To celebrate my son’s 13th birthday, we took a mother-son trip to Louisiana. We spent 3 days in and around New Orleans. This is part one of our trip, so be sure to read on for the second portion after. Instead of using New Orleans as a home-base, we rented a car and took a 36-hour road trip around southern Louisiana. What we did can be done as day trips from New Orleans, often offered by tour companies. In case you aren’t renting a car to get around, I will generally leave links that you can use to book day tours from New Orleans. If you use them, you will be supporting this website, at no additional cost to you.
- 1 Why is Louisiana unique from other southern states?
- 2 Our Road Trip Through Louisiana
- 3 How a swamp tour could have had us stranded in the bayou of Louisiana…
Why is Louisiana unique from other southern states?
To really appreciate this place, I think we should go over a bit of history. I am a big fan of the southern states in general, but Louisiana is special. Much of this flavor comes from two groups who settled here- the Cajuns and the Creoles.
A Short History of the Cajuns
Ironically, I learned about the history of the Cajuns, not here, but in one of my other favorite cities, Quebec, Canada, on a food tour. Cajuns are actually from Canada, by way of France. Have you ever wondered why the awesome national park, Acadia, has a name similar to an area in Louisiana? In the 1700 a group of French people, called Acadians, settled the sea-coast of southern Canada. They were fleeing from poverty and religious persecution in France. Unfortunately, the area they chose to settle in was a place that England and France also wanted and kept fighting over.
Long story short, England gained control but worried that these former French, and still Catholic, settlers, would not remain loyal in case of war with France. In 1755 the English forced them onto boats in an occurrence known as Le Grand Dérangement, or the Great Disturbance, and flung them around the globe. Eventually welcomed into then Spanish-controlled southern Louisiana they lived in the bayou and worked as hunters, fishers and farmers. Their numbers swelled to 3,000. They started intermarrying into other ethnic groups around such as French, German and Spanish becoming the Cajuns. Their influence can be seen in music, such as Zydeco, and foods such as étouffée, Boudin sausage and jambalaya.
Who are the Creoles?
Creole is from a Portuguese term meaning “born on the continent”. Contrary to popular belief, Creole people do not have to be of a certain race, but can be mixed race french-speaking people who were in Louisiana before the Louisiana Purchase. In reality, it is a mix of French, Spanish, African-Americans, and natives, but can include all sorts of races. Creole has rich tastes and bright colors. Creole food has tomatoes and seafood, a bit more European and urban. Some examples are roux-based Gumbo, turtle soup and Oysters Rockefeller.
Sugarcane in Louisiana
The other things that is unique about Louisiana is the crop that is grown here– sugarcane. While the rest of the south was producing cotton, Louisiana figured out how to grow sugarcane. You can still see the fields all over the state.
Location, Location, Location…
The last huge cultural influence of the state is New Orleans’ location near the mouth of the Mississippi River. Prior to the Civil War, New Orleans was the largest US port and was used in trade routes between Europe and the Caribbean. Because of that, and a large immigration of Haitians, you can see, taste and feel the Caribbean influences in New Orleans.
So, now that we understand the area, lets start exploring it!
Our Road Trip Through Louisiana
My son has never been to the south, so we started our time in Louisiana by renting a car and driving around outside of the city. New Orleans Airport is one of the easiest places that I have ever rented a car. Directly outside of the baggage claim is a large parking structure that houses all the rental car companies. They are open extended hours which was great for us as our night flight arrived 4 hours late. If you are planning to drive around Louisiana (or anywhere for that matter), you can research rental cars and get 20% off here.
The Tabasco Factory
My son is a bit obsessed with hot sauce. When he heard that we would be near the real Tabasco Sauce factory, that went to the top of his wish list. It is a two-hour drive from New Orleans through Acadiana. Because we landed late at night and wanted to have the whole day to explore Louisiana, we rented our car upon landing and drove to the Clarion Inn Morgan City to spend the night. It is only about 1 hour from each of our destinations and is inexpensive, but comfortable.
Although we didn’t see the fields where the peppers are grown, as they are all over the world, we got to see most everything else about Tabasco sauce being made. The factory only runs during the week, but one can take the self-guided tour on the weekends. There are a few other ways to explore during the week, including private tours and cooking classes.
First, we visited the museum to learn about the company and some history of the area. Then we proceeded through the other nine stops including the factory, greenhouse and barrel room.
The last stop is the tasting room in the back of the gift shop. There is a snack counter where you can grab lunch.
I was hosted at my request to explore Avery Island.
Expect to spend 1-2 hours here.
