Road Trips

A Literary Gulf Coast Road Trip from New Orleans to Florida

When it comes to mixing travel with culture, you can’t go wrong following the trail of American authors on a road trip from New Orleans, Louisiana, to Florida’s Emerald Coast.

New Orleans: Big Easy Book Culture

Start your journey in New Orleans, the land of Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner, among many others. Enjoy a stroll under the French Quarter balconies where Stanley and Stella mingled in A Streetcar Named Desire. Head to 722 Toulouse Street, where Williams wrote The Angel in the Alcove; a plaque memorializes his thoughts on the city as “the last frontier of bohemia.”

Meander down the cobblestone-paved pedestrian avenue to the former home of Nobel Prize-winner William Faulkner, now Faulkner House Books, located in Pirate’s Alley behind St. Louis Cathedral.

Purchase a copy of “A Soldier’s Tale,” Faulkner’s first novel, written above the bookshop, and browse other classic novels that line the shelves of the cozy bookstore. Both Tennessee and William are celebrated with their own literary festivals, Williams‘ in the spring and Faulkner’s in the fall.

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See firsthand the inspiration for Dinner at Antoine’s. (Photo: Beauregard-Keyes House and Garden Museum)

The Big Easy was also home to Frances Parkinson Keyes. Tour the Beauregard-Keyes House and Garden Museum, with its boxwood hedge-lined fountain that inspired Parkinson Keyes while she wrote Dinner at Antoine’s. Cap off your day with dinner at Antoine’s Restaurant, founded in 1840, to learn why Keyes decided to immortalize the eatery.

Literary Landscape on the North Shore

Driving time from New Orleans, Louisiana to Mandeville, Louisiana: 40 min (35 mi)

Head north across Lake Pontchartrain via the world’s second-longest bridge over water, the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, to Walker Percy’s nature-filled North Shore. Just across the Causeway, visit Mandeville and stroll among the oak trees, swings and gazebos that line the lakefront walkway, an excellent spot to stretch out from road tripping.

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Wander by the oak trees in Mandeville. (Photo: Alamy)

Continue on US-190 north for about 20 minutes to Covington, Louisiana, where Percy’s historic marker is displayed in Boston Commons. Hike the Tammany Trace trail from Covington Trailhead Museum and Visitor’s Center and soak in the lush, natural vibes that inspired much of Percy’s work, including Love in the Ruins.

And get your fill of old-book smell at the monthly Friends of St. Tammany Library Sale at Haddon Hall on South Jahncke Avenue; browse 30,000 tomes and find a new or old favorite.

Percy’s final resting place is at St. Joseph’s Abbey in nearby Abita, Louisiana. Schedule a tour from the Benedictine monks who, incidentally, sell their own soap and honey. They also sell handmade wooden caskets, though that would be more of an Edgar Allen Poe-style road trip souvenir.

To Read a Mockingbird in Alabama

From Bay St. Louis, Mississippi to Monroeville, Alabama: 3 hrs (177 mi)

Heading inland, drive three hours to Monroeville, Alabama, to pay homage to the late Harper Lee, author of the classic To Kill a Mockingbird, and her friend and mentor, Truman Capote, of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “In Cold Blood” fame.

For some refreshment, stop at Mel’s Dairy Dream, 216 S. Alabama Avenue. Notable for its milkshakes, it sits next to the foundation of Lee’s childhood home, and Lee memorialized it with a chapter in Go Set a Watchman.

After your shake, take one of the literary tours that kick off at the courthouse, then stop at Ol’ Curiosities & Book Shoppe to pick up some reading material.

Gump, Gators and Gunships in Mobile, Alabama

From Monroeville, Alabama to Mobile, Alabama: 1 hr, 40 min (103 miles)

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Pay your respects at the USS Alabama. (Photo: Alamy)

Books reloaded, take AL-59 to I-65 South to Mobile, Alabama, where Winston Groom wrote the generation-defining Forrest Gump. While Gump dealt with historical events through a fictional lens, the author’s new book, his first in 20 years, deals exclusively in true events.

The Generals: Patton, MacArthur, Marshall, and the Winning of World War II provides the reader with an insider’s view of the battles — as does a tour of World War II battleships at USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile Bay.

As you leave Mobile, take a quick detour to the tiny town of Daphne, Alabama and its Gator Alley Boardwalk. Daphne is 10 miles (16 km) east of Mobile and its half-mile boardwalk includes views of fish and reptiles, including the area’s most famous residents — alligators. As the signs posted indicate, please don’t feed them.

Books on the Beach in Florida

From Mobile, Alabama to Seaside, Florida: 2 hrs, 30 min (154 mi)

Continue east on scenic Highway 30A to Seaside, Florida, which hosts a writers’ conference every May. The pastel-hued town community is home to indie bookstore Sundog Books which features classic novels along with literature on the surrounding area.

Once you’ve browsed to your heart’s content, stroll through a massive gazebo to the powder-soft quartz beach and crystal clear waters of the Emerald Coast. Finally, relax with your book among the sandpipers and dunes of nearby Topsail Hill Preserve State Park.