LOUISIANA

Weekend Getaway to Lake Charles, La.

What can you do in a weekend in Lake Charles? Actually, the question should be what can't you do in a weekend in Lake Charles.

Located about three hours from New Orleans and only 30 minutes from the Texas border, Lake Charles is a more relaxed and laid back destination with festivals and culinary offerings one  associates with Louisiana. Plan your schedule correctly and you can experience it all without feeling like you missed anything.

Go...Pick up a brochure at Lake Charles CVB and take a self-guided walking or driving tour of Charpentier Historic District. These 40 blocks in downtown are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. What makes this interesting/unique is during this time, around the late 1800s -early 1900s, there were no architects in the area, only carpenters - or charpentiers (French term). They would design homes using pattern books and combining different styles and elements. This would become known as "Lake Charles Style Architecture."   One house featured on the tour was presented as a wedding present in the 1900s and has been everything from an apartment building to a rooming house and more, yet not one piece has ever been destroyed.

Visit... Take in the largest display of Mardi Gras costumes in the world at Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu. Located inside the Central School Arts and Humanities Center, there are around 280 costumes on display at all time. The museum also details the history of Mardi Gras, the first one held in 1895, in the area (Lake Charles is home to 65 Krewes) and more.

Eat...Did someone say "boudin?"  For those unfamiliar with this delicacy, boudin (pronounced "boo-dan") is a cajun/creole sausage with cooked rice, pork, liver, onions and seasonings. Famous Foods is where Darby Guillory and Darby, Jr.,  serves up fresh boudin, cracklins and more; however, Guillory, Sr., says they make and sell "a lot of boudin." The Guillorys also make a cornbread boudin, sold cold, where cornbread is substituted for the rice. The restaurant is one of 27 stops on the Boudin Trail.

Grab a bowl of shrimp and crab gumbo, or try crawfish pistolette at Seafood Palace.  Be warned, you won't leave hungry.

Explore...The Creole Nature Trail, one of the oldest scenic byways, was the first to be designated as a National Scenic Byway and then upgraded in 2002 as an All-American Road. The 180-mile trail meanders through Calcasieu and Cameron Parishes, and takes you through some of the more untamed parts of the state, allowing to view various wildlife, marshes and wetlands. There are many outdoor opportunities as well along the Creole Nature Trail.  However, don't feel as if you have to drive the entire 180 miles. Get a sampling with the Pintail Wildlife Drive, a three-mile loop that includes a boardwalk.

Attend... Did you know that this area is known as the festival capital of the state? With over 75 festivals, there is never a dull moment in Lake Charles/southwest Louisiana. Aside from Mardi Gras, there's Contraband Days (April 29-May 11, 2014),  Arts & Crabs Festival and many more.

Stay...Situated on 242-acres, L'Auberge Casino Resort Lake Charles includes a 26-story hotel with 1,000 rooms and suites, 18-hole Tom Fazio-designed golf course, two swimming pools with a lazy river, and a lot more. The 70,000-square foot casino features 70 table games and 1,600 slot machines along with a 7-table Poker Room, VIP lounge and High Limit Salon. Whew! Then there is Spa du Lac, where you can indulge on a treatment or two. There is almost (almost) no need to ever leave the property. From the "Tomahawk," (40-ounce ribeye, carved table side, made for two, but one can enjoy it) at Embers Grille and Wine Bar  to the gelato made on-site at Desserts and more, you might even have to partake in a dining option or two.

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