The Mississippi Gulf Coast is a traditional spot for R&R for New Orleanians. You'll find miles of beautiful white beaches (and not so pretty water - unless you take the boat trip to Ship Island where the water is clear.), huge casinos (which unfortunately block the gulf view in some spots), great food, fishing, boating, history, art galleries, museums, shopping, and much more. Well worth quite a few day trips or a full-fledged vacation. And it's so close. I know people who have commuted to New Orleans from the Coast.
The closest stop is Bay St.Louis, small bayfront arts town, and Waveland which are just about an hour away. Nearby and right off the I-10 is the Diamondhead development with a golf course, restaurants, and more.
Further down the coast are the big destinations of Gulfport and Biloxi, as well as smaller communities like Long Beach. A bit further is Ocean Springs, an artsy town with a Southern vibe. If you get off the interstate early, just driving the scenic beach route through all the towns is worth a trip.
More Mississippi: Jackson and HattiesburgTo escape the flatlands and experience hills, plus a bit of culture and a Southern atmosphere, go to Jackson, Mississippi. Visit the Mississippi state capitol and state museums, including an art museum that sometimes has world class exhibits, such as past Alexander the Great and Russian Kremlin shows. Stop in small town Poplarville, at the Crosty Arboteum, or in college city Hattiesburg (University of Southern Mississippi) on the way.
Northshore of New Orleans
Lots of communters live on the Northshore and make that trip across Lake Pontchartrain to New Orleans every day. Take the twin-spans to Slidell or take the Causeway Mandeville, Madisonville, Covington, Lacombe, Abita Springs, and beyond. You'll find a beautiful lakefront, atmospheric old towns, as well as superior shopping and restaurants. You can feed giraffes and other exotic animals at Global Wildlife, enjoy music in a vinyard, or go to the Louisiana Opry. There are lots of festivals and concerts. Favorite yearly events are the Louisiana Renaissance Fair and the Wooden Boat Festival.
As a New Orleanian, I can't help but notice all the chain restaurants and the fact that LSU shirts seem to be preferred attire for all ages of Baton Rougians. Look for festivals and special events such as the state book festival, LSU football games, and art festivals. There's a lot to do in Louisiana Capitol City and if you haven't been there in a while, you will be amazed at how it has grown.
NASA Space CenterLess than an hour from New Orleans and right off the I-10 is NASA's renovated Space Center. I hope to get there soon and give a report.
The Hammond area which includes Hammond and Pontchatoula is between Baton Rouge and New Orleans/Northshore and seems to be getting closer all the time as the area population grows. There are popular events including antique auctions, an Oktoberfest, and the Strawberry Fest. Hammond's live alligator mascot lives in the middle of town.