New Orleans attracts visitors for its history, charm, food and "bon temps," but there's so much to see beyond the city. Other parts of Louisiana feature Creole and Cajun influences and a rich musical history of blues and zydeco. Most of these cities are within a four-hour drive of each other, so it's easy to get from one part of the state to the other. Here's the best of Louisiana beyond the Crescent City.
You may know it for being the home of Louisiana State University, but the "Red Stick" is much more than your average college town. The Louisiana Culinary Institute is also based here, so you get a lot of up-and-coming chefs who rise up through the ranks in Baton Rouge. Join one of the Baton Rouge Food Tours to check out six of the city's top restaurants and learn more about the history. If you love seafood, head to Tony's, a local landmark that sells fresh seafood to take home or to dine in.
The Capital Park Museum, part of the Louisiana State Museum system, is one of the best around, with exhibits on the four regions of the state and interactive panels on Mardi Gras, Cajun food, the oil and seafood industries and much more. If you want to see a plantation, Nottoway is the closest to Baton Rouge and the oldest antebellum home in existence. They have tours of the home, as well as onsite accommodations and restaurants.
Made famous by the show Duck Dynasty, Monroe is a small town worth stopping in for a night. Visit the Duck Commander Warehouse, which has a gift shop with all the fan gear you could want. You might even see a member of the cast!
At the Biedenharn Museum and Gardens, you can tour a historic home, a museum devoted to the first Coca-Cola bottling operation and a Bible museum. In West Monroe, Antique Alley is a street lined with antique shops, boutiques and restaurants.
Lafayette is where the Acadians settled after being forced out of Canada, forming what we know as Cajun culture today. Be sure to visit during crawfish season, when you can get them boiled by the pound. Ask a local how to take them apart. Randol's Restaurant and Dance Hall has delicious Cajun food as well as live music and a dance floor to show off your moves. Grab dessert at Borden's Ice Cream, the only of its kind in the world, and end the evening watching a band at the Blue Moon Saloon, a funky guesthouse and world-renowned music venue.
Set on the Red River, Shreveport and its sister city Bossier are a mecca for gamblers, with casinos dotting the water, including Sam's Town, the Golden Nugget and the Jimmy Buffet Margaritaville Resort Casino. Stop by the Municipal Auditorium, where the phrase "Elvis has left the building" was famously uttered after the King's performance. For delicious local eats, get your boudin fix at Bergeron's, mini muffalettas at Fertitta's and po boys and crawfish at Kim's Seafood, which relocated from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Craft beer lovers can enjoy the suds at Great Raft Brewing.
Easily the most charming town in Louisiana, Natchitoches stood in for the small town in Steel Magnolias, which forever left an impression. You can stay in the home from the movie, now a bed and breakfast, and have a picnic at the Cane River Park, where the Easter egg hunt scene took place.
Fort St. Jean Baptiste offers information on the history of the area, which just celebrated its 300th birthday. The unlikely and modern Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest Louisiana History Museum features exhibits on the state's sport history, the Acadian legacy and folk art. Be sure to grab dinner at Maglieaux's and wander the shops on Jefferson Street.
While the Crescent City has plenty to offer visitors, the rest of Louisiana has just as much, if not more, from unique styles of music to Cajun and Creole cuisines. Get outside of New Orleans to experience varied landscapes and wildlife. It makes for a great road trip.
Caroline Eubanks is a freelance writer and travel blogger originally from Atlanta, Georgia. When not blogging on her sites Caroline in the City and This Is My South, she's a team writer for Her Packing List and contributes to AFAR.com.