Lake Charles, the largest city in Southwest Louisiana, reflects the wide variety of cultures that make up this region claimed by both Louisiana and Spanish Texas in the early 19th century. You’ll see it in the city’s diverse architectural styles and range of culinary offerings, from Cajun boudin and pistolettes to spicy crawfish and Gulf shrimp. If you’re looking to celebrate, the “festival capital of Louisiana” has you covered, hosting more than 75 such events each year. Just outside the city, you’ll find plenty of outdoor adventure in Louisiana’s Outback, a thinly populated landscape of marshes and prairies where alligators outnumber people and birds flock by the millions.
GET BRIEFED | Creole Nature Trail Adventure Point
The jumping-off point for the 180-mile Creole Nature Trail All-American Road, the center will immerse you in the culture and wildlife of Southwest Louisiana through interactive exhibits. Learn the best places to spot alligators, how to identify the calls of birds, and more intel on the five wildlife refuges linked by the trail.
BIRD-WATCH | Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge
Positioned under two major flyways, this 9,000-acre expanse is a birder’s paradise. As you drive across the coastal prairies and freshwater marshes, keep your binoculars close to catch a glimpse of some of the nearly 200 migratory bird species that pass through the area, from snow geese to roseate spoonbills.
CRUISE | Cameron Ferry
Sail across the Calcasieu Pass, a tea-colored channel connecting Calcasieu Lake to the Gulf of Mexico, aboard this historic ferry. In operation since 1953, the ship offers travelers a short but memorable cruise. Keep your eyes peeled: Pink dolphins and alligators are known to swim alongside the vessel.
CAMP | Sam Houston Jones State Park
Choose from more than 30 campsites or opt for a turnkey camping experience with a pre-set canvas safari tent, queen-sized bed, propane heater, and solar shower. Once settled, check out the surrounding lagoons and forests on numerous trails, or stroll the newly added 500-foot boardwalk over the Calcasieu River.
GET ON THE WATER | Watersport rentals
It’s in the name: Lake Charles is known for its scenic waterways. Various outdoor rental companies allow you to savor the splendor of the Calcasieu lakefront in a kayak or atop a paddleboard; glide through the bayous on a guided motorboat tour; or launch your own boat and embark on a Gulf Coast adventure entirely your own.
FEAST | Steamboat Bill’s on the Lake
This Lake Charles mainstay is famous for its “slow seafood” (seafood that hasn’t traveled far), including its trays of spicy crawfish. Try all the Cajun staples: red beans and rice, gumbo, and the not-to-be-missed pistolettes—dinner rolls stuffed with shrimp or crawfish etouffee and fried golden brown.
CELEBRATE | Mardi Gras
Lake Charles prides itself on its family-friendly Carnival celebrations. Look for King cake (a mix of coffee cake and cinnamon rolls) around every corner, a parade of costumed pets presented by the “Krewe of Barkus,” and a designated alcohol- and tobacco-free zone along the parade route.
TOUR | Charpentier Historic District
Throughout this 40-block downtown neighborhood, you’ll find an abundance of restored turn-of-the-century houses in a range of styles, constructed by architect-carpenters who designed as they built. Anticipate seeing plenty of towers, turrets, and gingerbread accents on your self-guided walking or driving excursion.
ADMIRE | Historic City Hall Arts & Cultural Center
The iconic Italianate stunner, constructed in 1911, is itself worth seeing, but other draws include works by noted regional artists and traveling exhibitions. Check out Nature’s Blueprints: Biomimicry in Art and Design, opening November 11.
INDULGE | Luna Bar and Grill
Chef Dave Evans, a Lake Charles native, is known for his twists on regional dishes. Stop in for Sunday brunch to demolish his signature Fats Domino, a fried-chicken biscuit topped with fresh boudin. Check out the selection of local art and concert posters while you listen to live jazz.
ROLL THE DICE | The Golden Nugget
Feeling lucky? You’ll find more than 1,600 slot machines, 87 table games, and seven live- action poker tables at this little piece of the Vegas Strip on the Calcasieu River. Take a break from the action at the Blue Martini Lounge, which offers a host of specialty cocktails—including 10 takes on the martini.
LIVE IT UP | L’Auberge Casino Resort
Plan on dinner at the resort’s acclaimed steakhouse, Ember Grille & Wine Bar. Select a bottle from the extensive wine cellar, order a boneless bison ribeye, and save room for the Pick Me Up, a decadent turn on tiramisu featuring mocha ice cream and caramel sauce. After dinner, stop by the polished gaming floor for a turn of the roulette wheel.
JAM OUT | Panorama Music House
Music lovers will relish a night out at this two-story restaurant and club downtown. Nightly performances feature local musicians and a rotating selection of genres including jazz, rock, and country. Hit the downstairs dance floor or seek out a perch upstairs for a bird’s-eye view of the action.
PLACE YOUR BETS | Delta Down Racetrack Casino Hotel
Check out live races at this casino’s multi-track betting parlor or in a private betting carrel. Only half an hour from Lake Charles, Delta Downs offers plenty of nighttime showdowns; competitors might be Thoroughbred horses, zebras, camels, even wiener dogs.
KICK BACK | Rikenjak’s Brewing Company
Stake out a spot on the largest outdoor patio in Southwest Louisiana at this brewery and restaurant housed in a 70-year-old bungalow. Order a pint of the popular Hop Blooded IPA and the Cajun charcuterie board—boudin balls, grilled alligator sausage, Creole mustard—and settle in for live music ranging from jazz to zydeco to karaoke.
This article appears in the Fall/Winter 2022 issue of Southbound.