Louisiana has everything from big-city pleasures like gaming and gallery tours to remarkable natural attractions ranging from pristine Gulf beaches to mysterious swamps and bayous alive with ’gators and all kinds of birds.
Plus spring is the perfect time to visit as plantation gardens bloom with bright azaleas and myriad festivals celebrate birding, crawfish, music, and the Cajun and Creole traditions that set this state apart. You’ll also find unique places to stay—historic hotels in New Orleans’ French Quarter, luxurious casino resorts on the shores of Lake Ponchartrain, quaint bed-and-breakfasts in small towns, and camping areas in the midst of spectacular natural scenery. Don’t wait too long to plan one of your best trips ever.
St. Martin Parish
Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival
Parc Hardy in Breaux Bridge
Louisiana is famous for throwing fabulous parties with fabulous food, and both these traditions are at their best when the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival gets under way. Held during the first full weekend in May (May 3-5) in the town of Breaux Bridge, this lavish celebration of the crayfish—l’écrevisse in French—offers crawfish cooked every way imaginable, including fried, boiled, in spicy étouffée, and in creamy bisque. The festivities include crawfish cooking demonstrations, a crawfish-eating contest with 45 minutes to devour the most boiled crawfish, a Crawfish Étouffée Cook-Off in which amateur chefs from around the area fiercely compete for the Étouffée Champion title, and the World-Famous Crawfish Races.
Attracting thousands of visitors from around the world, this zesty fête was born in 1960, a year after the Louisiana legislature declared Breaux Bridge La Capitale Mondiale de L’Écrevisse—Crawfish Capital of the World. Along with crawfish, visitors can sample dozens of other Cajun and Creole delicacies. Located in St. Martin Parish, Breaux Bridge is a town of 7,800 nestled on the banks of the Bayou Teche.
This three-day extravaganza is also a celebration of music. Thirty Cajun and zydeco bands play on three stages as patrons dance from the opening notes to the encores at closing time. Folks experienced in the local dance traditions can compete in Cajun and zydeco dance contests, while beginners can take lessons in these arts. Rounding out the festival scene is a shopping area with arts, crafts, and souvenir booths.
Of course, even when it’s not crawfish festival time, visitors find myriad ways to have fun in St. Martin Parish. There are other historic towns to visit in Louisiana’s Cajun Country, offering picturesque hotels, quaint bed and breakfasts, and appealing shopping districts with antiques emporia and specialty boutiques. Visitors can learn about Cajun traditions at the Museum of the Acadian Memorial Festival in St. Martinville, where a commemorative quilt illustrates the Acadian people’s odyssey from Novia Scotia to Louisiana in the 1700s. St. Martin Parish is also home to the scenic and vast Atchafalaya Basin, so nature beckons with swamp tours, birding trails, hiking, biking, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and boating. You’ll also discover beautiful places for camping as well as houseboats for overnight stays. Wherever you go, the friendliness, warmth, and genuine hospitality of the people of St. Martin Parish will make you feel welcome and make sure you have a great time.
St. Tammany Parish/The Northshore
Just 45 minutes from New Orleans, St. Tammany Parish sits on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. This once-rural area began as the summer playground of wealthy New Orleanians, who crossed the lake in ferries. Accessible today via the 24-mile-long Causeway Bridge (one of the world’s longest), Louisiana’s Northshore is a popular getaway for Texans and others in search of outdoor adventure, cultural pleasures, and first-class accommodations and amenities.
The Northshore’s inviting small cities and towns offer all these, including upscale dining, eclectic shopping, relaxing spas, and cultural attractions such as art gallery walks and fun-filled events like the Abita Springs Opry, Slidell Antique District Street Fair, and the Jazz’n the Vines outdoor concerts. Famous chefs such as Food Network’s John Besh call the Northshore home.
Natural beauty is also close at hand as visitors canoe and kayak, cycle and sail, or go fishing, golfing, or even skydiving. Among the other ecological attractions are swamp tours, an alligator ranch, and the nation’s largest wildlife park. Avid birders flock to the Northlake Nature Center’s annual Great Louisiana Bird Fest, April 12-14. A great way to experience both green spaces and charming small towns is the Tammany Trace, a 31-mile rails-to-trails conversion for cyclists and hikers.
Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana
Old Cajun flavors, glittering casinos, and natural beauty await visitors in Southwest Louisiana. From the shores of Lake Charles to long Gulf Coast beaches, you’ll find fun comes in many different forms here. Your home base could be a luxurious casino resort, complete with pools, spas, shops, and gourmet dining. So whether you settle in at L’Auberge Casino Resort, the Isle of Capri Hotel, or Delta Downs Racetrack, Casino & Hotel, get ready to let the good times roll.
Nature enthusiasts won’t want to miss a side trip on the Creole Nature Trail All-American Road. Wintering and migrating birds are often seen along this scenic route encompassing pristine beaches and four wildlife refuges and sanctuaries. Plus there are plenty of appealing places along the way to try zesty Cajun dishes like gumbo and crawfish étouffée. Good fishing spots, with expert guides to show you where they are, also abound along this trail. Foodies will enjoy exploring the Southwest Louisiana Boudin Trail to sample one of Louisiana’s most delicious specialties and even watch it being made. Like exceptional food, festivals are a big draw in this region, too. Spring celebrations include the Southwest Louisiana Garden Festival in March, Railroad Days Festival in April, and Contraband Days in May.
