The birthplace of jazz and home to the Mardi Gras, New Orleans boasts of a number of diverse attractions and fun things to do. A city rich in history and culture, fully exploring New Orleans may take most of your time while you’re there. But how about venturing out for a day to see more of Louisiana and its neighboring states? Most are just quick drives away, and you can already be somewhat completely different. Go gator spying in otherworldly swamps, soak up the sun in one of the best beaches in the country, get inside a NASA facility, a glimpse of history in a plantation and even a safari experience. Check out some of the best day trips from New Orleans and make sure you include them in your itinerary.
- 12 Best Day Trips From New Orleans, Louisiana
- 1. Shell Beach, LA
- 2. The Louisiana Bayous
- 3. Spot Gators at Honey Island Swamp
- 4. Lake Charles
- 5. John C. Stennis Space / INFINITY Science Visitors Center, MS
- 6. Pensacola, Florida
- 7. Whitney Plantation
- 8. Baton Rouge
- 9. Abita Springs, LA
- 10. Atchafalaya National Heritage Area
- 11. Gulfport/Biloxi/Ocean Springs, MS
- 12. Global Wildlife Safari
12 Best Day Trips From New Orleans, Louisiana
1. Shell Beach, LA
Located in Southeast Louisiana, Shell Beach is a bit remote and best for just relaxing, chilling, and fishing. There aren’t any hotels here, which makes it a perfect New Orleans day trip. Just an hour away from the Big Easy, Shell Beach is situated on the Gulf Outlet Canal near Lake Borgne. Enjoy the peace and quiet and scenic views with each turn, a perfect respite from exploring the city. Make sure you visit the nearby Bayou Segnette State Park if you want to go boating, swimming, and canoeing.
2. The Louisiana Bayous
There are bayous right in New Orleans, most of them part of some of its parks, and there’s more scattered all over the Louisiana state. Most are just quick drives away, which makes for a great day trip from New Orleans.
Head into the depths of Cajun Country, explore the stunning wetlands and even get lost in some of the more interesting history and myths about each of them, like the otherworldly Manchac Swamp with its distinctive flora and fauna. Bayous are best explored in the waters, so make sure you book a boat trip and hire experienced guides.
Best seen by water, be sure to book a boat trip through the bayous. Drift dreamily through the murky wetlands, and watch out for the amazing animals concealed amongst the foliage. Keep an eye out for alligators, snakes, and deer and listen to myths and legends of the area as told by experienced captains who can navigate the waterways even with their eyes closed
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3. Spot Gators at Honey Island Swamp
Louisiana has a great number of bayous with unique indigenous plant and marine life you can explore. A good number of those who visit these places, however, are there to spot gators. Honey Island Swamp northeast of the Big Easy is one of those perfect for gator spying, and it’s just 45 minutes away by car. Check out gators in their natural habitat, but make sure you take a professional with you for safety reasons. The area has plenty of guides that would love to go with you through the wonders of the swampy bayous of Honey Island Swamp in a flat-bottom boat or airboat.
4. Lake Charles
The picturesque Lake Charles is just a few hours away from New Orleans and it’s got everything for a perfect day trip. Here, you can enjoy delicious food, lively nightlife and great expanses of stunning nature. Lake Charles also hosts many festivals every year, where you get to experience a different side to Louisiana’s diverse culture.
The city is also home to the largest Mardi Gras Museum in the world, featuring bright costumes and floats on display. Surrounded by gorgeous wetlands, you can also explore and see a different side of Lake Charles via a boat trip on its waters.
5. John C. Stennis Space / INFINITY Science Visitors Center, MS
Just over the border from Louisiana and a quick one hour drive, this Mississippi NASA site makes for a fun day tour from New Orleans. The Stennis Center is restricted access though, so if you can’t get in, check out the adjacent INFINITY Science Visitors. This place offers massive exhibits as well as the opportunity to actually go check out the top-secret NASA facility next door, while on a guided tour.
