One of the best things about living in the Southeast is the fact that you do not have to travel far to get away from it all. In Louisiana, history, culture, and festivals are usually just a short drive from wherever you happen to be. Here are some of the best statewide destinations:

Sci-Port Discovery Center
features interactive exhibit areas exploring science, space and technology. Sci-Port’s new space center features the world’s first open access, interactive laser planetarium. In addition to 90 hands-on astronomy exhibits, visitors are treated to a two-story lighted Foucault pendulum rooftop observatory and solarium with sundial. Themed Discovery Areas explore the Red River, technology, physical science, physiology and children’s science. Sci-Port offers daily demonstrations and workshops in all exhibit areas and is home to Louisiana’s only IMAX Domed Theatre and a gift
shop and café.

820 Clyde Fant Parkway, Shreveport (downtown riverfront)
(877) Sci-Port (724-7678)www.sciport.org

The Historic New Orleans Collection, located in the heart of the French Quarter, showcases more than three centuries of Louisiana history–from settlement to the present day. THNOC’s holdings survey the region’s economic, social, cultural, culinary and military history. Visitors are invited to tour the galleries at 533 Royal St. and visit the Williams Research Center at 410 Chartres St., where rare manuscripts and maps, Mardi Gras memorabilia and jazz artifacts, genealogical records and historical photographs are made available to the general public. Don’t miss their “What’s Cooking in New Orleans? Culinary Traditions of the Crescent City,” a new exhibition opening January 16.
All facilities are free and open to the public,
Tues.-Sat., 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Located in Louisiana’s famed French Acadiana, Houma presents every visitor with sprawling plantations, a vibrant historic downtown, thriving fishing villages and lively views of some of the most beautiful wetlands around. Visiting Houma offers an experience blended with rich history, breathtaking scenery and a thriving culture. Explore the wetlands with one of Houma’s colorful guides; “get hooked” on world-class fishing; uncover age-old traditions at one of Houma’s museums and cultural centers; travel the scenic routes “along the bayou”; and pass a good time at one of Houma’s many fairs and festivals namely Mardi Gras, the Voice of the Wetlands Festival and the Grand Bois Inter-Tribal Pow Wow.www.houmatourism.com

Mardi Gras weekend is a thrilling time to be in Southwest Louisiana/Lake Charles. Enjoy a family atmosphere with pageantry, parades on land and sea, and festivities. In preserving the history of Mardi Gras in Southwest Louisiana, a
six-room museum has been set up with the largest costume display in the South. Displays depict the festival’s history, the Captains‚ Den, costume design, the history of King Cakes and the marvel of 12th Night. The museum features an authentic parade float and everyone can climb aboard.
809 Kirby St., Lake Charles
(in the Central School Arts and Humanities Center)
(800) 456-7952www.visitlakecharles.org

Nestled in rolling hills on the Mississippi River, just 30 minutes north of Baton Rouge,
St. Francisville in West Feliciana’s plantation homes and breathtaking gardens are monuments of the adventuresome and creative English who settled this area over 200 years ago. St. Francisville’s easygoing warmth and ambiance attracts birdwatchers, photographers, golfers, bicyclers, hikers, nature lovers and historic travelers for relaxing weekend getaways. The Bluffs, an Arnold Palmer golf course, hosts golfers all year long. Gracious bed-and-breakfast inns and hotels, art galleries,
unique shopping and great cuisine await the most discriminating of travelers. Favorite annual events include the Audubon Pilgrimage, Audubon Bird Fest, world-famous rodeos, The Day the War Stopped, Feliciana Hummingbird Celebration, Southern Garden Symposium and Christmas in the Country.www.stfrancisville.us
(800) 789-4221

Experience life along the Mississippi River–Louisiana’s River Parishes. Deep in Mississippi River country, just minutes from New Orleans, are St. Charles, St. James and St. John Parishes. Visit Creole and French plantations with clocks still ticking on the mantles and supper tables set with silver. Cypress swamps are alive with purple irises, egrets and herons. Choose from four bed-and breakfast-inns, 16 hotels and motels and  countless restaurants; and take advantage of the year-round swamp tours. Mark your calendar: The 16th Annual Oak Alley Plantation Arts & Crafts Festival occurs March 24 & 25; and San Francisco Plantation’s annual “Frisco Fest” Spring Garden Show and Craft Fest happens March 10 & 11.www.takemetotheriver.com
(888) 376-6923

The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans marked the completion of its $60 million renovation on the heels of successfully hosting its largest 2006 convention–the 25,000-person National Association of Realtors, Nov. 10-13. The Center’s grand reopening was commemorated with the International Workboat Show, Nov. 29-Dec.1, as the final 357,524 square feet of exhibit space and 41 meeting rooms reopened. While three exhibit halls opened in early February, two-thirds of the Center’s total space has been open and hosting events since June. The sixth largest convention center in the nation, the Center has produced $2 billion in new tax revenue since 1985.www.mccno.com