Uncover the secrets of one of America’s fastest growing cities and immerse yourself in the many landscapes that define Louisiana’s capital city of Baton Rouge. Here you can tour famous antebellum gems like The Myrtles or Nottoway Plantation, or the Old Governor’s Mansion, where the legendary Governor Huey P. Long held court. And, from the observation deck of the 34-story State Capitol, get a panoramic view of the city. Along with history, art plays its part in the cultural scene, with a myriad of galleries and the Shaw Center for the Arts housing the Louisiana State University Museum of Art and the Manship Theatre.
Live music is big, too, offering everything from gospel and blues to country, Cajun, and zydeco. The city’s year-round calendar of great music events includes the star-studded Bayou Country Superfest on Memorial Day Weekend (May 26-27) in Louisiana State University’s Tiger Stadium, tuning up top Country music artists. And the Baton Rouge Blues Festival (April 13) stands out as one of the best and oldest blues celebrations in America. Plus, there are free concert series in the spring and fall. The city’s more than 400 restaurants, hot shopping spots, and casinos round out all the ways to experience a fun-filled vacation in Baton Rouge.
Lafayette is at the epicenter of all things Cajun and Creole, especially when it comes to cuisine. In fact, the food here is so good that Lafayette was named Best Food City in the USA by Rand McNally in its 2011 Best of the Road® Rally, and Tastiest Town in the South by Southern Living (April 2012). From gas stations and down-home diners to casual Cajun restaurants and fine dining establishments, some very good eats await you wherever you go in this food-centric city. Cajun Country also means spicy food, music, and dancing at fais do-dos (Cajun dance parties), and every Friday evening in spring and fall, Lafayette hosts Downtown Alive!—a big block party with free outdoor live Cajun and zydeco music.
This town obviously knows how to throw a party, starting with Mardi Gras. After that comes the Festival International de Louisiane (April 24-28)—the largest Francophone (French-speaking) festival in the United States. The culture of French-speaking countries all over the world is on display to entertain visitors with music, dance, art, cuisine, and other traditions. Of course, visitors can enjoy the city’s culture every day in its galleries and museums. Lafayette’s downtown hosts a Second Saturday ArtWalk each month, featuring works by both up-and-coming and renowned artists.
Coushatta Casino Resort
777 Coushatta Drive
Coushatta Casino Resort is one of Louisiana’s premier gaming and entertainment destinations. Here guests enjoy 2800 of the newest and hottest slots, off-track betting, and over 70 thrill-a-minute table games, including live poker and bingo. You’ll feel like a kid in a candy store on the immense 100,000-square-foot gaming floor, and non-smokers will love the enormous 12,000-square-foot non-smoking slot area. Play to rack up points and comps in Coushatta’s Advantage Players Club, one of the most generous slot clubs in the South. The casino also provides free live entertainment every weekend in Mikko Live!
Guests may stay in deluxe accommodations featuring more than 900 luxurious rooms, including the casino’s newest venue, Seven Clans Hotel. This hotel comes with 400 ultra-modern rooms and a “dream pool” complex with lazy river, slides, swim-up bar, and a splash-pad area for the kids. Coushatta also offers its guests an RV resort with 100 cozy chalets, a supervised child-care facility and teen arcade, and nine dining options to satisfy any palate. In addition, Koasati Pines at Coushatta championship golf course is rated 4.5 stars by Golf Digest’s readers––making it the top casino course in Louisiana. Coushatta sizzles with excitement, living up to its tag-line, Louisiana’s Best Bet!
214 Royal Street
Opened in 1886 by Italian immigrant Antonio Monteleone, this revered family-owned hotel remains one of the flagship establishments of New Orleans’ famous French Quarter. Offering 600 luxurious guestrooms and suites, Hotel Monteleone is the Quarter’s largest full-service hotel, a member of Preferred Hotels® & Resorts, and a winner of consecutive AAA Four Diamond Awards. After celebrating its 125th anniversary in 2011, the hotel underwent a complete upgrade in décor and amenities. Now iPhone docking stations, Keurig coffee makers, and Wi-Fi with the fastest Internet connection in the Quarter are standard in every room.
The hotel also renovated and expanded its beloved Carousel Bar and Lounge, opening up the space and adding coffered ceilings, customized crown moldings, circular glass chandeliers, and large windows along Royal Street. An additional crescent-shaped bar and more seating provide ample room where patrons mix, mingle, and savor free live music several nights a week. Also part of the transformation is the new restaurant Criollo, serving innovative dishes in a style it calls Louisiana Fusion—traditional Creole flavors accented with French, Spanish, Italian, Caribbean, and African culinary traditions. While enjoying breakfast, lunch, or dinner, Criollo patrons can watch the passing scene on picturesque Iberville Street in the Quarter.