Lake Charles and all of Calcasieu Parish are unique in that they are part of what was once a no man’s land (in today’s terms, a demilitarized zone.)
When Napoleon sold the Louisiana Purchase to President Thomas Jefferson, he sold “all the land drained by the Mississippi River.” However, this part of Louisiana is drained by the Calcasieu River. For years, both Spain and France claimed it, but neither side sent troops to enforce their claim or laws.
This continued after the Louisiana Purchase. That made it a perfect place for men who skirted the law to come and mingle freely. One such person was the pirate and hero of the Battle of New Orleans, Jean Lafitte.
Lake Charles and the surrounding area are very different from the traditional plantation-style south of much of Louisiana. Prepare for a new adventure.
- Creole Nature Trail Adventure Point
- Creole Nature Trail
- Charpentier Historic District
- Imperial Calcasieu Museum
- Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu
- Crying Eagle Brewery
- Bayou Rum
- DeQuincy Railroad Museum
- L’Auberge Casino Resort
- Golden Nugget Casino
- B and O Kitchen and Grocery
- LeBleu’s Landing and Sausage Link Specialty Meats
Creole Nature Trail Adventure Point
The Creole Nature Trail Adventure Point is also a Lake Charles Visitor’s Center. In addition to picking pamphlets and information about the entire area, it features interactive displays and dioramas.
There is a small stage with instruments common in Zydeco and Cajun music. You can go onstage and play them.
Another exhibit lets you smell the flavorful scents of Cajun cooking. You can see the kinds of wildlife inhabiting southeast Louisiana swamps and bayous. There’s even an activity where you drop a “baited” line and snare a very realistic looking crab.
Creole Nature Trail
If that excites your imagination, then take a trip on the Creole Nature Trail for a real-life glimpse of the magnificent wildlife and natural ecosystems of southeast Louisiana.
It starts here and takes you all the way to the Gulf Coast beaches. It runs for 180 miles through the heart of Cajun country filled with alligator and wading birds, but you can download an app and drive as much or as little as you want. Some of the highlights you don’t want to miss are Holly Beach, Intracoastal Park, Hog Island Gully, and the Wetlands Walkway overlooking the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge.
Intracoastal Park is a great place for fishermen. There are two boat launches, a fishing pier, picnic tables, restrooms, and campsites.
The Wetlands Walkway offers a walking trail through marsh wetlands that ends at an observation tower looking out over the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge. It’s an easy trail as it is mostly paved or boardwalk over the marsh.
You are almost sure to spot a few alligators sunning and batches of turtles perched together on logs extending into the water. Depending on the season, there will be migratory birds as well as resident ones.
And it’s an important place for a stop for another reason. It has restrooms.
Charpentier Historic District
For a different kind of driving tour, visit Charpentier Historic District, 40 blocks of historic homes and buildings dating from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. Many are on the National Register of Historic Places. You will see some of the most spectacular Victorian architecture in Louisiana.
Charpentier is French for carpenter, and mainly carpenters and not architects built these homes and businesses. Many of the homes are a product of Lake Charles’ lumber boom in the 1800s.
Builders, using the plentiful pine and cypress, began adapting some of the Victorian look into the pillowed and galleried Colonial Revival style popular in the antebellum south. The results are spectacular.
You can download the app for both the Charpentier Historic District and Creole Nature Trail here: https://www.visitlakecharles.org/apps/
Imperial Calcasieu Museum
The history of Lake Charles is told both in the Imperial Calcasieu Museum and the ancient Sallier Oak behind the building. The oak and the city get their names from a man named Charles Sallier. Sallier came to the area in 1781 with his friend Jean Lafitte.
Sallier married a beautiful young woman by the name of Catherine Lebleu, and together they had six children. They lived in a home on the southeast shore of the lake, which became known as Charles’ Lake, morphing into Charlestown, and finally to today’s Lake Charles.
Sallier was jealous. After all, Lafitte was a handsome Frenchman with an esteemed reputation and great wealth. One day as Sallier was sailing home across the lake from a business trip, he saw Catherine and Lafitte standing close under the already old oak. Lafitte was pinning a brooch on Catherine’s dress.
Enraged, Sallier fired a shot at them. It was deflected by striking the brooch and only wounded Catherine in the hand. Sallier, believing he had killed the love of his life, fled the area and was never seen again.
Catherine Lebleu’s descendants are still in the area today and operate a restaurant on the Boudin Trail called Lebleu’s Landing (more about that later.)
Inside the museum, there are lifelike reproductions of the people and lifestyle of the 19th century. There is a barbershop, a general store, a post office, and many home scenes.
One such home scene is a gathering of several generations, from a young girl to a grandmother, in a family’s room with a china set prepared for tea. It gives a real feel for the life people led in that time.
Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu
If you are in Lake Charles for Mardi Gras, you’re in for a treat with all the parades and balls. If not, you can get a feel for it at the Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu.
It’s located in the Central School Arts & Humanities Center and has the south’s largest collection of Mardi Gras costumes. The museum is filled with colorful costumes of the royalty and krewes of past Mardi Gras celebrations.
