Romanticized in literature and song by everyone from author William Faulkner to songstress Lucinda Williams, the state of Louisiana does indeed have its share of sultry romance that's about as irresistible as impulsively hopping on a streetcar named Desire (which, sadly, doesn't exist anymore -- but the St. Charles line provides just as pleasant a ride through the city of New Orleans). Although the state is most famous for the Crescent City -- and its unfortunate devastation and subsequent effort to bounce back after 2005's devastating Hurricane Katrina -- like any good Southern belle, Louisiana knows the value of charm, great storytelling, and making lemonade from lemons.

Louisiana's rich cultural history is largely a mix of Spanish, French, and African, the latter of whom were brought to the state in bondage. The Spanish were the first of the Europeans to arrive in the 16th century, and unfortunately they brought with them diseases that ravaged the local American Indian populations. The Spanish didn't stay, though, and the territory fell back into the hands of its dwindling American Indian tribes, like the Chitimacha, Houma, Tunica-Biloxi, Coushatta, and Choctaw (all of whom still have communities in Louisiana today).

During the next 2 centuries, the French and Spanish traded the territory back and forth, until it finally became a state in 1812. By then, the city of New Orleans had become a valuable port, nicknamed for its curving, crescent-shaped location along the Gulf of Mexico. New Orleans served as the state capitol until 1845, when the city of Baton Rouge took over.

The trickle-down effect of the state's mixed heritage -- fantastic food, outstanding music, and moody literature -- is abundantly evident in Louisiana's residents. But it's not all about the pleasures of the flesh: The state is also a nature lover's dream, with an 8-month hunting season for game aficionados, bike tours through plantation country, and a host of other outdoor activities, with the state's 150 lakes, multiple rivers (including the Mighty Mississippi), bayous, streams, wetlands, and Gulf Coast to explore. All of this water bathes the state in a generally humid climate, which in all honesty borders on unbearable during the month of August and soaking wet during hurricane season (from late summer through the fall), but is generally lovely during the rest of the year.