Just 45 minutes away from New Orleans sits a gorgeous section of Louisiana: St. Tammany Parish. Filled with refreshing Southern hospitality, the area has some cool things to do no matter if you’re a first-time visitor or a local. From safe gator encounters to kayaking down the bayou to a parade made for dogs, here are 8 fun things to do in St. Tammany Parish, LA.
Disclosure: I was graciously hosted by the fine folks at St. Tammany Parish Tourist Commission/Louisiana’s Northshore to give you the scoop on what’s fun to do. All opinions are my own!
I love stepping out of my northern gal comfort zone, especially when it comes to travel. I mean, I don’t really get to see gators, or eat Cajun food, in Pittsburgh unless they’re at a zoo or in a specialty restaurant. And when it comes to visiting where the locals go, my teen daughter and I got to check out the most highly recommended spots for both food and fun. Just across the largest bridge I’ve ever been on (Lake Pontchartrain Causeway), it’s got that cool, Louisiana vibe without the party crowd.
Here are my recommendations for fun things to do when you visit St. Tammany Parish, LA.
1. Fun things to do in St. Tammany Parish: Insta- Gator Ranch
May I just write that I really dig the name of this working alligator ranch? So clever!
Insta-Gator Ranch in Covington is everything you’d expect a gator ranch to be. It’s part educational experience, part tour. Combined it’s a delightful mix of seeing smaller gators up close, especially if you choose to add on a touch pool experience to your tickets.
I have a fascination with gators in the fact that they’re adorable when small and crazy scary when big. And while I wouldn’t just go up to a giant gator and touch it without supervision, I think holding a baby gator is super cute and fun. That’s where Insta-gator Ranch comes in.
We learned all about gators, and the ranch, in a safe, controlled environment. We were able to feed some juvenile alligators marshmallows (I had no idea they liked them!) and then went on to hold and take photos of the babies.
2. Abita Springs Trailhead
If you like biking, Abita Springs Trailhead on Main Street in Abita Springs is a cool location to visit. If you don’t have a bike, it’s not a problem, though. There’s a playground, cute stores to browse, and some restaurants. Happily, even though the area is pretty busy, there were plenty of places to park.
If you want to learn about the area, make a pit stop in the Abita Springs Trailhead Museum. Yep, it’s small so it should only take 10 or 15 minutes to visit but it is cute and gives plenty of history.
3. Abita Mystery House
Wow, how do I even begin to classify Abita Mystery House? If a Ripley’s Believe-it-or-Not Museum and a fun house filled with taxidermy had a baby, it would probably be Abita Mystery house.
A one-time gas station, it’s filled to the hilt with dioramas, southern humor, and oddities. Personally, it’s a must if you visit Abita Springs. When you visit, look for the buttons that bring electrical contraptions to life.
4. Shop in Downtown Covington
Oh, boy. If I could paint a picture of a quaint, Southern town in my mind, Covington would be it. Its streets are super clean with all the mom and pop stores and restaurants. Add in the fact that the locals are absolutely friendly and welcoming and it was fun to browse around town, pop into some shops, and spend an afternoon enjoying the walk.
Columbia Street and Lee Lane are your best bets if you’re out to shop and you’ll find an old general store (complete with porch swings), art galleries and a few bar-style restaurants.
5. Fun things to do in St. Tammany Parish: Relax at Columbia Street Landing
Columbia Street Landing is a spot made for photos. You can sit and watch the Bogue Falaya River go by at Bogue Falaya Park, enjoy the sunset (that’s what we did), or look at the adorable cottages lining the streets before the landing. If you’re all about being laidback, this is the spot for you.
Or if you want a little more thrill in your life, nearby Brooks’ Bike Shop rents both kayaks and paddleboards and there’s easy access to the River at the park.
6. Kayak Cane Bayou
Speaking of kayaking, Cane Bayou at Fontainebleau State Park is probably one of the prettiest places in the entire area. Compliments of Bayou Adventure, we rented kayaks and floated our way down and back in a couple of hours. We saw native birds, a few alligators (it was pretty chilly for the gators so not a ton of movement), and downright enjoyed nature in its true, southern form.
I honestly cannot stress just how beautiful and calm the experience was for us. It felt like something out of a movie with the sun peeking through the tree branches and bouncing off the water.
7. Fun things to do in St. Tammany Parish: See all the Adorable Dogs in Mardi Paws Parade
If you happen to be in New Orleans around Mardi Gras, check out Mardi Paws Parade in Covington, LA. Started by hometown hero Ian Somerholder (think Vampire Diaries), the parade is all about locals and their cute pooches.
If you plan on attending the Mardi Paws Parade, a suggestion is to lock down a viewing location early – it’s super popular. Sure, you can take a cooler for snacks and drinks, but there’s also an area filled with food vendors and music to keep you entertained before the parade.
8. Where to Eat in St. Tammany Parish & Louisiana’s Northshore
With all of the amazing southern-style restaurants in the area, where should you eat when you visit? I’ve got a few recommendations.
Abita Brew Pub – My husband is a fan of Abita Brewing Co.’s craft beer in our neck of the woods, so when I had the chance to visit its brewpub/restaurant I jumped at it. The menu items are made to order, the atmosphere is fun (we had a couple of live musicians during our visit), and prices are affordable. You can’t go wrong with its spinach artichoke dip, fried green tomatoes, or wrap-style sandwiches.
Meribo – More upscale than Abita Brew Pub, but not stuffy or swanky, is Meribo in Downtown Covington. The restaurant has a hip, laid back vibe and it’s another spot where the locals go to dine so you know it’s good. I really enjoyed the Whipped Ricotta appetizer (the skillet flatbread is delish!) and its crispy-but-not-too-thin Margherita pizza.
Liz’s Where Y’at Diner – This is THE spot for breakfast and brunch in Mandeville. What you’ll find is scratch-made, New Orleans-style cuisine and smiling faces. Not sure what to order? The Eggs Benedict and Biscuits and Debris (hearty gravy) are great choices.
Rips on the Lake – If you want to enjoy a nice dinner with a gorgeous view, Rips on the Lake is my recommendation. Sure, indoor seating is pretty, but if you can get a table on the patio, do it. Its menu is heavy on the seafood side but you can find some tasty non-seafood dishes. I, personally, enjoyed the Deep South Chicken Salad.
Where We Stayed in St. Tammany Parish
There are some chain hotels in the area, but if you really want to experience St. Tammany Parish hospitality, Southern Hotel in Covington is it. Repurposed from a run-down building, the interior is plush and comfortable. With only two stories, the elevator was never a problem. I know that might sound like an odd thing to write, but I’ve been in hotels with tons of floors and the elevators take forever.
We stayed in a two-queen bed room overlooking Covington’s main street and enjoyed every second of our stay. The beds were comfy, the bathroom bright and pretty, and the overall ambiance absolutely lovely. If it had been warmer, we would have taken a swim in the outdoor pool, but instead we waited until dark to head to the back patio area and sit with the twinkle lights.