Now is the time to start making travel plans for spring and summer, and fortunately, if you live in Louisiana, you do not need to travel far. Louisiana offers some of the most tempting travel destinations in the country. From the bayous and rural areas, small towns and historic communities, to major urban areas, Louisiana has it all. The people of Louisiana comprise a vibrant, colorful population, always ready for a party or a festival and determined to preserve their world-renowned culture.
This year, one of the best places to include on your travel itinerary is right in the center of the state. ALEXANDRIA AND PINEVILLE sit on opposite banks of the Red River smack in the middle of Louisiana, offering a unique experience through diverse culture and rich history, art and great recreation, and food and fun that will keep you wanting more. The Alexandria/Pineville Area is home to three of nine distinguished Audubon Golf Trail courses, and offers hotel rooms ranging from economical to luxurious, a variety of bed and breakfast choices and a fantastic array of restaurants with a local flair. Visit this area and you can enjoy a night at the theatre, distinguished art, local music, living history, an exciting ballgame or an adventure at the zoo. Central Louisiana is truly a way to get away from it all, without emptying your gas tank or your wallet. Visit www.apacvb.org for trip ideas and more information.
Take a scenic drive from Alexandria and Pineville to the state capital, BATON ROUGE. Louisiana’s capital is a charming city that has gracefully merged her past with the energy and excitement of the present. From every direction, everything uniquely Louisiana culminates here. Experience the downtown renaissance at the Shaw Center for the Arts with theatrical performances, art galleries, fine dining and more. Get a bird’s eye view of the city from the observation deck of the 34-story State Capitol, and then walk right across the street to visit the brand new Louisiana State Museum. And while you are downtown, dive into the colorful history of Louisiana politics at the Old State Capitol and the Old Governor’s Mansion, built by legendary Governor Huey P. Long.
No trip to Baton Rouge would be complete without experiencing the picturesque ride along River Road to visit one of the numerous antebellum homes, including Nottoway, Houmas House, Magnolia Mound and many more. Spend a day with the kids at the award-winning Baton Rouge Zoo or travel through the swamp in search of alligator and other wildlife at Alligator Bayou Swamp Tours. For more information, call (800) LA-ROUGE or visit www.VisitBatonRouge.com.
Mark your calendar: June 14-17 as the Coastal Wine Tour comes to Louisiana’s Capital City. Get ready for a great weekend of fine wine, delicious food and good times.
The three day wine and culinary event will be held on the grounds of the Old State Capitol, as well as several other hot spots throughout the city. You will enjoy winemaker dinners, grand wine tastings, walkabout brunches and more. Reserve your spot now before they’re all gone at www.VisitBatonRouge.com.
Culture abounds in CROWLEY. Crowley is rich in history, culture and architectural design. With 200 structures on the National Register of Historic Places, Crowley’s Historic District is a classic example of superb Victorian residences that feature Queen Anne-style architecture and Eastlake galleries. Take a driving or walking tour of this district. Crowley City Hall is located in the restored Crowley Motor Company building and is home to the Rice Interpretive Center and the J. D. Miller Recording Studio best known for its Cajun, zydeco, blues and country releases. Tour the center and studio where you can watch videos that chronicle the history of rice production in Crowley, the “Rice Capital of America,” and the history and talent that recorded at the Miller studio.
In addition, tour the Grand Opera House of the South, the Rice theatre, and take a driving tour of rice and crawfish country. This October 18-20, come and join the fun at the International Rice Festival. Started in 1937, the festival features parades, rice cooking demonstrations, entertainment, dancing, carnival rides, arts and crafts and all types of food. Brochures and maps are available that gives you more information. For more information, call 866-665-4642 or visit www.crowley-la.com.
