Lake Charles blends the old with the new to create a great getaway.
There’s a real buzz in Lake Charles, La., these days. Two energy-related companies–Cheniere Energy and Sasol–are moving in and spending billions in infrastructure and hiring thousands of workers.
Last December, the Golden Nugget Lake Charles opened, the newest addition to the city’s gaming industry. The culinary scene has expanded with the city’s growth, now offering a diverse selection of dining options, in addition to a distillery cooking up Louisiana rum products.
“The new industry is going to have a huge impact on the area, and with that comes a lot of exciting things,” said Angie Manning, communications director at the Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau.
The bottom line, however, remains that people visit Lake Charles for its Cajun and Creole culture, Manning said, which includes great food, indigenous festivals, Cajun and Zydeco music, and an outdoors teeming with birds, fish, and alligators.
South Las Vegas
Lake Charles is home to four casinos offering luxury accommodations, restaurants, and bars. L’Auberge Casino Resort has a 70,000-square-foot gaming space, entertainment stage, golf course, spa, lazy river pool, and hotel. Since opening in 2005, the resort renovated its rooms and two of its restaurants–including the popular Asia–and added new retail outlets to its extensive Shops at L’Auberge.
Located next door, the Golden Nugget offers numerous restaurants, shops, bars, an expansive pool area with a lazy river, and a golf course in addition to its 1,600 slot machines and 72 gaming tables.
“People easily go between the two properties either by foot or trolley,” Manning explained. “I’ve heard people say it’s ‘Las Vegas on the lake.’”
Gambling aside, there are plenty of attractions away from the tables.
No visit to Lake Charles would be complete without delving into the culinary scene, known for its Cajun and Creole influences and abundance of seafood fresh off the bayous, wetlands, and the nearby Gulf of Mexico.
A staple food for area residents is a pork and rice sausage called boudin (pronounced boo-dan), a snack so popular that boudin trails have been created for culinary tourists. The Southwest Louisiana Boudin Trail covers the Lake Charles region, but don’t expect to find this local delicacy served in regal places. Some of the finest boudin will be found at local groceries, barbecue pit stops, mini-marts, and meat markets.
There are no pretensions at the family-owned Famous Foods, except for signs about its award-winning boudin. Out back, they cook up barbecue, cracklins (fried pieces of pork fat with skin), and smoked meats. Locals show up early to enjoy Famous Foods’ trademark boudin for breakfast.
La Truffe Sauvage lies at the other end of the spectrum, an elegant restaurant serving gourmet dishes accented by an extensive wine list. Located closer to center is 121 Artisan Bistro that combines Italian dishes with local seafood and meats. The new Restaurant Calla focuses on seasonal small plates, cocktails, and wine in a hip environment.
Naturally, the casinos present a buffet of restaurant choices, including fine dining at Ember Grille and Wine Bar at L’Auberge, and Vic & Anthony’s at Golden Nugget.
Sugarcane remains a major agricultural force in the Lake Charles region, which is why Lake Charles natives Tim and Trey Litel and Skip Cortese, who hails from Baton Rouge, opened Louisiana Spirits, home of Bayou Rum. The distillery produces silver, spiced, and Satsuma-enhanced rum, all from Louisiana-grown sugarcane and molasses, not to mention the Satsuma oranges. Guided tours of the distillery are offered (closed Sunday and Monday).
Attractions and events
Attractions run the gamut, from the Imperial Calcasieu Museum that explains Lake Charles’ history, to the Mardi Gras Museum with its dozens of brilliantly sequined and feathered costumes. A great combination is to begin at the Mardi Gras Museum located in the Central School Arts & Humanities Center and then explore the neighborhood known as the Charpentier Historic District.
Much like today’s oil and gas exploration, Lake Charles saw a boom in the 1800s when lumbermen arrived to take advantage of the south Louisiana swamps and forests. The Charpentier District emerged during this golden age, named for the carpenters who built the homes in various styles. Visitors can enjoy a walking tour of the district or enlist a mule-drawn carriage that’s guided by an historian.
Throughout the year, festivals and special events are ongoing, including the annual Contraband Days Pirate Festival, April 28–May 10, that celebrates the legacy of Jean Lafitte, who once resided in the area, as well as other privateers.
“That’s the fantastic thing about Louisiana is there’s always something going on culturally,” Manning explained. “That’s what’s great about Lake Charles, you really can do so much.”
Behind gaming, the Creole Nature Trail is the area’s largest tourist attraction. The route through “Louisiana’s Outback” stretches through wetlands, bayous, and lakes to the Gulf. The trail was one of the first in the nation to be designated a National Scenic Byway.
The trail can be accessed at two points off Interstate 10 and from Interstate 210 in Lake Charles, all heading south to the Gulf where it continues along the coast. There are numerous spots to stop and view wildlife, from hundreds of resident and migratory birds to alligators sunning on the side of the road. In addition, the trail offers opportunities for fishing, camping, hiking, and paddling adventures.
The trail contains a visitor’s center on its eastern route, but new this year is the Creole Nature Trail Adventure Point on the western side. Adventure Point features interactive displays, such as the Cajun and Creole kitchen where participants may crank out faux boudin or watch a pot of boiling crawfish. There’s even a music stage where visitors can join in on the songs.
“It couldn’t have come at a better time,” Manning said, explaining the goal of Adventure Point was to educate visitors on the region’s culture, food, and history in addition to the environment. “It blends together everything we do.”
Just don’t forget to head back outside, where gators and pink-feathered spoonbills are waiting.
Cheré Coen is a contributor from Lafayette, La.
May/June 2015 Issue
^ to top | previous page
Contents may not be reproduced in whole or in part unless expressly authorized in writing by AAA Traveler Magazines.