One Tank Trip: Weekend Escapes From New Orleans

Nov 12, 2016

One Tank Trip: Weekend Escapes From New Orleans

The Big Easy is one heck of a destination. It’s got everything you’d want: food, parties, history ... did we mention food? While it’s certainly bucket-list worthy, there are actually a number of cool spots just outside New Orleans that are worth a visit as well. So, whether you live nearby or have a week to spend in area, check out one of these awesome towns for a weekend getaway.

Mobile, Alabama (145 miles, 2 hours, 10 minutes)

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Alabama is just football and fried food, right? Not quite. Located on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, this town is filled with 19th century mansions, art galleries, museums and a beautiful waterfront. It’s just over two hours from New Orleans and is lovely to visit in the winter where the temperatures are mild.

Where to Eat:

Local favorite, Kitchen on George never disappoints. This spot serves up authentic, old southern cooking in an upscale dining atmosphere.

For a more low key spot, head to quaint eatery The Royal Scam where they specialize in sandwiches and comfort food. It’s the ideal place to grab a bite before hitting up the local bars.

Where to Drink:

Did you say booze? If you’re looking for the party scene in Mobile, your first stop should be Lower Dauphin Street in downtown. A favorite dive bar there is The Garage where they have pool tables, video games, a jukebox, live music, and one of the best happy hours in the city.

What to Do: 

Just like New Orleans, Mobile is filled with a lot to satisfy any history buff. Just take a walk through one of the city’s seven lovely historic districts each with its own unique character and architectural heritage. Book a walking tour through the areas to get the full rundown or, if you’re short on time, check out De Tonti Square where there are historic buildings in Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne and Victoria architectural styles or the The Oakley Garden District, which is home to a mix of mansions and cottages from the 1830’s to the 1930’s.

For more outdoorsy types, Mobile Bay on the Gulf of Mexico has a number of lovely beaches, small towns, and historic sites to explore. Dauphin Island is home to a bird sanctuary and located on the island is a freshwater lake with opportunities for swimming, fishing, and relaxing on the beaches.

Natchez, Mississippi (176 miles, 2 hours 50 minutes)

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Wonder where the band Lady Antebellum got their name? Well, it’s actually a type of architecture found all over this beautiful town, which amazingly stayed intact during the Civil War.

Where to Eat:

Bet ya didn’t know this, but Natchez is the biscuit capital of the world. With that in mind, make sure to get to Carriage House Restaurant where they served up incredible fried chicken and half-dollar sized specialty biscuits with your meal. You can’t beat the setting either; the joint is housed in an old carriage house.

For some top-notch fresh seafood head over to Roux 61. They have everything you’d ever want in Southern sea cooking including oysters, catfish, shrimp, and gumbo. The portions are known to be huge, so don’t feel intimated if you can’t finish.

Where to Drink:

Under The Hill Saloon is a rustic local favorite by the river. The bar has a historic look to it with brick walls and old wood floors and a great view across the Mississippi River. The locals are known to be at this bar, but will make you feel like you belong there in no time.

What to Do:

Remember when we mentioned that fancy word antebellum? Well, Stanton Hall is one of the largest antebellum mansions in the U.S. It was built in 1857 for Frederick Stanton and is the length of an entire block. The Pilgrimage Garden Club restored the property over the past few years so now visitors can tour the house, which is filled with original and antique furnishings.

Just a mile away is another historic site. It might sound weird to visit a graveyard on your vacation, but The Natchez City Cemetery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and contains graves dating back to the 1700s. It feels like more of park with well-maintained with fences, benches, and some elaborate tombstones. If you want to be spooked, drive by the cemetery at night to see if the “Turning Angel” watches you as you drive by.

Amazingly another cemetery made the list too and this one is just a bit outside the downtown area. Emerald Mound is near Natchez Trace Parkway and is the second largest ceremonial mound in the country. The mound covers eight acres and was created by dumping dirt along the sides of a natural hill and creating an artificial plateau. The grounds were used from 1250 to 1600 AD as a ceremonial center and today is a designated National Historic Landmark. Make sure to hike up to the top and explore the area.

