Lake Charles is an amazing destination and a great alternative to visiting New Orleans with just as much energy, excitement, and adventure as Crescent City. If you are making your way to the Southern United States, make sure to visit Lake Charles or add it to your road trip itinerary. Here is our list of the top things to do when visiting Lake Charles.
Top Things To Do In Lake Charles, La
While many people only think of New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras, Lake Charles has its own. In addition to experiencing the festivities, my wife Bran & I made a Louisiana bucket list of the best things to do in Lake Charles. At the top of my list was to feast on an authentic Southwest Louisiana Crawfish Boil and at the top of Bran’s wish list was to see an alligator in its natural habitat. So we set off with our bucket lists in hand to explore the top attractions in Lake Charles, LA.
1. Explore Downtown Lake Charles
Downtown Lake Charles has so many attractions for visitors to enjoy. Besides the Charpentier Historic District, visitors can take in its beautiful Victorian architecture and visit The Historic City Hall Arts and Cultural Center. This historic building houses art exhibitions and cultural events throughout the year. Check the schedule to see what’s on display during your visit.
If you are looking for things to do in Lake Charles at night, the Rosa Hart Theatre offers live performances, including plays, musicals, and concerts. It’s a great place to catch a show and experience some of the local cultures.
Downtown Lake Charles is also known for its delicious Cajun and Creole cuisine. Visitors can sample local specialties like gumbo, po’boys, boudin, and crawfish étouffée at one of the many restaurants in the area.
Downtown Lake Charles is also home to a variety of festivals and events throughout the year, including the Southwest Louisiana Zydeco Festival, the Louisiana Pirate Festival, and the Downtown at Sundown concert series.
For outdoor enthusiasts, the Lakefront Promenade is a great place to walk or bike along the lakefront and take in the beautiful views. The promenade also features benches and picnic tables for those who want to stop and relax.
2. Take the Charpentier Historic District Tour
The Charpentier Historic District Tour is a great way to see the beautiful architecture of Lake Charles and get the historical significance of the buildings and homes. A.C. Bourdier, a lifetime resident, is the perfect guide and a perfect southern gentleman on this horse-drawn carriage ride with J and R Carriage through the ole’ south.
Make sure to have A.C. point out the haunted houses and to give you their backstory in the Charpentier Historic District. A.C. is the Chairman of the Landmarks Register for the Calcasieu Historical Preservation Society.
Traditionally throughout the south, the underside of porch roofs and awnings are painted pale blue. Originally, this was done so that haints or spirits would not be trapped and could pass on to the beyond.
However, a bonus side effect of having these structures resemble the sky in color is that spiders and birds would not nest under them. It’s like they are fooled by the blue paint into thinking that there is no roof or awning there.
3. Hit The Creole Nature Trail and Adventure Point
Nature lovers will enjoy this scenic drive along the Creole Nature Trail, which winds through the marshes, swamps, and beaches of Louisiana. The trail offers breathtaking views of the local wildlife and landscapes and can be accessed from Downtown Lake Charles. A good place to start is Adventure Point where you’ll immersive in Lousiana culture and enjoy interactive and hands-on experiences. This is a great way to appreciate the flora and fauna
There are many great photo opportunities as you traverse this scenic byway. The Creole Nature Trail is comprised of several wildlife refuges and is connected by many highways spanning 180 miles throughout Louisiana’s outback. The birdlife is so abundant and varied that I couldn’t help but fire off a few dozen pictures. I just wandered freely through the wildlife refuges, but there are bird-watching tours and even blinds set up for the more dedicated bird photographers.
To see the Creole Nature Trail properly, we suggest a tour. It is the best way to see the abundance of wildlife. Even though it was very cold (unusual) we were still lucky enough to see plenty of wildlife including an American alligator! Bran was over the moon! Bran had been hoping to see an alligator. Check!
I think that when we return to the Creole Nature Trail I will bring my fishing rod along with my camera. It’s not only a great destination for nature photographers it also has great fishing – two of my favorite things. For more information on the Creole Nature Trail visit the Lake Charles Website for details.
- Location: 1205 N. Lakeshore Drive, Lake Charles, la
4. The Imperial Calcasieu Museum
The Imperial Calcasieu Museum is a cultural center that is housed in the historic Central School building, which was constructed in 1912 and served as a school until 1979.
One of the main figures associated with the museum is Charles Sallier, who was an early settler of the Lake Charles area and a prominent businessman. Sallier was instrumental in the development of the region, and his legacy is celebrated in the museum’s permanent exhibition, which is named in his honor. The Charles Sallier exhibit tells the story of the early settlers of Southwest Louisiana, including the Native American tribes who lived in the area before European settlement.
The Imperial Calcasieu region consists of five parishes in Southwest Louisiana, Calcasieu, Cameron, Beauregard, Allen, and Jeff Davis.
