Exploring the historic plantations surrounding New Orleans offers a unique window into America’s past, blending beauty with profound narratives of resilience and change. These estates, each with its own story, invite visitors to step back in time and experience the rich tapestry of history, culture, and architecture that defines the region. This guide delves into the best plantations to visit, providing insights into what makes each site special and offering practical advice for making the most of your tours.

The journey into the heart of plantation country is a journey into the soul of the South. The plantations in this area, set against a backdrop of lush landscapes and the winding Mississippi River, offer more than just a glimpse into the antebellum world. They reveal stories of wealth, hardship, and the complex histories of the families, both enslaved and free, who lived and worked on these lands. The River Road offers a scenic route to many of these historic homes, each promising its own unique experience.

The New Orleans Plantation Country stretches about 120 miles along the Mississippi River, nestled between New Orleans and Baton Rouge in an area known as the River Parishes. This region is celebrated for its distinctive history, agriculture, cuisine, and ecosystems. The Plantation Country is home to 10 historical plantations that visitors can tour, each showcasing architectural styles from Creole to Greek Revival. Located along a 54-mile section of the Great River Road, these notable plantations include Destrehan, Ormond, Evergreen, Whitney, San Francisco, Laura, St. Joseph, Oak Alley, Houmas House, and Poche.

Laura Plantation Creole Heritage

At Laura Plantation, visitors are treated to the rich Creole heritage of Louisiana. This site stands out for its vibrant storytelling, guided tours that delve into the lives of the Creole women, both free and enslaved, who ran the plantation. The Laura Plantation is recognized for its efforts to preserve and interpret the Creole culture, offering a perspective that is often overlooked in the broader narratives of Southern history.

Highlights of Laura Plantation

  • Laura Plantation was constructed in the early 1800s for a Creole family and is located among sugarcane fields in Vacherie, on the west bank of the Mississippi River in St. James Parish.
  • The plantation was managed by women for nearly a century, starting with Guillaume’s widow, Nanette, followed by her daughter, Elizabeth.
  • Elizabeth, who outlived her two elder brothers, led the plantation through the Civil War and the Reconstruction era.
  • The manor house sustained significant damage from an electrical fire in 2004, and it took twenty-eight months to fully restore.
  • Over the past twenty years, the current owners have extensively researched and shared the histories of both the families who managed the plantation and the enslaved individuals who lived and worked there.

Best Plantations to Visit in New Orleans: Laura Plantation

St. Joseph Plantation

St. Joseph Plantation stands as a testament to both historical legacy and modern cultivation, nestled on the famed River Road in Vacherie, Louisiana. This working sugarcane plantation offers a unique glimpse into the antebellum South coupled with an ongoing agricultural operation.

St. Joseph Plantation Facts

  • Historical Significance: Built around 1830, the plantation has been owned by the Waguespack family since 1877, when Joseph Waguespack purchased it.
  • Family-Operated Tours: Many tours are led by direct descendants of Joseph Waguespack, providing personal insights into the family’s history and the plantation’s operation.
  • Architectural Heritage: The plantation is the birthplace of Henry Hobson Richardson, a prominent 19th-century architect who designed notable buildings such as the original Marshall Field store in Chicago and Boston’s Trinity Church in the “Richardsonian Romanesque” style.
  • Film and Television Location: St. Joseph has served as a prime filming location for several productions, including the Oprah Winfrey Network’s “Queen Sugar” and the Oscar-nominated Netflix film “Mudbound.”
  • Educational Experience: Visitors can explore numerous exhibits and participate in guided tours that delve into the lives of those who lived and worked on the plantation over the centuries.
  • Location and Accessibility: Situated between Laura Plantation and Oak Alley Plantation along Highway 18 (River Road), St. Joseph offers easy access and enriching experiences for history enthusiasts and casual visitors alike.

