In Southeast Louisiana’s Northshore region, the city of Hammond sits a few miles from the huge swamplands between Lake Maurepas and Lake Pontchartrain.
With a townscape shaded by venerable live oaks, this is a place to discover regional hallmarks like Cajun cooking and super-fresh seafood, combined with guided swamp tours and encounters with alligators.
The presence of Southeastern, the third-largest university in the state, adds a youthful vitality to Hammond.
This comes to the fore in the buzzing historic downtown, filled with museums, galleries, community events, and a big choice of places to eat and drink.
1. Downtown Hammond
Hammond has gained national recognition for its vibrant, thriving and expertly preserved downtown district.
Going back to the 1880s, most of the city’s oldest buildings are concentrated onto these blocks divided by the Illinois Central Railroad tracks.
These contain a dizzying assortment of cafes, bars and restaurants, many catering to youthful clientele from Southeastern.
The Hammond Historic District website has a map for a self-guided walking tour of downtown’s landmarks, with 20 stops, mostly along Thomas St.
There’s a booming farmers’ market all year on Saturdays, with upwards of 60 vendors, and a whole raft of local shops downtown for art supplies, specialty foods, skating, flowers, gifts, clothes, fashion accessories and antiques.
2. Cajun Dining
If you’re in search of Cajun and Creole seafood classics you can’t do much better than Hammond.
You’ve got a boatload of local joints, with menus brimming with favorites like boiled shrimp and crawfish (in season), seafood gumbo, fried catfish, shrimp or oyster po-boys, shrimp étouffée, crab cake, blackened redfish, and scores of other regional specialties from red beans to boudin sausage.
For just a small selection of the many local eateries around Hammond you’ve got Don’s Seafood (1915 S Morrison Blvd), B&J Seafood (2504 W Church St), Cate Street Seafood Station (308 S Cate St), Blackened Brew (12 W Thomas St) and Chookie’s Seafood & Oyster Bar (45654 University Park Dr).
3. Joyce Wildlife Swamp Walk Nature Trail
Ten miles south of Hammond you’ll reach the Joyce Wildlife Management Area, comprising 35,000 acres of swampland between Lake Maurepas and Lake Pontchartrain.
Inhabited by numerous waterfowl species, as well as ospreys, bald eagles, spring and fall neotropical migrants, American alligators and many more, this wilderness is impenetrable without a boat (tours are available).
But on the northwest corner you can set foot in a portion of the protected area via a stretch of boardwalk that was constructed in 1990.
Taking your time to appreciate the tranquility and read the informative signs, you’ll need about an hour to enjoy the Joyce Wildlife Swamp Walk and will have a lot of chances to photograph wildlife, from turtles to snakes, gators and pink spoonbills.
4. Hammond Farmers’ Market
The best way to start a weekend in Hammond is at the bustling farmers’ market, a diverse, year-round gathering of 60+ vendors at the Old Feed & Seed lot downtown (at the time of writing).
During the long growing season there’s an amazing abundance of locally harvested fresh produce, and rules state that everything sold here has to be grown or produced by the vendor, so you know you’ll be buying direct.
You’ve also got plants, eggs, preserves, handmade soaps, fresh breads, king cake (in season), flowers, sauces, candy, tea kits, interesting arts and crafts, and delicious prepared food, from gumbo to tamales to mirlitons.
Winter is a little slower of course, but there’s still more than enough local commerce to make the market a year-round enterprise.
5. Tangipahoa African American Heritage Museum
One of more than two dozen sites on the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail, this institution displays and celebrates the life and work of African Americans in Louisiana’s Florida Parishes.
The museum is made up of eight galleries shining a light on a spectrum of topics, such as the Underground Railroad, African American inventors and important personalities in the world of entertainment, culture and sports.
There’s an interactive genealogy lab, established by Southeastern Louisiana University, while Southern University is responsible for the main gallery, taking you on a whirlwind trip through the history of Africa, the cradle of humanity.
The museum is also renowned for its powerful series of 26 8×8 murals recording the history of African Americans, from the nightmarish Middle Passage to the Civil Rights Movement.
6. Louisiana Children’s Discovery Center
A major attraction in downtown Hammond is this interactive children’s museum, for kids up to ten years old.
The Louisiana Children’s Discovery Center is all about hands-on and experiential learning, at dynamic and region-specific exhibits like a music factory, vet clinic, shrimp boat, hot air balloon, Middendorf’s restaurant, dino dig, rock climbing wall and art station, to name a small few.
Rooted in South Louisiana culture, these open-ended learning experiences help encourage problem solving, improve motor skills and spark the imagination.
7. Mitchell’s Swamp Adventures
Bruce “The Alligatorman” Mitchell, from History’s “Swamp People: Serpent Invasion”, runs this tour company exploring the swamps, bayous and passes south of Hammond between lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain.
You’ll be riding in the same 20ft Go Devil boat in which Bruce hunts alligators. A resourceful man who has long forged a livelihood in this environment, Bruce knows the country like the back of his hand.
