There’s no place like Louisiana.
Among the Southern states, Louisiana is unique, drawing on a one-of-a-kind history. Colonized by France, which ruled it for a century, Louisisana became the base for vast trading operations at its ports and a producer of sugar cane and cotton. People of African descent mixed with other immigrants to create the state’s renowned Creole culture, while exiled French Canadians contributed Louisiana’s Cajun vibe. Other influences include Spanish, Native American and Haitian cultures.
Louisiana’s attractions are as varied as its roots, allowing groups to explore both its past and present. When following the Interstate 10 corridor across the state, visitors will find several key cities are worth a visit.
Lake Charles, in the heart of Creole country, offers museums, music and food that reflect its influence. Groups will enjoy both city attractions and its natural landscape, which will provide a welcome break for outdoor exploration.
Lafayette is in the heart of Cajun country, and its heritage is celebrated at local museums. Groups can opt for outdoor adventures or get a taste of the vibrant downtown scene, full of music and dining options.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s capital, is populated with historic plantation homes that give groups a slice of antebellum life, contrasting with more modern elements of the city like its arts scene.
The party never stops in New Orleans, and groups can explore everything from Bourbon Street to the Garden District while sampling the city’s legendary cuisine.
Louisiana is a haven for group travelers. If your group hasn’t had the pleasure to be enveloped in the state’s unique vibe, take them to these destinations in temperate spring or fall.
Creole culture thrives in Lake Charles, where Africans have had a presence for centuries, mixing with Native American, French and Spanish populations and creating a distinct heritage.
The area is also home to the Creole Nature Trail, a 180-mile route through Louisiana’s outback. It includes 26 miles of shoreline along the Gulf Coast that are popular for shell collecting and photos. Groups can enjoy an array of outdoor experiences along the trail, including spotting alligators, airboat tours, bird-watching, ecotours, fishing and crabbing. Start at Adventure Point, a free museum that features hands-on displays and exhibits that provide background of the area’s landscape and wildlife, which includes some 400 species of birds.
Groups will want to delve into the downtown area. It’s home to several casinos, which beyond gaming also offer pools, spas, dining, shopping and entertainment. The Mardi Gras Museum explores the history of Louisiana’s iconic festival through its extravagant costumes. The Black Heritage Gallery explores the African roots of the area, and the Imperial Calcasieu Museum is home to the centuries-old Sallier Oak.
Lake Charles is home to a thriving food-truck scene and numerous Creole restaurants, where classic dishes can be sampled. It’s a popular place to sample the Cajun boudin, sold at several stops all along Interstate 10 — so many that Lake Charles has coined the route the “Southwest Louisiana Boudin Trail.” Another area can’t-miss attraction is live Cajun and zydeco music, performed at venues around town.
Deep in Louisiana’s Cajun Country, the Lafayette area is home to a large population of French Acadians whose ancestors journeyed from Europe to Canada before being exiled to the South in the 18th century. Their legacy is evident in the unique music, cuisine and dialect that have become ingrained in the state’s cultural patchwork.
Groups visiting Lafayette can explore Cajun music heritage with a tour of Martin Accordions. The factory tour is followed by an hour of Cajun music. At the Jean Lafitte Acadian Cultural Center, groups can learn about the origins, migration and settlement of the Acadians. Vermilionville Living History and Folk Life Park re-creates life in the area from 1765 to 1890. On 23 acres near Bayou Vermilion, the park’s self-guided tours include costumed, bilingual artisans and re-enactors, live music, a cooking school, a restaurant, boat tours and a gift shop.
As dusk settles in, head to a classic southern Louisiana dinner at the Sainte Marie, followed by an evening of bowling and dancing next door at Rock ‘n’ Bowl, where as they say in Cajun country, you can laissez les bons temps rouler, or let the good times roll. And visitors will want to allow plenty of time to sample the area’s signature crawfish, gumbo and other dishes; groups can take a guided food tour to get a taste of it all.
Another foodie destination is nearby Avery Island, home of Tabasco sauce. Groups can take a tour of the factory that produces the spicy staple.
In Baton Rouge, groups can start their visits with a custom group tour from Red Stick Adventures, which takes them to museums, monuments, attractions and historic neighborhoods.
A popular destination is the new state capitol. The 34-story art deco structure gives visitors a birds-eye view of the city from the 27th floor observation deck.
A stroll across the gardens leads to the Capitol Park Museum, which details the state’s culture and history. Exhibits include an interactive Mardi Gras float, a shrimping boat and multimedia presentations. Nearby Main Street Market is a good group stop for a meal and a break; it features everything from Asian and Middle Eastern to Southern cooking, plus souvenir vendors.
Downtown options for groups include the Louisiana Art and Science Museum, the Louisiana State University Museum of Art and the USS Kidd. Military enthusiasts will love exploring this restored World War II destroyer and its historic exhibits. The Louisiana Art and Science Museum offers fine-art exhibitions, a hands-on science gallery and a planetarium, among other exhibits. Art lovers will gravitate toward the LSU Museum of Art inside the Shaw Center for the Arts, which features a diverse art collection. Nearby, Third Street features several good live music and dining options, plus shops, galleries, historic churches and cemeteries.
St. Francisville has many options to explore the outdoors, from the Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge to an 18-hole golf course. It’s also a great place for groups to start their exploration of plantation homes: The Myrtle Plantation, the Rosedown Plantation Historic Site and the Catalpa Plantation House are all there.
Other stops for plantation lovers include the Magnolia Mound Plantation; a stop at the West Baton Rouge Museum to demonstrate the history of sugar cane production in the area; and Nottoway, the largest remaining antebellum mansion in the South, which also features an elegant restaurant that serves Southern classics. The Nottoway Mansion Restaurant hosts murder-mystery dinners and a dinner dance called the Cajun Swamp Stomp.
New Orleans has so much to offer travelers that it takes more than one visit to explore it all.
The city’s history spans three centuries, so there’s something for every interest. The city’s cuisine is renowned around the world, blending a variety of distinctive Louisiana cultures. Signature menu items include jambalaya, beignets, po’boys, Sazerac cocktails and gulf oysters. There’s no shortage of famous restaurants, but groups will want to take a guided food tour from Doctor Gumbo or drink their way through town with a cocktail tour with Gray Line. Alternatively, groups can learn to prepare their favorite dishes in a cooking class at the New Orleans School of Cooking.
The city’s unusual architecture is an attraction itself. Groups can take walking or Segway tours through the French Quarter and Bourbon Street before crossing Canal Street to pick up the historic trolley for a ride to the picturesque Garden District. Self-guided walking tours will help groups explore the neighborhood and its history. Guided cemetery tours are also a popular way to explore New Orleans history.
Groups won’t want to miss a classic New Orleans evening: enjoying dinner on the Natchez steamboat while cruising the Mississippi River with the city’s lights as a backdrop. Preservation Hall is the place to catch a performance of live jazz, and at Mardi Gras World, groups can discover the backstory of how fanciful parade floats are made.