Taking a tasty trip to Louisiana's pirate capital
There's always something delicious simmering in the gumbo pot, and the good 'ole southern tunes playing will always persuade you to start tappin' your toes in this southwest Louisiana town of Lake Charles.
Once you set foot in Lake Charles, you'll be warmly greeted by Cajun personalities who will broaden your horizons with their take on casino gambling, live music at hip nightspots, peaceful golf greens and, of course, their delicious Cajun food. The year-round hunting and fishing are second to none, not to mention their other outback adventures, such as the Creole Nature Trail All-American Road.
Located in southwest Louisiana, Lake Charles has a vibrant Cajun culture that has exerted a strong influence on the nightlife, Cajun delicacies and overall mood of the city. The city itself is situated along the only white- and inland beach along the Gulf Coast. Overlooking the freshwater Lake Charles, the city's locals enjoy repeating legends that tell of treasure hidden along the shores of Lake Charles by famous pirates such as Jean Lafitte and other buccaneers.
The Contraband Days Festival, held in Lake Charles, celebrates these pirate days long past with featured reenactments of the buccaneers taking over the city, and even offers a "walking of the plank," done by the city's mayor, each May. Contraband Days is proudly known as the most popular of the many festivals held each year in Lake Charles. It is hosted on the scenic lakefront civic center grounds and offers 12 days of celebrating Cajun food, family fun, and festivities for everyone. It is one of the largest celebrations in Louisiana with more than 200,000 people who attend each year.
The gorgeous historic Charpentier District is perfect for a stroll down memory lane or for some historic perspective of this charmingly scenic city. The antique homes along these 20 picturesque blocks are all Victorian-era style homes embellished with the unique Lake Charles-style architecture. The area's historic cemeteries and museums are also worth a quick stop, especially for those history buffs out there.
Ideally located on the banks of Lake Charles, Prien Lake and the scenic Calcasieu River, Lake Charles the town is oftentimes referred to as the "Lake Area." With oak and pine trees dotting its lush landscape, Lake Charles also boasts the beautiful Bord du Lac Marina, with its lakefront promenade featuring a scenic walkway perfect for an evening stroll, right on the grounds of the Lake Charles Civic Center (where many festivals and fairs are held throughout the year).
Indeed, southwest Louisiana is known as the festival capital of the state, with over 75 fairs and festivals, including the world-famous Mardi Gras, Cajun Music and Food Festival and Contraband Days Pirate Festival. So no matter what time of year you come, there's always something fun going on in and around Lake Charles. Home to two cultural districts and a large arts community, the cultural districts allow tax-free sales of original artwork, thus the cultural economy here is thriving. With its countless arts events and festivals, it's not surprising that there are over 70 arts and cultural organizations throughout the city.
There is much to do in the Lake Area, including many interesting museums, art galleries galore and a bustling nightlife. With the revitalization of the downtown area, there is much more of a focus on the sale of local art and an increase in new arts events. Built in 1912 and operating as an elementary school until 1980, Central School has since been restored to a fabulous arts center featuring black heritage Art Gallery, Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu and Lake Charles Symphony, as well as many other studios housed there. The Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu is a fantastic collection of extravagant costumes and interactive floats. Also on the grounds of this famous museum is the Sallier oak tree, a 400-year-old tree that continues to stand proud.
After spending countless hours exploring the downtown area with its many fun stops, you'll likely be looking for a local watering hole for scrumptious refreshments, no doubt! Ryan Street is just the spot to hit, because it's precisely the area of the historic downtown known for its enticing restaurants, including Luna's, Sha Sha's, and Happy Hippie Pizza (among others). The popular bars in the area include Yesterdays, Cowboys, Micci's and a whole lot more.
The nightlife in Lake Charles offers 24/7 fun and gambling, with numerous Vegas-style nightclubs, only here, the breathtaking Lake Charles serves as the backdrop. One of the most famous and fabulous establishments is the L'Auberge du Lac Casino and Resort, which towers 26 stories into the air, making it the tallest building between Houston and Baton Rouge. It boasts two heated pools, a lazy river, spa, delicious restaurants, gift shops and the Contraband Bayou Golf Club at L'Auberge.
Did You Know?
The Travel Channel lists Lake Charles' Calcasieu Parish Courthouse as one of the Top 10 haunted places in America. According to legend, the courthouse is haunted by the ghost of Toni Jo Henry, who was sentenced to death for murder in a carjacking in 1940 that involved a plot to break her husband out of jail. Toni Jo was the only woman executed in Louisiana's electric chair.
Toni Jo was exectued in the Calcasieu Parish Courthouse in 1942, and since then, the building hasn't been the same. Staff have reported power failures, malfuncitoning electrical outlets and even the smell of a woman's hair burning. Some believe that the ghost of Toni Jo is responsible for the mischief.
Outlaws and Opulence
There are also many tales of the famous pirate Jean Lafitte, who is said to have docked in Lake Charles. One story that includes Lafitte has to do with the oldest house in Lake Charles, which is the Sallier-Barbe House located on Shell Beach Drive. Charles Sallier and his wife, Catherine, were quite good friends with the pirate, but Sallier had become jealous of his wife and Lafitte—as legend tells it, one day Charles Sallier thought that Catherine was having an affair with Laffite. In his rage, he picked up his pistol and shot Catherine.
When Catherine fell to the ground, he thought he had killed her, so he jumped on his horse and fled, never to be heard from again. However, Catherine survived the shot by a simple piece of jewelry—her brooch. When the pistol was fired, the bullet lodged in the large brooch Catherine was wearing. This brooch is a family heirloom that the Barbe family still treasures.
Along the lakefront on Shell Beach Drive, visitors will find large antebellum family estates. One of these mansions was the home of famous country-western star Lynne Anderson, who occupied it with her husband, Louisiana oilman Harold Stream III, while she lived in Lake Charles.
The stretch of Shell Beach that borders the lake is also lined with beautiful century-old oak trees. One estate in particular along Shell Beach is home to a famous 170-year-old oak tree known as the "Calcasieu Manor Tree." This oak tree is registered with the Live Oak Society of the Louisiana Garden Club Federation .The "Calcasieu Manor" tree also has a caretaker, and seedlings are harvested from the tree and sent to the coastline to be used in conservation preservation. There are three more old established oak trees located in the front of the property that were planted as seedings from this 170-year-old tree!
• Lake Charles is mentioned by the character played by Tom Hanks in the movie Catch Me If You Can, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
• In an episode of the Andy Griffith Show, Andy mentions visiting Uncle Olly and Aunt Flora in Lake Charles.
• Lake Charles, Louisiana, is mentioned in the lyrics of the song "Up on Cripple Creek" by The Band.
For More Information:
Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau
Louisiana Department of Culture
Recreation and Tourism