No matter what you hope to find on a deep South weekend getaway, you’ll find it in Lake Charles, Louisiana. The state’s fifth largest city, Lake Charles is a combination of small town fun and big city attractions. The Festival Capital of Louisiana it’s best known for pirate history, rhythm and blues music, casinos, and excellent French Cajun and Creole cuisine. But that’s only the first bite of the cake…Mardi Gras King cake that is!
Check out these top 10 things to do in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
Go to Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras is at the top of many people’s bucket lists and Lake Charles is my favorite family friendly place to enjoy the festivities! From the 12th night celebrations that kick off the season in January, right through until Fat Tuesday, Laissez les bons temps rouler — let the good times roll — really is the order of the day. From a dozen plus parades, to the World Famous Cajun Extravaganza and Gumbo Cook Off and the Iowa Cajun chicken run, it’s an amazing experience.
With all there is to do, though, my favorite Lake Charles Mardi Gras tradition is the Royal Gala. This main event is a triumph of ingenuity and creativity. While krewes all across the state spend the whole year planning for Mardi Gras, only in Lake Charles do visitors actually get to see all the amazing costumes.
I’ve attended a couple of times and each one has been a spectacular evening of music and festivities. One by one, all of the Krewes and their courts of kings, queens, captains, courtesans, and jesters parade for the crowd, followed by a night of music and dancing.
Check out my seven days of Mardi Gras article and start planning your dream trip!
Attend a Festival
Lake Charles has more than 75 festivals annually. That’s more than one every week, so no matter when you plan your weekend getaway, you’re likely to find one to attend.
My second favorite festival, after Mardi Gras, is one of the most unique, Contraband Days. This two week May event is inspired by the legends and tales of pirate Jean Lafitte, who once lurked in the waterways of the area.
Ahoy, mateys, as they say! There’s nothing like a rollicking pirate story to captivate a reader, especially if that reader is me.
So what’s it all about? Well, Contraband Days begins with the pirates, led by Jean Lafitte, taking over the city of Lake Charles and making the mayor walk the plank. From there, things just get better and better in that Louisiana celebration style that I love!
Tour the Charpentier Historic District
For an interesting afternoon, drive or walk the twenty-block Charpentier Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. The district reflects Lake Charles early boom as a lumber town and the talents of the many Victorian era architects who built these homes in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
You can even take a carriage ride — you’ll feel like you’ve traveled back in time!
Check out the Mardi Gras Museum
If you miss Mardi Gras in Lake Charles, you must visit the Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu. Visitors can see costumes from previous years at the world’s largest Mardi Gras costume museum.
Known for having produced some of the most spectacular costumes in the State, the Krewes from Lake Charles graciously rotate them through the museum for everyone to enjoy.
Another one of Lake Charles’ most intriguing heritage pieces is actually outside of the Imperial Calcasieu Museum – the 300 year old Sallier Oak tree. A chain was used on the tree to help hold it together during a 1918 hurricane, and during the next century the tree simply continued to grow around it!
Explore a Naval Museum
The USS Orleck Naval Museum is home to one of the most decorated US Navy ships since WWII, the USS Orleck Gearing-class destroyer.
It was nearly 100 degrees the day we visited the ship in Lake Charles, Louisiana — a fact that made us appreciate even more the heroic efforts of the marines that manned it from 1945 until its retirement in 1982, when it was transferred to the Turkish navy.
While guides share many stories if the Orleck’s history, I found the tales of the ship’s Cold War history the most fascinating. The Orleck was one of the ships modified to chase submarines during the Cold War with Russia in the 1960s. Lightened with aluminum, the ship earned its crew the nickname of “tin can sailors.”
Prowling the seas at up to 38 knots per hour, the Orleck was an anti-submarine ship equipped with the latest sonar technology, and that technology is still on board the ship. Indeed, the Orleck is a living testament to how much “hardware” has changed over the years.
Discover the Creole Nature Trail
The Creole Nature Trail, one of the first National Scenic Byways, was designated by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation in September of 1996. In 2002, it was upgraded in status to an All-American Road. This designation recognizes the unique features of southwest Lousiana or the Louisiana Outback, which don’t exist anywhere else in the country.
A number of small communities dot the Outback, but for the greater part its inhabitants don’t drive boats or cars. Naturalists in the Outback have identified more than 30 species of mammals and 300 species of birds. Marshy areas are, of course, also great places for mosquitoes, and 39 species make it their home.
