3 Best Day Trips from New Orleans



Slide 1 of 21: There’s a wealth of scenic and cultural activities to be found on day trips from New Orleans. Just a quick drive over beautiful Lake Pontchartrain delivers a delightful change of pace on the North Shore. Just a little further away is Lafayette, where Cajun culture—especially the food—is celebrated. And less than two hours from New Orleans is the town of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where visitors can outdoor adventure or explore the jazz scene. Curious? Read on for our picks for the best day trips from New Orleans—along with what to do when you get there. Click the link to read our complete New Orleans guide.
Slide 2 of 21: Just across Lake Pontchartrain and a short drive from downtown New Orleans, the Northshore is a scenic collection of towns that includes Covington, Mandeville and Slidell. There's a relaxed, village-like feel to the area. And besides all the history and nature there are also a few hidden foodie gems.
Slide 3 of 21: Give us an overview of this place. Formerly the UCM Museum (the "you-see-em" Museum), this none-more-quirky stop might fall into the broad category of roadside attractions. A variety of buildings make up the "house," from a large wooden main hall to a retro gas station that make up the entrance to a pristine Creole cottage. What kinds of pieces will we see? The museum is the collection and living gallery of home-grown artist John Prebel. The furthest stretches of his imagination are all on display here, from wall-sized mosaics to miniature city scenes, to sculptures of half-human hybrid creatures to an Airsteam trailer that has collided with a flying saucer. Eclectic almost begins to cover it. Is it easy to get around? You’re free to wander around as you please and be drawn to whatever takes your fancy. Considering the fine line it walks between hoarded junk and fine art, the place is well organized, though that’s a relative term. What did you make of the crowd? The museum has enough accessibility to attract families as well as those who search out these weird fringes of artistic Americana. Gift shop: obligatory, inspiring—or skip it? There’s a small gift shop that stocks various bits and pieces including esoteric jewelry made by local designers. How much time do we need to clear for a visit? Ninety minutes or an hour would be a longish time to spend here, but if you really want to take in the detail (and some of it is truly impressive) of every piece, then that could fill a couple of hours quite nicely.
Slide 4 of 21: What’s the big picture here? This company has been successfully running some of the region’s best tours of this pristine swampland since 1982. Hotel pick-ups are available for the earlier tours and I joined a group of six on a small, covered boat. There’s a small company facility with amenities, snacks, and a gift shop. The set up reads incredibly professional and reassuringly well established. Tell us about your fellow tourees. It’s a diverse crowd of people that take this tour. I saw families with children and elderly relatives as well as young couples and groups of friends. Some seemed to be local, and so it’s not just tourists that come out here. The website also has a few notable celebrity guests. How are the guides? Swamp tour guides all have to show off a little bravado and machismo to dramatize what is in fact a very safe outing and make it more fun, Captain Hunter was no exception; his performance was peppered with genuine knowledge and passion for the local flora and fauna. It was obvious that this environment meant a lot to him, and the presentation was charismatic, educational and very entertaining, the maintenance of which is no small feat over a two-hour tour. Anything you’ll be remembering weeks or months or years from now? The swamp isn’t too far from some urban centers, but it feels undeniably rural, and outside of the company facility there’s no real sign of modern life. The wildlife that the group encountered was an obvious highlight, with small alligators, feral boars, raccoons, water snakes, and turtles. The flora is also a point of interest, especially when given context within the wider picture of the local ecosystem. So, who will like this swamp tour most? The tour has excellent general appeal and it’s hard to think that anyone wouldn’t get a lot out of venturing out into the swamp under such expert guidance. Natural history fans will enjoy the access that the small boats give them to the animals and plants, and it’s an easy, interesting, and well-delivered morning or afternoon away from the city.

Slide 5 of 21: How did it strike you on arrival? As you pull into the forecourt, you see a Mission Revival-style building, the modernity of which belies the hotel’s history, which stretches back over a century to 1907. The interiors—the hotel was refurbished and reopened in 2014—are the very model of boutique charm. There is colorful contemporary furniture that doesn’t look cookie-cutter and modern art and other furnishings with personality. What’s the crowd like? The hotel plays host to its fair share of wedding parties, so family gatherings are a regular occurrence, but without too much competition for upscale accommodations on the North Shore, hip young couples venturing out of New Orleans are also a fixture. The good stuff: Tell us about your room. My Traditional King’s earth tones and jauntily-colored throws on the bed and armchairs made for a pleasing contrast, and the desk chair was leather backed. Clean, fresh carpets and wooden fittings that cruised along a rural-chic curve added up to a strikingly commodious stay. Please tell us the bathroom won’t let us down. A symphony of white tiling engendered a real sense of hygiene and style, and the water pressure was as good as anything in the city. Maybe the most important topic of all: Wi-Fi. What’s the word? The relative remoteness of the location didn’t seem to affect the free Wi-Fi speeds at all. Anything stand out about other services and features? The imbibing and dining options here are worth a trip even if staying at the hotel isn’t on the itinerary. The Cypress Bar is a truly memorable spot, with its evocative murals surrounding an Art Deco–style bar in classy dark greens. Oxlot 9 is the restaurant, a light and airy upscale bistro that serves up elevated Southern dishes such as roasted stuffed quail with black rice and pan fried stuffed rabbit. What was most memorable about your stay? Even coming from a city as laid back as New Orleans, there’s a palpable change in pace, and time spent here feels even more relaxed. Bottom line: worth it, and why? It’s really the only choice for a North Shore stay that isn’t an anonymous chain hotel.
Slide 6 of 21: Let’s start big picture. There are spots to view Lake Pontchartrain that are closer to the city limits of New Orleans, and some neighborhoods even lie up against it, but it’s on the North Shore where you can really explore this scenic natural resource to its fullest. Nature trails, hiking, fishing, sailing and all manner of water sports and outdoors activities take place on the shores of Louisiana’s own great lake. Any standout features or must-sees? Some highlights include the 2,800-acre Fontainebleau State Park, which has cabins for rent and ample camp grounds. Here are easily-accessible nature trails and even a beach. The Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge is a more untamed stretch, but perfect for spotting alligators, pelicans and marsh rabbits. The Fairview-Riverside State Park is a more low-key, tranquil spot, more likely to attract fishing enthusiasts. Was it easy to get around? These parks, and most of the outdoor activity centers, are within easy driving distance of each other and well signposted. Head out over the scenic Causeway – itself an impressive manmade structure – and a few miles east will put you right in the action. That sounds cool. All said and done, what—and who—is this best for? The Lake will suit any kind of outdoor activity fan, no matter what levels of adrenaline they’re looking to engage with. There are high-speed thrills to be found on the water for sure, but if a day’s fishing with nothing to think about except breaking for lunch is more appealing, there’s that too.
Slide 7 of 21: Tell us about your first impressions when you arrived. Located just off Lake Maurepas, a feeder lake to Lake Pontchartrain, this decades-old favorite embraces its lakeside chic credentials with its three connected buildings. The main dining hall is the least polished area but the most characterful, a lofty wooden banquet space akin to a German beer hall and just as rowdy at times. What was the crowd like? The food here makes for a great social leveler, and Uptown New Orleanians join local families and t-shirted tourists, all here to sample the famed catfish that’s brought in fresh each day. What should we be drinking? There’s not a huge focus here on drinks here. If you don’t want to stand out, you’ll get a soda or a light beer, or a glass of wine if you’re feeling fancy. Main event: the food. Give us the lowdown—especially what not to miss. The restaurant brings in many of its guests with its famed thin-cut catfish. It is breaded and fried to order and is unlike any other catfish steaks you’ve likely tried, with elevated levels of crispiness and flavor. You can be a contrarian and order it cut the usual, thicker way, or you can go completely rogue and explore the soft shell crab or broiled shrimp options. Do stick to the seafood though. And how did the front-of-house folks treat you? The staff was perfectly welcoming and friendly, seating us with a smile even though we were the thousandth people they’d sat and smiled at that day. They know they’re the front line of an institution, and they live up to their ambassadorial roles without holding things up. What’s the real-real on why we’re coming here? Seafood restaurants in Louisiana don’t last unless they’re doing something right, and the thin catfish specialty has served this place well. It might be a one-trick pony, but it’s a trick worth driving out for.
Slide 8 of 21: What were your first impressions when you arrived? You might think that a place called The Shack selling soul food in the suburbs would mean a lazy nod to regional favorites, but in this case, you would be wrong. This casual Covington joint has a playfully rustic aesthetic, with DIY-chic wooden fences and an outdoor seating area called The Shackyard. The indoor dining room mixes colorful '50s, '60s and '70s retro styles. What’s the crowd like? It’s definitely dressed down, and you’ll likely share a space with the loyal cross-section of locals at the bar watching sports or families enjoying a dinner out at one of the tables. It’s a friendly affair either way, and the enthusiasm that the owners have put into the property and the menu translates into a panoramically happy crowd any night of the week. What should we be drinking? Expectations are further exceeded on the drink menu. There are some great local IPAs and imported brews available for beer drinkers, and given that anything beyond red and white wine is impressive at a casual family restaurant, having fifteen choices on the menu practically constitutes a cellar. But it's the cute twists on classic cocktails that really stand out. Main event: the food. Give us the lowdown—especially what not to miss. It's no surprise that the food is executed with a commitment to quality. The menu combines soul food, Cuban and Caribbean influences, and is a triumphant mix of feel-good flavors. The appetizers set the stage, with a dreamy duck quesadilla, guacamole with crab and bacon, and a magnificent dish called Pork Tower that comes with a trio of piquant sauces. Sandwiches include a knockout Cuban and a dynamite chargrilled pork burrito, a wonderful chicken chimichanga, and a brisket machaca with a cheddar grit cake. There’s a taco bar and daily specials that include a Wednesday night shrimp and grits dish that will stand up against any in the region. Execution, presentation, and ingredient quality are all top-notch, and the prices make it one of the best value dining experiences on the North Shore. And how did the front-of-house folks treat you? The staffers are welcoming and attentive, happily chatting between serving. Even on busy nights, it doesn't get overwhelming, with both the dining room and the patio getting great service. The menu has a couple of elements that people might have questions about, but whether its cocktails or entrees, the staff was helpful. What’s the real-real on why we’re coming here? Destination restaurants are usually grand, gourmet affairs, but this unassuming spot is well worth a drive from New Orleans, and not only proves that there’s innovation and commitment to quality outside of the city, but also confidently competes with any of the big established names. Its online reviews speak for themselves. Worth driving to on any pretext.
Slide 9 of 21: This quirky city is the real heart of Louisiana's Cajun Country. It's got a completely different cultural vibe than New Orleans, and the city proudly celebrates its own history and traditions. One of the best features of visiting is the chance to try some authentic Cajun cuisine.

