When you think of Louisiana, you may immediately envision scenes from Mardi Gras, delicious Cajun and Creole food, and, of course, its most populous city, New Orleans. By all accounts, many people associate Louisiana with New Orleans and only New Orleans. But there’s a city Lake Charles located all the way across the state from Louisiana’s cultural capital, not far from the Texas border, that’s a mixture of down-home warmth and flavor for days. Here’s everything you need to do and eat in Lake Charles, Louisiana’s underrated playground.
Things to do in Lake Charles
Book a lively and historical bike tour
Lake Charles is named after an actual lake that’s one of the city’s most important natural landmarks. (Technically, the city brushes up against multiple water bodies, including Lake Charles, Prien Lake, and the Calcasieu River.) One of the best ways to see the city and admire its lakefront views is to tour it by bike. One popular option is the Biking Through the Lake bicycle tour. Not your average bike tour, Biking Through the Lake is a party on two wheels, with music playing as you cruise through the city and learn about its history.
Experience outdoors beyond the lake
To see more of the outdoors in Lake Charles beyond the lakefront, visit the Sam Houston Jones State Park. The park has camping, biking, hiking trails, fishing, glamping, wildlife viewing, and more for nature lovers. If water activities are of interest and you’d prefer personalized kayaking, fishing, or camping excursions at the park, visit Lake Area Adventures. In addition to organizing nature tours and gear rentals, the family-friendly complex also has an aquatics center, airpark, ropes course, climbing wall, game lounge, VR arena, and more indoor adventures.
Visit the city’s museums and galleries
One important cultural landmark in Lake Charles is the Black Heritage Gallery. The Black Heritage Gallery belongs to a larger attraction called the Historic City Hall Arts and Cultural Center. Both spaces highlight the works of local and regional artists, including traveling exhibitions. A recent exhibition of Lake Charles native Nellie Lutcher included her performance gowns, records, vintage magazine covers, photographs, and other memorabilia.
More history awaits at the Imperial Calcasieu Museum, which showcases tales of 375-year-old Lake Charles from the time of its Indigenous inhabitants to the present day. With visual and cultural arts and traveling exhibits, the museum teaches visitors about the area’s diversity and heritage. Behind the museum, there’s a beautiful Sallier Oak tree that’s as old as the city, which doubles as the site for two fun events: Yoga Under the Oak and Art Under the Oak. Dubbed the “Tree of Resilience,” it’s said that if you hug the tree, you’ll feel its positive energy and powers.
Explore the downtown core
Downtown Lake Charles is not to be overlooked, particularly if you like strolling around and shopping. Pop into the city’s many cute boutiques, check out the murals and street art as you walk, or stop at the Panorama Music Exchange for vintage vinyl records, cassettes, eight-track tapes, and memorabilia. It’s a step back in time and a treasure trove for collectors. After a trip down memory lane, head next door to the Panorama Music House, which not only serves food and specialty drinks but is also a venue for live music. On any visit, you may hear a band play the regional music, zydeco, which originated in southwest Louisiana.
Attend the Louisiana Food and Wine Festival
This past September, Lake Charles hosted the first annual Louisiana Food and Wine Festival, bringing a mixture of small-town charm and big-chef flavor. The festival included everything from spirits and mixologist demonstrations to Master Classes with renowned chefs, including Louisiana hometown hero Chef Edgar “Dook” Chase IV. Dook wowed the crowd with the world-famous gumbo he serves at his Chapter IV restaurant in New Orleans and shared some gumbo cooking tips along the way. Elsewhere, Chef Tiffany Derry of Top Chef fame put a twist on fish and grits by serving arancini balls with a center made of grits, herbs, spices, and seafood. If you’re in town next year, don’t miss the festivities September 19-22.
Where to eat and drink in Lake Charles
The Golden Doors Tea Room
Part activity, part culinary experience, The Golden Doors Tea Room is a can’t-miss event center with individual rooms decked out with European flair. A visit for afternoon tea includes an assortment of delicate sandwiches, scones, petit fours, macaroons, and other scrumptious desserts presented on three-tier dessert plates alongside the most beautiful place settings. With an assortment of teas to choose from — along with mimosas and other libations if you want them — you’ll enjoy both the elegant atmosphere and the friendly hosts.
The Golden Doors Tea Room: 2013 Oak Park Blvd, Lake Charles, LA 70601
If you’re a fan of the kind of foods you typically eat on game days, enjoy a meal at Barstool Sportsbook located inside of L’Auberge Casino Resort. It’s a sports bar, but Chef Lyle Broussard offers regional food delights beyond the typical fare. Must-tries include the catfish sliders, which are light, flavorful, and crispy; the fried gator, which tastes pleasantly like chicken; and the bourbon peach cobbler, which is served in the perfect size mini jar.
Barstool Sportsbook: 777 Ave L’Auberge, Lake Charles, LA 70601
Vic & Anthony’s Steakhouse
For an elegant dining experience, look no further than Vic & Anthony’s Steakhouse, located in the Golden Nugget hotel and casino. At first, walking into the Golden Nugget feels like being in Las Vegas, with its modern décor and electric vibe. Vic & Anthony’s Steakhouse matches the ambiance, complemented by top-notch service with an excellent menu. I recommend sharing appetizers so the table can sample — star starters include the roasted bacon, shrimp and crab martini, and jumbo lump crab cake. For an entrée that’s not a juicy cut of beef, it’s hard to beat the fresh fish a la nage, or “in the swim,” which comes with a delicious jumbo crab cake and tender veggies swimming in a sherried lobster sauce.
Vic & Anthony’s Steakhouse: 2550 Golden Nugget Blvd, Lake Charles, LA 70601
Twanie’s Terrific Treats
For your sweet tooth, a stop at Twanie’s Terrific Treats in downtown Lake Charles is a must. As soon as you enter the shop, your senses are smacked with the sweet aromas of a weekly rotating menu of cookies, puddings, and more. Try the ultra-rich chocolate chip cookies, baked to perfection and so moist.
Twanie’s Terrific Treats: 206 W 11th St, Lake Charles, LA 70601
Where to stay in Lake Charles