When most people think of visiting Louisiana, they think New Orleans. However, Louisiana is a big state and there is so much more to Louisiana than New Orleans. So much more to experience and enjoy and Lake Charles is the perfect place to experience it all.
Lake Charles, Louisiana is located in the Southwest portion of the state, about 200 miles from New Orleans. It’s easy to get there. Planes, trains and automobiles can get you to this beautiful and friendly area of Louisiana.
I recently spent several days there as a guest of the Lake Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau and I have fallen in love with the area.
Here are just 5 reasons why everyone should visit Lake Charles:
No. 1 – Mardi Gras
A little about Mardi Gras: Mardi Gras refers to Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent begins for Catholics, and the end of a season of revelry. Mardi Gras celebrations fill the weeks between Epiphany (Twelfth Night) and Mardi Gras itself. The weekend just prior to Fat Tuesday is the most full of celebrations – from balls and pageants, gumbo cook-offs and crawfish boils, music and parades.
When we think of Mardi Gras, most of us think crazy, wild, drinking Mardi Gras in New Orleans. When you say “I’m going to Mardi Gras,” you will automatically receive comments and jokes about the craziness and alcohol. Unfortunately New Orleans Mardi Gras has a bit of a risqué reputation.
The truth is, Mardi Gras is family friendly for all of the communities in Louisiana that celebrate the traditional way. I was delighted to discover that at the Lake Charles Mardi Gras in Southwest Louisiana!
Mardi Gras in Lakes Charles is very different from the one that many automatically think of. Mardi Gras in Lake Charles is super family-friendly.
I was so very impressed by everything surrounding Mardi Gras in Lake Charles. Mardi Gras is Louisiana’s most celebrated time of year. In Southwest Louisiana, people of all ages come together to celebrate Mardi Gras. Parade crowds and festival-goers revel in high fashion and rich traditions.
Mardi Gras is an incredible cultural event all over the state, bringing out some of the best music, food, celebrations and festivities that the area has to offer.
Beads – Beads – Beads – and more Beads! Whether you are tossing or catching – Beads are a HUGE part of the Mardi Gras celebration!
Beads used for Mardis Gras are gold, purple and green. These three colors contain the Christian symbolism of power, justice and faith, respectively. Traditions and rituals can be hard to pin down, but Mardi Gras historians believe the idea of distributing trinkets began in the 1870’s or 1880’s, several hundred years after French settlers introduced the celebration to Louisiana in the 1600’s.
Though the Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans originated in this Christian tradition, today the celebration is better known as a day for people of all faiths, races, and ethnicities to come together at the parades, eat great food, and compete to catch beads, doubloons and other throws from the people wearing masks and costumes on the floats parading down the streets. Who doesn’t love a parade? A parade tossing beads is even better!
Organizers, known locally as krewes, hand out baubles and other shiny objects to revelers to help commemorate the occasion. The beads of Mardi Gras have become as much a holiday staple as Thanksgiving turkeys.
I am so glad I was able to experience Mardi Gras this way. The Lake Charles community welcomes everyone – as if they are old friends. It’s the perfect place to expose your children to the Mardi Gras celebration.
No. 2 – Food and Drink
Boudin, Crawfish and Shrimp – Oh My! From fancy restaurants to old fashioned home cooking done just right – the food in the Lake Charles area can’t be beat.
It doesn’t matter where your taste in food lies, you’ll be able to find exactly what you like. There is no better place to give good old fashion Creole cooking a try.
Love Shrimp and Grits? Each local restaurant you visit has shrimp and grits done their way – with no two dishes being the same.
Did I hear a “what’s boudin?” rolling around in your head? Traditionally, boudin (pronounced BOO-DAN) is made with ground pork, rice, onion, green peppers, and Cajun spices and seasonings. All of that is then stuffed into casings or rolled into round balls to be deep fried, grilled, or slow-smoked. Just like shrimp and grits – no two eateries are alike when it comes to boudin.
Napa Valley has wine. New York has pizza. Wisconsin has cheese. Southwest Louisiana has boudin. To say that boudin is an important part of foodie life in Lake Charles would be an understatement. You can eat your way around the area on the Boudin Trail!
See you later alligator! Tastes like chicken . . Alligator bites are a great appetizer you can find on just about any menu in the area.
King Cake! Typically, king cake is made of a rich, brioche dough and a wide array of fillings, such as cinnamon, apple or other fruit filling, chocolate, and cream cheese. But the rainbow magic is found in the glaze and sprinkles, which are usually gold, green, and purple. Buried inside the batter is a tiny, plastic baby figurine.
Why is there a baby in the cake? There are two theories. Some believe the plastic baby is a symbolism for Baby Jesus because of the religious connection to King’s Day. Others, however, believe the popular New Orleans lore, which suggests that an elaborate cake was served with a bean or ring placed inside during the commemoration of the king’s ball in colonial Louisiana. Whoever found the bean or trinket in his or her slice of cake would be crowned the king or queen of the balls leading up to the lavish finale on Mardi Gras.
Today, the baby symbolizes luck and prosperity to whoever finds it in their slice of cake. That person is also responsible for purchasing next year’s cake, or for throwing the next Mardi Gras party.
Whatever you believe, King Cake is colorful, fun and delicious!