Slide 10 of 21: What were your first impressions when you arrived? From a distance, this cafe looks fairly nondescript, but the approach reveals a couple of sculptures—including a couple of big, colorful dogs that hint at a more esoteric situation inside. The blue dog in question is the mascot and talismanic subject of revered late local artist George Rodrigue, whose work can be seen all across the state, especially in New Orleans and here in Lafayette. As you might imagine, the interior is a shrine to his oeuvre, with dozens of original paintings and prints, and more playful dog portraits than are perhaps collected anywhere. It’s like eating in a museum dedicated to one man. What’s the crowd like? Rodrigue’s art is incredibly accessible, and loved by kids and adults alike, so there’s a good showing of families. His art also hangs in some of the region’s most elevated galleries, and so there’s also an arty crowd that passes through to pay their respects while chowing on some classic Louisiana cuisine. It makes for a casually convivial ambience either way. What should we be drinking? The cocktails are unswervingly classic, with takes on local libations such as a Hurricane that’s a mile above the same drink on Bourbon Street and a French 75 and others that use tasty southern gins. The wine and beer selection is fairly straightforward and accessible with some local nods, and if you can make it for Sunday brunch there are some serious bargains to be had drinking bubbles. Main event: the food. Give us the lowdown—especially what not to miss. Guests are drawn in with some southern classics and then introduced to more unusual dishes that might tempt them to broaden their horizons. Crab cakes and boudin balls for appetizers are standard in this part of the world, but there are also some glorious seafood wontons and a shrimp en brochette that comes with jalapeños and bacon that really stands out. Po-boys, gumbo, and shrimp and grits are all done competently, but get the crawfish enchiladas or the Catfish Blue Dog for a taste adventure you can’t get elsewhere. Beignets and bread pudding round out the local selections for dessert, and the menu thankfully stands up, making the place more than just a vehicle for showing off the art. And how did the front-of-house folks treat you? As the café expanded and became increasingly popular, more staff were added and it feels like the customer-server ratio is reassuring. Staff have to contend with questions about the art as well as the menu, which they do with impressive aplomb, patiently repeating information and delivering a friendly and professional service. What’s the real-real on why we’re coming here? Dining here is a like dinner and a museum in one, and it feels accessibly cultural, while managing not to stray into territory that feels too gimmicky. The impressive collection of art is presented thoughtfully and the restaurant isn’t just an afterthought, with regional crowd pleasers as well as the café’s own, more innovative dishes. Everyone, including art lovers and families, are well catered to.
Slide 11 of 21: Tell me: What’s this place all about? Historic churches and cathedrals are hardly a rarity in this religious part of the world, especially with the Catholic influence that looms so large in Louisiana. This imposing red and white brick cathedral, though, is impressive even within that well-populated arena. What’s it like being there? It’s a working, living place of worship and so some degree of reverence is both necessary and immediately noticeable. The interior is tranquil and a place for reflection of course, as are equally the cemetery and the beautiful, centuries-old ‘Cathedral Oak’ tree. Is there a guide involved? There are no regular guided tours on site, but they can easily be arranged by contacting the cathedral through a phone number on their website. Who comes here? The cathedral was busy with its parishioners, praying or visiting the cemetery, as well as day trippers to Lafayette taking in one of it’s most architecturally impressive buildings. Did it meet expectations? The cathedral is just a century old and is a memorable example of the Dutch Romanesque Revival Style, the striking red and white brick structure framing historic stained glass windows imported from Germany. The domed interior opens up to reveal a wonderfully-preserved, colorful and airy church. So, then, what, or who, do you think it’s best for? It’s an obvious stop for fans of historic churches, though anyone wanting some quiet time amid genuinely inspiring architecture will also savor their time here.
Slide 12 of 21: What’s this place all about? The village may be a recreation of a 300-year old Cajun settlement but given that seven of the eleven homes that have been erected are authentic buildings, the site, operated by (and in support of) an organization that supports people with intellectual disabilities doesn’t feel contrived. What’s it like being there? There’s a real sense of achievement that shines through as you wander between the carefully-constructed buildings. This is especially true when you read that the land here was cleared and that the homes were moved from various other parts of the region and rebuilt, complete with wooden pegs and mudded walls. Is there a guide involved? There were no guided tours but the information center provided enough for visitors to interpret the complex. Who comes here? We spoke to a few people who were visiting because they had actual Acadian and Cajun ancestry, and for them it seemed to provide a real connection to their pioneering families, who had travelled here from Canada centuries ago. Did it meet expectations? There aren’t too many authentic examples of real Acadian history in the region, even though Cajun influences run through lots of local music and food, so it’s inspiring and impressive to see this accurate reconstruction. So, then, what, or who, do you think it’s best for? Aside from local history buffs and families, those with an appreciation for local art can also see one of the finest collections of Louisiana landscapes and stills.
Slide 13 of 21: Tell us about your first impressions when you arrived. Historically, this long, narrow room was a working print shop, and thankfully, the good looks of the original building have been retained. The exposed, polished stone and dark, wooden floors make for a classy atmosphere, the copper-tiled ceiling and unusual light fittings cementing a look that stands out in Lafayette. What was the crowd like? You wouldn’t necessarily peg this place as one for hipsters, but younger customers here definitely have a fashion-conscious edge and are looking for high quality ingredients. What should we be drinking? The drinks menu isn’t anything fancy, just regular juices and soft drinks, but the coffee stands up to any in the area. Main event: the food. Give us the lowdown—especially what not to miss. Breakfast and lunch are the main events here (the restaurant only opens for dinner at the weekend), but the menu is a thoughtful mix of classics and local twists. The Cajun Benedict uses boudin sausages and andouille gumbo, for instance, and the Croque Monsieur was a melty delight of Gruyère and béchamel sauce. And how did the front-of-house folks treat you? It’s a busy affair almost from the moment the doors open in a morning, but the staff are unswervingly efficient and polite. What’s the real-real on why we’re coming here? There’s a wealth of casual dining options in Lafayette, but few that even slightly elevate their dining room or ingredients. This café delivers refinement without adding pretension.
Slide 14 of 21: Tell us about your first impressions when you arrived. This simple yellow building with a rickety-looking wooden porch looks anonymous, aside from a hand-written specials board outside and a basic patio attached to the side. If you didn’t know what a "boucaniere" was you’d drive straight past it, but once you know that it means "a place for smoking meats," you won’t make that mistake again. What was the crowd like? There are a lot of locals, but it’s complemented by people traveling from far and wide to sample the menu here. Southerners are serious about their meat, and fanatics of BBQ and Cajun specialties seek this place out to see how it stacks up against its reputation. Main event: the food. Give us the lowdown—especially what not to miss. The dedication to the smoking of meats here – whether it’s pork, chicken or brisket – truly is a delight to behold. All done on site with recipes and techniques passed down through generations, you can’t go too far wrong. You can order individual portions of each, or have the kitchen whip up a sandwich or salad bowl. Cajun classics such as gumbo and boudin sausage complete a mouthwatering picture. And how did the front-of-house folks treat you? The family atmosphere here is immediately apparent, the staff bantering with each other and serving locals and visitors alike with smiles, and patience for people just finding their way through the menu for the first time. What’s the real-real on why we’re coming here? It’s one of those casual spots that has an underlying seriousness about what they serve. It’s going to impress any BBQ fan, and it’s a great shop window for Cajun favorites.

