The critically acclaimed HBO crime drama True Detective is not one for the squeamish. The first season of the show depicts the lives of two detectives (played by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson) who are following a trail of murder across south Louisiana’s bayous and backroads.
True Detective’s wild ride takes viewers through landscapes and towns that are also home to some of the state’s beloved cultural and natural landmarks. Here are a few worth checking out.
Though you won’t see Oak Alley Plantation’s famous big house and rows of live oak trees in True Detective’s pilot episode, you will see some of the stunning, lush landscape that surrounds them. In the show, look for the scene where detectives Rust Cohle and Marty Hart discover Dora Lange’s body. That was filmed in a remote section of the plantation’s property.
Today, you can visit the plantation for a tour of the home, and for a walk under the canopy of trees that lead to the levee overlooking the Mississippi River. Oak Alley is located close to more than a dozen other sugar plantations, many of which are open to the public for tours. While driving the stretch of LA Hwy 18 known as the Great River Road, look for Laura: A Creole Plantation, St. Joseph, Houmas House, Destrehan and Whitney plantations, among others.
Fans of True Detective learn in an early episode of a frightening and mysterious place called Carcosa. It is one of the main settings for the show, and with its maze of nearly 200-year-old brick catacombs, also happens to be one of the most scenic.
The real history of Carcosa’s setting is no less fascinating than the fictional version. Its actual name is Fort Macomb, and it was built in the 1820s to protect New Orleans from invasion by foreign boats. Fort Macomb saw most of its action during the Civil War, when Confederate fighters occupied its underground chambers (fortified with 40 foot-thick walls) until Union soldiers routed them with the capture of New Orleans in 1862.
Fort Macomb and neighboring Fort Pike state historic sites are easily reachable from New Orleans and Slidell. History buffs wanting to learn more about these forts should definitely stop by the Confederate Memorial Hall Museum in New Orleans, which happens to be within a stone’s throw of two other prominent local museums—the National WWII Museum and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art.
In True Detective’s second episode, we see detectives Cohle and Hart chasing down leads that bring them to a burned-down church in the country. The church was in the town of Eunice, a hub of Cajun culture that is worth, ahem, investigating. Visit the Cajun Music Hall of Fame & Museum and hear the sounds that made this region famous. For lunch, try the locally famous mac-n-chz wedges at Jimbo’s, and the boiled crawfish at Rocky’s Cajun Kitchen.
Speaking of crawfish, mark the World Championship Crawfish Étouffée Cookoff on your calendar. It takes place the last Sunday in March. And if you’re lucky enough to be in town come Mardi Gras weekend, do yourself a favor and look up the wild Courir de Mardi Gras festival.
In True Detective, we learn that Carcosa is located on the Creole Nature Trail. While Carcosa may be fictional, the trail is definitely not. It is a series of interconnected roads running along the Gulf coast and through the wetlands south of Lake Charles, showcasing over 100 miles of historical Cajun architecture, parks, fishing spots and beaches that are waiting to be discovered.
The trail is a birder’s paradise. Highlights include the Peveto Woods Bird & Butterfly Sanctuary, Cameron and Holly beaches and the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge. For a taste of true Louisiana cookin’, stop in at T Boy’s Cajun Grill in Cameron, or head north to the largest city in southwest Louisiana, Lake Charles, to find more urban fare.
Want to dive deeper into the Hollywood South experience? Check out Lights. Camera. Louisiana.