New Iberia, Louisiana
If you have more than a day to explore this area, the locals highly recommended the food in Iberia. There are also swamp tours and lots to check out. It is not too far from Avery Island.
Behind the Tabasco Factory is the 170-acre Jungle Garden situated on the Bayou Petite Anse. The topography of the south is so unique and this is a beautiful area to explore with wildlife and azalea gardens.
There is even a walk through a swamp, but I was a little frightened by the sign warning of alligators.
Expect to spend 1-2 hours here.
Visit a Louisiana Plantation
Oak Alley Plantation
This was the first plantation that I had visited in my New Orleans travels many years ago. It looks like a typical southern plantation with an alley of oaks, white paint and columns. It is a wonderful place to drink one of my favorite cocktails, a mint julep, on the Mississippi. This plantation was featured in the movie Interview with a Vampire.
This creole plantation is exactly what you should experience when you are in Louisiana. As I said before, what sets this area apart from the rest of the south is its Cajun and Creole people and traditions.
This newly restored plantation will educate you and your teen about the creole culture and the life of slaves in Louisiana. The top floor is where the living occurred and is decorated with original antiques.
Only 2 of the original slave houses are still standing, but they are still surrounded by acre after acre of sugar cane. 10 unrelated slaves would live in one room in these houses before working insane hours in the grueling fields.
The only way to visit the house is with a self-guided tour. You will be happy to have the knowledge the incredible guides provide. The tour takes 1 1/2 hours, but you can also spend another 1/2-1 hour in the museum.
My tour to Laura Plantation was hosted by my request.
How to get to the Plantations Outside of New Orleans
If you don’t rent a car, you should take a tour company to get to the plantations. It was pretty reasonable to rent a car, but cabs and Uber don’t predictably operate this far away from the city.
Bayous are uniquely southern and a boat ride is the perfect way to see the wild life and the vegetation. There are many choices of swamps and boats- a traditional swamp boat or an exhilarating air boat. It is a good way to see the Cajun lifestyle and see where many of the foods unique to the area come from.
We took our swamp tour after we had returned our rental car. Parking in New Orleans is expensive and there are Ubers and street cars. You can easily walk anywhere in the French Quarter- It is pretty small. Most swamp tour companies offer transportation from New Orleans hotels for an additional fee.
On this trip, we wanted something different, so we did a night swamp tour. We still saw all the animals and it was a little cooler. I loved seeing the sunset over the bayou. Online booking for the nighttime swamp tour was a little confusing, so you may want to call Cajun Encounters if you would like to book it. Being in the bayou at night was a highlight of my trip, but if I was going to take a day tour, I liked Louisiana Boat tours in the link above better.
Another reason we had such a fun night is because it became part of our quest. Here is the story…
How a swamp tour could have had us stranded in the bayou of Louisiana…
I am on a quest to see all 50 of the US states by the time have completed my 50th year (50 before 50). My son is having a great time seeing how many he can get to as well. One of the states we had left was Mississippi. As we pulled up to the Honey Island Swamp, the tour bus driver mentioned that on the other side of the swamp lay Mississippi. Mississippi was just 3.6 miles away! Mississippi is not so easy to get to from Rhode Island.
We asked the bus driver if there was any possibility that he could drive us there. He said, “no.” We asked the boat driver if there was anyway we could pull up on the Mississippi shore and the answer was again, “no.” We asked in their store if we could get a cab and were told it would take an hour for a cab to arrive and it would cost over $200. Is it possible that we were this close to Mississippi and wouldn’t make it there? A first-world tragedy was happening!
So, we went on the tour and had settled back on the bus ready to head back to New Orleans at about 9:30. The place was deserted. My son drew my attention to his Uber app which said that there was a Uber just 10 minutes away and would cost under $50 to get us back to New Orleans. Was it worth the chance to jump off our only sure mode of transportation to take the 45-minute ride back to New Orleans? I texted the driver and made sure she really was coming. We stopped the moving tour bus to let us off into the blackness of the bayou to wait for the Uber driver.
She showed up soon after and drove us the 3.6 miles into Mississippi. It is our rule that we have to, at least, eat in a state to count it. She pulled into an old-fashion gas station with a mini-mart, which was closing in 20 minutes. We grabbed foods that seemed at all foreign to us, such as alligator jerky and locally made cookies and soda. We popped a squat on the car seats at the front of the store with a local who was hanging there and ate our dinner. The adventure really made our night and I now have only 10 states left to achieve my 50 by 50! After I turn 50, I will come back to explore Natchez!
Have you taken a road trip around Louisiana? What was your favorite part?