Slide 15 of 21: Why did this hotel catch your attention? A search for accommodation beyond cookie-cutter national chains in Lafayette doesn't turn up many results, especially if you’re looking for relatively upscale digs. An unflashy brick building in a newish part of town, the Carriage House has some 21 luxury suites and a handful of extended-stay condos, and given the very ordinary local competition in the local hotel portfolio, it’s a refreshingly contemporary and fresh feeling place to stay. There are some welcome neoclassical flourishes to the building and a scenic courtyard. What's the backstory? The hotel is Lafayette’s only AAA 4-Diamond hotel and is nestled in the residential and commercial development of River Ranch. It’s an architecturally mixed neighborhood, and the modern brick building is as close to a boutique hotel experience as you’ll find in the city, a fine example of the New Urbanist movement that informed the original design. It’s a little outside downtown, and so having a car is advantageous. Tell us all about the accommodations. Any tips on what to book? My one-bedroom suite was unfussy and felt more than spacious thanks to the 12-foot ceilings, excellent daylight and a clean, white color palate. The fittings are all modishly utilitarian and aside from a couple of modern abstract prints in the bedroom, there’s not much in the way of decoration, which will appeal to minimalists. The modern quality carries on through the bathroom and there’s a small but welcome kitchenette/parlor with a fridge, microwave and granite counter tops. Drinking and dining—what are we looking at? The food and beverage offering is function over form. There’s a complimentary to-go breakfast that provides guests with waffles, muffins, cereals, fruit, and hot drinks. The main restaurant is just opposite in the City Club (of which the hotel is part), its Bar & Grill offering a familiar selection of modern American dishes, plus more unusual diversions such as poke bowls, duck fat-fried brussel sprouts, and crawfish pasta. How was the service? The hotel is small enough for the staff to offer a personal level of service, and guests were addressed by their names during my stay, which felt reassuringly professional. The front desk staff are on hand for basic orientation and questions about the City Club and River Ranch, and they had a good breadth of knowledge about local nightlife and dining options in downtown Lafayette. What type of travelers will you find here? With the hotel being a mix of short and long stay guests, there was a fair proportion of visiting businesspeople and a couple of young families staying in the larger, two-bedroom suites. It seemed to be mostly a corporate clientele, though, as opposed to leisure travelers. But the facilities and use of the club mean that both are well catered to. What about the neighborhood? Does the hotel fit in? The development was purpose-built and so the entire aesthetic, including the hotel, is a cohesive one. The hotel fits in seamlessly with the backdrop of residential and commercial units, and the location is a tranquil one, it being a twelve or so minute drive into the heart of downtown Lafayette. Is there anything you'd change? It would be nice to have the option of a cooked breakfast on site, ideally delivered to the room, as the nearest café is a few minutes’ walk and it gets very busy in the mornings. Any other hotel features worth noting? The amenities at the City Club really elevate the hotel experience. Their outdoor pool has extensive lounging areas as well as a water slide and fountains, making for a fun spot for families. The Club also has some pristine all-weather tennis courts and a wonderful fitness center, with a gymnasium, sauna, and a wealth of exercise classes. Bottom line: Worth it? Why? Lafayette is a lovely city that sadly doesn’t have an abundance of high quality hotels, so this collection of very comfortable suites is a welcome addition to the choices here for visitors. The fact that it isn’t a national chain and that it enjoys the amenities of the City Club also work entirely in its favor.
Slide 16 of 21: Just under two hours from New Orleans is this lovely Mississippi town. As well some great history, Hattiesburg is neighbored by huge stretches of scenic forests, welcoming everyone from hikers to kayakers with plenty to occupy them.
Slide 17 of 21: Let’s start big picture. What’s the vibe here? There’s just over half a million acres of coniferous forest in this one, which is among the most important natural regions in the Gulf Coast. After a 35-minute drive from central Hattiesburg, exploring the forest is a relatively straightforward task, thanks to several trails. Hiking, ATV, horse, and bike trails are all incorporated into the landscape, meaning that different levels of challenge are available, and there's something for both casual and more experienced hikers. Any standout features or must-sees? The Black Creek National Scenic River is the only river with this designation in the state of Mississippi, and many hikers make this the focus of their expedition. It stretches for some 30 miles. The highlight is the wildlife, which includes river otters as well as a plethora of birds. There are some discreetly constructed platforms along the way to help with wildlife observation and basic camping facilities. There’s also the option to rent canoes or kayaks. How fit and active do we need to be to enjoy the forest? The longest hiking trails are the National Recreation Trails, the Black Creek, and the Tuxachanie, which combined have more than 60 miles of prime hiking to offer. There isn’t too much in the way of difficult elevation, but the ability to comfortably walk longer distances is going to be a factor when deciding whether to take these trails. All said and done, what—and who—is this best for? The well thought out trails devoted to different means of transport and hiking, as well as the ability to kayak and canoe, means that the forest is attractive for almost everyone that enjoys the outdoors. First-time and expert hikers will find trails that appeal to them, and family camping is easy at any one of the developed campsites. All in all, it’s a great all around destination where almost all non-sporting outdoor pursuits are available.
Slide 18 of 21: What’s this place all about? The museum is one of a kind in the United States, and is located on the site of a former USO club that was constructed in 1942. The museum itself opened in 2009, and despite tornado damage in 2013, it was refurbished and reopened and now stands proud as a place to tell the stories of African-American soldiers. What kind of exhibits will we see here? African-American soldiers have fought for the United States in every war since the founding of the country, and the museum has dozens of impressive multimedia exhibits that interpret events from the Revolutionary War, right up to modern day anti-terrorism operations. Presentations range from evocative reconstructions of wartime conditions to recorded first-person accounts and interactive games. There’s a real focus on hands-on learning, including getting up close to artifacts and sitting atop a (model) horse for a photo opportunity. Who tends to visit? The depth of the exhibits and the varied ways in which the stories are told means that there’s something for everyone, from military history buffs to school children learning. The museum appeals to everyone, and there was a refreshing cross-section of visitors on the day I passed through. How much time should we block out? The museum is fully accessible and small enough to see within a couple of hours. Gift shop: obligatory, inspiring—or skip it? There’s a small museum gift shop in the lobby with books and novelties that some guests will want to peruse. Is the café worth a stop? The museum does not have a café, but it does have picnic tables peppered throughout the surrounding Memorial Garden for patrons to bring their own snacks. Any advice for the time- or attention-challenged? There are so many inspiring and pioneering stories told at the museum. One of the most interesting is that of Hattiesburg's own Jesse L. Brown, who was America's first Black naval aviator. There’s also an exhibit dedicated to heroic World War II nurse Ruth Bailey Earl, also of Hattiesburg. The story of the Buffalo Soldiers post-Civil War is also a must-see, as is the movie presentation, Patriots to the End: The African American Soldier.