Best Plantation Tours to Visit in New Orleans: St. Joseph Plantation

Oak Alley Plantation Majestic Oaks

The image of Oak Alley Plantation, with its quarter-mile long avenue of giant live oaks leading up to the historic Greek Revival mansion, is iconic. This plantation embodies the beauty and grandeur of the Old South, making it a favorite subject for photographers and a must-visit for anyone touring the area. Beyond its breathtaking scenery, Oak Alley provides insights into the daily lives of the people who lived there, from the wealthy owners to the enslaved individuals who maintained the estate.

Oak Alley Plantation Overview

  • Landscape of Oak Alley Plantation:
    • Features 28 Oaks, open spaces, and hidden areas that narrate the plantation’s historical evolution.
    • Transformation of land use from a Pecan Grove to wide pastures.
    • Presence of a 1920s formal garden that conceals an 1830s kitchen beneath its surface.
    • Offers visitors a space to detach, contemplate, and imagine the past.
  • Slavery at Oak Alley Exhibit:
    • Focuses on the lives and conditions of enslaved individuals who built and sustained the sugar plantation.
    • Includes stories from both before and after emancipation, highlighting continued poor living conditions into the 20th century.
    • Self-guided with no time restrictions; visitors are advised to allocate at least an hour.
  • “Big House” Exhibit:
    • Highlights the main plantation mansion, symbolizing success, prestige, and power.
    • Provides accommodations for visitors unable to climb stairs with an iPad tour of the second floor.
    • Photography inside the mansion is prohibited, but photos on the balcony are encouraged.
    • Advance online ticket purchase recommended to ensure a tour spot.
  • East & West Gardens:
    • Features several gardens and ornamental plantings developed over time by various residents.
    • Characterized by sprawling lawns, mature trees, and decorative agriculture, epitomizing Oak Alley’s landscape.
  • Sugarcane Theatre:
    • Displays a 3D map of the Roman family empire and details sugarcane cultivation and processing historically and presently.
    • Packed with informative stories about plantation operations and the integral role of slavery.
  • The People of Oak Alley Exhibit:
    • Covers the plantation’s history from 1866 to 1924, detailing the transition from auctioning to new ownership in 1925.
  • The Blacksmith Shop:
    • Celebrates the legacy of Louisiana craftsmen and shares the history of metalwork on plantations.


Best Plantations to Visit in New Orleans: Oak Alley

Whitney Plantation Slavery Memorial

Whitney Plantation stands as a powerful memorial to the enslaved people who lived and worked in the South. It is the only plantation museum in Louisiana with a focus on slavery, offering a moving and educational experience that is both sobering and enlightening. Through restored buildings, historical artifacts, and art installations, visitors are immersed in the stories of the enslaved, making it an essential stop for understanding the full history of the region. The Whitney Plantation challenges visitors to confront the realities of slavery and its lasting impact on American society.

Facts of Whitney Plantation

  • Founded in 1752 as Habitation Haydel by Ambroise Heidal, a German immigrant; remained in the family until 1860. Renamed Whitney in 1867 by new owner, businessman Bradish Johnson.
  •  Originally spanned 1,800 acres; currently, 200 acres are dedicated to the museum, which opened in December 2014.
  • Founded by John Cummings, who invested over $8 million and 15 years into the project. Research led by Dr. Ibrahima Seck, a scholar specializing in the history of slavery.
  • Features memorial sites and life-size sculptures representing over 100,000 enslaved individuals in Louisiana, with art commissioned to enhance storytelling of slavery’s history.
  • Oral histories from survivors of slavery collected during the Great Depression are preserved, including transcripts and audio at the Library of Congress.
  • Includes a French Creole main house built in 1790, numerous outbuildings, and three archaeological sites.
  • The 1884 Mialaret House and associated buildings were later added to reflect the plantation’s long working history.
  • Listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1992 and featured on the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail.

Best Plantations to Visit in New Orleans: Whitney Plantation

Houmas House Plantation and Gardens

Houmas House, often referred to as “The Sugar Palace,” showcases the opulence of the antebellum South. The estate’s stunning gardens, exquisite art collection, and luxurious interiors offer a glimpse into the life of the wealthy sugar barons who once dominated this region. The Houmas House also stands out for its culinary offerings, with on-site restaurants providing a taste of traditional Southern cuisine in a historic setting.

