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The other wild side of New Orleans
By Tom Adkinson
January 28, 2022

new orleans high speed boat ride
You get a high-speed, exhilarating look at the deep corners of Jefferson Parish with Airboat Adventures, whose boats dock in Lafitte. Image by Visit Jefferson Parish

JEFFERSON PARISH, La. – There’s certainly a well-known wild side to New Orleans, one that involves partying in the streets and adult beverages, but there’s a second wild side to explore, too.

The other wild side is its neighbor, Jefferson Parish, a place of airboat rides, gators, Louisiana’s only sand beach and oysters charbroiling over open flames. Mother Nature plays a big role in having fun here.

You may already have been to Jefferson Parish without even knowing it. Parish (county) lines are invisible and largely unimportant to visitors, but they do make a difference, especially when it comes to local pride and bragging rights.

new orleans boardwalk
A boardwalk in Jean Lafitte National Historical Park allows you you to explore the wetlands and keep your feet dry. Image by Visit Jefferson Parish

Jefferson Parish, often abbreviated to “Jefferson,” has a grand mix of state parks, pirate Jean Lafitte’s old stomping grounds, wetland boardwalks and opportunities to get on the water in a kayak or excursion boat.

There’s actually plenty enough to do in Jefferson that it can become your primary destination and let New Orleans be the bonus aspect of a visit.

Jefferson is on both sides of the Mississippi River and stretches from Lake Pontchartrain (which actually is an estuary and not a lake) down to the tip of Louisiana at Grand Isle.

Take note of Louisiana’s geography: To drive to Grand Isle, you take a circuitous route that leaves Jefferson, crosses through St. Charles and Lafourche parishes and reenters Jefferson. Of course, the straight-line trip is by boat. The destination is Louisiana’s only sand beach and an appealing state park.

Jefferson’s history is a gumbo of influences. You’ll find French, Italian, Spanish and German influences and three historic districts to explore – Westwego’s Sala Avenue (where a 12-foot mounted alligator named Salagator inhabits the Westwego Historical Museum), Kenner’s Rivertown (said to be where French explorers first set foot in today’s metro New Orleans) and Old Gretna (settled by German immigrants in 1836).

The Barataria Preserve at Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve is a guaranteed treat for nature lovers.

There are five boardwalk and gravel walking trails, plus four hiking trails. There’s a self-guided tour of the Pecan Grove, and a ranger leads walks every Wednesday through Sunday.

new orleans boardwalk alligator
Don’t be surprised at all to see a hefty alligator while on a boardwalk stroll; just remember that you are the visitor. Image by Visit Jefferson Parish

“You may see an alligator right next to a boardwalk (but) remember that you’re in its home, not the other way around,” said Charlene Hale of Visit Jefferson Parish.

You can get even deeper into the swamp on an airboat or swamp tour just 45 minutes from the French Quarter. Airboat Adventures in the town of Lafitte is a popular outfitter.

Eating well often is the top reason people enjoy Louisiana, and Jefferson’s contribution is the Louisiana Oyster Trail. The trail features 20 restaurants from Lake Pontchartrain to the Gulf of Mexico, serving up part of Louisiana’s annual haul of 12 million pounds of shucked oysters.

new orleans dragos restaurant on oyster trail
A tray of fresh oysters is ready for the charbroiler at Drago’s, one stop of the Louisiana Oyster Trail. Image by Tom Adkinson

Among the Oyster Trail hotspots are Drago’s (which claims the distinction of having created charbroiled oysters) in Metairie, Perino’s Boiling Pot in Harvey and Gattuso’s and the delightfully named Café 615 Home of Da Wabbit, both in Gretna.

Gretna is your destination for some in-town exploration that doesn’t involve alligators.

new orleans gretna memorial arch
The Gretna Memorial Arch frames the city hall of a community settled by German immigrants in 1836. Image by Visit Jefferson Parish

Lafayette Avenue and Huey P. Long Avenue are the two main drags to find reminders of Gretna’s past. The community’s welcome center is on Huey P. Long, as are the German American Cultural Center and the Jefferson Memorial Arch that perfectly frames the colonnaded city hall for photographs.

Only minutes away on Lafayette are the David Crockett Firehouse (Louisiana’s oldest active volunteer fire company) and a blacksmith shop where you can learn about hammering iron and quickie weddings. Back in the day, Gretna was rather lax about the red tape of wedding laws.

Repeat visitors know that Louisiana is lax about many things, but having fun isn’t one of them – as Jefferson Parish proves.

Trip Planning Resources:,

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available on

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