Slide 19 of 21: What were your first impressions when you arrived? The dining room is the kind of modern rustic take that restaurants serving new southern cuisine favor, with vintage wooden fixtures and fittings and a stylish white plaster deer head, modern art on the walls, and 3D signage in a hip font. Distressed barn doors mingle with oversized lampshades in a regionally specific old-meets-new style. What’s the crowd like? There’s no real rhyme or reason to the clientele profile, and on one night alone there were families having a quiet dinner, old and young couples bellying up to the bar for a casual night, and a bachelorette party throwing caution to the wind with mimosas. What should we be drinking? You might not expect to find, say, a pineapple cilantro martini on the menu of a Mississippi restaurant, but you can find that and more evidence of the craft cocktail revolution. The drinks menu is thoughtful and innovative, with a good dozen of their own creations to try. The beer list takes a swipe at eclecticism with a few craft selections, and the wine is slightly more limited with maybe ten bottles, but if you like bourbon or scotch then you’re in the right place. Main event: the food. Give us the lowdown—especially what not to miss. A caveat before attempting to summarize the food: the menu is huge. It could work as a trilogy, released in parts in consecutive years like Lord of the Rings movies. It’s hard to even skim over any of the sections as even the pasta offerings include a dish with crawfish and quail. There's obviously all the fried seafood favorites you come to know and love in the south, catfish and shrimp among the major ingredients, and a list of artery-crowding entrees that includes fried chicken and pulled pork and another quail dish, this time honey-glazed. Steaks, tacos and salads are lengthy lists in their own right, while the sandwich and burger options alone would take you a few weeks to work through eating here every day. Add to this desserts, sides, soups and an actually intriguing apps selection (pulled pork fries and deep south egg rolls with rabbit among the must-haves) and you have a behemoth of a menu. The kicker: everything is made fresh. Every day. And how did the front-of-house folks treat you? Have you seen the menu? Yes, we have questions! Thankfully, though, the staff are well versed in all of the options, which must be a month-long training course. In any case, they all displayed a cheery patience with both bachelorette parties and out of town visitors having trouble deciding what to order. Given how unwieldy the operation could be, the kitchen and front of house staff keep things rolling along expertly. What’s the real-real on why we’re coming here? It’s a casual spot but it feels special given the thought that has obviously gone into some of the apps, entrees and especially the cocktail menu. There are surprising twists that are simple but which you don't see everywhere (the fried green tomatoes come with pork belly, for instance) and what could be a Cheesecake Factory-level of mediocrity thanks to the size of the menu is skillfully avoided. The ambience is fun, the staff are great and the food reassuringly exceeds expectations.
Slide 20 of 21: Let’s start big picture. Okatoma Creek is a tributary of the Bouie River and is about a twenty minute drive from downtown Hattiesburg, its name derived from the Choctaw and meaning shining river. The combination of whitewater runs and calmer spots mean that visitors can engage in all manner of water sports here, from intermediate canoeing to kayaking to swimming. Any standout features or must-sees? The Class I kayaking run is probably one of the most popular reasons for water sports enthusiasts to come to the creek. It’s one of the few whitewater experiences in the region, and although it’s not at the high end of things technically, it’s still a moderately challenging run, with three falls/chutes. It usually takes around three and a half hours to complete the run of around 19 miles. Was it easy to get around? The Okatoma Outdoor Post is a one-stop shop for almost everything you might need on a day trip. It's a general store with provisions and maps, canoe and kayak rentals, and showering and changing facilities. The area is easy to navigate and there are various spots that visitors head to, some of which can be reached by free shuttle bus. Beginners in kayaks and canoes can take their equipment beyond the whitewater run to calmer waters easily, and there are picnicking and camping facilities too. Sum it up. The diversity of experiences available adds to the allure, with whitewater kayaking as well as just paddling and swimming. The Outdoor Post is a great stop-off for anything you’ve forgotten, and if the weather turns, it’s an easy drive back to Hattiesburg. It’s a low-stakes day out, but with rewarding scenery and activities on offer.
Slide 21 of 21: Why did this hotel catch your attention? Outside of the major cities, finding hotels with character can be a challenge in the south, so this relatively new property from IHG’s Indigo brand is a welcome addition to Hub City’s accommodation portfolio. Real thought has gone into incorporating the neighborhood’s history into the design, the interior celebrating a specifically industrial past. Timber trade and railroad elements are here; you'll notice especially in the train tunnel lighting fixtures and fabrics that recall vintage conductor uniforms. It’s a chain hotel with a boutique feel. What's the backstory? The 100-room hotel opened in 2018 and is the only Indigo-branded hotel in the state of Mississippi. Despite being an IHG hotel, the Indigo's design team worked hard to avoid the property just being another cookie-cutter hotel, with consciously appropriate design choices and a customization of the usual template to reflect the history of the neighborhood. Tell us all about the accommodations. Any tips on what to book? The rooms are notably fresh and feel elevated above their chain hotel peers in the area. My King Executive was typical, the wooden floors and studded bed frame paying homage to the industrial theme. Fixtures and fittings aren’t overly fussy and retain a minimalist, contemporary feel, the overall neutral tones of the decor enlivened with a few pops of primary color from cushions and the like. The bathroom incorporated a striking monochromatic tiling pattern and Aveda products reinforced the affordable luxe ethos. Drinking and dining—what are we looking at? There’s a charming 1930s railroad theme to the hotel's onsite restaurant, Brass Hat, with lots of exposed brickwork and reclaimed materials maintaining the design motifs of the guest rooms and the public spaces. The restaurant serves up a good selection of popular small plates, sandwiches and larger entrees that generally fall under the category of elevated bar food. That said, there are some interesting options, including crispy fried duck wings and black truffle fries, and the craft cocktail selection is surprisingly inventive as well, with a particularly good mint gin fizz as well as regional classics. How was the service? The hotel is small enough for service to feel personable, and with just 100 rooms, there’s a decent guest-staff ratio. The front desk and bar staff skewed young and polite, and were happy to share recommendations for dining out and local nightlife options, and all in all it was a convivial stay. What type of travelers will you find here? The hotel’s proximity to the University of Southern Mississippi means that visiting family are a large part of the clientele, but it’s not exclusively parents. Plenty of younger couples were here to see what Hattiesburg has to offer for a weekend. Compared to many of its chain hotel peers, the property feels younger and more dynamic. What about the neighborhood? Does the hotel fit in, make itself part of the scene? The hotel fits into the neighborhood nicely and enjoys a plum location close to the major roads, the aforementioned university, M.M. Roberts Stadium for local sporting events, and a good selection of other cultural and entertainment options. It’s also just a five minutes or so drive to the main, historic downtown area. Any other hotel features worth noting? The main hotel amenity is its fitness room, which is perfectly modern and well-equipped. Bottom line: Worth it? Why? The railroad industrial chic and other design choices really stands out among local hotels and the property signals a new, contemporary breed of accommodations that are springing up in towns such as Hattiesburg.