- Located at: 204 W. Sallier Street, Lake Charles, Louisiana
5. Visit the Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu Museum
The Mardi Gras Museum is another popular Lake Charles attraction. Visitors can learn about the history and traditions of Mardi Gras in Lake Charles through exhibits that include Mardi Gras costumes, floats, and other memorabilia from past parades.
We witnessed some extravagant costumes here and at The Royal Gala. Prior to the gala event, the backstage is bustling with Krewes getting ready to display the extravagant costumes that they’ve been diligently working on all year.
The Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu boasts the largest costume display in the world. Our tour guide Adley Cormier relayed to us the history of the festival with an endearing passion.
These costumes are spectacular, bursting with color and Ostrich feathers. At a cost of 10+ dollars per feather, the costumes can turn out to be quite pricey.
Right now the museum is closed as it searches for a new location with an estimated re-opening for Mardi Gras 2024.
6. Attend Mardi Gras
One of the most fun things to do in Lake Charles is to attend Mardi Gras. No visit post would be complete without mentioning the festive celebrations. It is the second largest Mardi Gras in Louisiana and not only does it have many of the same celebrations as the New Orleans festival, but it has other events that set it apart from New Orleans including the annual chicken run and a full-day dedicated to children. Check out more about New Orleans at A Tour of the New Orleans Garden District.
7. Festivals and Special Events
Don’t worry, if you don’t visit Lake Charles during Mardi Gras, there are still plenty of festivals throughout the year. and special events to attend. Lake Charles is the festival capital of Louisiana after hosting 75 festivals and events each year, so there is bound to be a celebration going on during your visit.
Some unique festivals and special events to check out are the Cajun French Music and Food Festival, The Black Heritage Festival, and the downtown Lake Charles Crawfish Festival. For a full list of festivals in Lake Charles la visit the city’s website.
8. Visit the USS Orleck Naval Museum
Out of all the Lake Charles museums, The USS Orleck Naval Museum is one of the more unique. This floating museum takes visitors on a tour of the USS Orleck DD 886 WWII destroyer. It was in service during WWII, Vietnam, and The Korean war. It has been fully restored and visitors can tour the ship to see what life for military soldiers. History buffs will love taking a tour of this ship to learn of its warring history. Check out details at their website
- The USS Orleck Naval Museum is located at: 604 N. Enterprise Blvd., Lake Charles, LA
9. Sam Houston Jones State Park
Another outdoor attraction in Lake Charles, la is to enjoy the solitude of the Sam Houston Jones State Park. Named after the Texas folk here, Sam Houston Jones State Park is a good place for birders with 200 species of birds migrating and nesting in the area. There are numerous hiking trails and waterways to enjoy the great outdoors. There are alligators and even bobcats that reside in the park. It was here that Bran had her wish of seeing alligators in the wild.
- Location: 107 Sutherland Rd, Lake Charles, LA
10. Enjoy the Outdoors of Prien Lake Park
Prien Lake is a popular outdoor destination in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and there are plenty of things to do in the area. You can enjoy its walking paths, go kayaking, have a picnic, or rent a paddle boat. There is some hopping at the Prien Lake Mall or you can try your hand at the Capri Casino.
The Prien Lake Park Golf Course offers lessons for all skill levels. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced golfer it’s a fun afternoon outdoors.
If you are looking for things to do with the whole family, The Children’s Museum is a great place to take kids for a fun and educational experience. The museum features interactive exhibits that teach children about science, art, and history.
The Creole Nature Trail is a scenic drive that winds through the marshes, swamps, and beaches of Southwest Louisiana. Visitors can take in breathtaking views of the local wildlife and landscapes.
Attend a concert or event at the Lake Charles Civic Center: This venue hosts a variety of events throughout the year, including concerts, trade shows, and conventions.
Lake Area Adventures offers kayak rentals at Prien Lake Park where you can do full or half-day rentals on the water.
11. Enjoy the White Sand Beach North Beach
North Beach is a beautiful public white sandy beach located on the northern shore of Lake Charles. It is one of the few natural beaches in the state. Take a stroll along the Lake Charles boardwalk or you can enjoy kayak rentals and paddleboards or simply relax to take in the sun.
And another cool fact is that North Beach is part of the Lake Charles Historic District and has been designated as a Louisiana Historic Landmark. The beach has also been recognized for its efforts to preserve and protect the local environment.
12. Bord Du Lac Park (Millennium Park)
If you are looking for things to do in Lake Charles for families, the resorts really cater to the little ones with lazy rivers and indoor pools. But if you want to head outdoors, make your way to Millennium Park where there is an excellent playground created to entertain the kids. This lakeside park has a splash park and a pirate ship, trains and tunnels kids will let off a lot of steam playing here. They have even made sure that there is a rubberized surface to help keep everyone safe.
