If the pandemic, your work schedule, or financial constraints are preventing you from planning some fabulous spring break or summer getaway with the kids this year, don’t fret! We’re so lucky to live in Southeast Louisiana, a region that’s loaded with super cool staycation opportunities — including some old favorites, and maybe some you’ve never visited. Sometimes it’s fun to act like a tourist in your own hometown!
Are you more interested in indoor or outdoor activities? Want to stick close to home, or maybe embark on a short day trip? No matter your preferences, we’ve got you covered. (Be sure to click on each link for more details and any special Covid protocols.)
OUTDOOR ATTRACTIONS & ACTIVITIES
Audubon Louisiana Nature Center (New Orleans East)
This cherished community resource has 86 acres of hardwood bottomland forest, located adjacent to Joe Brown Park in New Orleans East, has reopened with modern buildings, beautiful nature trails and new programs celebrating the wonders of nature. (The planetarium and interpretive center are currently closed.)
Its incredible picturesque setting on the site of a former sugar plantation is one of our beloved zoo’s finest features. Live oaks, old growth, tropical plants, and fountains abound, adding a gorgeous, lush backdrop to the exotic mix of animals from around the globe — from primates of Africa to pachyderms of Asia, and everything in between. In addition to daily animal presentations, chats, and feedings, highlights include the Cool Zoo/Gator Run (Audubon is still unsure whether or when they will open this year), and summer/holiday camps for kids.
In addition to the gorgeous, lush grounds, peppered with playgrounds and ponds, City Park has lots of fun features to enjoy this spring and summer. Highlights include: City Putt, a 36-hole miniature golf complex with two courses, Storyland, an adorable fairytale playground/garden filled with 20 larger-than-life storybook sculptures; boat, bike, and surrey rentals at the Big Lake; beignets, coffee, and ice cream at Morning Call; and the Botanical & Sculpture Gardens. (Carousel Gardens is temporarily closed.)
Fontainebleau State Park Beach & Splash Pad (Mandeville)
Enjoy the park’s little stretch of white sandy beach and the gentle surf of Lake Pontchartrain, without the crowds and traffic of bigger beaches. Picnic tables and public restrooms are a short walk away, but no concessions are available, so you need to come fully equipped. Also adjacent to the beach is a fun little splash pad with water cannons, a spray tunnel, and overhead water-dumping buckets. Access to the beach and splash pad are free with park admission.
Gulf Islands Waterpark (Gulfport, MS)
(Opening May 22)
In addition to a wave pool, tube rides, racing slides, a lazy river, an area for the younger kids, cabanas and pavilions to rent, and other cool attractions — this park also boasts celebrity meet-and-greets with Nickelodeon and Disney Channel stars, live bands, sea lion shows, frisbee dog shows, plenty of concessions, and more.
Global Wildlife Center (Folsom)
Home to over 4,000 exotic, endangered, and threatened animals from all over the world, this is the largest free-roaming wildlife preserve of its kind in the country. Visitors can choose from two different tours. The standard, one-and-a-half-hour guided Safari Wagon tour traverses over 900 acres of beautiful Louisiana countryside, complete with 12 ponds and a lake. During the tour, you’ll see and be able to feed the menagerie of bison, giraffe, zebra, camels, eland, and other animals. The Private Pinz tours can accommodate up to nine people in 4×4 vehicles that can go places that are inaccessible to the safari wagons, plus they allow for more one-on-one time and photo opportunities with the animals.
Honey Island Swamp Tours (Slidell)
These two-hour swamp tours give you a slower-paced, in-depth, fully narrated experience that transports visitors deep into the swamp. Conducted by knowledgeable locals who are able to point out all the cool wildlife and plants, and discuss local history and lore, they also provide alligator encounters (as well as snake, turtle, and waterfowl sightings), and the use of smaller boats allows access to the pristine, eerily quiet, otherworldly backwater areas where an entire platoon of feral hogs comes a-running/swimming alarmingly close to the boat when your guide whistles for them.
