Southwest Louisiana has something for everyone: families will find rich culinary traditions, incredible wildlife, history, and adventure. Plus, there’s plenty in the way of relaxation and play. Whether you come to Louisiana for the cajun cooking, festivals like Mardi Gras, or to glimpse an alligator, here’s how to spend three days in SW Louisiana and get (almost) everything done:
Day 1: Creole Nature Trail
First things first in SW Louisiana! In addition to checking out the cajun food scene (see link below), families will want to explore the wildlife of the area. The Creole Nature Trail is a 180 mile driving loop that takes you from the city to the rice fields, marshes, intra-tidal areas, and gulf coast, where kids can see tons of birds, snakes, alligators, and turtles. Plan to devote a day!
Day 2: Fishing excursion on Big Lake
At least once while in Louisiana, try to eat your own fresh catch! This region is well known for both freshwater and saltwater fishing, and numerous guide services are available to get you out on the water. We checked out Big Lake Guide Service, which offers day trips and multi-day camps year round. While our excursion got rained out (which happens here and there in spring), we spoke extensively to owner Jeff Poe. Jeff assured us that kids are welcome (parents can determine what age they’re ready, though in his experience, 8 years and up is a good benchmark). They fish in both fresh and brackish water (lake water), as well as trips to the gulf for ocean fishing. Half day trips are possible, and Jeff can provide rods and reels. For serious fishing families, Big Lake Guide Service also provides lodging right on the lake, in duplexes with the option of catered meals.
Do you need to have a guide? It’s recommended. When we spoke with Jeff, he explained techniques for successful fishing he’s honed in decades of fishing SW Louisiana. Families can, however, fish from gulf piers and marsh areas in Cameron Parish (along the Creole Nature Trail), provided they have their own gear and license. (Be careful about alligators.) In addition, everyone is welcome to try their hand at clamming in the marshes (no license or guide necessary).
If you go: be sure to take advantage of SW Louisiana’s unique ‘Catch and Cook’ program, where participating chefs at area restaurants will cook your catch for you the same day! You do need to set this up ahead of time.
Day 3: Cajun history and relaxation
There’s a lot of history in Lake Charles, Sulphur, and greater SW Louisiana. With young kids, start at the colorful and stimulating Mardi Gras Museum, in historic downtown Lake Charles. The museum houses more than 180 costumes from past Mardi Gras, with even more in storage. The museum has almost outgrown itself in its current location, and the winding hallways are literally stuffed with sequins, headdresses, and floats! Location: 809 Kirby/In the Central School Arts & Humanities Center, Lake Charles, LA
While in the area, use the free historic tour app provided by the city to check out the historic districts of Charpentier, Margaret Place, or Shell Beach Drive to see classic examples of early 1900s Lake Charles architecture or magnificent plantation style homes. You can drive these neighborhoods, walk them, or even take a carriage ride.
In Sulphur, the Brimstone Museum is a small but very well-done museum dedicated the the region’s sulphur mining in the late 1800s. Kids will like the displays, and the fact that the museum is located in an old train depot. It won’t take long to tour. Location: 900 Huntington, Sulphur LA
Paint and create with a local artist: If you need a break from the heat and want an indoor activity, head to Arts’ Desire, located in Lake Charles. Run by a local artist who makes it a priority to help kids create their own authentic projects that celebrate the area, Arts’ Desire has classic paint-your-own ceramics as well as more unique projects, such as ‘fish painting’ (you use an actual fish to imprint onto wood or paper). Location: 1322 Ryan, Lake Charles, LA
Enjoy the afternoon by the pool: Not staying at one of the major resort casinos, with their acres of pools, lazy rivers, and spa services? You can actually get a day pass. Both L’Auberge and Golden Nugget offer pool passes for families ($30 for adults, less for kids), and while the entry price seems steep, you get far more than just a pool. Both have lazy rivers with inner tubes, hot tubs, family pools, cabanas and food services, and Golden Nugget has tube slides. Personally, we don’t like staying at casino hotels, but we’d absolutely enjoy their pool complexes on hot days! Parents can also get a spa day pass, which gives them access to the relaxation rooms, saunas, and steam rooms at the spa.
Check out a festival! When most people think about Louisiana festivals, Mardi Gras comes to mind. And Lake Charles does have a family-friendly celebration! However, fewer people know about Contraband Days, which celebrates the area’s buccaneering past. ‘Pirates’ raid the shore, landing at the seawall in Lake Charles to force the mayor to walk the plank (which he’s a very good sport about). There’s a carnival and food vendors, plus live entertainment. Learn what festival may be ongoing during your visit.
Where to stay in the area:
The Best Western Plus is located conveniently to anywhere you’d want to go in Lake Charles and the greater area. Families will get a decent free breakfast, free parking, and free wifi. There’s a small indoor pool. For a more resort experience, the casino resorts mentioned above have live entertainment and spa services, but there IS gaming (thanks to the casino floors in this area technically being on ‘water’ instead of land). If you dislike gaming hotels, know this going in.
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