Boardwalk in Lake Charles

Stroll a boardwalk in Lake Charles. (Photo: Getty Images)

Weekend Getaways

Explore Cajun Culture and Cuisine in Lake Charles, Louisiana

Lake Charles delivers all of New Orleans’ Cajun cuisine and culture — but in a much more laid-back style. It also resembles big sister city NOLA in its historic architecture, rollicking waterfront scene (casinos included) and Mardi Gras celebrations.

But this western Louisiana town comes with unique pleasures and treasures, especially the 26-mile Creole Nature Trail All-American Road, which traverses beaches, lakes, rivers and protected land — and invites travelers to explore nature on foot or by boat or bike.

As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.

Friday: Discover Regional Art and Culture

Lake Charles has a growing arts and culture scene, so you’ll spend the day exploring its boutiques, galleries and museums.

Begin at the Imperial Calcasieu Museum, which has cultural and visual arts programming and a permanent collection that ranges from regional Native American artifacts to the work of contemporary artists, including sculptor Lynda Benglis, who was born in Lake Charles and whose work has appeared at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Person holding bowl of Mexican tortilla soup
Enjoy Mexican cuisine in Lousiana. (Photo: Getty Images)

For lunch, grab a table at the nearby Casa Mañana, famous for its tortilla soup. The massive menu also offers quesadillas, tacos, fajitas and more. Or hit up Cotten’s Downtown on Broad Street, a classic joint beloved for its burgers and onion rings.

From either restaurant, you’re not far from the Historic City Hall Arts & Cultural Center, on Ryan Street. This spot has hosted exhibits from important artists ranging from Norman Rockwell to Pablo Picasso. It also has a Black Heritage Gallery that showcases regional artists.

Creole and Cajun food is on the menu for dinner tonight. To get the best of the best, head to Southern Spice, also on Ryan Street, for a fried-oyster po’boy or “Crawfish Louisiane.”

Keep the party going with live music after dinner. Several venues play zydeco music; check out the schedules at the Center Stage and Chasers Bar & Grill. Looking for a more relaxing vibe? Head to Rikenjaks Brewing Company, which is housed in a 70-year-old restored midtown bungalow and hosts live music on its outdoor patio (weather permitting).

Saturday: Explore the Coastline and Local Shops

On Saturdays, Pujo St. Café serves a delicious French toast with fried chicken, New Orleans-style beignets and classic shrimp and grits. If you can, go with a group so you can try some of everything.

Boat on Calcasieu River in Louisiana on sunny day
Take a leisurely day on Calcasieu River. (Photo: Getty Images)

Next, head over to one of Lake Charles’ most popular attractions, the Creole Nature Trail All-American Road. The trail spans 108 miles and traverses three national wildlife refuges and several lakes, with many of the walkways on raised boardwalks across swamps and other waterways.

Grab a map — or even better, download the app — to choose your route, according to the activities that appeal to you most (fishing, crabbing and boating are all possible). Depending on where you go, you might see alligators, river otters and some of the area’s 400 species of birds.

After exploring, you’re sure to have worked up an appetite. Try the Bistro at Crying Eagle Brewing Co. for a late lunch of pizzas, burgers and local brews.

After lunch, head to the Cottage Shops area and peruse the local wares. If you’ve developed a taste for Cajun cuisine, stop by Crave for spices and specialty foods. And if you’re up for yet another adventure, head to the rustically old-fashioned Lloyd’s Country Store, where you can rent paddleboards and kayaks to cruise along the Calcasieu River.

When the time is right, have dinner at Luna Bar & Grill, known for great seafood and steaks. It hosts multiple live music acts on weekends, so come for dinner, then grab drinks at the bar and enjoy the entertainment. Lake Charles is also known for its many casinos, so if you like to gamble or just enjoy a high-energy spot, you’ve got options.

Sunday: Explore a Historic District and the Lakefront Promenade

Early in the day, head to the Charpentier District and go on a self-guided walking tour of the area’s many historic homes — there’s an app you can download that will take you on a 30-minute or hourlong tour. Feeling spooky? There’s a Calcasieu Ghost Tour option if you’re looking to embrace the spiritual side of Louisiana.

Bloody Mary garnished with tomato and lemon
Enjoy a Bloody Mary at brunch. (Photo: Marriott International)

Next, treat yourself to brunch at MacFarlane’s Celtic Pub, a traditional spot serving extremely well-garnished Bloody Marys, which may be adorned with onion rings, shrimp, cheese cubes, pickles and, well, basically anything you can stick on a skewer. Order up some local “Oysters Biscayne,” which are broiled and topped with spicy compound butter and bacon, along with fried dill pickles.

Or, if you haven’t had your po’boy fix yet, go to Buffi’s Peaux Boys, a local sandwich shop with an extensive menu.

Spend the afternoon at the Lakefront Promenade, which is dotted with parks and monuments. You can honor those who served at Veterans Memorial Park, which has a tank from World War II and a helicopter from the Vietnam War, then visit the 9/11 Memorial.

Bord du Lac Park has activities for little ones, including a playground area, a rock-climbing wall and a Cajun cabin. There’s even a “pirate ship” they can explore.

End your trip at the casual Steamboat Bill’s on the Lake. Here you’ll find local specialties, such as Gulf shrimp and crab gumbo and — because you can’t leave town without at least one serving of it — crawfish étouffée.