Located in Louisiana’s famed French Acadiana, HOUMA presents every visitor with sprawling plantations, a vibrant historic downtown, thriving fishing villages and lively views of some of the most beautiful wetlands around. Visiting Houma offers an experience blended with rich history, breathtaking scenery and a thriving culture. Explore the wetlands with one of Houma’s colorful guides; “get hooked” on world-class fishing; uncover age-old traditions at one of Houma’s museums and cultural centers; travel the scenic routes along the bayou and pass a good time at one of Houma’s many fairs and festivals, including Mardi Gras, the Voice of the Wetlands Festival and the Grand Bois Inter-Tribal Pow Wow. Visit www.houmatravel.com.
Mark you calendar: March 31: Southdown Spring Marketplace Arts & Crafts Festival. 1209 Museum Drive, Houma. This is a one-day festival featuring more than 300 booths of arts, crafts, antiques and more. Cajun Cuisine food court; Museum tours. Gates open 8:00 am to 4:00 pm. Admission: $4 per person (children under 12 free). Additional fees for food, drinks and museum tours. For more information, contact Karen Hart 985-851-0154.
A visit to LA FOURCHE PARISH will open your eyes to what natural Louisiana beauty is all about. The Jean Lafitte National Park Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center in Thibodaux tells the story of the Acadians who settled along the bayous and the wetland swamps of southeastern Louisiana, with extensive exhibits and artifacts. The Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center is located in Thibodaux along the banks of Bayou Lafourche. A spacious boardwalk affords an excellent view of the bayou. Several large plantations, including Madewood, Oak Alley and Laura are easily accessible in the area. Charter fishing, camping and great seafood restaurants are available throughout the area. For more information, visit www.lafourche-tourism.org.
RUSTON AND LINCOLN PARISH, located in north central Louisiana, is a remarkable place to spend a little time and explore the secrets of the area. The 18-block Historic District offers shoppers a taste of everything that makes Ruston unique. From trendy boutiques to tasty southern cuisine, the possibilities are endless. Spend an afternoon reliving the lives of legends and heroes by visiting the Lincoln Parish Museum, Louisiana Military Museum or the Eddie G. Robinson Museum. Indoors or out, there is plenty to do in Ruston, the sportsman’s paradise, centrally located near three area lakes and parks. Ruston is home to the Squire Creek Louisiana Peach Festival, held the fourth weekend in June, one of Louisiana’s longest running festivals. For more information, visit www.rustonlincoln.com.
THE HISTORIC NEW ORLEANS COLLECTION, located in the heart of the French Quarter, showcases more than three centuries of Louisiana history – from settlement to the present day. THNOC’s holdings survey the region’s economic, social, cultural, culinary and military history. Visitors are invited to tour the galleries at 533 Royal Street and visit the Williams Research Center at 410 Chartres Street, where rare manuscripts and maps, Mardi Gras memorabilia and jazz artifacts, genealogical records and historical photographs are made available to the general public. And don’t miss What’s Cooking in New Orleans? Culinary Traditions of the Crescent City, a new exhibition that runs through July.
Also on display at the THNOC (through June 2) is Four Hundred Years of French Presence in Louisiana: Treasures from the Bibliothèque nationale de France, presented as a gift to the people of New Orleans from the Bibliothèque nationale de France, in affirmation of France’s commitment to the preservation of New Orleans culture in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
All facilities are free and open to the public, Tuesday-Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. For more information, call 504-523-4662 or visit www.hnoc.org.
Summer is a great time to visit St. Francisville in WEST FELICIANA PARISH. Historical re-enactments and birding dominate the calendar. “The Day the War Stopped” is held annually in June 15, 16 and 17 this year – and commemorates the events leading up to and the actual burial of a Union soldier in Confederate territory. It was a time for the soldiers to lay down their weapons so that their Masonic brother could be laid to rest. It is a unique celebration in full historical costume and content. The Hummingbird Festival is held the last weekend in July–27 through 29.
Hummingbird biologists Linda Beall and Nancy Newfield will capture and band birds at two private gardens in the St. Francisville area. Visitors will have the opportunity to observe hummingbirds up close as they are weighed and measured. In addition, vendors will be at both homes with hummingbird plants, birding equipment, books, and crafts available for sale. Experts will be on hand to share advice about gardening to attract these fascinating birds to your own backyard, binoculars and more. For more information, call 1-800-789-4221 or visit www.stfrancisville.us.
