Culture + Style

Beyond Bourbon Street: Best Bayou Road Trips

(Photo: MSMcCarthy_Photography/Thinkstock)

You’ve seen all there is to see on Bourbon Street — now what? Even though New Orleans is in South Louisiana, the fact is, it’s an urban, cosmopolitan center. The only place you’ll spot an alligator is at the Audubon Zoo, or on a postcard or T-shirt.

However, take a two-hour drive west and you’re in bona fide Cajun country, where you can dig into authentic Cajun dining, two-step in raucous zydeco dance halls and experience the singular culture of Acadiana.

Do the Two-Step

Zydeco is essentially the marriage of early rock ‘n’roll and rhythm and blues with indigenous French Creole folk music. In keeping with the tradition of innovation, lots of young zydeco acts today add elements of hip-hop and contemporary R&B to the recipe. At venerable venues like Slim’s Y-Ki-Ki in Opelousas and El Sid-O’s Zydeco & Blues Club in Lafayette, both kinds are on offer — Keith Frank, J. Paul Jr., Chris Ardoin and Brian Jack are just a few names to look out for. If breakfast-time fiddle and washboard is your jam, the Savoy Music Center in Eunice hosts an acoustic Cajun jam session from 9 a.m. until noon every Saturday. And, if you’d rather two-step your way straight to bed after the band’s done, the Blue Moon Saloon in Lafayette is a restaurant, music venue and guest house.

Eat Like a Local

The rich, dark pheasant and andouille sausage gumbo is one of the most prized dishes served by vendors at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in the spring. Many locals feel it’s worth the road trip to track it down in its natural habitat at Prejean’s Cajun restaurant in Opelousas. Café Des Amis, overlooking the Bayou Teche in Breaux Bridge, is famous for its Saturday-morning zydeco breakfasts with live music starting at 9:30 a.m., and dishes like boudin-stuffed beignets and crawfish etoufee-topped grilled biscuits. Then, there’s Johnson’s Boucanière in Lafayette. Since 1937, it has sold its specialty meats, including house-made sausage to go. But feel free to dine in on fried boudin balls, chicken and sausage gumbo or slow-cooked barbecue.

Succumb to the Swamp Call

Tons of companies offer airboat swamp tours that go deep into the bayou, where you can spot gators, nutria and other swamp wildlife. Others offer canoe and kayak rentals. The National Parks Service’s programs in Cajun country has ranger-guided boat tours in Bayou Vermilion, but why not rent a canoe or kayak and explore on your own? The Bayou Vermillion District (BVD) has facilities that allow access to the water. Visit Lafayette Travel to get more info.

Where to Stay Along the Way