A visitors guide to Lake Charles Louisiana
Our New Book
The Charpentier (French for carpenter) Historic District represents the finest Victorian architecture in Louisiana. Although wrought iron is noticeably absent, the fine accented detail, wide porches and square-tapered Lake Charles columns of these grand Victorian and bungalow homes are stunning. The homes reflect individual appearances since architects didnt arrive in the city until the early 1900s. This area is a perfect for walking or driving tours. Pamphlets for self-guided tours are available from the Lake Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Another section of town that boasts exquisite homes and estates resides next to the banks of Lake Charles on Shell Beach Drive. This area is not typically in the tourist guides but is a must visit for those interested in early 20th century design. Gorgeous, palatial landscaped grounds and Greek Revival/ Federal homes with their corresponding elaborate gazebo and wrought iron gated docks lie in residence across the road. Shell Beach Drive is one of the most scenic areas in Lake Charles and a wonderful representation of the beginning posh society that developed in the early 1900s.
MuseumsTwo museums that visitors will find fascinating are the Imperial Calcasieu Museum and the Mardi Gras Museum. The Imperial Calcasieu Museum, located on Sallier St., is a remarkable educational facility, as well as interesting. The museum may be small, but is packed with treasures in its permanent exhibits and Galleries. The Historic Exhibit features period-dressed mannequins and rotating relics portraying life from 1850 through the early 1900s in eye-catching displays. The museums Gibson Library houses an extensive collection of John James Audubon prints. And, astonishingly for this small library, the actual Letter of Mark for the pirate Jean Lafitte from King Louis XVI. With marvelous rotating exhibitions, a gallery and permanent collection, the Imperial Calcasieu Museum is a great place to visit for the entire family.
The Mardi Gras Museum, located on Kirby St. in the Central School Arts and Humanities Center, is the largest in the South. The six-room museum hosts amazing animatronics and over 257 fantastic, mannequin-adorned and complete Mardi Gras costumes.
The exhibit presents the history of the festival, costume design, the Captains Den and King Cakes with a glitzy and flamboyant homage that makes for an exciting tour. Actual parade floats, ballroom costumes and parade displays impart the spirit and grandeur of Mardi Gras through a linear progression of rooms. This museum is the best of its kind in Louisiana; make sure to bring your camera.
Festivals and FoodWith 100 different festivals, Lake Charles is known as the Festival Capital of Louisiana. Of course, the tremendous and royal gala of Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras begins in January and runs through late February. However, the city also hosts a variety of intriguing festivals that occur year-round, such as the Black Heritage Festival, Louisiana Railroad Days, Cajun Food & Music Days and the popular Contraband Pirate Days. This pirate festival, with almost 100 events, lands on the first two weekends in May. Jean Lafitte and his dread crew of pirates take center stage from the historical perspective of hiding-out from enemy ships along Lake Charles waterways. Legends abound with gold and silver buried somewhere within the Contraband Bayou. In addition, pirates and their regalia are afoot throughout the town with the themed event turning Lake Charles into the most coveted pirate experience in the U.S.
Cajun and Creole music evolved into the now popular Zydeco music found in Southwest Louisiana. In Calcasieu Parish, Zydeco and rhythm and blues find a large following with popular bands performing live in numerous clubs, events and festivals around the region. Make sure to check out club listings or nightlife to find the current rooster of performers. There is nothing more Louisiana than dancing to the up-tempo beat of Zydeco music or tapping your feet to good rhythm and blues.
Lake Charles is the parish seat of Calcasieu Parish (county) and within Southwest Louisiana, the preeminent city for cuisine. A mixed ethnic ensemble of Creole, Cajun, African and Lebanese influences have culminated in special regional dishes. Mediterranean Kibbie, a mixture of minced beef with bulgur, cinnamon onions and pine nuts is delicious. Louisiana Cajun Boudin, (BOO-dahn) a heavenly sausage stuffed with rice, herbs onions and pork is definitely Acadian. In addition, Gumbo, jambalaya, Creole shrimp and the abundant, fresh gulf seafood provide dinning enthusiasts a virtually unlimited choice of sublime cuisine in Lake Charles.
Two restaurants worth special mention are La Truffe Sauvage and Mazen's.
La Truffe Sauvage, located on Bayou Pines West, confers an intimate and boutique ambience with rare wines, and an exquisite menu for discriminating palates. The cuisine reflects French, Southwest Louisiana and Mediterranean influences. The Louisiana lump crabmeat and the roasted Colorado lamb rack are divine. For dessert, La Truffes chocolate souffle is paramount. The service is impeccable and the experience an unequalled fine dining affair.
Mazen's features a Mediterranean menu with incredible seafood, Kibbie, lamb and a variety of savory fish dishes. The interior is elegant, yet comfortable and the cuisine is excellent.
Out on the TownLake Charles caters to families and couples with a myriad of events and activities. However, when its time for going out on the town and visiting numerous exciting casinos, the L'Auberge du Lac.
The L'Auberge du Lac Casino is decidedly upscale and is the place to dress and look fabulous while playing your favorite game. Many notable personalities frequent this fabulous casino and stay at the sumptuous casino hotel. Moreover, numerous boutiques proffer designer appeal, jewelry, and gourmet sweet shops tempt with magnificent treats. Take a stroll through the L'Auberge and marvel at the surroundings and shops even if gambling isnt your game.
With Lake Charles perpetual celebratory atmosphere, friendly residents and numerous events and activities, the city is fun to visit anytime of year. A region with a fascinating history and many stories that tell of marauding pirates, grand mansions, a haunted courthouse and ghostly cows that can still be heard mooing in the fields.
For a Louisiana outback adventure, visit the renowned Creole Nature Trail and its activities. The trail follows 180 miles of varied terrain with wildlife, lakes, beaches and the last great wilderness in America.
Read more about travel throughout the USA
Have a comment to share? Like us on Facebook -- OffbeatTravelCom and post your comment.
Patrice Raplee is an experienced travel photojournalist and editor of Travel Excursion and Seattle Spotlight for Positively Entertainment magazine. In addition, she writes a monthly travel column for the award-wining site Offbeat Travel and is a regular correspondent for travel radio shows. She is a member of North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA), International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) and the Recording Academy. Her articles and photographs have appeared in numerous international publications, as well as NW newspapers such as the Seattle Times, the Stranger and Seattle Weekly. Patrice travels the globe to cover destinations that feature fascinating culture, art, culinary, history and soft adventure. Visit her website Travel-Excursion for more information.
Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author