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You shouldn’t visit Baton Rogue without seeing a few restored plantations — our Forbes Travel Guide editors recommend you put a tour or two at the top of your must-do list. For the most fruitful drive, head down Great River Road also known as Plantation Alley. Along this route — which reaches from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, you’ll see several grand antebellum homes lining the Mississippi River. Built around the 19th century, these mansions were the former homes of sugar barons, and most tended toward the grand and overstated, with sweeping porticoes and Greek columns. Many offer tours, and several have onsite restaurants as well.
Petroleum has replaced sugar as the local cash cow, and today the mansions are overshadowed in some places by the petrochemical plants that also line the river’s banks. Still, the plantations have done a good job of restoring the architectural features and offer a peek at what life was like when the former owners dominated Louisiana’s economic and social life.
Head to the town of White Castle, where you’ll find the majestic Nottoway Plantation. It’s one of the largest plantation homes in the South, with the rooms covering over 50,000 square feet. The plantation’s lovely restaurant is a top place to stop for lunch. Continue on to Donaldsonville, where you’ll find The River Road African-American Museum.
Continue to follow the road along the Mississippi down to Vacherie, home of Oak Alley. Perhaps the most iconic of River Road’s plantations, Oak Alley has a quarter-mile canopy of live oaks leading to the grand Greek Revival home. Nearby is the more modest Laura Plantation, where you can learn about Louisiana’s unique Creole culture.
Past Vacherie, you can cross the Gramercy Bridge over the river and head back toward Baton Rouge (you can also make a quick side trip east to the San Francisco Plantation). Moving northwest along the river, you may want to stop at Houmas House Plantation and Gardens, a plantation with a restaurant that serves lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch.