Do y’all know anywhere in the world where you can go from drive-thru daiquiris to a crawfish boil to spotting 27 crocodiles in 30 minutes, and then onto gambling away $15 of your life savings at a huge casino?
What to do in Lake Charles
Well, that’s Lake Charles. This industrial city in between Houston and New Orleans is the perfect stop off on a Deep South road trip. And I haven’t even mentioned the Bayou Rum Distillery yet. It only started up in 2011 and it’s already won too many awards to mention since, worldwide, just to emphasise how great their blends are. I know, I tasted them all on my tour. ‘Satsuma’ is a particular favourite – a tangy powerful flavour that would be a good digestif, or delicious served over ice cream.
The Crawfish Boil
For me Lake Charles will always be the place where I learned to peel a crawfish. My new friend Will, from Visit Lake Charles, passed on the technique that’s been betrothed to many an American southerner as soon as they were old enough to pick a crawfish up.
1. Pinch the tail. Crack it and squeeze.
2. Pull of the head. Suck the juice.
3. Pick off the remnants of the shell.
4. Dip crawfish in sauce and a little extra seasoning.
5. And eat.
I’ll admit it took me an embarrassingly long time to realise that crawfish is what we call crayfish in England, but these beasts were nothing like the tasteless offering you get in your average M&S sandwich. I had crawfish twice while I was in Lake Charles, in 48 hours – once at the all-you-can-eat crawfish buffet at L’Auberge Hotel’s Le Beaucoup Buffet and then again at the number one restaurant in Lake Charles, Steamboat Bill’s. And now I’m dreaming of eating them again…
There was so much other stuff on the buffet at L’Auberge, but after the first one I was hooked. Apart from those six cakes I tasted at the end, I couldn’t eat another thing.
The houses of the Charpentier Historic District
Lake Charles is home to some incredible houses. The Charpentier Historic District is the plush part of town with wrap-around porches, fans on the porches even though no one’s sitting there and grand facades with witches hat turrets.
I went on a historical tour round the houses with local historian Adley Cormier. He explained how blue ceilings are the traditional way in this part of Lake Charles (confuses the bugs so they don’t build nests) and brought me up to speed on the local gossip concerning who’d lived where over the years and how much they were worth, which, for a huge house like the one above you’d pay about the same as a two-bed in London, so that’s a thought.
If I lived here I could get me some crawfish boil every day.
The Charpentier area came to be in the late 1800s and the Victorian architecture was borne from the carpenters at the time who built their own houses. Now, understandably, it’s one of the most sought after places to live in Lake Charles.
All the nature you could need
Lake Charles is known, among nature lovers, as a bit of a wildlife mecca. I went on the Grosse Savanne Eco tour, which took us around just a few of the 50,000 acres of their land through marshes and rice paddies.
Keen birdwatchers flock here to see the rookeries, I was taught a few birdie’s names by Will, and the ownere Bobby, which I’ve since forgotten, as standard. I also learnt about the pretty white flowers that had just popped up in the last 24 hours. Apparently if you come at the right time the marsh is covered in them, like a beautiful white land as far as the eye can see.
Most excitingly I got to hear a bullfrog’s mating call, he was really going for it. Lucky future Mrs Bullfrog.
Boating around the marshlands was so peaceful and calming, and we saw quite a few alligators too, not quite the 27 of later in the day but one did come over to us on the boat. Don’t tell Florida but I’d definitely say the experience here was better than the Everglades.
If you’re into any sort of boating, fishing, crabbing, nature, then you’ll blummin love Lake Charles, all that good stuff was everywhere. I used to spend my summers on my grandparent’s farm and still have strong memories of them, and my mum, trying to introduce me to the amazing nature there and the names of everything. But then good old grandma and pa got a Sky TV box and running around in the meadows chasing geese and collecting eggs from the hens was no more. Being here really reminded me of those happy times playing out in the fields.
The Pintail Wildlife Drive in nearby Cameron was cool too. Drive three miles round the marshes and you’ll be treated to an array of wildlife and nature from the comfort of your car seat. Will started off by proudly telling me they’d seen 22 alligators there on Monday, well, on that Thursday we saw 27 – five in a row all sunning themselves like they were ballin on Miami Beach at one point.
Speaking of beaches, we went to see Rutherford Beach – just one point on the 26 miles of coastline here – and only a 45-minute drive from actual Lake Charles. It was a dreary, blustery day when I visited but when the sun’s out so are the locals, sunbathing, fishing and collecting shells.
It was refreshing to be on a beach where if you turned around you weren’t greeted by a row of high rise hotels looking down on you. As far as the eye could see there were just two wooden houses on stilts, with their perfect views out to the ocean.
Downtown Lake Charles
– Mural by local artist Candice Alexander outside her gallery
If you’re in town for two days you’ll find there are plenty of places to go in Downtown Lake Charles. We went for dinner at the Luna Bar and Grill where the portions were so big I was full after my starter. Could only manage a mint julep for dessert. The cocktail menu was music themed, love it, and the walls were covered with band posters. Mainly the greats of the 70s and then a random Mumford and Sons one too.
– Avocado arancini, how to do avocado the American way
If you want to carry on the craft beers and cocktails party, Luna Live over the road looked fun, but it was home time for me.
For breakfast I can recommend Stellar Beans’ scrambled egg bowl and yes, those aforementioned drive-thru daiquiris are a must. As soon as I heard about them I knew that sugary, boozey elixir would be the perfect way to top off an awesome two days in Lake Charles. As long as the tape is over the straw hole apparently it’s ok to have in the car…
I checked out a few museums in Lake Charles, the Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu (featuring the biggest collection of costumes in the state) and the 1911 Historic City Hall Arts & Cultural Center. It was showing the Frank Lloyd Wright exhibition, an architect who developed the Usonian way of designing homes. Apparently he’d get so into the design of his client’s homes that he’d even design them clothes and say how they should wear them. Things got awkward.
Local Lake Charles life
If y’all (picking up the local lingo) want a real good insight into local Lake Charles life T’Boy’s Cajun Grill would be my number one recommendation here. The people watching was awesome, and I tried my first Po Boy, which are an absolute institution here in the south. Stuffed full of crab it was a hot, buttery sandwich on soft crusty bread alongside some alligator bites (interesting texture, but my life is ok without them) and crab dippers, with a huge Coca-Cola.
L’Auberge Casino Resort
If you’ve got some money to spend, this is where to do it. Check out my room!
I had a bath and then a shower, just to test both – and the water came from the ceiling to fill the bath. Mind. Blown. I also got more pillows than I imagine I’ll ever own.
L’Auberge Casino Resort has it’s own outdoor pool area, spa, three restaurants, awesome Ember Bar (I had maple bacon rashers to dip in sauce on happy hour!) and a huge casino, the biggest in Lake Charles. I mean I’m no gambler, but I was willing to flash 15 of my finest dollars in order to experience Lake Charles casino life as others do.
I sat next to a woman who’d put $20 in and was currently hitting $300 on the gambler, she told me she’d leave when it went to $200. But she also told me she’d just lost $300 on another machine, so I’m not entirely sure I believed her.
Anyway, after getting my free Margarita in return for gambling, I left to bask in the opulence of my super fancy room before I had the chance to find out.
I was a guest of Visit Lake Charles – they put together a great 48-hour itinerary for me to explore the area to show you how you could do the same. As you can see, it was great!