Insta-Gator Ranch & Hatchery (Covington)
In addition to providing tons of fun trivia and fascinating info on the the facility’s conservation efforts (which involve collecting and protecting vulnerable eggs and newly hatched babies, and releasing 12% of the reptiles back into the wild), the basic tour involves petting a newly hatched baby, getting a close-up look at an aggressive Nile Crocodile, feeding marshmallows to a whole bunch of alligators in the barn facility, watching the guide catch and secure one of those gators, and then getting to pet it. For an additional fee, you can catch and hold your own young gators in a little pool area. A separate ticket, available only during hatching season (mid-August -early-September), allows you to witness actual hatching and to play with the babies. Be sure to reserve your spot ahead of time.
Jean Lafitte Swamp & Airboat Tours (Marrero)
Visitors can choose from two distinct options for a trip through Southern Louisiana’s swamplands in the protected Jean Lafitte National Park and Preserve’s Barataria Preserve south of New Orleans — low and slow, or fast and loud! If you’re looking for a leisurely pace that allows you to actually converse with your fellow tourists, the Cajun-style swamp tour quietly meanders through the bayous for a glimpse into the past. If you prefer a serious pick-me-up, the airboats are equipped with 450 horsepower engines for a high-octane thrill ride. Either way, you’ll come face to face with alligators, snakes, and other native creatures of the wetlands.
Jean Lafitte Historic Park (Marrero)
Famed local pirate/privateer Jean Lafitte allegedly based his smuggling empire in Barataria, and the swamps and small town of Lafitte still bear his name. Perfect for outdoor exploration, the park/preserve includes 23,000 acres of wetlands with dirt trails and a boardwalk that allows visitors to immerse themselves in nature and imagine what life was like for the pirates. The visitors’ center houses lots of dioramas, exhibits, and hands-on displays, and kids can earn a badge with the Junior Ranger program.
Northlake Nature Center (Mandeville)
This cool attraction provides paths and a raised boardwalk that allow visitors to traverse three different ecosystems: hardwood forest, pine-hardwood forest and pond-swamp, which features beaver dams and a beaver lodge. In addition to the natural features, it’s also the site of an archaeological survey showing evidence of a 700-year-old Acolapissa Native American population, and the ruins of a clubhouse for an unfinished golf course that was commissioned by a disgraced former governor. It also offers tons of activities and educational programs tailor-made for various seasons, age groups, artistic interests, and athletic ability, such as their Children’s Walk, Moonlight Hike and Marshmallow Melt, and Life on Paper Creative Workshop.
Rivertown Attractions (Kenner)
This is sort of both an indoor and outdoor option. Kenner’s 16-block cool little historic district offers a bunch of cultural and family attractions. The complex includes museums, Heritage Park (a quaint replica of an old village that includes a turn-of-the-century packing shed, ice house, a traditional blacksmith shop, and a 1930’s era gas station), MegaDome Cinema, Kenner Planetarium, Rivertown Space Science Complex, the Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts, the Castle Theater, and LaSalle’s Landing. From lasershows to live theater to outdoor movies and concerts, there’s always something to do. In addition, visitors can shop and dine in restaurants and gift shops in and around the area.
The Tammany Trace is a 31-mile former railroad corridor that has become a hugely popular hiking and biking trail that stretches from downtown Covington, through Abita Springs, Mandeville and Lacombe, and ends in Slidell. The only rails-to-trails conversion in Louisiana, the Trace highlights the region’s natural beauty as it winds through woods and wetlands. It is also interspersed with Trailheads at each town along the way, each of which has its own distinct personality, features, and special events schedules. Another highlight is the Kid’s Konnection playground at Koop Drive, just off the Abita Springs exit on I-12, and adjacent to the Tammany Trace Trailhead Headquarters’ green caboose, which serves as information center and ranger station. This easily accessible facility also features picnic tables, water fountains, restrooms, and plenty of parking.
White Sands Lake Day Beach (Franklinton)
(Opens May 1)
This family-oriented recreational facility is located on the banks of a spring-fed lake on the southern outskirts of Franklinton. In addition to its white sandy beach, which comes complete with volleyball nets, it has a water park with inflatable water slides, trampolines, the blob bag, teeter-totters, and floating mats. Pedal boats, kayaks and stand up paddle boards are available for rent, and you can rent a shaded cabana with BBQ grill, or bring your own.
