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Abita Springs is the little town with a lot of laid-back fun

Take a deep breath of fresh air. Relax. Wander. It’s good for what ails you.

That last one could have been the slogan for the small St. Tammany Parish town of Abita Springs way back in the late 1800s when folks flocked there on weekends to drink from its artesian wells.

Fast forward to 2023 and this modern-day Mayberry still hauls in the visitors. But for many who experience its quaint charm, concentration of creatives and sense of community, a weekend just isn’t enough. They buy that cottage on the corner with the picket fence and the big oak tree and plant some roots.

However, if a day or two in Abita is what you have in mind, here’s the lowdown on dining, unwinding and soaking in some of the quirky.

Where’s the fun?

When planning your visit, check the town’s webpage, for its list of events. On any given weekend it seems, there’s a market, festival or parade, including the Art & Farmers Market from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. each Sunday; the Abita Springs Opry six times a year; annual festivals celebrating buskers, bicycles and of course, the water; and what small town doesn’t love a parade? Come Carnival time, check out the Krewe of Push Mow Parade. Each spring brings the Whole Town Garage Sale.

Add to your to-do list two very different daily attractions: the roadside draw Abita Mystery House, 22275 La. 36; and the Abita Brewery, 21084 La. 16, to see how those popular craft beers are made and sip a sample if you’re so inclined.

If you can imagine it, it’s probably on display inside one of Abita Mystery House’s cluster of small weathered buildings. The odd, the outlandish, antiques alongside aging appliances, and outside a half-dog, half-alligator creature named Darrel, a spaceship and a water fountain fashioned of cat food cans, and no, that doesn’t begin to cover it — you just have to see it.

“We found a place like this in Albuquerque (New Mexico) 23 years ago, and opened here in 2000,” said curator John Preble. “It was a goofy place (in Albuquerque). And the guy was having a lot of fun. I was like, ‘Dang, this is more fun than sitting in front of the canvas and just pushing paint around.'”

Preble was an accomplished artist, particularly for his paintings of Creoles. His wife, Ann O’Brien, who died in 2006, was known for her jewelry designs, which are still sold in the gift shop in the main structure, a former gas station.

“That was the thing. When I went to Albuquerque, I said, ‘I got all the same crap he has. I just haven’t done anything with it,'” he said. “I’m really good at painting and doing art, and I like what I do, but this is more fun.”

First setting up a small museum in their house, the Prebles soon moved their trash/treasures to their permanent location on one of Abita’s main drags. It’s more of a place to stop on the way into town than a tourist attraction on its own, Preble said.

With items on the floor, hung on every inch of the walls and hung from the ceiling, one would think the collecting has stopped, but oh, it hasn’t.

“People bring stuff still every day. We’re gonna be expanding the museum to twice as big, said Preble. “I have a new guy that’s been coming over every Saturday and he’s gonna take over the place when I die. And he’s in his 30s. Nice guy. Weird.” (Preble can say that because he calls himself weird. Sort of part of the job description, as one would think).

Your tour of the Mystery House will probably take about half an hour, longer if you strike up a conversation with the affable Preble.

Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission is $5 for those 5 and older.

On the opposite side of town, the success story of Abita Brewing is evidenced in its state-of-the-art facility and popular tap room serving its liquid specialties from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

Trace your brewski back to its beginnings during a 30-minute guided tour where you’ll follow the craft beer-brewing process, learn about Abita’s many flavors of lagers and ales, and hear the history of the company founded in 1986. Self-guided tours also are an option.

Guided tours take place at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Monday-Thursday; noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Friday; and the Friday times plus 4 p.m. on weekends. $10. The free, self-guided tours are available from noon to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday-Sunday.

Where to eat

First on the agenda is breakfast. Does brunch all day, every day sound appealing? Then head over to Abita Springs Café, 22132 Level St. Beyond the bacon and eggs, the menu features biscuits and beef debris, a blue crab omelet, and Cajun praline chicken and waffles, and that’s just a fraction of the menu. Lunch and dinner offer plates, salads, sandwiches, po-boys, burgers and other entrees.

Hours are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

Search “Abita Springs Café” on Facebook or call (985) 400-5025.

When you ask locals about dining options, they’re sure to mention Mama D’s Pizza & More, 22054 La. 59. With its black and white tile floor, and green and red decor, the small eatery is cozy and inviting. From an extensive menu of traditional and gourmet pies, we sampled the eggplant pizza, and for dessert, Mom’s apple pie (in pizza form). The homemade crust, sauce and fresh components made for two delicious choices.

Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday.

Near the center of town, Abita Brew Pub, 72011 Holly St., is where Abita Beer began. The brand was brewed and bottled there until it outgrew the space and relocated down the road in 1994.

The pub serves up salads, sandwiches, burgers, pastas and exclusive Abita Beer selections. In addition, there are daily specials: On a recent Wednesday, those included crispy shrimp wontons, tuna Mediterranean and eggplant parmesan. The lengthy patio, strung with twinkling lights and ceiling fans offering a comfortable breeze, can also be rented for events.

There’s also live music from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday; and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday.

What’s a small town without a bakery? Maple Street Bakery & Café, 72066 Maple St., is located in a cute-as-a-button circa early-1900s house with an inviting front porch. Fresh pastries, cookies, pies, cakes and steaming coffee make for a great stop for an afternoon snack. Everything looks delicious, but you can’t go wrong with the melt-in-your-mouth, heavenly petit fours.

Hours are 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, and 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; closed Monday and Tuesday.

Search “Maple Street Bakery” on Facebook or call (985) 327-5554.

Where to stay

Although there are plenty of accommodations in nearby Covington and Mandeville, Abita has but one hotel, Abita Springs Hotel, 22088 Ann O’Brien Lane.

Shawna Meynard manages the hotel, an 1890s home beautifully restored, peaceful, stylish and situated in the heart of town. Choices include standard rooms or king suites.

“We’ve combined the luxurious feel of a boutique hotel with the convenience of a neighborhood guesthouse,” Meynard said. “Rooms overlook lush hotel grounds, a charming courtyard garden, and one of Abita’s famed artesian springs.”

Meynard also has the only antiques store in Abita, Attic to Awesome, which opened in 2019. It’s at 22107 La. 36, Suite B.

“I stock a variety of antique furniture, refinished furniture, home decor, hand poured beeswax candles, handcrafted jewelry and additional gift shop merchandise.”

Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday. 

Connect with Abita

Check us out @abitabrewery