Houmas House Highlights

  • Houmas House Estate offers a glimpse into 19th-century sugarcane plantation life.
  • The mansion is restored to reflect its antebellum-era opulence and wealth from the 1880s.
  • Mansion tours provide a 250-year historical narrative, highlighting architectural evolution and transformation into a grand estate.
  • Displays rare and period-specific artwork and artifacts to illustrate plantation life.
  • Features expansive gardens, renowned as the most exquisite in Plantation Country.
  • Hosts three restaurants that have received national acclaim and top dining rankings in the country.
  • Offers luxurious cottages for guests wanting an overnight experience on the plantation.
  • Known for hosting weddings and corporate events, adding a historical ambiance to gatherings.

Best Plantations to Visit in New Orleans: Houmas House

Poche Plantation

Poche Plantation distinguishes itself with its unique Victorian Renaissance Revival architectural style, diverging from the common Greek Revival aesthetics of its regional counterparts. This post-Civil War era house was built in 1867 by Judge Felix Pierre Poché, a notable figure in Louisiana’s legal history and a co-founder of the American Bar Association.

Poche Plantation Highlights

  • Architectural Uniqueness: Unlike most nearby plantations, Poche Plantation features Victorian Renaissance Revival styling, making it a standout historical structure.
  • Historical Legacy: Originally a vast sugarcane plantation, the estate was transformed into a grand residence by Judge Felix Poché, who also maintained a Civil War diary, now a valuable scholarly resource.
  • Cultural Insights: The translated diary of Judge Poché, penned during his time as a Confederate in Louisiana, provides rare insights into the Civil War era, making it a significant piece for historians.
  • Tourist Experience: Visitors can explore the numerous rooms of the mansion, each filled with stories and memorabilia from the plantation’s illustrious past.
  • Accommodations: The property offers a variety of lodging options, including family cottages and suites at their Bed & Breakfast, catering to different visitor needs.
  • Modern Amenities: Featuring a Class A Motor Coach RV Park, Poche Plantation provides top-notch facilities for modern travelers, including large concrete spaces, modern tower hookups, and digital conveniences, ranking it among the premier RV parks in Louisiana.

Best Plantation Tours to Visit in New Orleans: Poche Plantation

San Francisco Plantation Historical Tours

San Francisco Plantation prides itself on its distinctive architecture and colorful history. Known as the “most opulent plantation house in North America,” its ornate design and vibrant colors set it apart from other historic homes in the area. The plantation’s guided tours are rich in stories of the families who lived there, offering a fascinating look at the social and economic dynamics of the time. The San Francisco Plantation is a testament to the cultural melting pot that is Louisiana.

San Francisco Plantation Facts

  • San Francisco Plantation House, built from 1853-1856 in Reserve, St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana, is a National Historic Landmark recognized for its unique architecture.
  • Characterized by its Steamboat Gothic design, the plantation stands out with ship deck-like galleries and opulent features including hand-painted ceilings and unique color schemes.
  • Displays German architectural influences, contrasting with the typical Greek Revival style found in Southern plantation homes.
  • Constructed by Edmond Bozonier Marmillion and taken over by his son Valsin in 1856 after Edmond’s death.
  • Named “San Francisco” deriving from Valsin’s expression “sans fruscins” meaning “without a penny in my pocket,” reflecting his financial challenges upon inheriting the estate.
  • Underwent a $2 million restoration in 1977, now maintained by the San Francisco Plantation Foundation as a museum and event facility.

Best Plantations to Visit in New Orleans: San Francisco Plantation

Destrehan Plantation Oldest Documented

Destrehan Plantation holds the title of the oldest documented plantation home in the lower Mississippi Valley. With a history dating back to 1787, it offers visitors a deep dive into the early days of Louisiana’s plantation economy. The site’s historical reenactments and demonstrations provide a dynamic way to experience the past, bringing history to life in engaging and informative ways. The Destrehan Plantation is a cornerstone for understanding the development of the region.