INDOOR ACTIVITIES & ATTRACTIONS
Abita Mystery House Museum (Abita Springs)
Also known as the UCM Museum, this roadside attraction, which used to be an old gas station, is like stepping into another weird dimension, filled with odd collections, memorabilia, strange contraptions, random objects, old arcade machines, and crazy hybrid taxidermy pieces, like Bufford the Bassigator. It’s definitely a departure from your usual activities.
Adventure Quest Laser Tag (Elmwood)
This family fun center is jam-packed full of cool activities, like mini-golf, an arcade, bumper cars, a 6,000-square-foot laser-tag arena, plus their 5,000-square-foot, two-level Adventure Maze, and Pharaoh’s Revenge Escape Room. They also have party rooms for birthday parties and special events, and a snack bar that includes pizza, salads, tons of other snacks, and even adult beverages.
Audubon Aquarium of the Americas (French Quarter)
Perched alongside the Mississippi River at the edge of the French Quarter, this world-class aquarium takes visitors on a tour of the underwater world, as well as the rainforest. Highlights include the walk-through tunnel under a Caribbean reef, the Stingray Touch Pool, Parakeet Pointe, Entergy Giant Screen Theater, and the enormous Gulf of Mexico Exhibit, where gigantic sharks, tarpon, rays, and sea turtles swim in 400,000 gallons of water.
Famed local pirate/privateer Jean Lafitte allegedly based his smuggling empire in Barataria, and the swamps and small town of Lafitte still bear his name. The little nearby historic fishing village of Jean Lafitte is home to the 6,000-square-foot Barataria Museum, which features a multimedia theatre presentation, state-of-the-art animatronic figures, and a nature study trail that takes visitors on a journey through the life of pirate Jean Lafitte, the stories and folk traditions of wetland dwellers, and the realities of coastal erosion and natural and manmade disasters.
This year-round indoor inflatable playground and party place is locally owned and operated. With 17,600 square feet of safe, clean, award-winning fun, it’s not only perfect for entertaining bored kids, but it’s also great for children’s parties and special celebrations of all kinds. They also have arcade games, they broadcast major network sporting events (including the Saints, LSU and Pelicans games) on their three big screen televisions, and walk-in play is available on weekdays and weekends.
Children’s Museum of St. Tammany (Mandeville)
This facility, located adjacent to Kids Konnection playground on Koop Drive in Mandeville, serves toddlers through early childhood age children with special programming for older kids, too. They welcome walk-in visitors, as well as school field trip attendees, story time visitors, and birthday party guests. Themed activities are centered around creative play, art, and STEM, plus there is an adjacent playground.
This indoor trampoline facility boasts over 30,000 square feet of indoor sports and family entertainment. Highlights include giant jump areas, an obstacle course, gladiator pits, and dodgeball and basketball courts. There’s even a Kiddie Korner and Kid Zone with a host of options for jumpers ages six and under, and six spacious private event rooms to host special events. Plus, family and friends can view the entire facility from a second-floor viewing tower, which has comfortable lounge areas and big-screen TVs.
This facility offers an array of programs that combine fun and fitness for children ages 6 weeks to 13 years. Highlights include Adventure Walk maze/obstacle course, Spacewalk, aquatics, arts and crafts, and an outdoor pirate ship playground. Parents can also take advantage of Parents’ Day Out or the childcare program for kids ages 5 and under.
Kids & Family Arena (Mandeville)
This family-owned and operated business houses 15,000 square feet of fun, which is always open for drop-in play, but also hosts birthday parties and other celebrations. The huge space contains 13 inflatables that allow kids up to about sixth grade to jump, slide, and play football and basketball to their hearts’ content. There’s also a ball pit and small play area for the smaller kids and toddlers. Up front, there’s a large arcade play center with over a dozen games for when the kids need a breather. Admission is good for the whole day, so visitors can leave and return, as needed.
