Spend A Long Weekend By The River In St. Francisville, Louisiana

This river town opens its arms to the future (and out-of-towners) in its most hospitable chapter yet.

St. Francisville Inn in St. Francisville, LA
Photo: Alison Gootee

Oak trees draped in Spanish moss line U.S. 61 headed north to St. Francisville from Baton Rouge. Fallen branches, rogue roof shingles, and lagniappe debris also cover the side of the road, a humbling reminder of Hurricane Ida's landfall in August 2021.

But St. Francisville, a hamlet nestled along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and Natchez, Mississippi, has persevered for ages. France, England, and Spain each claimed this area for a time. Slavery, wars, and hurricanes all left lasting scars. Now, more than 200 years later, it's still standing, reexamining its past while reimagining the future. Here are the top things to do during your weekend visit to St. Francisville.

Discover Its Charm

I grew up just a few parishes down the road (Louisiana calls its counties "parishes," a vestige of the state's time under French and Spanish rule), and it always felt like time traveling whenever I visited. Crossing the Mississippi on the now defunct ferry from New Roads seemed magical, sprinkled with the same adventurous allure immortalized by Mark Twain. The riverboat is gone, replaced in 2012 by the John James Audubon Bridge. Its sleek cable design boasts sweeping views of the meandering water, dotted with tugboats, barges, and river-cruise ships (a new development in the past decade that has brought droves of tourists, many international, to St. Francisville and the surrounding West Feliciana Parish).

Founded in the early 1800s, the once profitable port still touts many homes and structures from that era. With a population of fewer than 2,000 and an everyone-knows-your-mama energy, it has attracted weekenders and history buffs for years.

Bikers in St. Francisville, Louisiana
Small-town charm in St. Francisville.

Courtesy of Miles Partnership/West Feliciana Parish Tourist Commission

Browse Shops and Museums

Wander down the streets of the historic district, and visit the West Feliciana Historical Society and Museum. The former blacksmith shop and hardware store showcases exhibits about the area's history. The town's idyllic lanes feel like a movie set, with postcard charms around every corner. Informational plaques are posted outside old homes turned bed-and-breakfasts.

Along with galleries and boutiques, there are plenty of places to shop in St. Francisville. Shops such as hot spot Sage Hill Gifts are catnip for the design-forward set. Stop by the District Mercantile for unique jewelry, clothing, gifts, and local products. Shop the Vintage Hive for kitchen accessories, home décor, vintage finds, candles, and soap.

Explore the Area

Past the St. Francisville city limits, West Feliciana Parish really sings. Travelers flock to the area's natural attractions, a testament to the booming ecotourism industry. Although Louisiana has never had a reputation as a hiking destination, Tunica Hills Wildlife Management Area is an exception. Its picturesque terrain features some of the state's most diverse flora and fauna plus topflight bird-watching. Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge is the home of the largest bald cypress tree east of the Sierra Nevada mountains; it measures a jaw-dropping 96 feet tall and 17 feet in diameter.

Down U.S. 61 is Afton Villa Gardens. It's virtually impossible not to be moved by the majestic canopy of oak trees and row after row of blooming azaleas leading to over 20 acres of gardens rivaling the great estates of Europe. Immersed in this beauty, you can't help but ask, "Where am I again?"

Several grand plantations offer tours. In past decades, the area has leaned heavily on the pomp and pageantry of these historic homes. But over the years, there has been a slow, steady drive to broaden the selective narratives surrounding these properties and the enslaved men, women, and children who worked and died there.

The Saint in St. Francisville, LA
Alison Gootee

Eat Regional Fare

Drop by Birdman Coffee, Art and Music for specialty coffees and breakfast. You’ll also find cinnamon rolls, quiche, breakfast sandwiches, and other baked goods. Hang out for conversation and live music throughout the week.

Eat fried alligator bites at the popular Magnolia Cafe, where vacationers devour regional fare like fried-shrimp po'boys and locals secretly swear by the tasty cheeseburgers.

Opt for craft cocktails or a meal in one of three dining rooms at The Saint Restaurant and Bar located in the St. Francisville Inn, where dishes have Cajun influence and European tradition. Try the crabcake, Voodoo Shrimp, or Snapper Cocodrie, which features a crawfish dressing and satsuma butter sauce.

Stay Awhile

The boutique St. Francisville Inn is within walking distance of shops and restaurants. Rooms overlook the courtyard and pool and offer details such as room service, plush linens, and blackout curtains. Guests can enjoy breezy porches with rocking chairs, a restaurant and bar, and landscaped gardens.

Next to the Magnolia Café are the quaint 1938 cottages at 3V Tourist Courts. These renovated original motor court cabins are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

More progress is on the horizon as this river town continues to learn and grow. But the magic isn't in its photogenic streets, natural beauty, or mystifying Southern allure. It's in the people who call St. Francisville home and strive to make it a better place tomorrow.

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Ivy Jones of Afton Villa Gardens

Ivy Jones of Afton Villa Gardens
Alison Gootee

"I was hired for a two-week job to pull vines out of azaleas in 1973. Almost 50 years later, they still haven't asked me to leave," says Ivy Jones, laughing. He's now head gardener and manager of Afton Villa Gardens. The property has more than 20 acres, including the ruins gardens (the site's historic home burned in 1963), a daffodil valley, a formal parterre garden, and more. It's owned by Genevieve Trimble, a nationally recognized garden preservationist. Even at over 100 years old, Trimble still talks with Jones frequently about the garden. He loves springtime at Afton Villa. "While they don't last long, tulips are my favorite," says Jones, who plants 8,000 tulip bulbs, along with daffodils, every winter for mid-March blooms. "It's a beautiful sight to see and never gets old."

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Brandon Branch and Jim Johnston of The St. Francisville Inn

Brandon Branch and Jim Johnston of the St. Francisville Inn
Alison Gootee

An interior designer and star of Southern Charm Savannah on Bravo, Brandon Branch was looking for a fun new chapter with his partner, Jim Johnston. After they purchased the circa-1880 St. Francisville Inn (previously called the Wolf-Schlesinger House) in 2018, the couple tackled a massive renovation, creating a destination with luxurious accommodations and a renowned restaurant and bar, The Saint. "We're attracting guests from all over the U.S.A.," notes Branch, who loves spotlighting his adopted city. "St. Francisville is amazing. It's not scared of change and embraces everyone. I was worried about two gay men moving to small-town Louisiana, but this place really opened its arms and welcomed us wholeheartedly."

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