There’s a wealth of scenic and cultural activities to be found on day trips from New Orleans. Just a quick drive over beautiful Lake Pontchartrain delivers a delightful change of pace on the North Shore. Just a little further away is Lafayette, where Cajun culture—especially the food—is celebrated. And less than two hours from New Orleans is the town of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where visitors can outdoor adventure or explore the jazz scene. Curious? Read on for our picks for the best day trips from New Orleans—along with what to do when you get there.

Click the link to read our complete New Orleans guide.

THE NORTHSHORE

Abita Mystery House

Give us an overview of this place.
Formerly the UCM Museum (the “you-see-em” Museum), this none-more-quirky stop might fall into the broad category of roadside attractions. A variety of buildings make up the “house,” from a large wooden main hall to a retro gas station that make up the entrance to a pristine Creole cottage.

What kinds of pieces will we see?
The museum is the collection and living gallery of home-grown artist John Prebel. The furthest stretches of his imagination are all on display here, from wall-sized mosaics to miniature city scenes, to sculptures of half-human hybrid creatures to an Airsteam trailer that has collided with a flying saucer. Eclectic almost begins to cover it.

Is it easy to get around?
You’re free to wander around as you please and be drawn to whatever takes your fancy. Considering the fine line it walks between hoarded junk and fine art, the place is well organized, though that’s a relative term.

What did you make of the crowd?
The museum has enough accessibility to attract families as well as those who search out these weird fringes of artistic Americana.

Gift shop: obligatory, inspiring—or skip it?
There’s a small gift shop that stocks various bits and pieces including esoteric jewelry made by local designers.

How much time do we need to clear for a visit?
Ninety minutes or an hour would be a longish time to spend here, but if you really want to take in the detail (and some of it is truly impressive) of every piece, then that could fill a couple of hours quite nicely.

Honey Island Swamp Tour

What’s the big picture here? This company has been successfully running some of the region’s best tours of this pristine swampland since 1982. Hotel pick-ups are available for the earlier tours and I joined a group of six on a small, covered boat. There’s a small company facility with amenities, snacks, and a gift shop. The set up reads incredibly professional and reassuringly well established.

Tell us about your fellow tourees. It’s a diverse crowd of people that take this tour. I saw families with children and elderly relatives as well as young couples and groups of friends. Some seemed to be local, and so it’s not just tourists that come out here. The website also has a few notable celebrity guests.

How are the guides? Swamp tour guides all have to show off a little bravado and machismo to dramatize what is in fact a very safe outing and make it more fun, Captain Hunter was no exception; his performance was peppered with genuine knowledge and passion for the local flora and fauna. It was obvious that this environment meant a lot to him, and the presentation was charismatic, educational and very entertaining, the maintenance of which is no small feat over a two-hour tour.

Anything you’ll be remembering weeks or months or years from now? The swamp isn’t too far from some urban centers, but it feels undeniably rural, and outside of the company facility there’s no real sign of modern life. The wildlife that the group encountered was an obvious highlight, with small alligators, feral boars, raccoons, water snakes, and turtles. The flora is also a point of interest, especially when given context within the wider picture of the local ecosystem.

So, who will like this swamp tour most? The tour has excellent general appeal and it’s hard to think that anyone wouldn’t get a lot out of venturing out into the swamp under such expert guidance. Natural history fans will enjoy the access that the small boats give them to the animals and plants, and it’s an easy, interesting, and well-delivered morning or afternoon away from the city.

Southern Hotel

How did it strike you on arrival?
As you pull into the forecourt, you see a Mission Revival-style building, the modernity of which belies the hotel’s history, which stretches back over a century to 1907. The interiors—the hotel was refurbished and reopened in 2014—are the very model of boutique charm. There is colorful contemporary furniture that doesn’t look cookie-cutter and modern art and other furnishings with personality.

What’s the crowd like?
The hotel plays host to its fair share of wedding parties, so family gatherings are a regular occurrence, but without too much competition for upscale accommodations on the North Shore, hip young couples venturing out of New Orleans are also a fixture.

The good stuff: Tell us about your room.
My Traditional King’s earth tones and jauntily-colored throws on the bed and armchairs made for a pleasing contrast, and the desk chair was leather backed. Clean, fresh carpets and wooden fittings that cruised along a rural-chic curve added up to a strikingly commodious stay.

Please tell us the bathroom won’t let us down.
A symphony of white tiling engendered a real sense of hygiene and style, and the water pressure was as good as anything in the city.

Maybe the most important topic of all: Wi-Fi. What’s the word?
The relative remoteness of the location didn’t seem to affect the free Wi-Fi speeds at all.

Anything stand out about other services and features?
The imbibing and dining options here are worth a trip even if staying at the hotel isn’t on the itinerary. The Cypress Bar is a truly memorable spot, with its evocative murals surrounding an Art Deco–style bar in classy dark greens. Oxlot 9 is the restaurant, a light and airy upscale bistro that serves up elevated Southern dishes such as roasted stuffed quail with black rice and pan fried stuffed rabbit.

What was most memorable about your stay?
Even coming from a city as laid back as New Orleans, there’s a palpable change in pace, and time spent here feels even more relaxed.

Bottom line: worth it, and why?
It’s really the only choice for a North Shore stay that isn’t an anonymous chain hotel.

Lake Pontchartrain

Let’s start big picture.
There are spots to view Lake Pontchartrain that are closer to the city limits of New Orleans, and some neighborhoods even lie up against it, but it’s on the North Shore where you can really explore this scenic natural resource to its fullest. Nature trails, hiking, fishing, sailing and all manner of water sports and outdoors activities take place on the shores of Louisiana’s own great lake.

Any standout features or must-sees?
Some highlights include the 2,800-acre Fontainebleau State Park, which has cabins for rent and ample camp grounds. Here are easily-accessible nature trails and even a beach. The Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge is a more untamed stretch, but perfect for spotting alligators, pelicans and marsh rabbits. The Fairview-Riverside State Park is a more low-key, tranquil spot, more likely to attract fishing enthusiasts.

Was it easy to get around?
These parks, and most of the outdoor activity centers, are within easy driving distance of each other and well signposted. Head out over the scenic Causeway – itself an impressive manmade structure – and a few miles east will put you right in the action.

That sounds cool. All said and done, what—and who—is this best for?
The Lake will suit any kind of outdoor activity fan, no matter what levels of adrenaline they’re looking to engage with. There are high-speed thrills to be found on the water for sure, but if a day’s fishing with nothing to think about except breaking for lunch is more appealing, there’s that too.

Middendorf’s

Tell us about your first impressions when you arrived.
Located just off Lake Maurepas, a feeder lake to Lake Pontchartrain, this decades-old favorite embraces its lakeside chic credentials with its three connected buildings. The main dining hall is the least polished area but the most characterful, a lofty wooden banquet space akin to a German beer hall and just as rowdy at times.

What was the crowd like?
The food here makes for a great social leveler, and Uptown New Orleanians join local families and t-shirted tourists, all here to sample the famed catfish that’s brought in fresh each day.

What should we be drinking?
There’s not a huge focus here on drinks here. If you don’t want to stand out, you’ll get a soda or a light beer, or a glass of wine if you’re feeling fancy.

Main event: the food. Give us the lowdown—especially what not to miss.
The restaurant brings in many of its guests with its famed thin-cut catfish. It is breaded and fried to order and is unlike any other catfish steaks you’ve likely tried, with elevated levels of crispiness and flavor. You can be a contrarian and order it cut the usual, thicker way, or you can go completely rogue and explore the soft shell crab or broiled shrimp options. Do stick to the seafood though.

And how did the front-of-house folks treat you?
The staff was perfectly welcoming and friendly, seating us with a smile even though we were the thousandth people they’d sat and smiled at that day. They know they’re the front line of an institution, and they live up to their ambassadorial roles without holding things up.

