Photo by Cindy W. of Yelp.com

Discover alligators and other exotic animals near NOLA.

Travel + Leisure
July 10, 2014

Known as Louisiana’s Northshore, this parish less than an hour away from the Big Easy, though its entertainment is much more G-rated. It’s a wildlife destination thanks to over 80,000 acres of nature preserves—including swaps and exotic animal centers—as well as ponds and rivers ideal for kayaking and fishing. After days of touring, head to family-owned restaurants that focus on Gulf and creole cuisine, and tuck in on a 75-acre farm, complete with it’s own petting zoo.

La Provence

Located about an hour outside of New Orleans, La Provence brings the flavors of France to rural Louisiana. Owned by celebrated local chef John Besh, the restaurant evokes the French countryside with its hardwood floors, exposed oak beams, and stucco walls hung with bucolic artwork. Its two dining rooms are separated by a wood-burning fireplace, and seating is also available on the seasonal outside patio. Using ingredients produced on the restaurant’s small farm, chef Erick Loos crafts traditional French fare like slow-roasted duckling with peaches, potato purée, and ratatouille. Dishes are paired with wines from Provence and the Rhône Valley.

Splendor Farms

This 75-acre farm has a bed and breakfast that’s ideal for families thanks to its petting zoo, horseback-riding trails, and canoeing and tubing trips down the nearby Bogue Chitto River. Choose between three standard rooms or an eight-bed bunkhouse.

Global Wildlife Center

There are over 4,000 exotic, threatened, or endangered animals at the one-of-a-kind center on 900 acres. Take the half-hour guided Safari Wagon Tour to spot giraffes, camels, and kangaroos.

Cajun Encounters Honey Island Swamp Tour

A 40-minute drive (they'll pick you up) over Lake Pontchartrain lands you at Honey Island Swamp Tours on the Pearl River. The swamp here is a veritable treasure trove of Louisiana wildlife, with owls, boars, snakes, eagles, and turtles among the main attractions. Of course, the highlight is a close-up encounter with one of the resident alligators, and the small boats used in the tours here mean that visitors can get closer to the action. The expert guides, many of whom have field degrees, are Louisiana natives and know these wetlands well. Look out for the fabled Ivory Billed Woodpecker.

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