Imagine you’re walking into a casino gaming room filled with slot machines and table games, the sounds of men and women chatting and laughing as they try their hands at the blackjack table, and the occasional clink of cocktail glasses. You just walked through an opulent hotel/casino lobby richly adorned with flagstone-lined fireplaces and skylights, and seemingly all around you are boutique shops and upscale restaurants.
Is this Las Vegas? No. Atlantic City? Think again.
You’re at L’Auberge Casino Resort, a world-class Lake Charles destination that features some of the state’s best golfing, outdoor pools and hot tubs, and service worthy of the ample praise L’Auberge’s received since it opened in 2005.
It’s the perfect introduction to a 24-hour stay in southwest Louisiana, where Cajun flavors, beach living, small farming communities and renowned nature trail come together, all within a day’s drive.
L’Auberge is just one of the surprises Lake Charles offers. After a good night’s rest and breakfast at the resort’s Favorites Southern Kitchen, take a stroll through downtown, where the city’s North Beach claims the title of Louisiana’s only white sand inland beach.
Adjacent to the beach and boardwalk — a picture-perfect spot for sailboat- and sunset-watching — is the Charpentier (French for “carpenter”) Historic District. This is Lake Charles’ historical heart, full of turn-of-the-century homes designed and built by local carpenters. Spend enough time walking beneath giant old live oaks, checking out the distinctive Lake Charles-style architecture, and you may find yourself looking at real estate listings and daydreaming about staying in town for much longer than your visit.
While touring the district, look for the Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu. The museum is housed within the historical Central School Arts & Humanities Center, in classrooms converted into galleries that feature decades of costumes and artifacts. It’s one way to experience Fat Tuesday any time of the year.
Before leaving Lake Charles to experience the wilds of Calcasieu and Cameron parishes, stop for lunch at LeBleu’s Landing. Part Cajun grocery store, part down-home restaurant, LeBleu’s Landing is known for its belly-busting po’boys and varieties of boudin sausage.
Head southward on Highway 27 and experience Creole Nature Trail Adventure Point, the interactive attraction and visitor center for the Creole Nature Trail All-American Road. The friendly staff there will help cater your tour of the trail’s 180 miles of beaches and bayous. Highly recommended: The Creole Nature Trail smartphone app, which will alert you when you’re getting close to featured bird watching spots, notable trails and historical sites.
The trail itself begins south of the visitor center. As the Lake Charles and Sulphur commercial areas turn into grasslands, the vibe becomes more serene. The land elevation drops and marshes begin to dot the landscape. Giant herons and cranes, plus many migrating species of birds, take refuge here. Pass through fishing communities such as Hackberry, and eventually you’ll find yourself dead-ending at Holly Beach. With little more than a few dozen vacation homes (on stilts, naturally), this beach remains virtually untouched by humans.
Begin your loop back to Lake Charles via the Gulf Beach Highway. In the town of Cameron, hop aboard the ferry — it’s the only way to cross the Calcasieu River/Ship Channel — and continue east, taking in more of the pristine southwest Louisiana landscape that forms the Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge.
By now, you’re just about at the 24-hour mark. It’s dinner time, and you’ve arrived back in Lake Charles. For dinner, consider 121 Artisan Bistro, Steamboat Bill’s, or for a taste of the town’s live music scene, Luna Bar & Grill.
Bookend your trip by staying at another casino resort, Golden Nugget Lake Charles. This is a one-stop shop for all of your accommodation, dining and entertainment needs and wants. As one of the newest additions to Louisiana’s thriving gaming scene (having opened in 2015), its energy is undeniable. Check out the resort’s entertainment calendar — megastars such as LeAnne Rimes and Merle Haggard have performed there — and between shows and dice-rolling, dine or enjoy drinks at one if Golden Nugget’s outstanding restaurants.
There’s plenty more to see and do in the Lake Charles area. For dining suggestions, check out the Louisiana Culinary Trails site. Fishermen and fisher-women should see what’s biting in southwest Louisiana by visiting the Louisiana Fishing site. And those in need of a cold drink should absolutely see Louisiana Libations, which features a variety of distillery tours (including Louisiana Spirits’, located near Lake Charles).