Destrehan Plantation Highlights

  • Destrehan Plantation is situated 30 minutes from New Orleans and 10 minutes from New Orleans International Airport.
  • It is the oldest documented plantation home in the Lower Mississippi Valley.
  • Tour Features:
    • Guided tours of the home conducted by costumed interpreters.
    • Artisan demonstrations showcasing traditional crafts.
    • Displays of original documents and artifacts relevant to the plantation’s history.
    • Exhibits on the 1811 Slave Revolt and the Rost Home Colony.
  • Additional Attractions:
    • Well-maintained grounds open for exploration.
    • Gift shop featuring local hand-made items.

Best Plantations to Visit in New Orleans: Destrehan Plantation

Ormond Plantation

Ormond Plantation, established in 1787, stands as a remarkable testament to Louisiana’s rich history. Originally built for indigo cultivation, it later transitioned to sugar cane production. The manor, known as Ormond Manor, has maintained its distinct character through the centuries, despite its sometimes tragic past. Constructed in the Louisiana Colonial style, which draws inspiration from the grand architecture of the West Indies.

Ormond Plantation features

  • Distinctive Architecture: The plantation’s layout includes two wings, known as garçonnières, which are taller than the main building and display a design that may have Atlantic Seaboard influences.
  • Historic Venue: Ormond has been a place of social gatherings, hosting officials from the Louisiana and Spanish governments during its storied past.
  • Public Access and Events: Today, Ormond Plantation is open to the public. Visitors can explore its history through tours arranged by appointment. The plantation also hosts weddings, lunch and dinner events, Sunday Brunch, meetings, and other private functions throughout the year.
  • Bed and Breakfast: In addition to hosting events, Ormond offers a serene bed and breakfast experience, allowing guests to immerse themselves in the tranquility and historical ambiance of the estate.

This blend of historical significance and modern utility makes Ormond Plantation a unique and cherished landmark in Louisiana.

Best Plantation Tours to Visit in New Orleans: Ormond Plantation

Tips for Visiting Plantations

When planning your visit to these historic sites, consider the timing of your trip, as the beauty of the landscapes can vary dramatically with the seasons. Early morning or late afternoon tours can offer softer light for photography and cooler temperatures. Respect for the sites and their histories is paramount; remember that these are places of both beauty and pain, and should be approached with sensitivity and thoughtfulness.

Visiting these plantations offers more than just a day trip; it provides a profound connection to the complex tapestry of American history. Each site, with its own story and legacy, contributes to a deeper understanding of the past and its continuing influence on the present.

In a world where history is often simplified, the plantations around New Orleans stand as monuments to the complexity of human stories. They challenge visitors to look beyond the surface, to learn from the past, and to appreciate the resilience and creativity of those who shaped the region.

Key Takeaways from Exploring New Orleans’ Historic Plantations

  • The plantations around New Orleans offer a unique blend of beauty, history, and culture.
  • Sites like Laura Plantation and Whitney Plantation provide important perspectives on Creole heritage and the realities of slavery.
  • Visiting these plantations is an opportunity to connect with the complex history of the South, understanding both its grandeur and its grim realities.
  • Respect and sensitivity are crucial when touring these historic sites, recognizing their significance in American history.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How much time should I allocate for a plantation tour? A: Most plantation tours last between 1 to 2 hours, but allocating half a day for each visit allows time to explore the grounds and exhibitions fully.

Q: Are plantation tours suitable for children? A: Yes, many plantations offer educational tours that are suitable for children, though the content of slavery-focused tours, like at Whitney Plantation, may be best suited for older children.

Q: Can I visit multiple plantations in one day? A: While it’s possible to visit more than one plantation in a day, spending more time at a single location offers a deeper, more meaningful experience.

Q: Do plantations require advance booking for tours? A: While not always required, booking your tour in advance is recommended, especially during peak tourist seasons.

Q: Are photography and videography allowed on plantation tours? A: Photography for personal use is generally allowed, but some sites may have restrictions on videography and commercial photography. Always check the plantation’s policy before your visit.