6. Pensacola, Florida
Regarded as one of the best beaches in the country, Pensacola is just an easy three-hour drive from the Big Easy. It’s a nice day trip from New Orleans if you wish to be somewhere different for a day. Here, you can soak up the sun, enjoy the clear blue waters and white sand. It’s near the Gulf Islands National Seashore where you can hike through salt marshes, kayak, bird walk and it’s also a great location for stargazing. Make sure you check out Pensacola’s thriving arts community, with its symphonies, ballets, and a rock ‘n roll music hall. There’s also a lot of art galleries and museums you can visit in between hanging out at the beach.
7. Whitney Plantation
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Plantation touring can be a sensitive subject, but the Whitney Plantation is specifically geared to educate the public about the lives of slaves and the institution of slavery. A sobering New Orleans day trip that’s meant to inform and enlighten, a visit here is bound to be unforgettable. You can wander through the visitor center exhibits on your own, but if you want to see the plantation grounds in full, you’d have to plan ahead and book online. The Whitney Plantation is 45 miles West of New Orleans, and about a one-hour drive away.
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8. Baton Rouge
New Orleans may be the popular city but the capital of Louisiana is actually Baton Rouge. This capital city has a lot to offer — delicious Southern cuisine, interesting museums, amusement parks and more. There’s just a diverse range of activities for you to explore here. Make sure you check out the Louisiana Art and Science Museum, which has great exhibitions on show. There’s also the African American Museum for those looking to learn more about the local Louisiana culture. If you’re up for something exciting, head to the Blue Bayou Water Park and get on the massive Conja water slide.
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9. Abita Springs, LA
Home to Abita Brewing, which is Louisiana’s oldest and largest brewery, Abita Springs is an easy day trip from New Orleans as it’s just an hour drive away. Located 45 miles north, the small, the sleepy town has park and trailhead that’s perfect for easy strolls and relaxing. It also has a historic pavilion and museum that you can visit. Although the eponymous springs no longer flow freely above ground, this water is used to make the beer making this town and the brewery famous.
The town is also home to the Abita Mystery House. It’s a converted gas station which houses a lot of random and strange things. It’s like walking into a hoarder’s apartment, only all the that’s inside are really cool to look at.
10. Atchafalaya National Heritage Area
The largest river swamp in the USA, the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area has endless waterways and a number of diverse ecosystems. Just over two hours outside of the city, this is an ideal day trip if you want to explore Louisiana’s swamps. Whether by foot or on a bike, the park has trails and paths you can weave through. You can also take to the water and paddle your way among the submerged trees. Make sure you have your camera with you, as Atchafalaya has some mesmerizing landscapes and dramatic sceneries.
11. Gulfport/Biloxi/Ocean Springs, MS
Just an hour and a half drive from New Orleans, you’ll reach some gorgeous Mississippi coastal towns. Each town has its own distinct personality and things to offer that makes for a fun day trip from New Orleans. Check out one of the area’s many oceanside casinos, including the luxe Beau Rivage in Biloxi, just to have a feel of the scene. If you’re craving for some local beer, there’s Crooked Letter in Ocean Springs or Mississippi Brewing Company in Gulfport. For some unique art and architecture, go check out the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi which features the work of “The Mad Potter of Biloxi,” George Ohr, housed in a Frank Gehry-designed building. After all, that town-hopping hit the sand anywhere on that stretch and relax before heading back to New Orleans.
12. Global Wildlife Safari
A perfect New Orleans day trip for animal lovers is found in Folsom, Louisiana. The 900-acre Global Wildlife Center is the largest totally free-roaming wildlife reserve of its kind in the country. This massive sanctuary is home to over 4,000 exotic, endangered, and threatened animals from all over the world. When you visit, you’ll come face to face with bison, giraffes, zebras, camels, eland, and more. You’re guaranteed a fun day here where you get to experience safari without leaving Louisiana.