Road Trips

Small Historic Southern Louisiana Towns

Soulful Louisiana – a wondrous state seated in the deep south, has a multilayered history. In its early years the large territory went from France to Spain, and back to France until the United States purchased it from France in 1803. What we know as Louisiana became the 18th state shortly before the outbreak of the War of 1812.

It is a state molded by the Mississippi River with swampland, bayous, and alligators in its south, then rolling prairies, hills, pines and farmlands in the north. Interstate Highway I-10 runs through southern Louisiana and bisects New Orleans. Some of my favorite towns are south of I-10 where a few still speak French or a unique mixed dialect. The distinctive music and food will linger long in your memory. During this trip our base was in Mandeville, on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, in a unique home built over Bayou Castine (see a Room with a View). There are a variety of good restaurants in Mandeville one of my favorites is Bistro Byronz. (see my Trip Advisor review)

Here are few of my favorite southern Louisiana towns:

St Francisville

Peaceful St. Francisville, with a population of less than 2,000, is believed to be the state’s second oldest town. Thus, it is steeped in history, with thriving landscaped gardens, 19th century Antebellum homes and unrivaled opportunities for hiking, birding and nature studies. The town is 30 miles from Baton Rouge but seems a world away from the busy capital city.

The streets are lined with oaks cloaked in Spanish moss. The skillfully restored downtown district is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. St Francisville began as a part of Spanish West Florida in the 1800s and later was annexed as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

One of the highlights of this splendid town are the 19th century antebellum plantation homes, several of which have been restored and offered as bed and breakfast accommodations. I will delve into more detail in a later article on the plantations and antebellum (i.e., pre-Civil War) homes of Mississippi and Louisiana. They are the:

The Myrtles Plantation is beautiful, Antebellum property with lush gardens and a great restaurant. It is alleged to be haunted by 12 different ghosts. Legend says many murders occurred there. You can stay overnight in this spacious B&B at your own risk!

Rosedown Plantation State Historic Site is one of the most intact, and well documented examples of Antebellum south planter’s lifestyle. Once a cotton plantation, the house and gardens have been restored and some of the original furnishings remain.

The Oakley Plantation is located at the Audubon State Historic Site wedged between the towns of Jackson and St. Francisville. Artist, ornithologist and naturalist John James Audubon worked here for four months illustrating birds in their natural habitats on the Oakley Plantation. He completed paintings of dozens of birds there in 1821. Since then, artists, writers and visitors have also found inspiration in this scenic spot.

Grace Church of West Feliciana (St Francisville is in West Feliciana Parish) was completed in 1860, less than a year before the start of the Civil War. It is a beautiful Episcopal church, one of Louisiana’s oldest Protestant churches.

After visiting the Audubon Historic site we stopped at the Oyster Bar on Bayou Sarah to enjoy a drink in a beautiful setting right next to the water. A fish truck is there to serve fresh oysters and fish tacos. On your visit, don’t miss the stunning John James Audubon Bridge.


New Iberia

The city is the seat of Iberia Parish. It has a beautifully preserved downtown area. Restored Main Street is a great place to stop for a drink or a meal. We enjoyed lunch in a historical building on the Main Street at the Bojangles Sushi & Oyster Bar. (See Trip Advisor for my review) The town was founded by the Spanish in 1779, and became a melting pot for European, African, Creole, and Native American cultures. The still evident French influence is due to the Arcadians—French settlers from Nova Scotia, later called Cajuns, who brought their unique culture, traditions and cuisine (not to mention dialect!) to the area.

On Main Street is Shadows-on-the-Teche, a historic, superbly restored 1834 antebellum mansion. Built by prosperous sugar planters, it was commandeered during the Civil War as headquarters for the union army.

A worthwhile stop in Iberia Parish is at Avery and Jefferson Islands—not islands surrounded by water but- salt domes that rise above the otherwise flat land. They are best known as the source of Tabasco sauce, and have lush tropical gardens worth seeing.



Founded in 1813 Covington is the seat of St. Tammany Parish. It lies on the border of two distinctive landscapes. To the south the terrain is flat and full of misty bayous with Spanish moss draped cypress trees. To the north the land changes to hills and pine trees. The town was settled by Europeans in the 1800s among three rivers (the Abita, the Bogue Falaya, and the Tchefuncta).