- Located at: 1100 Lakeshore Drive, Lake Charles, Louisiana
13. Spend some time at Lake Charles Casinos
There are a few Lake Charles casinos to try your luck at. L’auberge Casino Resort is situated right on the lake, because, well the casino is actually a boat. Yes, I said a boat. It’s cleverly engineered to dock inside L’Auberge Hotel.
The L’Auberge Casino Resort itself is on land, but through the use of a lock-like structure, the casino is floated into the hotel and secured so well that we were shocked to find out we were on a floating boat inside of the hotel! This is done to satisfy state law. Years ago, in Louisiana, riverboats would be the only gambling option, but now through ingenious engineering patrons can leave the boat when they choose instead of waiting for the boat to dock.
We had an absolutely tremendous dining experience with the hotel restaurant Ember Grille & Wine Bar. Exceptional service, fine wines, delicious cocktails, and incredible cuisine! If you want more slots and fun in Lake Charles, the Golden Nugget is located next door to the L’Auberge.
Those looking for a little excitement can try their luck at the Golden Nugget Casino, which offers a wide variety of gaming options, as well as dining and entertainment.
- Located at – 777 Avenue L’Auberge, Lake Charles, Louisiana
14. Enjoy Homestyle Southern Cooking
One of the more unique things to do in Lake Charles is to sample its unique southern food. Jambalaya, gumbo, frog legs, gator, boudin balls, po’ boys, Cajun catfish, king cake, we had it all! And we washed it all down with great beer from a local brewery, Abita.
Some interesting food we sampled in Lake Charles was alligator and Boudin. Gator is kind of like a cross between chicken and calamari. Boudin would be akin to taking a spicy cabbage roll stuffing and balling it up and then deep-frying it. Delicious!
Visit the McNeese State University campus: This beautiful campus features a variety of attractions, including the Historic Burton Coliseum, the W.H. Tupper General Merchandise Museum, and the Harold and Pearl Dripps School of Agricultural Sciences.
After eating all that I still had bigger fish to fry, or in this case boil. I’m talking about an authentic Crawfish boil. My curiosity of this local delicacy had my interest peaking.
Throughout Louisiana, there are many rice farms. These rice farms often double as swampish crawfish farms. Crawfish, crayfish, crawdads, mudbugs. Mudbugs indeed.
They get this nickname for the way they destroy people’s front lawns with their mud-pile homes.
15. Fine Dining in Lake Charles
While the crawfish, PO boys, gator, and gumbo might be on the menu, there are plenty of fine dining establishments in Lake Charles as well. Thanks to the chefs at the L’Auberge Casino Resort and Ember Grille & Wine Bar we ate like kings!
The selection of meals was reminiscent of a fine French Restaurant in Paris.
Mediterranean-Dusted Lamb Lollichops (love the name), roasted rabbit loin to truffled mac’n’cheese, a trio of delicious salads we couldn’t get enough of our meals.
A stand out was the seared foie gras w/savory stuffed French Toast topped with Bourbon Barrel aged maple syrup. However, the show stealer of our dining adventures in Lake Charles was the Ember Prime “Tomahawk”, a 40oz rib eye carved table side.
Finish your meals with Crème Brule, chocolate brownie a la mode, and a fruit medley with a sculptured pastry dish.
Check out more on Dining in Lake Charles
16. Drive-through a Daiquiri Drive-Through
Driving up to the take-out window and ordering two hurricane daiquiris to go IS the way to go while in Louisiana. I’m not suggesting anyone drink and drive, that’s illegal even there. However, there is something novel about getting an alcoholic drink to go…to a party where one can then enjoy it, and then take a cab home.
“Pour me something tall and strong;
Make it a Hurricane
Before I go insane.”
If you want to sample some genuine Louisiana spirits book a distillery tour to the award-winning Bayou Rum Distillery Louisiana Spirits. Located a few miles outside of Lake Charles, the Bayou Rum Distillery offer distillery tours to see how their top-rated spirits are made.
Where to Stay in Lake Charles
L’auberge Casino Resort – We stayed at this four-diamond hotel in Louisiana. With 70 Vegas-style gaming and 1600 slot machines, we were right in the heart of all the action. It has full amenities with a lazy river, indoor pool, championship golf course, and a full service Spa du Lac.
Golden Nugget – The Golden Nugget Lake Charles is another four-diamond resort in Louisiana that has a pool, lazy river, private beach, and marina on the ground of this casino resort with 77 game tables and 1600 slot machines.
Where Is Lake Charles
Lake Charles, Louisiana is located banks of Lake Charles, Prien Lake, and the Calcasieu River that feed into the gulf coast of the Atlantic Ocean. It is the fifth largest city in Louisiana and is located 206 miles (331 kilometers) west of New Orleans, 127 Miles from Baton Rouge, and 59 miles from Beaumont Texas.
To get to Lake Charles we recommend renting a car or taking a road trip. You can check car rental prices at RentalCars.com There you have it, the best things to do in Lake Charles, Louisiana while you’re waiting for the next Mardi Gras Parade!