Louisiana Children’s Discovery Center (Hammond)
Located in historic downtown Hammond, this facility is designed for kids 10 and under, offering hands-on, interactive exhibits and programs. Some of the many exhibits include a shrimp boat, a vet clinic, Middendorf’s restaurant, a rock climbing wall, a hot air balloon, a theater, a music factory, an art station, a bubble station, a dino dig, an excavation pit, and more.
National World War II Museum (Warehouse District)
The six-acre campus features five pavilions that house historical exhibits, on-site restoration work, multimedia experiences, and a huge collection of artifacts and first-person oral histories. Other highlights include live shows at the Stage Door Canteen, dining at the American Sector Restaurant & Bar, and “Beyond Boundaries” in the Solomon Victory Theater. This 4-D movie, narrated and executive produced by Tom Hanks, is an absolute must-see.
New Orleans Museum of Art (City Park)
New Orleans’ oldest fine arts institution hosts an impressive permanent collection of almost 40,000 objects, including French and American art, photography, glass, and African and Japanese works. Just outside, the five-acre Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at NOMA is one of the most important sculpture installations in the United States, with over 60 sculptures situated on a beautifully landscaped site amongst meandering footpaths, reflecting lagoons, Spanish moss-laden 200-year-old live oaks, mature pines, magnolias, camellias, and pedestrian bridges. In addition to their popular summer camps (in-person and virtual), this summer’s highlights include StudioKids virtual art workshops and summer art boxes.
Ogden Museum of Southern Art (Warehouse District)
This museum proudly houses what is touted as the largest and most comprehensive collection of Southern art in the world. It represents the visual arts and culture of the American South from 1733 to the present through its events, permanent collections, changing exhibitions, educational programs, publications, and research. In addition to some seriously cool and sought-after in-person and virtual summer camps, they host multiple kid and family-friendly events & programming throughout the year.
This is sort of both an indoor and outdoor option. Kenner’s 16-block cool little historic district offers a bunch of cultural and family attractions. The complex includes museums, Heritage Park (a quaint replica of an old village that includes a turn-of-the-century packing shed, ice house, a traditional blacksmith shop, and a 1930’s era gas station), MegaDome Cinema, Kenner Planetarium, Rivertown Space Science Complex, the Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts, the Castle Theater, and LaSalle’s Landing. From lasershows to live theater to outdoor movies and concerts, there’s always something to do.
Safari Quest Family Fun Center (Hammond)
This mostly indoor adventure facility’s main draw is its 3,000-square-foot, multi-level, neon-lit laser tag arena with an observation deck for spectators. They’ve also got human hamster balls, coconut climbing trees, an arcade with the latest video games, and probably their coolest feature — a ropes course, which is suspended high above the floor (they have safety harnesses, so it’s totally safe and fun to watch!). Thatched tiki huts and jungle gardens play into the safari motif, and there are four party rooms available to rent for special occasions.
Skyzone Trampoline Park (Metairie)
This indoor trampoline park provides wall-to-wall aerial action. Their special programs and attractions include the Foamzone, Freeclimb, Sky Hoops, Ultimate Dodgeball, Warrior Course, and more. They also offer multiple birthday party packages, and they proudly support many charitable organizations, causes, and schools within our community.
Stennis Space Center/ Infinity Science Center
A real, live NASA rocket testing facility, Stennis Space Center is located a short drive away, on the Louisiana-Mississippi border. The 13,800-acre complex employs about 5,000 people, has its own zip code and, in addition to the testing sites, it hosts more than 40 resident agencies and the 72,000-square-foot Infinity Science Center. It serves as the visitor’s center for Stennis, and it houses tons of interactive exhibits related to space, the Earth, and the ocean. Some of the many highlights include Neil Armstrong’s test space suit, multiple simulators, and a spacious Kidz Zone with climbing apparatus, reading area, and play areas. Other highlights include a tour bus trip around the expansive site, including actual test areas, a gift shop, on-site cafe and the Possum Walk, a three-mile segment that starts at Infinity and ends at the Logtown Cemetery near Pearl River.