Louisiana, every curve in the road and every bend in the river or bayou unveils something beautiful, memorable, tasty or fun. “Fun” is perhaps the most applicable word in Louisiana, but “tasty” runs a close second in a state with abundant natural resources, cooks taught only by their mamas, professional chefs and an affinity for the artistry of distillers and brewers.
Groups can scoot all over the state and seldom worry about too much time on the road. In short order, you can be awed by stories of the lasting impact of World War II, learn how to mix a classic cocktail, come almost nose-to-snout with an alligator, explore a utopian colony from the mid-1800s and visit a Chinese restaurant nationally recognized for its wine list. A fancy wine list at a Chinese restaurant? Don’t be surprised — this is Louisiana.
Understanding World War II
New Orleans’ National World War II Museum was a hit from the day it opened in 2000 as the National D-Day Museum. Its stories from both overseas and at home continue to grow. It examines reasons for the war, how it was won and its meaning today. A major addition, Liberation Pavilion, will open in 2022 to explore the Holocaust and the postwar era. The museum’s 230-room Higgins Hotel opened in 2019.
Exploring the Swamps
Swamp tours are among Louisiana’s most popular activities. Options abound, some just minutes from New Orleans. Groups can quickly get deep into a swamp ecosystem — technically a flooded forest — among moss-draped cypress trees and abundant wildlife. Pontoon boats are the norm, but you can burn some calories on a guided kayak trip. Cajun Pride Swamp Tours in LaPlace is set up for seafood boils, barbecue and other group meals after you paddle.
Learning About Cajuns
Most of Louisiana wants to claim Cajun culture, but Lafayette is where to find the story firsthand of the exiled French Canadians who became Cajuns. Start at Vermilionville, a collection of 19 restored and reproduced buildings from 1765 to 1890, where you’ll meet Cajun musicians, crafters and even a bayou boat pilot. In Lafayette, Cajun Food Tours can sate your appetite, and Martin’s Accordions can enhance your musical knowledge.
Communing With Gators and Egrets
Among southwest Louisiana’s treasures is the 180-mile Creole Nature Trail All-American Road, one of only 43 byways with this designation. Make sure you have binoculars and cameras aplenty because alligators, egrets, roseate spoonbills, herons, turtles, otters and more are abundant. The terrain includes marshland, prairies and cypress swamps. Grosse Savanne Eco Tours is a respected group tour helper. The civilized amenities of Lake Charles are nearby.
Up and Coming
Even better than a cocktail in New Orleans is a cocktail history lesson. You get both at the Sazerac House, a $50 million museum, tour and event space that opened in 2019. The giant Sazerac company has hundreds of brands, but the goal here goes beyond product promotion. It’s a true education in cocktail lore and history. Learn when to shake and when to stir.
Great River Road Museum
The Great River Road Museum in Darrow opened in 2020 and complements Houmas House, one of Louisiana’s famous plantation houses. The museum focuses on the history of the mighty Mississippi River from Baton Rouge southward. Many displays almost come to life because of wax figures from a closed wax museum. It’s oh-so-Louisiana to see figures of two governors — Huey Long and Edwin Edwards — at a roulette table.
Traveling the Boom-or-Bust Byway
Base in Shreveport-Bossier City to explore the Boom-or-Bust Byway, a 136-mile route across four parishes that tickles the edge of Texas. Destinations include the Germantown Colony and Museum, a mid-1800s utopian settlement; Caddo Lake, the South’s largest natural freshwater lake; the Louisiana State Oil and Gas Museum; and Michael’s Men’s Store and Sporting Goods — yes, one stop for a suit, a necktie, camo, ammo and a fishing rod.
Staying With Family
For more than 135 years, the hospitality of the Monteleone family has been a mainstay of the New Orleans’ French Quarter at the Hotel Monteleone. This classic property sits at the foot of Royal Street, a strategic location to launch explorations of Jackson Square, Bourbon Street and the Riverwalk. And its 25-seat, circus-themed Carousel Bar is always a great place to enjoy a classic New Orleans cocktail.
On the Louisiana Northshore
Smaller groups fit nicely at the story-laden Southern Hotel in Covington in St. Tammany Parish on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. The Southern dates to 1907 and, after various interruptions, reopened in 2014 as a polished boutique property. In one of its non-lodging periods, it was the parish courthouse, but that didn’t keep the property’s bar from closing — a true Louisiana story.
In the Heart of Louisiana
There’s a gem in the heart of Louisiana: the 93-room Hotel Bentley in Alexandria. It opened in 1908 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Like many properties, it had its ups and downs, but a multimillion-dollar restoration has it in top form. Alexandria was a significant troop training area in World War II, and top officers such as Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton stayed at the Bentley.
Baton Rouge Historic Trio
Take your pick from three Baton Rouge hotels with great histories. Today’s Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center opened in 1927 as the Heidelberg; Gov. Huey Long had a suite there. Across the street, what is today the Indigo Hotel also opened in 1927 as the King Hotel. The nearby Watermark Hotel, another 1927 structure, was originally the Louisiana Trust and Savings Bank.
Rolling on the Andouille Trail
Plenty of people know about boudin, but andouille is rising fast in fame and popularity. It’s a chunky German sausage with a French name that now has an official 34-stop Andouille Trail between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Work with Louisiana’s River Parishes — lariverparishes.com — to pick locations for your group. Some trail stops are famous, such as Oak Alley Plantation, and one, Spuddy’s Cajun Foods in Vacherie, even offers cooking classes.
Ghosts and Good Food at the Myrtles
The Myrtles Plantation near St. Francisville is known for an apparition named Chloe — the photo is very convincing — and other paranormal and tales, but food began gaining a reputation in 2019 when Restaurant 1796 opened. The name comes from the founding year of the house. Its focal point is a 10-foot wood-fired hearth, and most dishes have felt the fire — even a distinctive Caesar salad. Smaller groups may find lodging in a variety of suites and cottages.
Chinese Food and Fine Wine
Don’t judge the Lucky Palace in Bossier City by its, shall we say, unassuming exterior. Judge it for its gourmet Chinese menu and its highly praised list of more than 250 wines. Want verification? The Lucky Palace has an Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator and multiple semi-finalist acknowledgements from the James Beard Foundation for its wine program.
Eat Awhile at the Rest Awhile
Chef Pat Gallagher, already successful with restaurants in Slidell, Mandeville and Covington, is helping save a piece of history in Old Mandeville with the decidedly casual Pat’s Rest Awhile. Built about 1890, the structure has been a hotel as well as a retreat for underprivileged single mothers, their children and orphans. Its latest incarnation thrives on seafood.