While alligators may be King of swamps, there are also plenty of other reptiles and amphibians to keep visitors watchful walking through the grass. The waters are alive with fish—about 132 different kinds of them! Bird watchers find lots to focus their binoculars on in the Louisiana Outback too.
While birds like the Egrets, Herons, Roseate Spoonbills and White Ibis are common, there are also sightings of much rarer birds such as the Anhinga and Magnificent Frigatebird.
You’ll also find Sabine National Wildlife Refuge on the Creole Nature Trail. This 124,511 acre (504 km²) sanctuary is the largest coastal marsh refuge on the United States Gulf Coast.
The Refuge has also been designated as an “Internationally Important Bird Area” by Bird Life International due to the numerous wading, water and marsh birds that utilize it throughout the year. With fresh, intermediate and brackish marshes, as well as grassland prairie, the Refuge provides a diverse habitat. Nearly 300,000 visitors annually enjoy the exhibits in the refuge visitor center and the 1.5-mile Wetland Walkway with handicap access.
Hit the Beach
If you love white sand beaches, you’ll love North Beach (also known as I-10 Beach) near Lake Charles’ downtown. A rare find on the I-10 highway from Houston to Mississippi, you’ll find a boardwalk that connects three of Lake Charles’ well-known parks, including Millennium Park, the September 11th Memorial and Veteran’s Memorial Park.
The most well known beaches, however, are the beaches often called the Cajun Riviera, that run from Holly Beach, in Cameron Parish to Cypremort Point in Vermilion Parish. This 26-mile shore is the longest sand beach on the Gulf of Mexico and is still popular with visitors, despite the ravages of hurricanes over the past decades.
Sample Southern Cooking
In Louisiana, it’s all about the food — and Lake Charles is no different. And if you enjoy Cajun culture, like I do, another popular time to visit is during the annual Cajun Music & Food Festival in July. Some visitors come for the Southern Cajun food, while others are drawn by the Zydeco music that’s a signature to this part of Louisiana.
If your getaway weekend doesn’t include a foodie festival, my recommendation for a not-to-miss experience is the Boudin Trail. What’s boudin? Well, it’s a type of sausage typically made with pork liver and heart meat mixed with rice, while boudin balls, of course, are sausages rolled into a ball instead of long links. Unfortunately, one thing I’m not is a lover of liver.
Luckily, the boudin trail has grown that tradition into a celebration of the tastes of Louisiana. Every stop on the trail has its own twist on this old favorite: ‘gator boudin (made with alligator meat) to crawfish boudin (made with crawfish or “mud bugs”) to boudin rouge (has pork blood added).
Tour Local Craft Brewers or Distilleries
Sampling the local flavors these days usually means checking out the craft beer, and distillery, scenes as well as what’s happening in the dining room. And you can tour both in Lake Charles.
Since sugarcane is one of the most important agricultural products around Lake Charles, you can’t miss tasting some craft rum. While the “craft” part may be new, the area’s rum history goes back to the 1800s when wise sugar mill owners turned the dark molasses left over when the sugar was extracted into dark rum.
Stay at a Resort
During my visits to Lake Charles, I’ve had great stays in three of the resorts, including the Isle of Capri Casino Hotel (modestly priced), L’Auberge du Lac Casino Resort (mid-range pricing), and the newest four-star location, Golden Nugget Lake Charles Hotel & Casino.
The neat thing about casino resorts in Lake Charles is that they’re all built on, and around riverboats, due to state gambling laws. For me, it adds a whole new dimension to the slot machine experience (could be because I spend more time on the riverboat decks than at the machines).
Even if you’re not tempted to play the slots, the L’Auberge and Golden Nugget provide numerous shopping, dining, and lounge options at one location, making them all great places to start your weekend getaway in Lake Charles.
Visit Lake Charles
Places to Stay in Lake Charles
Things to Do in Lake Charles
Festivals and Events
Live Music and Nightlife
Restaurants and Culinary
Southwest Louisiana Boudin Trail
Craft Brewers and Distillers
Creole Nature Trail
We’ve been guests of Lake Charles Tourism a number of times, as well as attending the Travel Media Showcase event held in Lake Charles.
More Things to Do in Louisiana
About the Photo
The photo is sunset over the I-10 Bridge in Lake Charles, Louisiana, USA.