Pensacola, Florida (202 miles, 3 hours)

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Pensacola is located on the Emerald Coast and is just as gorgeous as it sounds. Not only are there stunning beaches, but also there is an opportunity to explore a number of museums. And while the Margaritaville Beach Hotel & Restaurant is currently closed for renovation, it will reopen in early spring 2017 — just in time for the prime beach months on the Gulf Coast!

Where to Eat:

Of course you have to dine at the Margaritaville Beach Hotel & Restaurant while in town. The oceanfront views alone are well worth it. There are sandy beaches, a pool, tiki Bar, great food, and fun bars nearby. You won’t even want to leave because everything is right at your fingertips. At the restaurant, make sure to get any type of fresh seafood and of course, a “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”

What to Do:

Remember when we mentioned museums? Well here we go. That Naval Aviation Museum is filled with airplanes, helicopters, 87 aircrafts, an IMAX theater, two simulators, and more. It’s free admission and they’re always adding new exhibits. Between looking at all the planes and participating in the interactive parts, this museum is great for any age.

Next up, is a museum you’ll have to break a sweat to explore. The Pensacola Lighthouse and Museum has been restored so you can climb all the way up to the top and see wonderful views of Pensacola Bay. There is also a guide at the top to explain the lens, the light, and the history of the lighthouse. This is definitely the best view across the Bay, so make sure to bring your camera and get here before sunset.

Sports buffs will love Blue Wahoos Ballpark because it’s on the water and is a great venue all day long. It’s not too hot since the stadium is right on the water and on the weekends there are fireworks after the games. We’d call that a home run attraction.

New Iberia/Avery Island, Louisiana (134 miles, 2 hours, 15 minutes)

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This is the birth place of Tabasco sauce (mic drop). Do you need another reason to visit? Ok, ok, if you do, then other hot spots (get it?) like the Jungle Gardens, with plentiful wildlife and stunning bayous are just as worthy. The area occupies roughly 2,200 acres and sits atop a deposit of solid rock salt thought to be deeper than Mount Everest high. There is so much to explore here, but since Avery Island is small, it’s best to stay in nearby New Iberia.

Where to Eat:

How many people can say they’ve dined or had a nice lunch on the factory grounds of the Tabasco Factory? Named for the founding year of Tabasco, Restaurant 1868 is a hit. It’s a casual dining experience serving Tabasco-fueled Cajun comfort food and the prices are very reasonable. The Nachos loaded with Tabasco chili and cheese are only $5.50 and a must try.

Just 20 minutes away from Avery Island (since there is really only one restaurant there), lies R & M’s Boiling Point aka one of the best seafood spots. It is a wonderful locally owned restaurant with boiled crabs, boiled shrimp, and crawfish. Feeling extra adventurous? Try the alligator.

Where to Drink: 

Mulligan’s Old Irish Pub is located in New Iberia and it’s a great, relaxing place to have a beer. There might me more of a “mature” crowd there but still worth it to check it out. The staff always does a great job and the selections of spirits on hand are very enjoyable.

What to Do:

Did we mention this is where Tabasco sauce was created? If you love hot sauce and food, a tour of the Tabasco Visitor Center and Pepper Sauce Factory is key. The walk-able self-guided tour includes a long history of the famous hot stuff. On it you will see the barrel warehouse, the salt mine walk-through, and the bottling area. The country store has all things Tabasco including Tabasco soda and jalapeño ice cream. You can even sample some of the products. Yum!

Before or after, head over to the nearby Jungle Gardens for a stunning drive through a lush park full of trees, gardens and wildlife like birds, alligators, and deer. You can also hike the marshy trail where you may even see some snakes.

The Rip Van Winkle Gardens in New Iberia are a great escape as well. While there, learn about Joseph Jefferson, an actor who went around the world with Rip Van Winkle. There is an interesting old house with gardens on the property that have an unusual history and story. Looking out over the lake, you can even see the chimney the house that collapsed when the salt mine caved in.

Lastly, check out the Bayou Teche Museum, a hidden gem in the area. It’s the best locale to get comprehensive historic information about the area and the history of Cajuns. There's a very interesting simulation of being in a salt dome and a great display of works by Rodriquez, an artist famous for his Blue Dog paintings.

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