Every visit to Paragon Casino Resort, located on Highway 1 in Marksville, is a winner.
Open 24 hours a day, 7 days week, Paragon offers the ultimate in Vegas-style gaming, to delicious dining, and everything in between. At Paragon, play one of over 2,100 slots or 34 blackjack tables and enjoy dazzling entertainment in Mari Center Headliner Showroom or Cabaret Lounge. Play golf; rest in luxurious hotel rooms, or in the comfort of your RV in one of 185 pads. Also available: 50 chalets and cabins in the RV resort. A new eight-story hotel tower opens in 2007, with movie
theatres, shops and an indoor pool. The new Mari Convention & Entertainment Center also opens in 2007.www.paragoncasinoresort.com
(800) WIN-1-WIN

Ruston and Lincoln Parish, located in North Central Louisiana, is a remarkable place to spend a little time and explore the secrets of the area. The 18-block Historic District offers shoppers a taste of everything that makes Ruston unique. From trendy boutiques to tasty southern cuisine, the possibilities are endless. Spend an afternoon reliving the lives of legends and heroes by visiting the Lincoln Parish Museum, Louisiana Military Museum or the Eddie G. Robinson Museum. Indoors or out, there’s plenty to do in Ruston–the sportsman’s paradise–centrally located near three area lakes and parks. Ruston is home to the Squire Creek Louisiana Peach Festival,
held the fourth weekend in June, one of Louisiana longest running festivals. www.rustonlincoln.com

Crowley is rich in history, culture and architectural design. With 200 structures
on the National Register of Historic Places, Crowley’s Historical District is a classic
example of late 19th and early 20th century Acadiana, recognized for its unique Victorian palaces. Carnival D‚ Acadie is Crowley’s Mardi Gras celebration, and includes Cajun music, food and the Grand Carnival Parade and costume contest. Be sure
to see the elegant Grand Opera House and the historic Rice Theatre while you’re here. Plan a trip in October, when Crowley hosts the annual Rice Festival, which includes parades, live music, food, dancing, carnival rides, poker run and pageant.www.crowley-la.com

Alexandria and Pineville sit on opposite banks of the Red River in central Louisiana. Offering a unique experience through diverse culture and rich in history, art and great recreation, Central Louisiana is home to three of nine distinguished Audubon Golf Trail courses. With hotel rooms ranging from economical to luxury, a variety of bed and breakfast choices and a fantastic array of restaurants, a visit to Central Louisiana is truly a way to get away from it all. Enjoy theater, dance, museums, music, history, ballgames or the zoo. Additionally, festivals and fairs are scheduled year round. Whether you want to stroll through the Riverpark, fish the oxbows or ski down to the sandbars, it all happens on the Red River.www.apacvb.org

Tangipahoa Parish may be Louisiana’s best-kept secret. From walking on the sidewalks of a nationally recognized antique city, to taking a walk on the wild side, Tangipahoa has hidden surprises for everyone. Nowhere else in Louisiana can you experience the ambience, charm and flavor of Louisiana in a 51-mile stretch of easily accessible highway. Tangipahoa Parish features wetlands, swamps and waterways in its south and rolling hills and pasturelands in its north. In between, you’ll find a variety of people proud of their ethnic heritage and ready to extend a hearty greeting to travelers in the area. Also plan to see the Global Wildlife Refuge, Kliebert’s Alligator Farm, America’s Antique City and Ponchatoula–home to the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival. Tangi-CVB.org
(800) 614-4505

Experience 24-hour gaming action, riverfront entertainment, distinctive culture, and mouth-watering food in Shreveport-Bossier City. Visit the new Louisiana Boardwalk, a huge dining and outlet retail venue located along the banks of the Red River. Discover what 400,000 parade-goers already have: Shreveport-Bossier City has some of the best Mardi Gras parades in the state. The area’s Mardi Gras celebrations are opportunities for young and old alike to have a fun, safe time. The Krewe of Centaur Parade, named a Top 100 Event in 2005 by the American Bus Association, rolls Feb. 10, and the Krewe of Gemini Parade hits the streets Feb. 17. The folks in Shreveport-Bossier city say, “Come Play Our Way!”www.shreveport-bossier.org
(999) 45-VISIT

Ever wonder what it would be like to visit the home of TABASCO® brand Pepper Sauce and the McIlhenny Company? Avery Island is a place where doing things slowly ensures doing them right. From the unique feel of the South Louisiana marshes and bayous to the nature preserve inhabited by indigenous plants and animals, Avery Island is TABASCO® homegrown goodness at its finest. Touring the visitor center and the pepper sauce factory is just one part of the Avery Island experience. In addition to seeing how TABASCO® is aged in white oak barrels and shipped all over the world, you can also visit Avery Island‚s Jungle Gardens, nearly 250 acres featuring a variety of azaleas, camellias and bamboo. Then spend time in the original TABASCO® Country Store.www.tabasco.com

A visit to LaFourche Parish will open your eyes to what natural Louisiana beauty is all about. The Jean Lafitte National Park Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center in Thibodaux tells the story of the Acadians who settled along the bayous and the wetland swamps of southeastern Louisiana, with extensive exhibits and artifacts. The Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center is located in Thibodaux along the banks of Bayou Lafourche. A spacious boardwalk affords an excellent view of the bayou. Several large plantations, including Madewood, Oak Alley and Laura are easily accessible in the area. Charter fishing, camping and great seafood restaurants are available throughout the area.www.lafourche-tourism.org