Covington boasts a varied mix of quirky art galleries, specialty shops and restaurants, re-imagined in historic homes and bungalows which have been preserved in a very walkable historic district. The Three Rivers Art Festival, held in November, attracts over 60,000 people, and covers a good part of Columbia Street.

Most of businesses are located on Lee Lane and Columbia Streets. On Boston Street, the Southern Hotel opened in 1907. The fully restored boutique property includes a fine restaurant and bar. On Columbia Street is the historic Smith HJ & Sons General Store, which opened in 1879. It is a museum as well as a working hardware store.

For those that enjoy walking in nature there are plenty of walking paths by the rivers in this town. The South Salado Creek Greenway Trail in Covington Park is very scenic and a local favorite.



Thibodaux is the seat of Lafourche Parish. Its first recorded inhabitants were the Acolapissa Indians. The town was founded as a river depot around 1759, It was settled by French and Spanish Creoles from New Orleans, and became a sanctuary for Acadian refugees. The local culture, architecture and food blend these distinct peoples.

Much for southern history buffs to see in and around Thibodaux. The 1830s E.D. White Historic House is a plantation on Bayou Lafourche. It was home to a Louisiana’s 10th governor and his son, the 9th Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (both named Edward Douglas White). The Rienzi plantation is a scenic site with large old live oaks surrounding the property.

The Laurel Valley Village was once an immense sugar plantation. Its dozens of eroding structures include original slave quarters and give a glimpse into the lives of the workers who toiled in the fields. It is thought to be the largest 19th and 20th century sugar plantation complexes left in the United States. The plantation home and grounds are closed to visitors, but you can see it all from the road and you can visit the store and museum at the front of the property. We really enjoyed speaking with Paul Leslie who has studied the history of this area thoroughly. He gave us a great overview of the plantation and the 12 movies, including Interview with a Vampire and Angel Heart, filmed in the ruins or in the museum (I will be going into this site further in an article about the Plantations of Louisiana and Mississippi).

Thibodaux is also home to Nicholls State University. The town benefits significantly from the energy and cultural events that come from being a college town. Don’t miss Jean Lafitte Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center to learn more about the area. The Center is a great way to experience the history and journey of the Cajun people. It offers canoe treks in the spring and fall, plus daily walking tours and Monday night Cajun music sessions. Finally, the historic downtown district is a must see. It leads to colossal St. Joseph Co-Cathedral. The original church was burned in a fire, then rebuilt in a renaissance Romanesque Revival style. Spahr’s Restaurant in the downtown has great fresh fish and a super friendly staff (see my review on Trip Advisor).


Photo by Scott Wilson

Photo by Scott Wilson

The City of Hammond on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain was founded in 1889. Most of its oldest buildings are located in a 17-block area, downtown. They date from 1880 to 1944 and are in a variety of architectural styles. There are great restaurants and shopping in this historical area. We visited Cate Street Seafood Station and had a delightful meal (see trip Advisor for my review). Hammond is also a good base exploring the antebellum homes and small towns located around New Orleans. For a great place to stay downtown in the historic district (see A Room with a View).

Breaux Bridge

Breaux Bridge is a small town in the middle of Cajun Country near Lafayette, Louisiana. Known as the “Crawfish Capital of the World,” this small town celebrates an annual Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival. Acadian settlers founded the town and of course brought with them some unique traditions especially in food and music. To this day a number of people here are fluent in French. It has a small historic Main Street, a scenic bridge, and plenty of appealing restaurants.





The name is from the Choctaw Indian language meaning “hair to hang” because of all of the Spanish moss clinging to the ancient live oaks throughout the area. It is also known for the large number of antiques, art and handcrafts which are housed in re-imagined vintage buildings in the historic downtown district. It is celebrated for the annual Strawberry festival held each Spring. The berries are grown locally. It is a great spot to stop for lunch or dinner or shop for a hand crafted piece of art or gift.

Abita Springs

As far back as 2,200 or more years ago Abita Springs was home to Native American tribes. The area flourished because of the rich natural resources of game fish and fresh spring water. In the 1820s the first Louisiana settlers arrived. Then at the turn of the century a prominent Covington physician tested the water here and believed that the minerals in the spring water had great therapeutic properties. After that large groups of people who lived in New Orleans would come up by train and enjoy the healthful water and to escape the heat and humidity of summer in the port city. Today the town hosts many artists, writers and people looking for a peaceful life in an historic town surrounded by longleaf pines. Many of the vintage homes have been preserved and turned into unique restaurants and boutiques.



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