Abita Mystery House
22275 Hwy. 36, Abita Springs, (985) 892-2624; www.ucmmuseum.com
Travel time from New Orleans: About an hour. Admission: $3
Formerly known as the UCM Museum, this all-ages alternate universe museum — featuring a UFO crashed into a Jetstream trailer and Darrell the "dogigator" — is an immersive folk art experience, part unnatural history museum, part art gallery. Artist and tinkerer John Preble assembled more than 50,000 found objects and bits and pieces to create animatronic dioramas and junk galleries to highlight the eccentric side of Louisiana. Stick around Abita Springs and visit the Abita Brewing Co. (166 Barbee Road, Abita Springs, 985-893-3143; www.abita.com) for a free tour and beer tasting, or buy an exclusive Abita brew at the Abita Brewpub (72011 Holly St., Abita Springs, 985-892-5837; www.abitabrewpub.com).
Avery Island, New Iberia, (337) 365-8173; www.tabasco.com
Travel time from New Orleans: About 2.5 hours. Admission: $1 to the island; free to tour the factory; $8 for jungle gardens
The private island is home to Tabasco — the hot sauce factory tour is free, and your guide will throw you a generous handful of tiny Tabasco bottles. Pack a cooler with some beer and sandwiches and have a picnic at pretty much any spot in the Avery Island "jungle gardens," a slow-winding drive or walk through 170 scenic acres of semitropical foliage and sights, from a centuries-old Buddha statue and a tree named for Grover Cleveland to free-roaming alligators.
6588 Barataria Blvd., Marrero, (504) 689-3690 ext. 10; www.nps.gov/jela
Travel time from New Orleans: About 30 minutes. Free admission
There are more than 20,000 acres of alligators, birds and other wildlife at this massive preserve. Park rangers offer free guided tours, there are self-guided tours for hikers of every experience level and there's a Jurassic Park-like visitor center (open Wednesday through Sunday). Further down the road, check out the Barataria Museum (4917 City Park Drive, Lafitte) and "splurge" (about $8) on a seafood po-boy at Voleo's (5134 Nunez St., Lafitte).
Cajun music capital
Fred's Lounge, 420 Sixth St., Mamou; Savoy Music Center, 4413 Highway. 190, Eunice, (337) 457-9563; www.savoymusiccenter.com
Travel time from New Orleans: About three hours. Free admission
Here's how to kill a Saturday: arrive early at Eunice's Savoy Music Center, home to the musical family's jam session every Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. Then make the 15-minute drive to Mamou's Fred's Lounge, which bills itself as the Cajun music capital of the world, for live music and dancing at the divey watering hole slinging super-cheap beer (or an extra-large bloody mary in the $8 range). The music stops around 2 p.m. Stop at just about any gas station along the way in or out of town for a link of boudin (usually in the wallet-friendly $1 range).
Grand Isle State Park, (985) 787-2559; www.crt.state.la.us
Travel time from New Orleans: About two hours. Admission: $3 toll, $2 admission
The "edge of Louisiana" is the state's answer to the beach. Get a toll pass ($3 via www.geauxpass.com) for your car and explore the scenic byways on Highway 1. At Grand Isle, explore the park's crabbing and fishing pier or go swimming, hiking and picnicking along the beach. Your drink of choice: a drive-thru daiquiri.
More New Orleans Cheap Thrills:
• City Park on the cheap • 24 cheap eats in 24 hours • 10 restaurants where you can BYOB • Fine dining super-bargains • Happy hours • Bargains at museums • How to see movies for free • Five $10 road trips near New Orleans • Free and cheap live storytelling events • Low-cost dental care