While it can be a common experience to navigate crowded main streets packed with people like sardines, surrounded by drab, cookie-cutter buildings of glass and brick with barely a hint of green space, there is an alternative experience to be had. Imagine, instead, traversing spacious cobblestoned side streets featuring a unique blend of architectural landscapes punctuated by the verdant splendor of nature disrupting the uniformity of boutiques, restaurants, and art galleries. While we cannot all expect our main streets to emulate the grandeur of the Champs-Élysées, there is certainly a baseline standard of elegance and allure that can captivate even the most casual visitor. Visitors will not be disappointed by these seven towns in Louisiana with the best main streets.
Should your vision of a main street involve shady, live oaks lining each side, serve as the backdrop for acclaimed novels like those from author James Lee Burke's New Iberia series, and boast buildings registered as national historic places - then your search ends at New Iberia. This charming Louisiana town, nestled along the picturesque banks of the Bayou Teche and conveniently located on U.S. Highway 90 between New Orleans and Lafayette, is bound to captivate your senses and fulfill your picturesque main street fantasy. Home to about 27,000 residents, New Iberia won the 2005 Great American Main Street Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. While many years have since sped by, the charming beauty of New Iberia’s Main Street, like that of fine wine, is still very much intact. Attractions in this New Iberia include the beautiful Bayo Teche, the Bayou Teche Museum, especially for history buffs, and the Conrad Rice Mill, the oldest independently owned rice mill in the United States that is still in operation.
If driving past Natchitoches, a speck of a town nestled on Cane River Lake, and hence within the Cane River National Heritage Area, visitors will be missing out on a town that is ripe with incredible beauty — and that prides itself as the oldest settlement in the Louisiana Purchase. Natchitoches was founded in 1714 by a French Canadian explorer, 18 years before the birth of America’s first president General George Washington. Today, the town’s European heritage is best experienced at the Natchitoches National Historic Landmark District — where travelers can hop from one museum to another — while exploring the exciting array of historic sites. If you have a taste for live music and good food, you will get a blast at the Natchitoches National Historic Landmark District. For avid shoppers, Kaffie-Frederick Inc., where almost everything is eye candy, should be a must-do.
If art is part of what makes a downstreet gorgeous, then Covington fits the bill. Home to about 11,000 residents, this Louisiana gem is nestled at a fork of the Tchefuncte River and the Bogue Falaya in southeastern Louisiana. A stroll through Covington’s downtown area is an art-themed adventure that will see one exploring art galleries of every shade, size, and style. An art gallery you will want to explore, especially if you need a smile or something to brighten your day, is Marianne Angeli Rodriguez Gallery, located at 323 N Columbia Street. The canvasses here are of top-tier quality, and the artworks ooze nothing but style. Covington’s main street is lined with beautiful trees — while the town features many charming cottages.
Known as the “Little Carnival Capital” of Louisiana, New Roads is a town of about 4,500 located about two hours northwest of New Orleans by car. The town’s name is in reference to an actual road the Spanish constructed in 1776 between the Mississippi and the False River. The town’s settlement is attributed to Catherine Depau, a free woman of color who developed New Road’s original six-block area and subdivided a portion of her plantation. New Road’s love affair with carnivals goes back as early as 1881, when it first staged Mardi Gras celebrations. Today, this Louisiana gem boasts several historic buildings, many of which are located along the False River, an oxbow lake that was once the main channel of the Mississippi River. For some finely-prepared seafood, you will want to find a table at Hot Tails Restaurant, located at 1113 Hospital Road.
West Monroe is a town of about 12,000 that is nestled on the Ouachita River, the 605-mile-long river that rises from the Ouachita Mountains of west-central Arkansas. West Monroe’s downtown area is quaint, slow-paced, and charming — and will not fail to steal the affection of a first-time visitor. Appropriately called Antique Alley, downtown West Monroe is where a day can quickly fly by as you spend hours gawking at numberless antiques and unique gifts that travel the whole gamut in style and price. If you are looking for some open-air adventure, however, and love exploring vineyards, Landry Vineyards is a 20-acre oasis where the wines, the views, and the quiet — may make you forget about all of life’s worries.
Breaux Bridge is among a few towns in the United States whose phone books list both the official names of residents and the residents’ nicknames. But let us face it. That would not be a good enough reason to set foot on this Southern Louisiana secret that is nestled along the picturesque banks of the Bayou Teche, about a two-hour drive west of New Orleans. Known as the “Crawfish Capital of the World” because of the town’s tradition in farming and cooking crawfish, Breaux Bridge’s main street is quite lively and features casual restaurants, locally-owned shops, and eclectic boutiques. You can experience the lively side of Breaux Bridge if you visit the town on the first weekend of May when it plays host to the annual Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival, the town’s star attraction.
Home to about 15,300 residents, Opelousas is Louisiana’s 21st-largest city. The town’s historic district, anchored in the courthouse square, is evocative and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Opelousas is nestled on the Gulf Coastal Plain, about 20 miles north of Lafayette. One of the town’s claims to fame is that it is the birthplace of zydeco-music pioneer Clifton Chenier. A first-time visitor can learn much of this history, and the town’s zydeco music heritage, at the Jim Bowie Museum. If you love trees, however, you will want to visit the Louisiana State Arboretum, located about 30 miles from Opelousas — where you will find several plant species endemic to the Pelican State.
While it is often said we should not judge a book by its cover, many would concur that the allure of a town often mirrors the charm of its main street. And if we gauge the appeal of towns by the elegance and style of their main streets, then Louisiana unquestionably houses an abundance of such treasures. From New Iberia, a past recipient of the prestigious Great American Main Street Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, to Opelousas, with its storybook historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Louisiana proudly parades some of the country's most enticing main streets.