You will learn about costume design and the history of king cakes, and can even experience the thrill of riding on a parade float and tossing throws to a screaming crowd.
Crying Eagle Brewery
When you need some liquid refreshment, stop at Crying Eagle Brewery. The name comes from the local Native American tribe, Atakapa’s, translation of the county name, Calcasieu.
Crying Eagle gives free tours and serves craft beers both inside its two-story taproom and in its landscaped beer garden. It serves some of the best pizza ever, but there are also other choices.
For cat lovers, the brewery has a resident cat, Tom Petty, who handles rodent control. He’s friendly and loves to mingle.
No need to go all the way to the Caribbean islands to get a tasty bottle of rum. Bayou Rum produces flavorful rum from local sugar cane, which they call “The Spirit of Louisiana.” Their distillery is the largest private label rum in the U. S. and a fun place to visit even if you don’t like rum.
Tours start in the viewing room with a film telling of sugar cane’s place in Louisiana’s culture. Jesuit priests first brought sugar cane here in 1751. The film tells how brothers, Trey and Tim Litel, and their friend Skip Cortese decided to start Bayou Rum while sitting in a duck blind in LaCassine Wildlife Preserve.
The tour is informative and fun. I love the small copper stills called “pot stills” they use to make smaller batches. In the tasting room, you get to sample each of the rums.
On the grounds, they have renovated the oldest farmhouse in the area dating to 1903 into Cafe du Bayou Coffee Shop.
DeQuincy Railroad Museum
Railroad fan or not, all ages will love the DeQuincy Railroad Museum. It’s filled with Southern Railway memorabilia including model trains, lots of photos, and artifacts. The museum is housed in the 1923 Kansas City Southern Depot with original floors and benches.
Outside is even more fun as you can explore a real train engine, passenger car, and two cabooses. There’s a nice playground in back where the kids can work off some excess energy.
L’Auberge Casino Resort
There is a lot to enjoy at Lake Charles casinos even if you don’t want to engage in gaming. Incidentally, gambling is against the Louisiana constitution, however, Governor Edwin Edwards enjoyed his games of chance and brought the casinos to Louisiana anyway; he was a bit of a wordsmith, so “gaming” is allowed.
The rooms are spacious and comfortable. Prices are comparable to other nice hotels. RVs can park overnight in the lot behind the casino.
L’Auberge has one of the largest and prettiest pool complexes anywhere; it’s a combination of pools and spas. The winding Lazy River is perfect for families and young folks, while the adults only heated pool has a poolside bar.
If you choose to do some gaming, there’s 27,000-square-feet of casino with slots, video poker, blackjack, craps, roulette, mini-baccarat, baccarat, pai gow poker, let it ride, three card poker, four-card poker, and Texas hold ’em bonus. After you try your hand, and want a different kind of game? There is an 18-hole golf course here.
Dining is also well covered. Favorite Southern Kitchen is a good breakfast or lunch spot. For dinner, try Embers or Jack Daniels Bar and Grill. Chef Lyle Brossard is amazing and at night, they have entertainment.
Golden Nugget Casino
Golden Nugget Casino is also a good place to stay and play. They have a fantastic pool that runs a close second to L’Auberge. There’s also lots of shops and another 18-hole golf course.
The casino has slots, video poker, blackjack, craps, roulette, poker, three card poker, baccarat, Mississippi stud, pai gow poker, let it ride, and four-card poker.
My favorite restaurant here is Vic and Anthony’s, which has won numerous awards. The steak is great and their bread pudding is out of this world!
B and O Kitchen and Grocery
If you are in the mood to cook your own meals or want to stock up on Cajun food to take home, B and O Kitchen and Grocery is a good place to do that. They are a family owned store making their own boudin, cracklins, hogs head cheese, tasso, and other local specialties since 1983. The owner, Jeff Benoit, makes all the goodies right on site.
If you’re lucky, he may let you take a peek into his smokehouse out back.
They do serve food right from the kitchen and you can sit at the tables out front.
LeBleu’s Landing and Sausage Link Specialty Meats
Remember Catherine, the woman who might or might not have been having an affair with Jean Lafitte? Well, her family owns LeBleu’s Landing and Sausage Link Specialty Meats.
The LeBleu family history goes back to the start of Lake Charles. Not only Catherine, but also her older brother, Arsene LeBleu, figure in the parish legends.
Their father, Bartheleme Blaise LeBleu, was the first French Creole settler to build a permanent residence in the Calcasieu region in the late 1700s. Arsene was one of Jean Laffite’s buccaneer captains and was close friends with two other notorious Louisiana residents, brothers Jim and Resin Bowie.
Lebleu’s is a full service restaurant as well as one of the best places to watch boudin being made. There’s a large window in the back of the store where you can see the entire operation. If you are there in crawfish season, you can get steamed crawfish. If not, their seafood platters or crawfish étouffée are good choices but it’s hard to go wrong with any of their dishes.
Last Updated on March 20, 2023