What’s the real-real on why we’re coming here?
Seafood restaurants in Louisiana don’t last unless they’re doing something right, and the thin catfish specialty has served this place well. It might be a one-trick pony, but it’s a trick worth driving out for.

The Shack

What were your first impressions when you arrived? You might think that a place called The Shack selling soul food in the suburbs would mean a lazy nod to regional favorites, but in this case, you would be wrong. This casual Covington joint has a playfully rustic aesthetic, with DIY-chic wooden fences and an outdoor seating area called The Shackyard. The indoor dining room mixes colorful ’50s, ’60s and ’70s retro styles.

What’s the crowd like? It’s definitely dressed down, and you’ll likely share a space with the loyal cross-section of locals at the bar watching sports or families enjoying a dinner out at one of the tables. It’s a friendly affair either way, and the enthusiasm that the owners have put into the property and the menu translates into a panoramically happy crowd any night of the week.

What should we be drinking? Expectations are further exceeded on the drink menu. There are some great local IPAs and imported brews available for beer drinkers, and given that anything beyond red and white wine is impressive at a casual family restaurant, having fifteen choices on the menu practically constitutes a cellar. But it’s the cute twists on classic cocktails that really stand out.

Main event: the food. Give us the lowdown—especially what not to miss. It’s no surprise that the food is executed with a commitment to quality. The menu combines soul food, Cuban and Caribbean influences, and is a triumphant mix of feel-good flavors. The appetizers set the stage, with a dreamy duck quesadilla, guacamole with crab and bacon, and a magnificent dish called Pork Tower that comes with a trio of piquant sauces. Sandwiches include a knockout Cuban and a dynamite chargrilled pork burrito, a wonderful chicken chimichanga, and a brisket machaca with a cheddar grit cake. There’s a taco bar and daily specials that include a Wednesday night shrimp and grits dish that will stand up against any in the region. Execution, presentation, and ingredient quality are all top-notch, and the prices make it one of the best value dining experiences on the North Shore.

And how did the front-of-house folks treat you? The staffers are welcoming and attentive, happily chatting between serving. Even on busy nights, it doesn’t get overwhelming, with both the dining room and the patio getting great service. The menu has a couple of elements that people might have questions about, but whether its cocktails or entrees, the staff was helpful.

What’s the real-real on why we’re coming here? Destination restaurants are usually grand, gourmet affairs, but this unassuming spot is well worth a drive from New Orleans, and not only proves that there’s innovation and commitment to quality outside of the city, but also confidently competes with any of the big established names. Its online reviews speak for themselves. Worth driving to on any pretext.

LAFAYETTE

Blue Dog Cafe

What were your first impressions when you arrived? From a distance, this cafe looks fairly nondescript, but the approach reveals a couple of sculptures—including a couple of big, colorful dogs that hint at a more esoteric situation inside. The blue dog in question is the mascot and talismanic subject of revered late local artist George Rodrigue, whose work can be seen all across the state, especially in New Orleans and here in Lafayette. As you might imagine, the interior is a shrine to his oeuvre, with dozens of original paintings and prints, and more playful dog portraits than are perhaps collected anywhere. It’s like eating in a museum dedicated to one man.

What’s the crowd like? Rodrigue’s art is incredibly accessible, and loved by kids and adults alike, so there’s a good showing of families. His art also hangs in some of the region’s most elevated galleries, and so there’s also an arty crowd that passes through to pay their respects while chowing on some classic Louisiana cuisine. It makes for a casually convivial ambience either way.

What should we be drinking? The cocktails are unswervingly classic, with takes on local libations such as a Hurricane that’s a mile above the same drink on Bourbon Street and a French 75 and others that use tasty southern gins. The wine and beer selection is fairly straightforward and accessible with some local nods, and if you can make it for Sunday brunch there are some serious bargains to be had drinking bubbles.

Main event: the food. Give us the lowdown—especially what not to miss. Guests are drawn in with some southern classics and then introduced to more unusual dishes that might tempt them to broaden their horizons. Crab cakes and boudin balls for appetizers are standard in this part of the world, but there are also some glorious seafood wontons and a shrimp en brochette that comes with jalapeños and bacon that really stands out. Po-boys, gumbo, and shrimp and grits are all done competently, but get the crawfish enchiladas or the Catfish Blue Dog for a taste adventure you can’t get elsewhere. Beignets and bread pudding round out the local selections for dessert, and the menu thankfully stands up, making the place more than just a vehicle for showing off the art.

And how did the front-of-house folks treat you? As the café expanded and became increasingly popular, more staff were added and it feels like the customer-server ratio is reassuring. Staff have to contend with questions about the art as well as the menu, which they do with impressive aplomb, patiently repeating information and delivering a friendly and professional service.

What’s the real-real on why we’re coming here? Dining here is a like dinner and a museum in one, and it feels accessibly cultural, while managing not to stray into territory that feels too gimmicky. The impressive collection of art is presented thoughtfully and the restaurant isn’t just an afterthought, with regional crowd pleasers as well as the café’s own, more innovative dishes. Everyone, including art lovers and families, are well catered to.

Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist

Tell me: What’s this place all about?
Historic churches and cathedrals are hardly a rarity in this religious part of the world, especially with the Catholic influence that looms so large in Louisiana. This imposing red and white brick cathedral, though, is impressive even within that well-populated arena.

What’s it like being there?
It’s a working, living place of worship and so some degree of reverence is both necessary and immediately noticeable. The interior is tranquil and a place for reflection of course, as are equally the cemetery and the beautiful, centuries-old ‘Cathedral Oak’ tree.

Is there a guide involved?
There are no regular guided tours on site, but they can easily be arranged by contacting the cathedral through a phone number on their website.

Who comes here?
The cathedral was busy with its parishioners, praying or visiting the cemetery, as well as day trippers to Lafayette taking in one of it’s most architecturally impressive buildings.

Did it meet expectations?
The cathedral is just a century old and is a memorable example of the Dutch Romanesque Revival Style, the striking red and white brick structure framing historic stained glass windows imported from Germany. The domed interior opens up to reveal a wonderfully-preserved, colorful and airy church.

So, then, what, or who, do you think it’s best for?
It’s an obvious stop for fans of historic churches, though anyone wanting some quiet time amid genuinely inspiring architecture will also savor their time here.

Acadian Village

What’s this place all about?
The village may be a recreation of a 300-year old Cajun settlement but given that seven of the eleven homes that have been erected are authentic buildings, the site, operated by (and in support of) an organization that supports people with intellectual disabilities doesn’t feel contrived.

What’s it like being there?
There’s a real sense of achievement that shines through as you wander between the carefully-constructed buildings. This is especially true when you read that the land here was cleared and that the homes were moved from various other parts of the region and rebuilt, complete with wooden pegs and mudded walls.

Is there a guide involved?
There were no guided tours but the information center provided enough for visitors to interpret the complex.

Who comes here?
We spoke to a few people who were visiting because they had actual Acadian and Cajun ancestry, and for them it seemed to provide a real connection to their pioneering families, who had travelled here from Canada centuries ago.

Did it meet expectations?
There aren’t too many authentic examples of real Acadian history in the region, even though Cajun influences run through lots of local music and food, so it’s inspiring and impressive to see this accurate reconstruction.

So, then, what, or who, do you think it’s best for?
Aside from local history buffs and families, those with an appreciation for local art can also see one of the finest collections of Louisiana landscapes and stills.

The French Press

Tell us about your first impressions when you arrived.
Historically, this long, narrow room was a working print shop, and thankfully, the good looks of the original building have been retained. The exposed, polished stone and dark, wooden floors make for a classy atmosphere, the copper-tiled ceiling and unusual light fittings cementing a look that stands out in Lafayette.

What was the crowd like?
You wouldn’t necessarily peg this place as one for hipsters, but younger customers here definitely have a fashion-conscious edge and are looking for high quality ingredients.

