If you mention Louisiana to many people, they immediately think of New Orleans. Steeped in history and southern charm, New Orleans typifies much of what the South is all about, yet in many ways stands apart as one of America's unique cities. The old world atmosphere of the French Quarter has enchanted travelers for many years. It still does. The best way to see the Quarter is on a self-guided walking tour beginning at Jackson Square. Along the route you'll see historic buildings, lovely gardens, distinctive wrought-iron balconies, antique shops, museums, St. Louis Cathedral, and some of New Orleans' finest restaurants.
Cafe du Monde, located in the French Market, sells the distinctive beignets?square, powdered, doughnuts that have become a New Orleans trademark. Order one with a cup of cafe au lait, (half coffee with chicory; half hot milk). The Cabildo, dating back to 1795, is the building?now a museum?where the transfer of the Louisiana Purchase was signed. For authentic New Orleans jazz, all roads lead to Preservation Hall; for breakfast it's Brennan's. Guided tours of the French Quarter are available from the National Park Service for a small fee.
The Garden District lures visitors with lovely old mansions, many of which you can see by taking a ride on the St. Charles streetcar line. The district is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
The Mardi Gras has always drawn throngs to New Orleans, but there are many other outstanding annual events worth considering, such as the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in spring, and the New Orleans Spring Fiesta, featuring plantation tours.
Beguiling as New Orleans is, there are many other worthwhile places to go in Louisiana. In Natchitoches, for example, you can wander through several fine antebellum and Colonial plantation structures. Saint Francisville is another living museum of antebellum days with a dozen fine old plantations. In Shreveport, you can explore the American Rose Center or take a river or bayou cruise. The Cajun culture grew and flourished in the Lafayette area, and much of it still remains there. At Acadian Village and Gardens and at Vermilionville, you can see what 19th-century Cajun bayou villages looked like. In Baton Rouge, see two Indian mounds and the old and new state capitols.