The Northshore of Louisiana
If you're not familiar with our area (South Louisiana), the Northshore is what we call the area north of Lake Pontchartrain. From New Orleans, all you have to do to get there is cross the lake via a 24-mile bridge called the Causeway (it's the world's longest bridge over water) — but most of New Orleans talks about going there the same way New Yorkers talk about going to New Jersey. The difference being, New Jersey might legitimately just suck. But turns out? Northshore of Louisiana is kind of really cool.
There's this vibe in New Orleans that's all about sticking to your neighborhood and not going too far out of it, ever. I've lived here my whole life, and it permeates through pretty much every aspect of like, everything. I've literally lost friends from moving to new neighborhoods, not because of any bad blood, but because no, Lauren, I will not, under any circumstances, travel the 20 minutes it takes to get to your party in the Riverbend now that I'm living in the Bywater, etc., etc.
But look, the Northshore is WORTH. THE. TRIP. from New Orleans or from literally anywhere else. There is some cool stuff happening there! I'll tell you what it's not, though: it's not Bourbon Street or any of the club/party/hand grenade scene some people come to New Orleans looking for, and that's because it is not New Orleans; and it's not trying to be. People of the Northshore won't let you get away with calling it just "a suburb of New Orleans"—there's a pace and an attitude and even a physical freshness in the air that forces you take a deep breath and realize that where you are is pretty special, and has a unique cultural identity of its own.
The food scene was where we were least expecting to be surprised. I figured, okay, we're in South Louisiana, so I can tell you there will be gumbos and fried seafood and even if it's great, it won't be anything I haven't seen before. And while yes, that type of South Louisiana fare was definitely there, there was so much more to the food scene than I could've predicted. There are some seriously talented chefs doing honest-to-God magic with these ingredients. In no particular order, here's some of our favorite places that you've got to try.
Hambone | Mandeville
Hambone is one of those spots that just says, hey let's forget about all the glitter and lace and get back to what restaurants should be about: great food, and warm hospitality. The space is cute, but simple, and you just order at the counter and grab an open table. The food, though, is really incredible. The gumbo and the fried chicken were special standouts, and some more unique takes—the "pickled shrimp poboy" and "Oysers Marci" stuffed with fennel, bacon, and mushrooms, and flavored with Herbsaint and pecan smoke—were really exciting new twists older regional classics. Don't sleep on this place, I can honestly swear that it will be one of your new favorites. (Check out Hambone on Instagram)
The Dakota | Covington
Have you ever had one of those passionate, short-lived summer romances—the kind Nicholas Sparks writes novels about, where I'm a shy and innocent girl curious about what else the world has to offer, then along comes a sexy, perhaps dangerous young man who also happens to be a crab and brie soup? I know I can’t be the only one who’s felt this way. The Dakota is a true fine dining establishment, but it’s not just white tablecloths and dress codes, they’ve also got the chops to back it up. And while the crab and Brie soup was a significant highlight (I’m told it will never leave the menu, so we can always have conjugal visits) everything we ate was delicious. (The Dakota's Website)
Palmetto’s | Slidell
The emotional breakdown I had with that crab and Brie soup? Beau did the same for the gumbo here at Palmetto’s. He’s going through something of a gumbo “phase” (quotes because the boy was raised on it, so unclear if at 25 years we can still call it that) which is important because he literally said the sentence, “This is the best gumbo I’ve ever had.” So, Palmetto’s has that going for it, but it’s also perfectly situated right on Bayou Bonfouca, with a wooden deck that leads right to the water. I’m not sure there’s a more perfect atmosphere to enjoy a meal. (Palmettos Website)
Abita Mystery House | Abita Springs
For a $3 entry fee you can walk through John Preble’s bizarre world of mechanical miniatures and repurposed collectibles. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to enter someone else’s brain, this might be the closest you’ll ever get. The twist is that his brain is horrifying, in a fun quirky way. It’s part gallery, part funhouse, and part museum. Make sure to bring quarters to check out the vintage arcade style games, some of which have been repurposed and reimagined into something else entirely. (Their website)
Honey Island Swamp Tour | Slidell
This is a must if you want to get a tour of the swamp in a convenient 1 1/2 hours. You’ll see alligators, swamp homes, and learn all about the history of the swamp and South Louisiana. Greaaaat for kids! (Website)
Abita Springs Hotel | Abita Springs
This spot is nothing short of gorgeous. It’s an old home that’s been renovated and converted into a small boutique hotel, beautifully decorated, and steps away from the Tammany Trace bike path (they even offer bikes for you to borrow for free) . Our suite made an incredibly comfortable base camp for our Northshore stay, and as design-obsessed as we are, the attention to detail throughout the hotel made our apartment feel like a dorm room. (Check them out here)
One of the major perks of the Northshore for us was the access to outdoors and nature activities, which is always pretty hard to come by on the south side of the lake. Rafting, kayaking, and biking are super popular up here. You can really get a feel for the love of outdoors when you bike through the Tammany Trace, which is an old railroad line that was converted to a bike and hike path stretching 31 miles from Covington to Slidell. (Check out more info here)
Global Wildlife Center | Folsom
Did you know you can go on a literal safari in the middle of Louisiana? I’m not exaggerating. The Global Wildlife Center is a wildlife institute with over 4000 animals including deer, giraffes, llamas and alpacas, kangaroos, zebras, camels, and bison. And what’s even cooler is you can feed the animals (except not the zebras, because they bite. And who can blame them? I think I would bite, too) from your vehicle. Some of the baby giraffes will eat straight from your hand and if you ever wanted to gag from cuteness overload, feeding a baby giraffe is exactly what I recommend. You can go on larger group tours, or if your budget allows, I highly recommend the private tour, where your guide can take you off the main trail in a smaller vehicle that makes the whole experience a lot more intimate. (Website)
Bayou Adventure—Bayou Cane Sunset Paddle
Bayou Adventure, a bait and tackle shop as well as a kayak and bike rental shop, also offers guided bayou tours. The one we went on? One hour of kayaking down Bayou Cane to Lake Pontchartrain, an hour or so of uninhibited sunset views at the Lake, and then another hour paddling back ... in pitch black darkness. I know, I know what you’re thinking, I clearly 1. have a death wish, or 2. gay screamed through a panic attack the whole way back, but you would be 1. wrong and 2. only half right because it was a quiet gay panic attack.
Jokes aside, it wasn’t too terrifying, and it was actually overwhelmingly beautiful to not be able to see anything but instead just listen to the sounds of the swamp. Like I think they must have recorded one of those soothing bedtime nature sounds albums here. Take a listen from what I recorded:
Like... right? Check out about Bayou Adventure and the tours they offer on their website.
And, well, that’s all folks. We did ALL that in just over two days, but you could really fill a solid 3 - 5 days with these activities to make room for some downtime, as there is a lot of natural beauty to take in and coffee shops to relax in.
Until next time!