While the Louisiana Office of Tourism, which is located at 1051 N. Third St., Room 327, Baton Rouge, LA 70802 (tel. 800/33-GUMBO; www.louisianatravel.com), is happy to send you a Louisiana Tour Guide and official state driving map, they also advise you check out their extremely thorough website first, with downloadable maps, eTour Guide, bike routes and tours, cultural happenings statewide, and the ability to create a personalized travel planner for your visit, including flight and lodging reservations.
While en route, you can also stop in at any of Louisiana's Visitor Centers, located along Interstates 10, 20, 49, 55, and 59, as well as U.S. Highways 61 and 84. There are also Welcome Centers in the Capitol Complex in downtown Baton Rouge, as well as in Jackson Square in the center of New Orleans' French Quarter. They are typically open daily from 8:30am to 5pm.
By Plane -- Louisiana has three major airports servicing domestic and international flights: Louis Armstrong International in New Orleans (tel. 504/464-0831; www.flymsy.com), Baton Rouge Metropolitan in the state capitol (tel. 225/355-0333; www.flybtr.com), and, to the north, Shreveport Regional Airport (tel. 318/673-5370; www.ci.shreveport.la.us/dept/airport).
By Train -- Amtrak's Crescent Line (tel. 800/872-7245; www.amtrak.com) starts in New York City and ends in New Orleans, making stops in the Midwest and Tennessee along the way.
By Car -- I-49 begins in the north in Shreveport, and runs all the way south to Lafayette, where it ends at the intersection with I-10. I-10 enters the state in the west from Texas, passes through Lake Charles, Lafayette, Baton Rouge, around the south side of Lake Pontchartrain, and into New Orleans in the east. In the north portion of the state, I-20 begins in Texas in the west, passes through Shreveport, and heads east into Monroe and, eventually, exits into Mississippi.
Of course, two of Louisiana's most well-known festivals are held in the Big Easy, and both soldiered on despite the massive devastation (and the slow and seemingly plagued rebuilding effort) from Hurricane Katrina. Despite the fact that much of worst-hit areas of NOLA (the Ninth Ward and areas just south of Lake Pontchartrain, where the now-repaired levees broke) remain in rubble, many restaurants are still shuttered, and support staff is at an all-time low, this only seemed to bolster the need to continue the city's most beloved traditions. The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (www.nojazzfest.com) long ago grew beyond what its name promises, with big names in contemporary and pop music sharing the same stage as jazz greats, old and new. The post-Katrina spirit inspired new songs dedicated to the people of New Orleans, and even brought favorite son Fats Domino out of retirement to perform in 2006, drawing legions of thrilled music lovers to spend much-needed tourist dollars.
The pre-Lenten festival of Mardi Gras (www.mardigrasneworleans.com), typically held in February, was certainly scaled back in 2006, with most of the parade routes sequestered to St. Charles Avenue and curfew restrictions enforced, but it nonetheless went on as scheduled. The weeklong celebration still had colorful parades, nonstop music, and "krewe" balls (named after the groups responsible for each of the spectacular floats you see, as well as keeping the parades going for all these years). In fact, while some of the floats were badly ravaged in post-Katrina flooding, their krewe members decided to incorporate the flood's damage into their work, instead of taking a pass on the parade.
Often overlooked but delightfully whimsical is Halloween in New Orleans, when parades and balls full of intricately costumed revelers will bedazzle you with their outrageous outfits, and the spookiness of the city is exhumed for one wickedly glorious day (or two -- Louisianans are known for their capacity to celebrate).
In October, Shreveport's weeklong Red River Revel arts festival (www.redriverrevel.com) is equally fun for kids and adults, with musical acts like Shooter Jennings (the very talented son of Waylon), the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and Marc Broussard; mock geological digs, face painting, and juggling workshops for children; and a ton of artisans showing their wares.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.