Welcome to Acadiana: A guide to southwestern Louisiana
Forget New Orleans! There's a completely different side of the Pelican state that is begging to be explored...
Southwest Louisiana has a distinct heritage and culture. Often referred to as "Acadiana," this region is considered to be the French part of Louisiana, and most people call themselves Cajun or Creole, a mixture of French, Spanish, Caribbean, African, and Native American backgrounds. This mix of cultures is evident in the cuisine, architecture and even language — Creole French.
What to do
Acadiana has two main cities: Lafayette and Lake Charles. Lafayette is considered the heart of Cajun Country, and there are many sites to see and experiences to be had to help you learn about Cajun culture. Start at Vermilionville, a Cajun and Creole living history museum and folk-life park located along the Vermilion River. The 23-acre park is home to a historic village that features seven restored, original homes, actors that represent life in Acadiana from 1765 to 1890 and a full-service restaurant serving Cajun and Creole favorites — like gumbo, po' boys and jambalaya. After learning a bit of history, it's time to discover the Bayou. Not for the faint of heart, the Cajun Country Swamp Tour explores Lake Martin Swamp, where guests often spot alligators (that swim right up to the boat!), herons, bass and crawfish as they coast through the cypress tree-covered swamps.
Hop in the car and head west on Interstate 10 for about 75 miles to Lake Charles for some Cajun fun. This region has its own distinct type of music called zydeco, a fast-tempo mixture of accordion and beats played on a washboard. The music has gained popularity over the years with three zydeco bands winning Grammy awards in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Get your two-step on at one of the various bars and dance halls in Lake Charles offering live zydeco performances, like Luna Bar and Grill and Loggerheads Riverside Bar. You can also try your luck at one of Lake Charles' gaming facilities. Watch live horse racing at Delta Downs, or splurge for a night of gambling at the L'auberge Casino Resort.
Where to eat
If you don't get to do any of the activities we suggest above in southwestern Louisiana, there's one activity that simply cannot be missed: eating. Lafayette was named the "Tastiest Town in the South" by Southern Living in 2012, and we have to agree. Seafood reigns supreme in Louisiana, and in addition to fresh fish, shrimp and crabs, one of the most-popular crustaceans is the crawfish. Head to Henderson, just outside of Lafayette, for a crawfish boil at Crawfish Town USA, a restaurant and fresh market specializing in classic Cajun specialties. For staples like seafood gumbo (a stew based in a dark roux) and shrimp po' boys (fried shrimp sandwiches), check out the number one restaurant in Lake Charles, Steamboat Bill's. If you're not into seafood, follow the Cajun Boudin Trail through Lafayette and Lake Charles. Considered a typical snack in Louisiana, boudin is pork meat, liver, rice, onions, parsley and dry seasonings mixed together and stuffed in a sausage casing. Different versions of boudin are served across southwestern Louisiana, mainly varying in degree of spiciness, from mild to "somebody better call a doctor."
Where to stay
For a taste of southern luxury, book a stay at Lafayette's only AAA Four-Diamond property, the Carriage House Hotel. The 21-suite boutique hotel features a complete fitness center with cycling, karate, Pilates, yoga, meditation classes, the Riverspa at River Ranch and the City Club Grill and Bar. Those seeking southern charm in an intimate setting should book one of five rooms at the C.A.'s House Bed and Breakfast in downtown Lake Charles. The historic home features a heated outdoor pool and hot tub, the use of kayaks at the local lake, hardwood floors and free WiFi.