A 45-minute drive north across Lake Pontchartrain, St. Tammany Parish is home to thick marshes draped in flowing Spanish Moss. This is “gator country” where generations have protected rural traditions like Crawfish Festivals with live zydeco music—the most fun you’ll ever have in Louisiana.
At the same time, the area attracts a healthy array of drive market conferences at the modern 45,000-sf Northshore Harbor Center, because the main cities of Mandeville, Covington and Slidell sit at the crossroads of three interstates.
It’s also popular for day tours for groups driving up from New Orleans for a slice of authentic Louisiana coastal culture.
“We always say we have big city amenities with small town charm,” explains Tanya Leader, vice president of sales for Louisiana Northshore. “In less than an hour drive, the scenery totally changes. There’s a lot of ecotourism, state parks, biking trails and fishing in Lake Pontchartrain.”
Leader recommends booking pontoon boat tours through Honey Island Swamp among the dense thickets of cypress trees, wildflowers and wild alligators.
“It’s absolutely gorgeous,” she says. “The boats hold between 20-25 at a time. The largest group would be about 100 since we have three companies that do tours.” Leader also likes the Global Wildlife Center, a 900-acre property where animals eat directly out of your hand. For great live music, check out Ruby’s Roadhouse, which Rolling Stone called one of the best roadhouses in the country.
Really the best part about visiting the Northshore is just meeting the people and eating the homemade cooking.
“Groups really get to know the real Louisiana when they visit us,” says Cindy Almack, general manager of Abita Brewery in nearby Abita Springs. “It’s a quaint community with a lot of history, great food and plenty of beer.” Groups up to 70 can tour the brewery, try beer samples and dig into authentic Cajun grub like spicy jambalaya, chicken gumbo and shrimp pasta with andouille sausage.
“Nothing brings people together for conversation like good Cajun and Creole cooking,” says Leader. “We’re always coming together around the table here on the Northshore.”
Here is our full Q&A with Tanya Leader:
PREVUE: For groups that are staying on the Northshore, where are they staying and where are they going?
Tanya Leader: We have smaller groups that are staying in the 2,500 hotels in the area. The North Shore Harbor Center is our convention center, it’s about 45,000-sf. It’s much smaller than anything in New Orleans. We have held state conventions, but we hold regional/state conventions because it’s mostly on a drive-in basis. The Clarion Inn Suites & Conference Center is our largest hotel for groups. It has 8,500-sf of meeting space.
Could you describe the vibe/ambiance of the area?
Sure. One thing that we always say is that we have big city amenities with small town charm. In less than an hour drive, the scenery totally changes. There’s a lot of eco-tourism, natural spaces, state parks, a hiking/biking trail and fishing in lake Pontchartrain. We have trout, bass, red fish and several charter services.
It seems very relaxing. Is there a sense of authenticity to that?
Louisiana has a different feel within all the different regions. We are very relaxed. We appreciate technology, but in a less formal atmosphere. We aren’t surrounded by concrete. It’s green and authentic sense of peace and calm.
What about the food?
We defiantly want to highlight our seafood. You’re always going to have seafood, cooked however you want it. Po-boys, gumbos and other high end dishes. We also have French, Italian and Creole restaurants as well. The restaurants are always bringing people together as one our main threads. If you are a local, you are always looking forward to your next meal. It’s part of our lifestyle, conversations are always joined around the table here on the Northshore. John Besh has a restaurant here in the Northshore, with traditional cuisine. It’s located in Lacombe.
What about accessibility?
The Northshore region is easily accessible through three interstates: I10, I12 and I59. You can access our area from any which way. From New Orleans we are right off the bridge over Lake Pontchartrain.
What kind of tours are there in the area?
We have great attractions. The Honey Island Swamp has several tours that are beautiful year round. You’ll see gorgeous cypress trees, flowers and animals. It’s absolutely gorgeous. The pontoon style boats hold between 20-25 at a time. The largest group would be about 100 since we have three companies that do tours.
The Global Wildlife Center is a 900-acre property where animal roam freely and eat food directly out of your hand, it’s our serengeti here on the Northshore. A lot of convention groups will utilize a lot of our attractions.
Groups come out to wine tastings at the Pontchartrain Vineyard. The Louisiana wine is more of a French table wine and the grapes are grown right here on the Northshore.