What should we be drinking?
The drinks menu isn’t anything fancy, just regular juices and soft drinks, but the coffee stands up to any in the area.

Main event: the food. Give us the lowdown—especially what not to miss.
Breakfast and lunch are the main events here (the restaurant only opens for dinner at the weekend), but the menu is a thoughtful mix of classics and local twists. The Cajun Benedict uses boudin sausages and andouille gumbo, for instance, and the Croque Monsieur was a melty delight of Gruyère and béchamel sauce.

And how did the front-of-house folks treat you?
It’s a busy affair almost from the moment the doors open in a morning, but the staff are unswervingly efficient and polite.

What’s the real-real on why we’re coming here?
There’s a wealth of casual dining options in Lafayette, but few that even slightly elevate their dining room or ingredients. This café delivers refinement without adding pretension.

Johnson’s Boucaniere

Tell us about your first impressions when you arrived.
This simple yellow building with a rickety-looking wooden porch looks anonymous, aside from a hand-written specials board outside and a basic patio attached to the side. If you didn’t know what a “boucaniere” was you’d drive straight past it, but once you know that it means “a place for smoking meats,” you won’t make that mistake again.

What was the crowd like?
There are a lot of locals, but it’s complemented by people traveling from far and wide to sample the menu here. Southerners are serious about their meat, and fanatics of BBQ and Cajun specialties seek this place out to see how it stacks up against its reputation.

Main event: the food. Give us the lowdown—especially what not to miss.
The dedication to the smoking of meats here – whether it’s pork, chicken or brisket – truly is a delight to behold. All done on site with recipes and techniques passed down through generations, you can’t go too far wrong. You can order individual portions of each, or have the kitchen whip up a sandwich or salad bowl. Cajun classics such as gumbo and boudin sausage complete a mouthwatering picture.

And how did the front-of-house folks treat you?
The family atmosphere here is immediately apparent, the staff bantering with each other and serving locals and visitors alike with smiles, and patience for people just finding their way through the menu for the first time.

What’s the real-real on why we’re coming here?
It’s one of those casual spots that has an underlying seriousness about what they serve. It’s going to impress any BBQ fan, and it’s a great shop window for Cajun favorites.

Carriage House Hotel

Why did this hotel catch your attention? A search for accommodation beyond cookie-cutter national chains in Lafayette doesn’t turn up many results, especially if you’re looking for relatively upscale digs. An unflashy brick building in a newish part of town, the Carriage House has some 21 luxury suites and a handful of extended-stay condos, and given the very ordinary local competition in the local hotel portfolio, it’s a refreshingly contemporary and fresh feeling place to stay. There are some welcome neoclassical flourishes to the building and a scenic courtyard.

What’s the backstory? The hotel is Lafayette’s only AAA 4-Diamond hotel and is nestled in the residential and commercial development of River Ranch. It’s an architecturally mixed neighborhood, and the modern brick building is as close to a boutique hotel experience as you’ll find in the city, a fine example of the New Urbanist movement that informed the original design. It’s a little outside downtown, and so having a car is advantageous.

Tell us all about the accommodations. Any tips on what to book? My one-bedroom suite was unfussy and felt more than spacious thanks to the 12-foot ceilings, excellent daylight and a clean, white color palate. The fittings are all modishly utilitarian and aside from a couple of modern abstract prints in the bedroom, there’s not much in the way of decoration, which will appeal to minimalists. The modern quality carries on through the bathroom and there’s a small but welcome kitchenette/parlor with a fridge, microwave and granite counter tops.

Drinking and dining—what are we looking at? The food and beverage offering is function over form. There’s a complimentary to-go breakfast that provides guests with waffles, muffins, cereals, fruit, and hot drinks. The main restaurant is just opposite in the City Club (of which the hotel is part), its Bar & Grill offering a familiar selection of modern American dishes, plus more unusual diversions such as poke bowls, duck fat-fried brussel sprouts, and crawfish pasta.

How was the service? The hotel is small enough for the staff to offer a personal level of service, and guests were addressed by their names during my stay, which felt reassuringly professional. The front desk staff are on hand for basic orientation and questions about the City Club and River Ranch, and they had a good breadth of knowledge about local nightlife and dining options in downtown Lafayette.

What type of travelers will you find here? With the hotel being a mix of short and long stay guests, there was a fair proportion of visiting businesspeople and a couple of young families staying in the larger, two-bedroom suites. It seemed to be mostly a corporate clientele, though, as opposed to leisure travelers. But the facilities and use of the club mean that both are well catered to.

What about the neighborhood? Does the hotel fit in? The development was purpose-built and so the entire aesthetic, including the hotel, is a cohesive one. The hotel fits in seamlessly with the backdrop of residential and commercial units, and the location is a tranquil one, it being a twelve or so minute drive into the heart of downtown Lafayette.

Is there anything you’d change? It would be nice to have the option of a cooked breakfast on site, ideally delivered to the room, as the nearest café is a few minutes’ walk and it gets very busy in the mornings.

Any other hotel features worth noting? The amenities at the City Club really elevate the hotel experience. Their outdoor pool has extensive lounging areas as well as a water slide and fountains, making for a fun spot for families. The Club also has some pristine all-weather tennis courts and a wonderful fitness center, with a gymnasium, sauna, and a wealth of exercise classes.

Bottom line: Worth it? Why? Lafayette is a lovely city that sadly doesn’t have an abundance of high quality hotels, so this collection of very comfortable suites is a welcome addition to the choices here for visitors. The fact that it isn’t a national chain and that it enjoys the amenities of the City Club also work entirely in its favor.

HATTIESBURG, MS

DeSoto National Forest

Let’s start big picture. What’s the vibe here? There’s just over half a million acres of coniferous forest in this one, which is among the most important natural regions in the Gulf Coast. After a 35-minute drive from central Hattiesburg, exploring the forest is a relatively straightforward task, thanks to several trails. Hiking, ATV, horse, and bike trails are all incorporated into the landscape, meaning that different levels of challenge are available, and there’s something for both casual and more experienced hikers.

Any standout features or must-sees? The Black Creek National Scenic River is the only river with this designation in the state of Mississippi, and many hikers make this the focus of their expedition. It stretches for some 30 miles. The highlight is the wildlife, which includes river otters as well as a plethora of birds. There are some discreetly constructed platforms along the way to help with wildlife observation and basic camping facilities. There’s also the option to rent canoes or kayaks.

How fit and active do we need to be to enjoy the forest? The longest hiking trails are the National Recreation Trails, the Black Creek, and the Tuxachanie, which combined have more than 60 miles of prime hiking to offer. There isn’t too much in the way of difficult elevation, but the ability to comfortably walk longer distances is going to be a factor when deciding whether to take these trails.

All said and done, what—and who—is this best for? The well thought out trails devoted to different means of transport and hiking, as well as the ability to kayak and canoe, means that the forest is attractive for almost everyone that enjoys the outdoors. First-time and expert hikers will find trails that appeal to them, and family camping is easy at any one of the developed campsites. All in all, it’s a great all around destination where almost all non-sporting outdoor pursuits are available.

African American Military History Museum

What’s this place all about? The museum is one of a kind in the United States, and is located on the site of a former USO club that was constructed in 1942. The museum itself opened in 2009, and despite tornado damage in 2013, it was refurbished and reopened and now stands proud as a place to tell the stories of African-American soldiers.

What kind of exhibits will we see here? African-American soldiers have fought for the United States in every war since the founding of the country, and the museum has dozens of impressive multimedia exhibits that interpret events from the Revolutionary War, right up to modern day anti-terrorism operations. Presentations range from evocative reconstructions of wartime conditions to recorded first-person accounts and interactive games. There’s a real focus on hands-on learning, including getting up close to artifacts and sitting atop a (model) horse for a photo opportunity.