Your trip will be filled with fascinating anecdotes and historical snippets, as you get up close to an amazing diversity of wildlife, from gators to turtles, snakes, frogs, nutria and the astonishing array of birdlife inhabiting these wetlands.
8. Zemurray Park
On just over 30 acres, this community park is within walking distance south of downtown Hammond.
Running through the heart of Zemurray Park is a serpentine pond, popular with waterfowl and traced by a walking trail 0.7 miles long.
Zemurray Park is the setting for Hammond’s outdoor public pool, open throughout the summer, along with tennis courts, a cute miniature train, a dog park, a skate park, three baseball fields, a dog park and an excellent playground area for wee ones.
The pond is a fishing spot, stocked with bluegill, channel catfish, green sunfish, largemouth bass, rainbow trout and redear sunfish, while the park is the location for Hammond’s annual Christmas lights.
9. Gnarly Barley Brewing
Founded in 2014 by a couple of Southeast Louisiana natives, this craft brewery in Hammond sprung from a homebrewing operation a few years before.
Gnarly Barley Brewing is now an award-winning brand, distributed across the Greater New Orleans area, as well as the Northshore, Lafayette, Baton Rouge and Houma.
You can visit the 14,000-square-foot facility in Hammond for a guided tour, while the open-air taproom here also lets you check out the brewery’s inner-workings.
Year-round beers are Skater Aid (Italian Pilsner), Jucifer IPA, Catahoula Common and Korova Milk Porter, while there’s a whole catalog of seasonal beers and limited releases.
The taproom is open seven days a week, and the calendar is filled with live music, brewing workshops, yoga sessions and food truck happenings.
10. Kliebert & Son’s Gator Tours
An animal that always inspires fascination in Southeast Louisiana is the American alligator, and in Hammond you’re just a few minutes from an alligator farm welcoming the public for tours.
Kliebert & Son’s have been in the trade for more than half a century, and opens its doors March through October. Learning interesting details about this formidable creature you can watch demonstrations and even interact with baby alligators.
The farm has a variety of other animals, including wallabies, emus, snakes, several turtle species, as well as a bird sanctuary with nesting herons and egrets.
11. Southeastern Louisiana University (Southeastern)
Founded in 1925 and expanded rapidly in the 90s and 00s, the third-largest university in the state is just a few blocks north of downtown Hammond.
You don’t need to be a prospective student to be interested in a visit. For one thing, the campus is scattered with beautiful live oaks, including the centuries-old Friendship Oak, with pride of place at the central Friendship Circle.
The oldest building on the campus is McGehee Hall, a handsome example of Depression Gothic completed in 1935 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.
Southeastern has 14 varsity teams competing as the Southeastern Louisiana Lions and Lady Lions in the Southland Conference.
There’s sports action at venues like the 7,500-seat University Center arena (basketball and volleyball), and the 7,400-capacity Strawberry Stadium for football.
12. Cate Square Park
Somewhere to take a break during your visit to downtown Hammond, Cate Square Park is on an entire city block, just north of the eateries along Thomas St.
From 1861 this was the site of a sawmill, tannery and shoe factory supplying the Confederate Army, all founded by one C. E. Cate, who later helped plan and promote the nascent city.
At the very center of Cate Square Park is a large open space, enclosed by an oval, tree-shaded path that leads to a gazebo and a fenced-in playground area for children.
13. Hammond Oak
If you can’t get enough of the twisting old live oaks that decorate the Hammond townscape, there’s an important one a couple of blocks east of downtown on the 500 block of East Charles Street.
A member tree of the Live Oak Society and labeled with an historical marker, this tangle of outstretched limbs is the Hammond Oak.
Buried under this moss-draped tree is the grave of the city’s Swedish founder and namesake, Peter Hammond (1798-1870). Close by are the graves of his wife, Caroline, his three daughters and “a favorite slave boy”.
14. Hammond Square
The top shopping destination in Tangipahoa Parish can be found in the south of the city, off I-12.
The Hammond Square mall has been on the scene since 1977, and after a period of decline was given a new lease of life in the late 00s with a complete renovation.
This is now the second-largest open-air mall in the state, with dozens of national retailers including JCPenney, Foot Locker, Old Navy, Kay Jewelers, Claire’s, rue21, Target and many more.
The AMC Hammond Palace 10 is on the west side of the complex and there’s an assortment of eateries, from Olive Garden to Raising Cane’s.
15. Safari Quest Family Fun Center
On the way to Hammond Square from downtown, Safari Quest Family Fun Center has a variety of attractions under one roof.
Foremost of these is an awesome Laser Tag Arena, set over 3,000 square feet, with multiple levels, a number of bases and even an observation deck for spectators.
A newly opened attraction is the indoor Ropes Course, set eight feet off the floor, with challenging transitional elements like netting, balancing beams, barrels and a skateboard.
Add to the mix the Watering Hole restaurant and an arcade with all the latest games, and you’ve got all you need for a self-contained day of family fun.