Between Baton Rouge and Lake Charles, Louisiana, there are outstanding restaurants and attractions worth a short detour off of Interstate 10. Many provide a glimpse into the culture, the creativity and the cuisine of this area of south Louisiana.
1. Marvel at the colors and creativity in the Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu (Lake Charles)
Touted as the largest collection of Mardi Gras costumes in the world, you will be astounded by the colors, the patterns, the intricacies and the designs to be found at the Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu. This marvelous museum is located inside the Central School Arts and Humanities Building at 809 Kirby Street. Normal hours of operations are 1:00 to 5:00 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. It is appropriate to house this display in Lake Charles, since the city enjoys the second largest Mardi Gras celebration each year, second only to New Orleans.
Visitors will find conceptual sketches alongside the finished products, as well as historical information including the history of King Cake. This is a photographer’s dream location.
2. Tour the Charpentier Historic District with Adley Cormier (Lake Charles)
Adley Cormier is an expert in the history and folklore of Lake Charles, in addition to being a riveting storyteller. Being on one of his tours will surely bring the area to life and give you a fresh perspective. In particular, he knows a lot about the Charpentier Historic District, so named for the display of carpentry skills found in the variety of homes. The district covers more than 40 blocks and was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1990.
The homes date back to the 1890’s and early 1900’s when there were no architects in Lake Charles. Instead, these homes reflect the plans and abilities of the lumbermen who came down from Michigan and built them. These “Michigan Men” contributed a colorful chapter to the city’s history. In those days, Lake Charles was known for its sawmills and lumber yards.
3. Eat crawfish prepared by Chef Lyle Broussard (Lake Charles)
Chef Lyle Broussard, Executive Chef for Jack Daniel’s Bar and Grill inside L'Auberge Casino Resort in Lake Charles, is a wonder in his kitchen elevating traditional Cajun fare into sublime dishes that have garnered much-deserved recognition. He KNOWS crawfish and takes them from mud bug status to succulent headliners, but he also works his magic with shrimp, alligator, redfish, oysters, smoked meats and more.
Chef Broussard is seen around town at various cook-offs and was featured in Lake Charles’ inaugural Cast Iron Cook-off last fall. He learned to cook by watching and working alongside family members, then honed his skills at the Culinary Institute of America.
4. Browse the treasures at Flock of Five Gift and Art Emporium (Sulphur)
As you would expect, the list of items available for sale in a 7000-square-foot (650.3 square meters) store is long indeed. One-of-a-kind local art and gift items are dominant inside Flock of Five Gift and Art Emporium, housed in the former Sulphur, Louisiana Post Office. Jewelry, glass etchings, jams, jellies, antiques, boutique clothing, candles and flavored coffees are just a few of the enticing items you can find inside.
Flock of Five is closed on Sunday but opens the other six days of the week from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. It’s well worth finding and is only slightly off of the path of I-10.
5. Tour the Bayou Rum Distillery and Event Center (Lacassine)
Locally grown Louisiana sugarcane mixed with 100% single estate molasses from the oldest family-owned sugar mill in the United States distilled perfectly in copper pots has led to a booming business in Lacassine, Louisiana. Tours and tastings are available (please check their website for schedules and updates), as well as lovely gift purchases in the Visitors Center. Bayou Rum Distillery recently completed a beautiful event center created with exposed brick and wood and a lushly landscaped courtyard.
It is hard to believe that the business didn’t even exist until 2011, when three long-time friends got together and hatched an idea.
The Bayou Rum facility can easily be spotted as you travel I-10 between Lake Charles and Lafayette.
6. Savor every bite on a Cajun Food Tour (Lafayette)
Marie Ducote-Comeaux taught Louisiana history for 15 years before she had a revelation while on a food tour in another city. She realized what distinctly wonderful food was available in Lafayette and how much she would enjoy sharing the tastes, the culture and the history of Acadiana, or Lafayette, in the very heart of the French Louisiana region. She put her thoughts on paper, bought a 14-passenger bus, made plans with local restaurant owners and started her Cajun Food Tours. It is now considered one of the top things to do when visiting the region. Her beginning happily coincided with Lafayette being named “Tastiest Town in the South.”
