A Big Drive to the Big Easy
Drive straight from Austin to New Orleans and you’re looking at about nine hours drive time. But why would you want to do that when there are so many cool stop-offs on the way?
If you want to get to know America beyond the big cities, the towns in between Austin and New Orleans are a great place to start your education. If you have the time, I recommend staying a night in each of these seven places, and if not, park up and take a few hours to explore at least.
As you pass from Texas to Louisiana, you’ll see some crazy roadkill (think alligators and possums), some amazingly delicious fast food outlets (make sure to try Popeye’s in Louisiana) and some stunning countryside featuring bridges over epic swamps, farms in the middle of nowhere and thick, lush forests.
Austin is one of the coolest cities I’ve been to, and I’ve been to a lot of cities. There’s so much to do there – make sure to save some time to queue up for the legendary food trucks and the Franklin BBQ. It’s like a whole day out trying to get into that place – people actually take coolers of beers and chairs to wait their turn.
Barton Springs offers an awesome outdoor swimming opportunity, just a mile from the city centre. And take the car out to Hamilton Springs for one of the most stunning places in the USA. While you’re in the city, take some time out for a yoga class, followed by a juice. It’s the way they roll here (when they’re not eating homemade sausages and downing craft beers on Rainey Street that is).
Austin to Houston | 2 hours 45 mins
Houston’s an awesome city, if you have a car. Otherwise it can be a little tricky to navigate, but seeing as you’re on an Austin to New Orleans road trip, you needn’t worry!
Top highlights here include the Space Centre, the Beer Can Museum, the Art Car Museum and the Rothko Chapel. You should also check out the zoo, the Kemah Boardwalk and the Science Museum – it’ll be a packed two days but worth making the stop. Oh, and visit the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir temple too – absolutely incredible.
Houston to Lake Charles | 2 hrs 30 mins
3. Lake Charles
If there’s one thing you have to try in Lake Charles, it’s a crawfish boil. In the UK we know them as crayfish, and they’re kind of the same, but different. Here you’ll get a huge plate of the ‘mud bugs’ as they’re fondly called, ready to crack open and fish those meaty tails out.
Lake Charles is also where you’ll find the biggest collection of Mardi Gras costumes, in the world. It’s also a great place for a swamp tour, complete with plenty of alligators. If you want to see a huge concentration of them, in their natural habitat, check out the Pintail Wildlife Drive. I saw 27 in three miles.
Downtown you’ll find some cool bars and restaurants (drink at the Luna Grill), and the Charpentier Historic District is a work of architecture to drive around. Pick your favourite house and you can keep it.
Lake Charles to Lafayette | 1 hr
Lafayette is a university town – but don’t expect the same kind of ruckus as you’d get from any in the UK. I went on a Friday, morning, and was told that nothing really happens until 5pm, so maybe hold off your visit until then. Most weekends they have some sort of celebration, so time it right.
Cool things to see in Lafayette include the Kid’s Museum – with a whole exhibition dedicated to Dr Seuss – and the French Press Restaurant. I had the Cajun Benedict, the restaurant’s signature, which featured French bread, boudin (local sausage), eggs, gumbo and scallions. That was one delicious feast.
Another highlight was the Cajun Jam at the Blue Moon Saloon, where we watched a lady play the spoons on her metal vest. Awesome.
The state capital of Louisiana is Baton Rouge, but trust me, I’ve been and I wouldn’t even bother stopping the car. You could drive round the Capitol if you want to at least say you’ve seen something, but that’s about it.
Lafayette to Houmas House Plantation and Gardens | 2 hrs 9 mins
5. Houmas House Plantation and Gardens
Houmas House is stunning. I’m not that into plants and gardens but even I could appreciate the work and planning that’s gone into making the house as special as it is. Once a sugarcane plantation, in the 1700s, the 10-acre grand antebellum estate also used to be the home of one of the wealthiest landowners in the area.
Leave a few hours to take a tour here, go explore, and get some food at one of the onsite restaurants. The ‘Sunday Brunch with a Southern Twist’ at Latil's Landing Restaurant is apparently legendary, although I didn’t have the time to check it out sadly.
Houmas Plantation to Oak Alley Plantation | 32 mins
6. Oak Alley Plantation
Walk up the main entrance of the Oak Alley Plantation and you’ll be wowed. I guarantee. Huge oak trees flank the driveway, ones that were rooted long before the plantation was established but seem totally made for it.
You’re in plantation country now and Oak Alley is one of the grandest ones to see. On site you’ll find a re-creation of the slaves quarters, along with some of the tools and apparatus they’d use to control them. There are also displays set out as odes to the slaves who’d made the plantation what it is today and what happened to them in the end.
Take a tour around the grand house – it’s the best way to learn about the tedious and degrading work the slaves used to do there, and how things have changed.
Oak Alley Plantation to New Orleans | 1 hr
7. New Orleans
Ah, New Orleans, you’ve made it! I love New Orleans – definitely one of my favourite cities in the world. The food, the drink, the party atmosphere, the history and the endless things to do – honestly, I was there for three weeks and still feel like there was more to do and see.
You can definitely pack quite a bit in a few days though. Make sure you visit the Mardi Gras Museum, City Park, chill on the waterfront and ride those street cars too. They’re the best way to get around.
Frenchman Street is where you’ll find the best jazz in the evenings, but of course, no trip to New Orleans is complete without a little stroll down Bourbon Street. Just stay away from those Tropical Isles and Hand Grenade drinks, or you’ll end up riding a rodeo bull in a bar.
Check out my video for more
Road trip from Austin to New Orleans
I loved Austin, I loved New Orleans, and I loved travelling in between the two. If you have any questions about making this road trip, just let me know in the comments box below. Always happy to help!
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