5 easy New Orleans escapes you can get to in three hours or less
You might know what it means to miss New Orleans, but that doesn't mean leaving for a few days now and then isn't good for the soul. In fact, taking an easy trip out of the Big Easy is sometimes just what it takes to appreciate just how special the city is.
No matter your reasons for wanting a quick getaway, there are a handful of destinations nearby where you can get some fresh air and, of course, plenty of Southern hospitality.
Here are some of our top picks.
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New Iberia, Louisiana
Distance from New Orleans: 2 hours
What to do: Get ready to get your spice on. About two and a half hours away from NOLA is a city called New Iberia, home to the Tabasco Museum and plant on Avery Island. This is the spot to learn everything you've ever wanted to know about — you guessed it — hot sauce.
But this city has a lot more than just spicy food. You'll want to save room for bread pudding, especially if it's from Bon Creole Seafood. You'll thank us later.
Where to stay: There are a ton of budget-friendly points hotel options here, including a Hampton Inn (rates start at $96 or 20,000 points per night), Holiday Inn Express and a Courtyard Marriott in nearby Lafayette (rates start at $83 or 10,000 points per night).
Related: The first-timer's guide to New Orleans: Everything you need to eat, see and do
Distance from New Orleans: 1.5 hours
What to do: While it remains to be seen if Biloxi will be the "Vegas of the South," it's certainly not a bad place to pass a few hours in the casino. The top spots are Beau Rivage Resort & Casino, Golden Nugget and Treasure Bay, the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, New Palace Casino Point Cadet and Harrah's, just to name a few.
When you've had enough of the slots, blackjack and poker for one day, go for a stroll on the beach or set up an umbrella and soak up the sun. Top it all off with some oysters from the Half Shell Oyster House or fried soft-shell crabs from Mary Mahoney's. If seafood isn't your thing thirty-two, a steakhouse on the 32nd floor of the IP Casino Resort & Spa should do the trick.
Where to stay: If you're here to gamble, staying in one of the hotels with casinos will be your best bet. For instance, rates at the aforementioned Beau Rivage start at $119 per night. While it's not connected to a casino, we also like the gorgeous White House Hotel — it was built in the 1800s and overlooks Biloxi Beach. Rates here start at $143 per night.
There are also a handful of points hotels, too. There's a Hampton Inn, Garden Inn and DoubleTree — rates at these Hilton hotels start at 38,000 points, 25,000 points or 28,000 points respectively. If you want to pay in cash, rates are also very affordable, starting at $98, $101 and $115, respectively.
Related: 10 tips for anyone taking a road trip right now
Distance from New Orleans: 1 hour
What to do: Vacherie is home to Oak Alley Plantation, a National Historic Landmark with a storied and of course, complicated and dark, 200-year history. Today, it serves as a tourist destination and aims to preserve the plantation's memory and lessons to be learned for future generations.
While here, you can tour the plantation by yourself or in a group. There's also a restaurant on-site, where you can dine on Cajun and Creole specialties, like gumbo, crawfish étouffée, red beans and rice, and bread pudding.
If you'd rather get out and explore the town a bit, there are a handful of other delicacies to choose from, including Hymel's, Spuddy's and Nobile's Restaurant and Bar.
Where to stay: Oak Alley Plantation also doubles as an inn, and rooms are available starting at $175 per night. There are no points hotels in this corner of the world, but there are a bunch of other boutique hotels and inns. Another one of our top picks is the Cottage on the Farm, where rates start at $120 per night.
Since Vacherie is also relatively close to New Orleans, you can certainly make a day trip out of it, as well.
Gulf Shores, Alabama
Distance from New Orleans: 3 hours
What to do: While New Orleans isn't exactly a beach town, you can hop in a car and be at one of the Gulf's beautiful beaches in just a few hours. One of our favorites is Gulf Shores in Alabama, thanks to the miles and miles of beaches, as well as a pier, golf course and even a zip line. Whether you're traveling with friends or with family, there's something here for everyone to enjoy.
Gulf Shores is also home to Hangout Music Fest, a popular summer music festival. While the 2020 festival was canceled, they're planning for 2021. Past acts have included Mumford and Sons, Cardi B, Dave Matthews Band, Travis Scott, Florence and the Machine and more.
Where to stay: There are a handful of points hotels in Gulf Shores. We recommend the Lodge at Gulf State Park, where rates start at $260 or 43,000 Hilton Honors points per night; as well as the SpringHill Suites Orange Beach at the Wharf in nearby Orange Beach. Here, rates start at $214 or 25,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night.
Related: New Orleans is more than just Bourbon Street — here's what to see and do as a family
Lake Charles, Louisiana
Distance from New Orleans: 3 hours
What to do: Lake Charles is home to the Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu. While here, be prepared to go on a Mardi Gras journey — everything from how Mardi Gras came about, to costume design and even the history of king cakes. Don't forget to gawk at the ballroom costumes on display, too.
Once you're done with that, head on over to one of Lake Charles' many casinos. We like the Golden Nugget, Island of Capri and L'Auberge.
Top off your Cajun side trip with a bona fide Gulf Coast excursion down the Creole Nature Trail All-American Road, and Join a Grosse Savanne Eco Tour for a real-deal boat ride across the marshes just outside the city.
Of course, your trip here wouldn't be complete without some of the state's best food. Make sure to factor in a stop to Leonard's Food, a Cajun-Creole eatery that makes some of the state’s best boudin, into your itinerary.
Where to stay: We like the aforementioned Golden Nugget ($189 per night) and L'Auberge ($149), as well as the Courtyard Marriott ($141 or 20,000 points per night) or the Tru by Hilton ($89 or 25,000 points per night).
With additional reporting by Kelsy Chauvin