Tour participants might sample gator bites, boudin, bread pudding, crawfish, gumbo or beignets, but it all depends on which tour you take and the time of day of your tour.
7. Explore the grounds of Houmas House Plantation (Darrow)
When you drive onto the grounds of Houmas House in Darrow, Louisiana, you will immediately feel as though you are a part of the 250-year history of the property. You can take a tour of the mansion, stroll the grounds and gardens, enjoy a meal at Cafe Burnside, Latil’s Landing or the Carriage House Restaurant or increase your knowledge of the region’s background at the newly-opened Great River Road Museum. If a few hours isn’t nearly enough time at Houmas House, you can book a room at the inn which is made up of elegantly-furnished cottages placed in a serene section of the grounds.
At least ten movies have been filmed at Houmas House, as well as numerous television shows and commercials. Probably the most famous was the classic “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte” starring Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland.
8. Hold a baby alligator at Gator Chateau (Jennings)
Gator Chateau in Jennings, Louisiana is much more than a picturesque rest stop on I-10. It is also a fascinating alligator rescue facility inside the Jeff Davis Parish Tourist Information Center. Baby alligators that have been abandoned by their mothers and rescued are brought into Gator Chateau, fostered, hand fed and raised until they can be released back into their natural environment. The handlers are happy to educate visitors about the alligators, and it is even possible to hold a baby gator without worrying that they will bite. They won’t. This is a particularly delightful stop for families or for grandparents with their grandchildren.
9. Stroll the grounds and hear the story at Rip Van Winkle Gardens (New Iberia)
Rip Van Winkle Gardens on Jefferson Island in New Iberia, Louisiana, once belonged to Joseph Jefferson, an actor who adapted Washington Irving’s classic tale into a play and then portrayed the leading role over 4000 times in theaters around the world. The role made him very rich and famous, and he used some of his wealth to build a hunting lodge on Jefferson Island. Guests are invited to tour his mansion which remains on the property, as well as the lavish grounds. Cafe Jefferson inside the gardens serves lunch seven days a week, and there are beautiful event spaces scattered throughout the grounds. Lake Peigneur creates a stunning backdrop.
Nearby, Rip’s Rookery attracts 260 species of birds, of which the Spoonbill Roseate might be the most colorful and popular among photographers.
10. Learn history and culture at Louisiana State University's Museum of Art and Rural Life Museum (Baton Rouge)
Louisiana State University provides many cultural assets to the residents and guests of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The Rural Life Museum is located on the site of the Burden Plantation and encompasses 40 acres (16.18 hectares) of which much is used for agricultural research. The museum is dedicated to preserving materials used in 18th and 19th century Louisiana.
The university’s Museum of Art can be found on the 5th floor of the Shaw Center for the Arts at 100 Lafayette Street. It is made up of 14 galleries and more than 6500 artworks from the 1700s to the present. It is a wonderful asset and the only dedicated art museum in Baton Rouge.
11. Gaze at the stunning architecture and stained glass inside the Old State Capitol (Baton Rouge)
The Old State Capitol building at 100 North Boulevard sits on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. It has been designated as a National Historic Landmark and now houses the Museum of Political History. It resembles a castle and features award-winning architecture, a cast iron staircase and a magnificent stained glass dome. Regular hours are Tuesday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Saturday (do check the website for up-to-date information). Admission is free.
12. Get a taste of all-things-Louisiana at the Capitol Park Museum (Baton Rouge)
For a great place to immerse yourself in the entirety of Louisiana history and culture, head to the Capitol Park Museum at 660 North 4th Street in Baton Rouge. Famous Louisiana natives are showcased in the museum from musicians to politicians and beyond. And the influence of all the tribes and nations who have inhabited the state’s territory are featured along with the ways they influenced lives then and now. The importance of agriculture and the bounty of the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico are also included in the first-class exhibits.
Normal hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Louisiana is waiting to share its diversity and abundance
Louisiana is known far and wide for its food, history, location, natural resources, music, sports and agriculture. A trip along I-10 will give visitors a great taste of what makes the state unique and alluring. Jazz and zydeco music are natural results of the sultry heat in the summer and the taste of gumbo and jambalaya year round. Those elements also help to explain the colors in the art and the Mardi Gras costumes. It is an area like no other.
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