Who tends to visit? The depth of the exhibits and the varied ways in which the stories are told means that there’s something for everyone, from military history buffs to school children learning. The museum appeals to everyone, and there was a refreshing cross-section of visitors on the day I passed through.

How much time should we block out? The museum is fully accessible and small enough to see within a couple of hours.

Gift shop: obligatory, inspiring—or skip it? There’s a small museum gift shop in the lobby with books and novelties that some guests will want to peruse.

Is the café worth a stop? The museum does not have a café, but it does have picnic tables peppered throughout the surrounding Memorial Garden for patrons to bring their own snacks.

Any advice for the time- or attention-challenged? There are so many inspiring and pioneering stories told at the museum. One of the most interesting is that of Hattiesburg’s own Jesse L. Brown, who was America’s first Black naval aviator. There’s also an exhibit dedicated to heroic World War II nurse Ruth Bailey Earl, also of Hattiesburg. The story of the Buffalo Soldiers post-Civil War is also a must-see, as is the movie presentation, Patriots to the End: The African American Soldier.

Cotton Blues

What were your first impressions when you arrived? The dining room is the kind of modern rustic take that restaurants serving new southern cuisine favor, with vintage wooden fixtures and fittings and a stylish white plaster deer head, modern art on the walls, and 3D signage in a hip font. Distressed barn doors mingle with oversized lampshades in a regionally specific old-meets-new style.

What’s the crowd like? There’s no real rhyme or reason to the clientele profile, and on one night alone there were families having a quiet dinner, old and young couples bellying up to the bar for a casual night, and a bachelorette party throwing caution to the wind with mimosas.

What should we be drinking? You might not expect to find, say, a pineapple cilantro martini on the menu of a Mississippi restaurant, but you can find that and more evidence of the craft cocktail revolution. The drinks menu is thoughtful and innovative, with a good dozen of their own creations to try. The beer list takes a swipe at eclecticism with a few craft selections, and the wine is slightly more limited with maybe ten bottles, but if you like bourbon or scotch then you’re in the right place.

Main event: the food. Give us the lowdown—especially what not to miss. A caveat before attempting to summarize the food: the menu is huge. It could work as a trilogy, released in parts in consecutive years like Lord of the Rings movies. It’s hard to even skim over any of the sections as even the pasta offerings include a dish with crawfish and quail. There’s obviously all the fried seafood favorites you come to know and love in the south, catfish and shrimp among the major ingredients, and a list of artery-crowding entrees that includes fried chicken and pulled pork and another quail dish, this time honey-glazed. Steaks, tacos and salads are lengthy lists in their own right, while the sandwich and burger options alone would take you a few weeks to work through eating here every day. Add to this desserts, sides, soups and an actually intriguing apps selection (pulled pork fries and deep south egg rolls with rabbit among the must-haves) and you have a behemoth of a menu. The kicker: everything is made fresh. Every day.

And how did the front-of-house folks treat you? Have you seen the menu? Yes, we have questions! Thankfully, though, the staff are well versed in all of the options, which must be a month-long training course. In any case, they all displayed a cheery patience with both bachelorette parties and out of town visitors having trouble deciding what to order. Given how unwieldy the operation could be, the kitchen and front of house staff keep things rolling along expertly.

What’s the real-real on why we’re coming here? It’s a casual spot but it feels special given the thought that has obviously gone into some of the apps, entrees and especially the cocktail menu. There are surprising twists that are simple but which you don’t see everywhere (the fried green tomatoes come with pork belly, for instance) and what could be a Cheesecake Factory-level of mediocrity thanks to the size of the menu is skillfully avoided. The ambience is fun, the staff are great and the food reassuringly exceeds expectations.

Okatoma Creek

Let’s start big picture. Okatoma Creek is a tributary of the Bouie River and is about a twenty minute drive from downtown Hattiesburg, its name derived from the Choctaw and meaning shining river. The combination of whitewater runs and calmer spots mean that visitors can engage in all manner of water sports here, from intermediate canoeing to kayaking to swimming.

Any standout features or must-sees? The Class I kayaking run is probably one of the most popular reasons for water sports enthusiasts to come to the creek. It’s one of the few whitewater experiences in the region, and although it’s not at the high end of things technically, it’s still a moderately challenging run, with three falls/chutes. It usually takes around three and a half hours to complete the run of around 19 miles.

Was it easy to get around? The Okatoma Outdoor Post is a one-stop shop for almost everything you might need on a day trip. It’s a general store with provisions and maps, canoe and kayak rentals, and showering and changing facilities. The area is easy to navigate and there are various spots that visitors head to, some of which can be reached by free shuttle bus. Beginners in kayaks and canoes can take their equipment beyond the whitewater run to calmer waters easily, and there are picnicking and camping facilities too.

Sum it up. The diversity of experiences available adds to the allure, with whitewater kayaking as well as just paddling and swimming. The Outdoor Post is a great stop-off for anything you’ve forgotten, and if the weather turns, it’s an easy drive back to Hattiesburg. It’s a low-stakes day out, but with rewarding scenery and activities on offer.

Hotel Indigo Hattiesburg

Why did this hotel catch your attention? Outside of the major cities, finding hotels with character can be a challenge in the south, so this relatively new property from IHG’s Indigo brand is a welcome addition to Hub City’s accommodation portfolio. Real thought has gone into incorporating the neighborhood’s history into the design, the interior celebrating a specifically industrial past. Timber trade and railroad elements are here; you’ll notice especially in the train tunnel lighting fixtures and fabrics that recall vintage conductor uniforms. It’s a chain hotel with a boutique feel.

What’s the backstory? The 100-room hotel opened in 2018 and is the only Indigo-branded hotel in the state of Mississippi. Despite being an IHG hotel, the Indigo’s design team worked hard to avoid the property just being another cookie-cutter hotel, with consciously appropriate design choices and a customization of the usual template to reflect the history of the neighborhood.

Tell us all about the accommodations. Any tips on what to book? The rooms are notably fresh and feel elevated above their chain hotel peers in the area. My King Executive was typical, the wooden floors and studded bed frame paying homage to the industrial theme. Fixtures and fittings aren’t overly fussy and retain a minimalist, contemporary feel, the overall neutral tones of the decor enlivened with a few pops of primary color from cushions and the like. The bathroom incorporated a striking monochromatic tiling pattern and Aveda products reinforced the affordable luxe ethos.

Drinking and dining—what are we looking at? There’s a charming 1930s railroad theme to the hotel’s onsite restaurant, Brass Hat, with lots of exposed brickwork and reclaimed materials maintaining the design motifs of the guest rooms and the public spaces. The restaurant serves up a good selection of popular small plates, sandwiches and larger entrees that generally fall under the category of elevated bar food. That said, there are some interesting options, including crispy fried duck wings and black truffle fries, and the craft cocktail selection is surprisingly inventive as well, with a particularly good mint gin fizz as well as regional classics.

How was the service? The hotel is small enough for service to feel personable, and with just 100 rooms, there’s a decent guest-staff ratio. The front desk and bar staff skewed young and polite, and were happy to share recommendations for dining out and local nightlife options, and all in all it was a convivial stay.

What type of travelers will you find here? The hotel’s proximity to the University of Southern Mississippi means that visiting family are a large part of the clientele, but it’s not exclusively parents. Plenty of younger couples were here to see what Hattiesburg has to offer for a weekend. Compared to many of its chain hotel peers, the property feels younger and more dynamic.

What about the neighborhood? Does the hotel fit in, make itself part of the scene? The hotel fits into the neighborhood nicely and enjoys a plum location close to the major roads, the aforementioned university, M.M. Roberts Stadium for local sporting events, and a good selection of other cultural and entertainment options. It’s also just a five minutes or so drive to the main, historic downtown area.

Any other hotel features worth noting? The main hotel amenity is its fitness room, which is perfectly modern and well-equipped.

Bottom line: Worth it? Why? The railroad industrial chic and other design choices really stands out among local hotels and the property signals a new, contemporary breed of accommodations that are springing up in towns such as Hattiesburg.

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