(UPDATED JULY 2022) Situated halfway between Houston, TX, and New Orleans, LA, Lake Charles sits on the Gulf Coast in the western part of the state. From historic homes to award-winning brews, fun festivals to killer cuisine, and world-class birding opportunities to its intriguing pirate history, you may be surprised by these six best things to do in Lake Charles–your gateway to the cajun country.
1. Attend a Unique PirateFest
The Louisiana Pirate Festival runs for four days towards the first part of May. It celebrates cultural heritage through buccaneer parades, carnival games, watercraft exhibitions, music, fireworks, arts and crafts, rides, a carnival, and a pirate-themed costumed ball.
You’ll be amazed by the hand-made, original, incredibly stitched, and well-thought-out costumes covering everything “pirate” during the festival.
One of Lake Charles’s most famous pirate tales involves pirate Jean Lafitte, which took place three centuries ago. After the arrival of the first European settlers in the area, Jean Lafitte delivered stolen contraband to the plantation owners.
Legend says he hid the silver and gold in Contraband Bayou, his favorite hideout. After the Embargo Act of 1807, Lafitte moved his smuggling operation and engaged in piracy. The legend of Lafitte hiding his contraband is celebrated annually through this festival, the only pirate festival in Louisiana.
It has been taking place since 1958 when it began as a boat parade, water skiing show, and boat races.
This year’s inaugural PirateFest costumed ball included:
- A live band.
- Feisty pirate decorations.
- Bayou Rum cocktails.
- Delicious food from local restaurants and caterers.
The yummy spread included pulled pork, gator bites, catfish balls, and more. The dessert options were a selection of local popsicles, cake, and bread pudding. During intermission, a live auction took place.
2. Visit Upscale Casinos and Hotels
L’Auberge features 1600 slot machines, 83 table games (including blackjack and baccarat), a luxury spa, a lazy river with a swim-up bar, and impressive shopping in its 26-story hotel. A Tom Fabio golf course is one of the hotel’s best assets.
The Lake Charles Golden Nugget is the most luxurious of the hotel chain outside of Las Vegas. It offers a nice pool and bar, restaurants, retail shops, a marina, a private beach, world-class casino games, and an 18-hole championship golf course.
3. Feast on Fantastic Cajun/Creole Food
The dining options are off-the-hook in Lake Charles, and you will surely find dishes to #feedyoursoul. Steamboat Bill’s is one the locals’ favorites, serving authentic cajun dishes like Fried Alligator, Shrimp Etouffeé, Crawfish Pistolette, and Gumbo. Appetizers I indulged in (and loved) were Fried Alligator bites and spicy Boiled Shrimp.
I ate the best Beef Carpaccio of my life at Ember Grille & Wine Bar in the L’Auberge Casino Resort. Paper-thin sliced Wagyu beef topped with parmesan cheese, capers, arugula, and balsamic made a perfect combination. This dish is fantastic!
Offering freshly baked biscuits, baguettes, scones, muffins, coffee, and more, The Bekery has captured the hearts and stomachs of Lake Charles. They also offer several varieties of small and affordable quiche slices, which are quite fantastic.
If you are craving sweets, you will love The Bekery’s Cinnamon Roll Bread Pudding which is easily 5-6 inches tall. If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, there are brownies, cookies, gelato, and cakes.
Rikenjaks Brewery, a family-friendly casual restaurant, is perfect for watching sporting events, grabbing a burger or salad, or just sipping a beer after work. Serving local craft beers, Rikenjaks has a great happy hour and fun atmosphere.
The appetizer choices are superb. I tried the creamy Classic Spinach Dip and the Boudin, Beer Brat & Pretzel; all excellent Rikenjaks Spinach Dip with tortilla chips was one of the best I’ve ever tried.
Home to gourmet hot dogs, Botsky’s menu offers mind-blowing flavor combinations that are undoubtedly worth the visit. This high-quality purveyor of hot dogs and sausages features several unusual hot dog combinations, or you can design your own.
The dog I chose was the Slawdog Millionaire, smoked sausage with coleslaw, avocado, feta cheese, and bbq sauce. It was epic!
4. Visit Delta Downs
Gambling doesn’t just come from slot machines at Delta Downs Racetrack. You can also find a horse racing track minutes from Lake Charles in Vinton, Louisiana. Delta Downs has 1500 horses and offers horse racing all year long.
Quarter horses and thoroughbreds race seasonally, and the winners at Delta Downs are Derby qualifiers. Live racing runs fall through spring, with them taking a break over the scorching summer month
Delta Downs has six furlongs and offers daily simulcast events around the country. It also offers amazing food at Rosewater Grill and Tavern. Not a gambler? Don’t worry! The racetrack also features live entertainment, fantastic food (remember the Gator Grill or Triple Crown Buffet), and a 320-room hotel.
5. Explore a Cool Mardi Gras Museum
The Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu offers a noteworthy collection of regional Mardi Gras attire, ideas, sketches, and fabrics from years past. It also features a performing arts area for ballet, a children’s theatre company, and the local symphony.
You’ll swoon over the intricate outfits that are as stunning as Broadway, Vegas, or TV/movie outfits. The collection features the King and Queen of the Mardi Gras parades costumes through the years.
If you are interested in history, fashion, or anything sparkly or glitzy, this museum will knock your socks off!
6. Get Your Drink On at Lake Charles
As with the entire state of Louisiana, alcoholic beverages are an essential part of the local culture in Lake Charles. Two breweries you should visit are Rikenjaks and Crying Eagle. At Rikenjaks Brewing Company (also listed with food above), try the Bayou Teche Ragin Cajun and Tin Roof Juke Joint IPA.
Cornhole and giant Jenga are available for your entertainment, plus Rikenjaks has live music from Thursday through Saturday.
The Crying Eagle taproom and brewery offers sensational seasonal brews (A Nice Pear, Strawberry Rye) or easy-drinking beers (Pistol Bridge Porter, Louisiana Lager).
You can’t come to Louisiana and not have a drive-thru daiquiri. There are daiquiri shops throughout town, each with clever recipes and often cool garnishes.
*Please note, we were taking pictures for social media purposes only—drinks cannot legally be opened and consumed while riding or driving a car.
Taste the spirit of Louisiana at Louisiana Spirits Distillery, the largest private rum distillery in the country and where the famous Bayou Rum is made. Rums are made with 100% natural unrefined Louisiana cane sugar (from nearby farms) and molasses. It is sold in 44 states and 40 countries.
Partake in a free tour of the facility and Bayou Rum tasting before shopping in the well-stocked gift shop that offers logo t-shirts, cookbooks, souvenirs, high-end entertainment pieces, and home decor.
Bayou Spiced, a full-flavored rum that has won the most gold medals of all Louisiana Spirits Distillery labels, was my fave.
Lake Charles: Come See What You’ve Been Missing!
Louisiana is a treasure trove of amazing things and places. I’ve found that the extraordinary things in Lake Charles are just what I like when discovering a new location. Between the amazing food, stellar hotels, fun attractions and festivals, and adult libations, Lake Charles is definitely for me!
What would your top pick be? You can learn more about Lake Charles by visiting the tourism website.
Thanks to the Lake Charles CVB for hosting my trip. As with all of my posts, reviews and opinions are 100% mine and unbiased.
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