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The Big Easy isn’t big on beaches. New Orleans, or NOLA as it’s affectionately known, is surrounded by water, yet it has zero beaches. But if you’re willing to take a short road trip, you can find many beautiful beaches along Lake Pontchartrain and the Gulf of Mexico.
Is it worth the drive? You betcha. Lots of fun beaches are easy day trips from The Big Easy, including spots on Louisiana’s North Shore, Mississippi and Alabama’s Gulf Coast, and if you’re willing to drive a little farther, even Florida.
There are more than a dozen actual beaches within a 4-hour drive, but here are nine of the best beaches near New Orleans for a fun getaway. Ranked from closest to farthest:
Fontainebleau State Park, Mandeville, Louisiana
Distance from New Orleans: 50 minute drive
The family-friendly, sandy beach is just one feature of lovely Fontainebleau State Park. You can also take easy, scenic hikes along nature trails, or kayak past large cypress trees and see some wildlife or the ruins of an 1829 sugar mill.
The park took a hard hit during Hurricane Ida in September 2021, so its famous sunset pier is still unusable. Instead, watch the sunset from the nice white sand and calm shoreline of Lake Pontchartrain. It’s one of the closest beaches to New Orleans.
Worth Noting about Fontainebleau State Park
- Next to the beach, there’s a water pad, playground and new bathrooms.
- $3 per person entry fee for ages 4-62.
- Canoes, kayaks and golf cart rentals are available in the park.
- The town of Mandeville has cute shopping and restaurants, including Liz’s Where Y’at Diner.
Bay St. Louis, Mississippi
Distance from New Orleans: 1 hour drive
You’ll have lots of space to yourself on this quiet, calm beach along the Gulf of Mexico. The shallow water at Bay St. Louis Beach makes it easy for younger kids to wade in and there is wide open space for kids to run around and build castles in the white sand.
Plus, the friendly town of Bay St. Louis is filled with historic buildings and Coastal Mississippi culture. It’s also one of the closest beaches to New Orleans.
Worth Noting about Bay St. Louis Beach
- Clean and rarely crowded.
- The Gulf of Mexico water is brown, but it’s safe for swimming or crabbing.
- Lots of good food options just steps from the beach, ranging from fresh seafood and authentic Creole dishes to shaved ice. There’s also a casino nearby (adults only).
- Keep an eye out for one of Bay St. Louis’s “Angel Trees” on Beach Boulevard. That’s an intricate image of an angel carved into a leafless tree.
- Bay St. Louis was ranked among the “Coolest Small Towns in America” by Budget Travel and was a top 10 small beach town by Coastal Living Magazine.
White Sands Lake Day Beach, Franklinton, Louisiana
Distance from New Orleans: 85 minute drive
If your kids love inflatable water toys, then White Sands Lake Day Beach is the beach for you. The water in this clear, spring-fed lake is filled with trampolines, floating mats and other things to climb on and jump off.
While you’re going to have to pay anywhere from $10-$15 per person to get in, you get a lot of fun for the money.
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Worth Noting about White Sands Lake Day Beach
- Awesome water park with inflatable water slides, trampolines, teeter-totters, floating mats and more
- Clear, spring-fed lake and white sandy beach and volleyball nets
- Kayak and paddleboard rentals
- Admission fee for anyone age 3 and up
Bogue Chitto State Park, Franklinton, Louisiana
Distance from New Orleans: 90 minute drive
Bogue Chitto State Park is home to one of the most scenic waterways along Lake Ponchartrain’s Northshore, the river for which the park is named. This is the place for kayaking, tubing and canoeing (you rent them onsite if you don’t have your own).
Stop at one of the sandy beaches to admire tupelo-cypress trees.
Worth Noting about Bogue Chitto State Park
- A canyon called Fricke’s Cave that features Instagram-worthy sandstone spires
- Horseback riding along the 14 miles of backcountry trails (bring your own horse or rent one onsite)
- Fish at one of the 11 lakes stocked with freshwater fish
- Kayak, tube or canoe on the Bogue Chitto River and stop at one of the sandy beaches along the way to see the tupelo-cypress trees up close
- If you want to stay the night, RV camping, tent sites cabins are available at the park
- Per-person admission fee for anyone ages 4 to 61
Front Beach, Ocean Springs, Mississippi
Distance from New Orleans: 1.5 hour drive
Pretty views, and long stretches of soft sand make Front Beach a great day trip for families. It’s one of the favorite beaches near New Orleans.
Plus, it’s in the artistic town of Ocean Springs, with more than 200 shops, galleries and restaurants.
