Southern Living |

biking Covington Kevin Garrett

You could say that Covington owes its history to the humble bovine. Back in 1813, the town was first laid out in a grid pattern filled with free parking areas called ox lots, where schooners came down the Bogue Falaya River to trade goods from Covington to New Orleans. The small town's location at the convergence of three rivers (including the Abita and the Tchefuncte) made it a desirable spot for tradesmen to hawk their wares, parking their oxen in the squares. Today, the it has grown to just over 10,000 people and while there's no oxen in sight, it still pays homage to its humble heritage, being listed on the National Register of Historic Places and hosting annual festivals such as the Covington Three Rivers Art Festival every fall. Downtown, the walkable district features many shops, galleries, museums and restaurants, making it well worth the nearly 24-mile journey across Lake Pontchartrain Causeway (the world's largest continuous bridge over water) from New Orleans.

Where to Stay

With a lobby known as "Covington's living room," the family-owned Southern Hotel is the city's largest and will make you feel right at home. Located in the city's historic district in a building that dates back to 1907, the boutique property was restored into a hotel in 2014 and now has 40 guest rooms and two suites, along with a restaurant and bar. Adjacent to the main hotel is The Garden House, with five accommodations in the renovated former Covington Post Office. If you fancy a bed and breakfast, Covington has two that will have you feeling like a local in no time — both within a few minutes' walk of downtown. Camellia House B&B, a raised Louisiana cottage (a style adapted from rural French architecture), has four self-contained suites, an expansive front porch, and a pool and hot tub; while Blue Willow B&B is home to five suites (including one with a full kitchen) and beautiful gardens.

What to Do

Get the lay of the land by taking a historical tour with Royal Carriages, the oldest sightseeing company in the United States. The company, which has offered mule-drawn carriage tours in New Orleans' French Quarter for 80 years, recently expanded to Covington and offers tours of downtown Friday through Sunday.

If you prefer to explore on your own, rent a bike from Brooks' Bike Shop and pedal the Tammany Trace (a converted railroad corridor that's now a recreational path) all the way to Abita Brewery, a popular hangout spot where you can sip iconic brews like Purple Haze and also sample new ones. Head to Bogue Falaya Wayside Park to catch community events and the "Chillin' at the River" free concert series or launch a kayak to traverse the Bogue Falaya River's clear, shallow waters.

Don't leave town before visiting a few favorite local shops. The family-operated HJ Smith & Sons General Store & Museum has been in operation since 1876 and is a gold mine for items from lawn art and quirky gator-claw back scratchers; be sure to also browse the eclectic collection of historical items, including a cast-iron casket and a 20-foot cypress dugout boat. If you're in the market for art, don't miss the selection from local artists at St. Tammany Art AssociationMarianne Angeli Rodriquez Gallery and Saladino Gallery. Or, create your own masterpiece at Hammer & Stain, which hosts DIY workshops for home décor.

Where to Eat

You might think popping your pinkie sounds out of place on the Bayou, but you'll feel as if you've been transported across the pond during the Windsor High Tea experience at English Tea Room & Eatery. Inside, the space has life-sized cutouts of the Queen and Downton Abbey characters, plus a huge collection of tea pots for you to admire as you sip from more than 200 teas and sample items like Coronation Chicken Salad and scones

For something heartier, feast on Gulf-inspired Southern fare at Oxlot 9 inside Southern Hotel, where signature dishes included fried frog legs, stuffed rabbit, and the famous OL9 ½ & ½ charcuterie board, made with meat that's butchered, aged and smoked in-house. Save room for the Campfire, an epic desert of smoked vanilla bean ice cream, graham cracker, and Belgian chocolate covered in torched honey meringue. For lunch, check out blue plate specials like crawfish and corn chowder at LOLA, where you can eat inside a vintage dining car. And don't miss dinner at Del Porto Ristorante. Serving Italian fare like homemade tagliatelle Bolognese and lemon risotto with Gulf shrimp, it's a local favorite for its emphasis on locally sourced ingredients. Husband-and-wife chef team David and Torre Solazzo are three-time James Beard finalists.

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