School’s out for the summer, and since kids’ free time can quickly lead to cabin fever, here are a few suggestions for out-and-about activities throughout Louisiana that are fun for both the youngsters and the young at heart.
Greater New Orleans: Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, New Orleans The largest free-standing museum dedicated to insects in the U.S., the 23,000-square-foot facility (that my kids refer to as the “bug zoo”) has more than 50 live exhibits and galleries. The really adventurous visitor should check out “Bug Appétit,” where visitors can taste chef-created bug dishes.
Honorable Mention: Global Wildlife Center, Folsom This safari tour on the New Orleans Northshore offers visitors the opportunity to mingle with giraffes, camels, zebras, kangaroos and other exotic wildlife.
Plantation Country: Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center, Baton Rouge Here is something you would not expect in the middle of Louisiana’s capital city, a 103-acre conservation, education and recreation center focused on the area’s pre-development ecosystem. In addition to a mile of paths and boardwalks through a cypress-tupelo swamp and hardwood forest that is a haven for birders, the nature center’s exhibit building has natural artifacts, a minerals display and live animal exhibits—the latter in case your encounters on the trail with turtles, raccoons, rabbits, opossums and deer are limited.
Honorable Mention: U.S.S. Kidd, Baton Rouge This ship is one of the few Fletcher-class destroyers that survived World War II—in fact, the Kidd survived a direct hit from a Kamikaze fighter in the Pacific theater. No child can resist the fun of the steep and narrow ladders connecting the ship’s decks.
Cajun Country: Children’s Museum of Acadiana and Lafayette Science Museum, Lafayette More than a dozen permanent exhibits at the children’s museum focus on demystifying the grown-up world for youngsters, allowing them to discover first-hand what it means to be a grocer, a dentist, an ambulance driver, a chef, an artist and more. The science museum next door has a state-of-the-art planetarium.
Honorable Mention: Rutherford Beach, Cameron Parish Gulf Coast This sandy spot on the 180-mile Creole Nature Trail is the Louisiana Gulf Coast’s prime destination for shell collectors. Click here to download a free shelling guide and checklist.
Crossroads: Bayou Pierre Alligator Park, Natchitoches This former 10,000-alligator farm is now a five-acre alligator theme park, the largest of its kind in Louisiana. In addition to alligator feeding shows, there are bird, reptile and mammal exhibits and an on-site restaurant that serves, of course, alligator.
Honorable Mention: Hodges Gardens State Park, Florien An abandoned stone quarry turned botanical garden and recreation area, Hodges Gardens offers water recreation via a 225-acre lake and roughly 20 miles of exploration trails.
Sportsman’s Paradise: Sci-Port, ShreveportThis 92,000-square-foot downtown museum overlooks the Red River and has nearly 300 hands-on science and math exhibits, 70 interactive programs and demonstrations, a planetarium and a domed IMAX theater. It has been recognized by Parents magazine as one of the nation's ten best science centers.
Honorable Mention: Lincoln Parish Park, Ruston This site boasts a 10-mile mountain bike trail that’s considered one of the best in the South for both advanced and novice riders. Other amenities include RV campsites, a 1.25-mile walking trail and a lake filled with some of the best bass in north Louisiana.