Lake Charles is southwest Louisiana’s largest city, with an entire vacation’s worth of attractions, festivals, restaurants and cultural events for every traveler. It’s also home to four casinos. L’Auberge Casino Resort is a one-stop destination for travelers looking for entertainment, great meals and around-the-clock entertainment. Table games, poker tournaments and slot machines are just part of the draw here. There are also numerous restaurants ranging from creative Asian cuisine to traditional Southern favorites. Next door to L’Auberge is Golden Nugget Lake Charles, a resort featuring more than 1,600 slots and 79 table games, plus awesome dining options and a concert calendar that rivals those of much larger cities. Isle of Capri and Delta Downs round out the destinations for you to test your luck.
Get outdoors and explore the cypress forests of southwest Louisiana's only state park. Hikers and bird-watchers will discover native wildlife and flora on five trails including a historic stagecoach road. Boaters and fishermen can choose from two boat launches on park property to access the Calcasieu River. Sam Houston Jones State Park is a well known regional destination for disc golf, hosting regional tournaments throughout the year. Spend an entire weekend communing with nature. Choose your level of luxury for overnight accommodations with options including eight cabins, a deluxe lodge, RV hookups or numerous campsites with electricity and water.
Nicknamed “Louisiana’s Outback,” the 180-mile Creole Nature Trail All-American Road is a driving trail like no other. Beginning in Lake Charles and neighboring Sulphur, drivers are taken south through the swamplands where alligators blend in seamlessly with the scenery, and wading shorebirds rest between migratory flights. The region sits at the confluence of two flyways — the routes birds take between North and South America seasonally — which means that visitors can see a phenomenal display of feathered friends along the trail. Download the Creole Nature Trail smartphone app by searching “Creole” in the App Store or on Google Play.
Aficionados of naval history won’t want to miss the USS Orleck Naval Museum. Climb aboard this U.S. Navy ship, which served the nation in the Pacific from the Cold War years until 1982, and learn about the history of this fascinating chapter of American history.
5. North Beach
Louisiana’s only white-sand inland beach is located in the heart of Lake Charles. Called North Beach, it’s an awesome place to take a break from the summer heat. Let the kids cool off at the spray-ground, and walk the beautiful waterfront promenade, picture-perfect for an evening stroll.
Louisiana Culinary Trails are a network of eight distinct regions of the state, full of flavor and local culture. Lake Charles is part of the Seafood Sensation Trail. This culinary region is notable for its blend of freshwater and saltwater food offerings, found on menus in the city and throughout southwest Louisiana. For a list of restaurants that make up this trail, visit LouisianaTravel.com/culinary. Or check out this year's Top Twenty Restauarants as voted by Lake Charles locals.
7. Swamp Tours
Get an up-close view of Alligator Mississippiensis, a critter so closely associated with Louisiana that it’s the state’s official reptile. Lake Area Adventures offers kayak and boat rentals for adventure-seeking families. They also have guided boat tours, where visitors can see Louisiana at its wildest while traveling through the quiet bayous of the Lake Charles. It’s a memorable way to learn about the area’s history and ecology. Lake Area Adventures has more than aqua-adventures, too; check out their options for obstacle course racing, paint ball games and a variety of outdoors-oriented special events.
Louisiana Spirits, makers of Bayou Rum, ranks among the top distilleries in Louisiana. Buoyed by the success of its Bayou Silver, Bayou Spiced, Bayou Select and the unique Bayou Satsuma rums (flavored with the sweet citrus fruit, nicknamed the “Mandarin orange of the South”), Bayou Rum makes spirits that represent Louisiana’s culture. Tour the distilling facility in Lacassine, just a few miles outside of Lake Charles, to learn about the rum-making process and pick up some souvenirs to take home.
Many towns have historic districts. Few have their own distinct architectural style. Such is the case in Lake Charles, where you’ll find the Charpentier Historic District. Around the turn of the century, mixed-style buildings recalling the region’s ties to the lumber industry began popping up. Carpenter-architects built distinctive additions to homes that included gingerbread accents, turrets, towers and leaded glass. More than 40 blocks make up the Charpentier Historic District. Visit the Lake Charles CVB’s office or go to visitlakecharles.org for a free map of the neighborhood.
Lake Charles is nicknamed the Festival Capital of Louisiana, and for good reason: big events are held here throughout the year. More than 75 fests are on the calendar annually. Most notable among them are Mardi Gras, the Louisiana Pirate Festival, the Black Heritage Festival, the Cajun French Music & Food Festival and the Fur & Wildlife Festival (where attendees can see unique events including the trap-setting and oyster-shucking competitions).
Music-lovers will want to check out Luna Live, one of Lake Charles’ main attractions for those looking to hear local music. It’s located downtown across the street from its sister restaurant, Luna Bar & Grill, and serves dishes that include Creole classics like crawfish bisque and comfort food favorites (Southern-style deep fried pickles – yum!).