Local beer and rum are also on the menu wherever you turn. You can visit a brewery or a distillery and learn how things are made. You can also do a little sampling while you are there. Visits and tours are family friendly and after all, you’re never too young to learn how rum is made!
Bayou Rum Distillery is the largest private rum distillery in the United States. They offer free distillery tours, tastings and a gift shop. The rum is made on-site in a traditional copper pot using 100% natural refined Louisiana can sugar and molasses.
Crying Eagle Brewing Co. opened in 2016 and is a new craft brewery in the area. Indoor seating and a great outdoor patio beer garden gives you plenty of spots to enjoy a sampling of their line-up of beers that you won’t be able to find anywhere else!
No. 3 – Accommodations
The area is full of great places to stay. Depending on your budget, family size and likes, all of the major hotel brands such as Best Western, Holiday Inn, Courtyard, etc., are represented in the area.
Let’s not forget that Louisiana is also a gambling state so a few large hotel/casino properties are also in the area.
I had the pleasure of staying at the Golden Nugget Casino Resort and can’t begin to tell you how beautiful the property is. It’s a large property offering 7 restaurants, a super large casino, Starbucks, cafe, large pool and more.
Even when traveling with the kids, the Golden Nugget shouldn’t be crossed off your list. The pool is beautiful and the property has lots of visitors with children. Of course, no one under the age of 21 is allowed in the casino.
The rooms are spacious and well done. The service is above and beyond. The resort offers numerous amenities for guests such as fitness center, gift shop, jacuzzi and spa.24-hour room service is available as well as 5 bars/lounges or 2 poolside bars.
No. 4 – Things to do
Along with the things to do surrounding Mardi Gras if you visit during that time, the area has lots of other things to see and do. Mardi Gras season is of course full of parades, gumbo cook-offs, the chick run and more!
The chicken run? Well, let me tell you – the most fun I have had in a long, long time. Floats line up early and once they set out they stop throughout the community with the trucks and trailers, ATVs, and people on horseback and beg for ingredients to make a gumbo. It’s an ancient tradition of begging where the revelers go from house to house dancing to Zydeco music for the owners to lend them ingredients for the communal gumbo to be made later that evening. The chicken run is held on Mardi Gras Day.
At each stop a whistle is blown, a chicken is tossed in the air and the children in the parade chase the chicken! There is a lot of whooping, hollering and dancing that takes place during the process! It’s quite an honor to catch the chicken. The chasing of the chicken is reserved for children only.
Note: The chickens used are actually roosters and well taken care of. No roosters are harmed or injured during the Chicken Run and are returned to their owner (who lends his birds for the occasion) when the run is complete.
It’s a family affair that is true Cajun Mardi Gras tradition. Lots of laughter, music and fun is had by all!
The area is full of museums and family entertainment as well. A visit to the Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu will have you in awe of the colorful costumes, the creativity involved and the meaning behind so many of the items you’ll see.
Although a small museum, it houses the largest Mardi Gras costume display in the world.
Other museums in the area include the Brimstone Museum (area history), DeQuincy Railroad Museum, USS Orleck Naval Museum and the Children’s Museum (hands-on activities) to name a few.
The Creole Nature Trail Adventure Point is a free, fun attraction that immerses you in nature and Louisiana’s unique culture. Through imaginative, hands-on displays, you can learn the best places to spot alligators and migrating songbirds, take a peek at wildlife found in bayous and marshes, smell the aromas of Cajun/Creole cooking, and “play along” with a Cajun and Zydeco band.
Art from local artists hang on the walls of the center and those working there are full of knowledge and interesting facts about the area.
If you start your nature trail at Adventure Point, you’ll leave with a better understanding of the area and a map and guide to the best route and way to truly experience the natural beauty and wildlife of the area.
Gator Chateau is home to rescued, baby alligators that are fostered until they are able to be released back into their natural habitat. It’s the best place to be educated in all things Alligator! The babies are hand fed, they don’t bite, and you can hold them and take your picture!
The Casinos – You will find the following games in Lake Charles casinos: Slot machines, Video Poker, Blackjack, Craps, Roulette, Baccarat, 3 Card Poker, Pai Gow Poker, Let it Ride, Mississippi Stud, Four Card Poker, Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Blackjack – Single Deck , Blackjack Double Deck, No Craps Craps, No Limit Holdem, Omaha, Let It Ride Bonus Poker, Texas Hold’em Bonus, Omaha Hi-Lo, Limit Holdem, Pot Limit Omaha.
You’ll find minimum bets of $.01 on slot machines so you won’t break the bank to enjoy some casino fun!
The largest casino in Lake Charles, Louisiana according to gaming machines and table games put together, is the Golden Nugget. It has 1600 gaming machines and 72 table games.
No. 5 – The People
The people that call Lake Charles and the Southwest portion of Louisiana home are some of the nicest people you will ever come across.
They welcome each visitor as if they are old friends and spend time to share their area with you. Whether you visit during Mardi Gras season – or any other time of year – you will find that the people of Southwest Louisiana welcome you with open arms, a great big smile and lots of good food.
I hope you’ll think about a visit to Lake Charles in Southwest Louisiana for your next family vacation adventure! I know I can’t wait to go back.
I was provided an all-expense trip to the Lake Charles area by the Lake Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau. All opinions are my own.