Worth Noting about Front Beach
- Dog-friendly beach
- Long fishing pier, playground and a sidewalk that runs the length of the beach
- The water in Biloxi Bay is brownish, rather than clear blue, but it’s fine for swimming and playing, plus the sand is clean and soft
- Nice views of the Biloxi Bay Bridge and the Gulf islands
Ship Island, Mississippi
Distance from New Orleans: 1.25 hour drive, plus an hour-long ferry ride
Getting to Ship Island is half the fun. This beach near New Orleans is accessible only by boat. If you don’t bring your own, you can take the ferry from Gulfport between March and October. Along the way, keep at eye out for dolphins, pelicans and osprey.
Ship Island is a designated a National Seashore and includes the historic Fort Massachusetts. You can bring your own food and beach supplies, or buy food and rent chairs from vendors on the island.
Worth noting at Ship Island Beach
- The island, one of four Mississippi barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico, is accessible only by boat.
- Most people arrive by ferry boats, which dock from the harbor in Gulfport Jones Park. During the ferry ride, you’re likely to see dolphins, pelicans and osprey. Ferry tickets can sell out, so buy in advance online.
- Rental chairs and umbrellas are available.
- The 7-mile-long sandy beach is great for swimming, snorkeling, sunbathing and hiking.
- Unlike the mainland beaches, it has emerald green water.
- Tours are offered of the island’s Civil War-era fort, Fort Massachusetts. A free, self-guided tour is on the National Park Service app.
Dauphin Island, Alabama
Distance from New Orleans: 2.5 hour drive
Dauphin Island has a quieter, more upscale vibe than other beaches along the Gulf Coast. Plus, it offers something-for-everyone attractions. It’s a great choice for multi-generational families.
In a 2022 story, Travel + Leisure magazine called Dauphin Island a hidden gem with “all of the amenities of a popular beach destination with a small-town feel.”
Worth noting at Dauphin Island
- 7 miles of white sand beaches that are less crowded than Alabama’s Gulf Shore beaches
- Drive to the beach across Dauphin Island bridge. Parking is $10. Or take a ferry from Fort Morgan.
- Great for swimming, sunbathing, fishing, walking and collecting sea shells.
- Has an Audubon Bird Sanctuary just off the beach with sitting areas to watch birds and alligators in its ponds.
- Two great sites for history buffs: the World War II-era Fort Gaines and Indian Shell Mound Park, which has a short walking trail that explains how Native Americans once fished in these waters.
- The Alabama Aquarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab has tanks full of marine life plus a giant stingray touch pool. Buy your tickets online in advance.
- Kayak, bicycle and paddle board rentals available, as well as guided kayaking tours.
- Try the heavenly cinnamon rolls at Lighthouse Bakery.
Pensacola Beach, Pensacola, Florida
Distance from New Orleans: 3.25 hour drive (sometimes longer due to traffic)
Ranked among the best beaches in the country, Pensacola Beach is a major beach destination that has everything, including crowds. It’ll be hard to pick from the family-friendly activities, which include dolphin cruises, parasailing, surfing lessons and dozens of different tours on water or in buses.
If you’re driving into Florida, also consider a visit to Navarre Beach.
Worth noting about Pensacola Beach
- One of the country’s best beaches with 27 miles of white sandy beach, clear water, lively crowds
- Offers every imaginable amenity and activity, including mini golf, arcades, fishing charters and boat rentals
- An excellent multi-generational beach
- Hundreds of stores and fresh seafood restaurants (the city is known as “the seafood capital of the South”)
- Closer to New Orleans than Panama City Beach (a 5 hour drive)
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama
Distance from New Orleans: 3.5 hour drive
Gulf Shores is a looong day trip, but the destination is oh so worth the drive! It’s more than three hours from New Orleans, but Gulf Shores and Orange Beach offer some of the best beaches on the Gulf Coast.
Worth noting about Gulf Shores and Orange Beach:
- Fantastic public beaches with miles of beautiful coastline
- Orange Beach is viewed as more exclusive than Gulf Shores, because of the luxury condos on the shoreline
- Perfect for swimming, walking the shoreline, building sand castles and watersports
- Restaurants, shopping and casinos nearby
- Sunrise yoga classes available
Coming Soon? New Orleans City Beaches
An effort’s underway to restore two city-owned beaches in New Orleans on Lake Pontchartrain, Lincoln Beach and Pontchartrain Beach. Both have sandy paths leading up to the waterfront. But as of now, they’re officially closed (and, according to some online reviews, teeming with alligators).
Just 20 minutes from New Orleans is Coconut Beach, but there’s no water or beach – just a giant sand volleyball complex.