It has been two long years since we have had a proper Mardi Gras due to COVID-19 and its endless variants, however (barring a tremendous setback) there is expected to be record-breaking crowds for this year's big day.
Which is all the more reason for people who are not planning on attending this revelatory festivity (i.e., me) to pack up and head out of town for a really enjoyable day trip. Perhaps you'll even be lucky enough to have a two-day holiday, which starts at Lundi Gras, for a more-extended adventure into whichever town(s) you choose to visit. So bring your appetite, your curiosity, and a penchant for fun as you check out Louisiana's hidden attractions:
Folsom - There's a good reason why I include the Global Wildlife Center in every edition of this article: this is simply a life-changing experience for the entire family. I'm not being facetious-you haven't truly lived until you have fed giraffes, bison, zebras, and all types of deer from an all-terrain trolley. The zoo definitely has its merits, yet this is the place to go when you want to rub shoulders with over 3,000 animals. The best value is the $32 bucket of feed, because if you don't get it, you will envy everyone else who does. I also can't stress this people food recommendation enough: For fans of fried chicken, be sure to visit Jr. Food Mart on LA-25 for the most delicious, marinated, and seasoned chicken you've never had. It will keep you coming back to Folsom time and time again. globalwildlife.com
Abita Springs - While on the Northshore, you owe it to yourself to visit one of the weirdest, wildest places that could possibly exist. The Abita Mystery House/UCM Museum is a treasure trove of odd inventions, kitschy art, and old arcade machines. Admission is only $3 and they're actually open seven days a week, so anytime is a good time to go.! abitamysteryhouse.com
Natchitoches - If you're really hungry for traditional Southern food, journey to the meat pie capital of the world—Natchitoches, Louisiana! Make it a point to try the best pies in town from Lasyone's, but be sure to get there before 2 p.m. As we all know, some of the best eateries only operate around lunchtime. Afterwards, proceed to the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame to revel in the rich, storied history of our state's favorite pastimes and the athletes that we love. While you're in the area, located less than 40 minutes away in the town of Winnfield, a vastly different history is on display as political junkies are beckoned to the Louisiana Political Museum, where you can learn all about the most colorful politicians that ever ran for office. lasyones.com; lasportshall.com; lapoliticalmuseum.com
Angola - Louisiana is certainly known for some unusual museums, and I'm still trying to locate a Door Museum that a friend of mine swears is in Transylvania (a real town in Louisiana). That is neither here nor there, but what is located 2.5 hours northwest of New Orleans is the Angola Museum at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, the largest (and most notorious) maximum security prison in the nation. See "Gruesome Gertie," the decommissioned electric chair that claimed the lives of 87 convicted murderers. Of course, there's also the famous horse-drawn hearse that most prisoners left the grounds in. On a much lighter note, you can learn all about the annual rodeo, which has delighted audiences since 1965. Before you leave, don't forget to visit the gift shop, where you can buy a shirt touting Louisiana's premiere "Gated Community." After all this, chances are you'll be hungry enough for a dinner that could deservedly count as a "last meal." Well, look no further than The Francis Southern Table & Bar down in Saint Francisville where you can feast on top-of-the-line steaks and seafood. Don't leave without trying the Duck Confit Eggrolls.
Ferriday - Located less than 20 minutes away from Natchez, the town of Ferriday is home to Louisiana's most famous cousins—music legends Jerry Lee Lewis, Mickey Gilley, and televangelist Jimmy Swaggart. Learn all about the trio at the Delta Music Museum, with exhibits devoted to Fats Domino, Irma Thomas, Clarence "Frogman" Henry, et al. Go into more depth concerning the wildest man in rock and roll at the Jerry Lee Lewis Museum and Drive-Thru Liquor Store (you can't make stuff like this up). Be sure to ask one of the nice ladies there about the time "Killer" brought a gun to Graceland, demanding that "The King" make an appearance! Before you leave this neck of the woods, visit the Frogmore Plantation and authentic Cotton Gin, where you can even help pick "the fabric of our lives." deltamusicmuseum.com; frogmoreplantation.com
Monroe - Any lover of Coca-Cola has to visit the Biedenharn Museum & Gardens in Monroe. Where else can you grab an ice-cold glass bottle of Coke for only 5 cents? Learn about the history of the world's preeminent soft drink in the cozy atmosphere of an old-time soda fountain. Marvel at the vintage soft drink memorabilia in the museum and maybe even pick a few kumquats outside in the garden. For the religious (or students thereof), be sure to check out the Bible Museum, which houses an authentic 1611 King James Bible. Last, but not least, the three-in-one admission (only $7) also includes a tour of original Coke bottler Joseph Beidenharn's historic home. A nice, two-day excursion into Northeast Louisiana could also include the Poverty Point World Heritage Site, a breathtaking, archeological park showcasing the monuments created by indigenous peoples thousands of years ago. bmuseum.org; povertypoint.us