In the 1800s when New Orleanians escaped the city to experience a slower pace, they arrived by schooner and wooden boats at Columbia Street Landing in Covington on the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain in southern Louisiana.
Above: The Blue Willow Bed and Breakfast is one of several welcoming inns that are located in Covington.
Below: A patron purchasing some fresh produce at the Covington Farmer’s Market.
Today, the Landing at Bogue Falaya River Park is the stage for art, music and food events. During Mardi Gras season, parades roll through town, culminating on Fat Tuesday in Bogue Falaya River Park. However, there’s always something going on in Covington that provides opportunities to experience the old-fashioned charm of one of the oldest towns in St. Tammany Parish.
Historical downtown Covington is a charming place. Stroll past early 20th-century homes that fly American flags from porches set behind wooden picket or wrought iron fences. Massive live oaks are draped in Spanish moss. Boutiques and specialty shops flank both sides of Lee Lane.
“We get a lot of tourists. They love this area,” said Tina Hudson, owner of the 100-year-old Walker House and Gardens.
Across the street, Copper Rooster sells antique and vintage architectural items. The Tale of Two Sisters Bookstore and The French Mix, a shop offering children’s clothing, are among the store selections.
A few blocks west of Lee Lane is Columbia Street with its mix of art, history and restaurants. The St. Tammany Art Association features works by Southern artists. Brunner Gallery specializes in contemporary fine art. The 110-year-old door often sticks at Art on Columbia, a gallery that features the work of six area artists.
If you’re lucky, you’ll hear waiter Hubert Cyprian playing the clarinet or saxophone while taking his break from the Columbia Street Tap Room and Grill on the opposite corner. For more live music, walk over to the Green Room on East Boston Street in the evening.
H.J. Smith & Sons General Store and Museum on North Columbia Street has artifacts and photos from 1876 to the early 1900s. Amid the contemporary hardware, canoes, parachutes, Army surplus and outdoor goods, shoppers will find butterfly, bird and bat houses and fur pelts.
Where to eat and sleep
There are many choices for Covington cuisine, including sandwiches and salads at Lola, a restaurant in the old train depot at 517 N. New Hampshire St. Take High Tea at the English Tea Room, 734 Rutland St. Ristorante Del Porto, featuring local and seasonal ingredients, was named one of the best restaurants in the New Orleans area last year by the Times Picayune. It’s located at 501 E. Boston St.
Another award-winner is The Dakota Restaurant, 629 N. Highway 190, where a stuffed soft-shell crab resembles a creature from the deep. Chef Kim Kringlie’s signature crab and brie is tamer in appearance but equally tasty.
On Wednesdays, Farmers’ Market vendors serve hot meals representing different cultures at the Tammany Trace Covington Trailhead. On Saturdays, the market is held on the grounds at nearby City Hall and offers additional vendors, chefs, and live music. Patrons may see vendor Dawn Rogers of Rogers Royal Ranch bring bottle-fed goats for children to pet while the adults buy her goat milk and cheese.
Tour Heiner Brau Microbrewery and Museum at 226 Lockwood St. Brewmaster Henryk Orlik explains the brewing process and enthusiastically shares his love of Louisiana.
“I am brewing beer for 30 years now,” he said. “Get some good food, enjoyment with the music and drink our beer. We like to celebrate in Louisiana like in Bavaria.”
Hotels, including the Comfort Inn and Suites, Holiday Inn and Super 8, cluster on the outskirts of Covington. Visitors who want to stay downtown have several bed-and-breakfast choices, including these inns on East Rutland Street: Blue Willow, Camellia House and Pan de Vida.
Learn about alligators at Insta-Gator Ranch & Hatchery in Covington on Lowe-Davis Road. Toss a marshmallow to Whoppo, an alligator that lives in Honey Island Swamp. Whoppo’s size–he’s about 14-feet-long–inspired his name, but nobody’s ever gotten close enough for an exact measurement. Gators, turtles, herons, water hyacinths and centuries-old groves of cypress are among nature’s highlights during a swamp tour from Slidell. Ask about discounted tour tickets for AAA members.
Just northeast of Covington on the Old Military Road (state Highway 1082), visit Pontchartrain Vineyards, renowned for its Jazz ‘n the Vines musical events in the spring and fall. Participants pack picnics, blankets or lawn chairs for listening to live jazz, blue grass or tango.
The Tammany Trace, Louisiana’s only rails-to-trails path, covers 31 miles of paved pathways for bicyclists, rollerbladers, pedestrians, joggers and horseback riders. The Trailhead Museum is located at Abita Springs. While there, laugh at the Abita Mystery House at the UCM Museum on state Route 36 or sample great beer and food at the Abita Brew Pub on Levenson Street.
Take an African-style safari without visas, vaccinations or jetlag at the Global Wildlife Center on state Route 40 in Folsom. Ask about discounted admission for AAA members. Giraffes, zebras, camels, eland, and seven kinds of deer are among the many exotic and endangered species that roam on 900 acres. Here every day is Mardi Gras, but instead of crowds clamoring, “Throw me something, mister,” animals beg for treats from visitors who ride in covered wagons. It’s all part of the fun in Covington’s backyard.
Carolyn Thornton is a contributor from Purvis, Miss.