In all the United States, there’s no place quite like Louisiana.
Distinguished by a wet, wild landscape of flat lowlands filled with rich, biodiverse bayous fed by rivers and lakes, this sultry Gulf Coast state also dishes up bustling urban centers like the universally beloved New Orleans. A city bursting nightly with the sensuous sounds of live jazz and blues, it offers groups the chance to experience not only world-class food, drink and lodging, but also renowned historical attractions, both established and brand new.
A short drive north of New Orleans is Baton Rouge, the state capital. Perched astride the mighty Mississippi River, it’s an ever-evolving metropolis home to classic hotels and a just-opened entertainment center for group fun. A little more than two hours west, Lafayette is an energetic university burg known for its Cajun culture. And strung like pearls between them all is a vibrant tapestry of small towns and singular attractions, all combining to make Louisiana a great place for a group getaway.
National WWII Museum
In a city filled with crowd-pleasing attractions, the National WWII Museum in New Orleans is the most popular. Sitting on six acres, the massive museum offers five pavilions filled with historical artifacts, interactive exhibits, multimedia presentations and more. New doings include the Bollinger Canopy of Peace, which will showcase a state-of-the-art light display come sunset.
Vermilionville Living History Museum and Folklife Park
Some 60,000 people visit Vermilionville annually for a look at Louisiana’s unique heritage, an intoxicating melange of Native American, Arcadian, Creole and African American cultures. The 23-acre campus includes seven restored historic homes, costumed artisans demonstrating their crafts and a traditional dance with live music every Sunday.
Tucked away on Avery Island, the Tabasco Factory has been producing the country’s most famous hot sauce since 1868. Still family owned and operated, Tabasco offers groups a factory tour, with stops in the barrel warehouse, the bottling area and the pepper greenhouse, as well as a museum and restaurant.
A National Historic Landmark in the legendarily charming Natchitoches Parish, the two-centuries-old Melrose Plantation is home to nine historic buildings, including the stunning Big House. They tell the story not only of Civil War and Reconstruction and the area’s Creole heritage but also Clementine Hunter, one of the South’s best-known folk artists.
Up and Coming
This interactive museum dedicated to NOLA’s cocktail culture opened in October of last year in a gorgeous, 48,000-square-foot Italianate-style structure that dates back to the 1860s. With a microdistillery on-site, high-tech exhibits like virtual bartenders, and chances to make and sample Sazeracs and other adult beverages, Sazerac House promises to be a group pleaser.
Shreveport’s iconic Municipal Auditorium was completed in 1929, but the Art Deco palace where musical history was made is serving up something new: special private backstage group tours. From 1948 to 1960, the auditorium was home to the radio show “Louisiana Hayride,” where Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and Elvis Presley launched their careers. The tour gives groups the chance to walk in the footsteps of performers who would go on to become legends.
Bayou Terrebonne Distillers
Downtown Houma’s Bayou Terrebonne Distillers, which debuted on Mardi Gras this year, is already accepting groups for behind-the-scenes tour of its facilities, located in a century-old building that was once a dried-shrimp plant. Groups can learn about the whiskey-making process, sample product and take Moonshine 101, a Cajun-themed cocktail-making class.
Electric Depot/Red Stick Social
The big news in Baton Rouge is Electric Depot, a smart, new mixed-use development in the city’s former electric warehouse and depot. Red Stick Social, which offers bowling, live entertainment, a restaurant and more, is a great stop for groups, as is the City Roots Coffee Bar, open late on weekends for drinks. Look for other businesses, like a ramen and poke bar, to open shortly.
Watermark Baton Rouge
Built nearly a century ago to house the Louisiana Trust and Savings Bank headquarters, the Watermark Baton Rouge’s stunning Art Deco digs makes staying at the hotel a special treat. So too does the posh interior, including guest rooms so elegant that group travelers won’t want to leave.
L’Auberge Lake Charles Casino Hotel
This spectacular property in Lake Charles gives groups everything they could want, from a casino with 80 table games and 1,600 slots to top-notch live entertainment. L’Auberge also boasts pampering amenities like a spa, luxurious accommodations and renowned cuisine from restaurants, including the contemporary steakhouse Ember Grille and Wine Bar.
A landmark in New Orleans, the sophisticated Hotel Monteleone is famed not just for its incredible literary heritage — the hotel has hosted William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote and Ernest Hemingway, among others — but also the historic Carousel Bar, which revolves within a sleek, stylish lounge.
Long a favorite of group travelers, Middendorf’s has added a new Slidell restaurant to its Manchac location, established in 1934. Dishes include the “world-famous original thin fried catfish,” house-made turtle soup, gumbo, po’ boys, and fried shrimp and oysters. Middendorf’s offers private dining rooms for groups.
Lafayette legend Randol’s has been giving groups a great time for more than 35 years, thanks to a menu filled with authentic Cajun cuisine like crawfish, shrimp and catfish etouffee, boudin balls and plenty of boiled and fried seafood. There’s dancing to live bands nightly, too.
One of the oldest family-run restaurants in the United States, Antoine’s opened in New Orleans’ French Quarter in 1840. The French-Creole fare is justifiably famous — oysters Rockefeller was invented at Antoine’s — as are the lavish private group dining rooms, many of which boast spectacular displays of Mardi Gras costumes and memorabilia.