’ll find Louisiana State University. The college is home to the Tigers, a powerhouse in the SEC whether you’re interested in football, basketball, track and field, soccer or gymnastics. Plus, the university itself is home to an actual live tiger (that’s Mike; be sure to say “Hi!”) and a ton of cultural stops. Into theater? Check out Swine Palace. Love music or comedy? Stop by the Union Theater. More into museums? Try the Museum of Natural Science.
Distance from New Orleans: 90 minutes

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Nora McGunnigle is a New Orleans-based writer. Follow her adventures on Twitter: @noradeirdre
Carrie Murphy is a freelance writer, doula, and poet currently residing in New Orleans. Her work has appeared in or on ELLE, Women’s Health, Glamour, Apartment Therapy, and other websites and publications. Follow her on Twitter.