This spring, the RIVER PARISHES are an exciting place to visit. Embrace the charm and elegance of the historic plantations by taking a picturesque day tour. Hear stories of powerful Creole families while overlooking sugarcane fields and 300-year-old avenues of oaks. If adventure and nature inspire you, then a swamp tour is sure to thrill. Glide through cypress-filled waters as a native guide quietly approaches wild animals that call the River Parishes home. After a full day of events, indulge in an authentic Cajun dining experience. The menu if filled with entrées refined by generations of culture: crawfish, gumbo, jambalaya and oysters, to name a few. Great food is accompanied by music that lifts the soul. Swing across a crowded dance floor to the sound of fiddles, accordions, banjos, and washboards. No need to drive home as the hotels of the River Parishes are ready to serve you with southern hospitality.
Special events in the River Parishes fill the calendar: March 24-25 Oak Alley Plantation 16th Annual Art’s & Crafts Festival, March 31 Bicentennial Events, April 14 LA Philharmonic at San Francisco, April 21-22 Destrehan Plantation Spring Art’s & Crafts Festival, May 13 Oak Alley Plantation Mother’s Day Brunch, July 3 Independence Day Celebrations, July 13-15 LA Catfish Festival, August 18-26 Laura Week.
For more information, call 866-204-7782 or visit www.TakeMeToTheRiver.com. If you haven’t taken time to visit ST. LANDRY PARISH, this is the ideal time of year. From the Saturday Night Live Radio Show at the Liberty Theater in Eunice, hosting the best in Cajun and Zydeco music, to the Atchafalaya Gateway towns of Krotz Springs and Melville, St. Landry Parish captures the spirit of the people of Acadiana. Beginning May 1, the Opelousas Museum of Art offers its latest exhibit, including pieces form the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans. For more information, call 337-942-4991. Don’t miss the Etoufee Cookoff in Arnaudville, April 27-29, and the “Night of Champions” in Opelousas, April 21, featuring a popular joke telling contest.
May 5-11 are the dates of this year’s Celebration of Herbs and Gardens in Sunset. The one-day event is ideal for families, featuring more than 75 vendors with a focus on gardening. Featured speakers will lecture on herbs, gardens and cut flowers. For more information, visit www.CajunTravel.com.
If you had the pleasure of seeing the motion picture, Steel Magnolias, you already know what a beautiful town NATCHITOCHES is. This is a town where you can experience the charm of the original French colony in Louisiana, established in 1714. The Landmark Historic District offers distinctive shopping, dining and attractions, while the town also features historic fort sites, museums, cultural events and festivals.
Natchitoches has some of the most beautiful bed and breakfasts in the state, all close to the Cane River National Historical Park at Oakland and Magnolia Plantations. This Spring, The Old Courthouse Museum presents “Splendors of Faith,” an exhibition featuring Louisiana religious artifacts and artwork from early 19th century Louisiana and Natchitoches region. The Old Courthouse State Museum is open Monday - Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Call 318-357-2270 for details. For more information, visit www.natchitoches.net.
No trip through the state of Louisiana is complete without outstanding food. PREJEAN’S RESTAURANT is located on the I-49N Service Road, just two miles north of I-10, in the heart of French Louisiana. The ambience is friendly and inviting, every guest is greeted by the restaurant’s very own baby gator, Tee Al. His older brother, Big Al, sits in the middle of the dining room guarding over Team Prejean’s most recent culinary medals. Live Cajun music plays nightly and on weekend mornings during breakfast.
Prejean’s not only offers the freshest gulf seafood, but also some of the juiciest steaks and wild game dishes. Prejean’s offers “Fine Dining with a Cajun Attitude.”
This article appears in the Spring 2007 issue of Louisiana Life
As the Louisiana Carnival’s biggest parade, which starts in New Orleans' Mid-City neighborhood and heads through the Central Business District toward the Superdome, the magic happens on the floats, in the streets and beyond.