Given a limited budget, an unlimited appetite and an interest in local culture, you can’t go wrong with a weekend road trip based in Lake Charles, Southwest Louisiana. I recently spent three days at a Lake Charles casino resort and discovered the glitz, cuisine and the nightlife that people love about Las Vegas plus real Southern hospitality.
While there, I met many parents and grandparents who enjoyed (or maybe just tolerated) the booze, slot machines and the party ambiance to show their kids a great time. Add in a road trip to see Southwest Louisiana’s unusual bayou environment and coastal habitats — not to mention gators aplenty — and it’s a great family vacation for the right family.
About and Around Lake Charles
If you want a nice lunch or are devoted foodies, do your research on the Boudin Trail. Driving through the nearby towns of Dequincy, Sulphur, Vinton, Iowa, Westlake, Moss Bluff, and Cameron Parish in search of this Louisiana gourmet specialty will give you a sense of the region.
Pick out one of the Boudin Trail’s recommended restaurants selling the spiced meat and rice sausage along Interstate 10 and Highway 90, stop for a meal or a snack, and try to see how boudin sausage or boudin balls (fried meatball-like versions of the same recipe) are made. You can find them with beef, pork, crawfish, shrimp and even alligator — an acquired taste… but one that may thrill your crew.
Road Trip around the Southwestern Louisiana Outback
Did you know there are an estimated 1 million alligators in the state? The Creole Nature Trail All-American Road winds through 180 miles of marshland, bird sanctuaries supporting 400 different species and some Gulf Coast beaches. It makes a beautiful one-state road trip.
Many families just take a day trip down to the Cameron Prairie Wildlife Refuge, where you can walk the beachfront boardwalk and see alligator-packed bayous.
If the kids haven’t spotted any, our friends at Mindy Bianca Public Relations suggest you take the fork to Pintail Wildlife Drive, a 3-mile self-driving tour where they’ve seen up to 27 alligators in one day. Despite weighing up to 800 lbs. and eating their own young, alligators are pretty shy and will avoid you – unless provoked. Do let your teens know that if you go in April or May (especially around sunrise), you can hear them bellowing to each other in a mating call.
Of course, in the summer heat, don’t forget your beach towels for a stop at Holly Beach, known for its shelling, or one of the other scenic Gulf Coast beaches. There are also convenient stops for fishing, hunting and crabbing if you bring the right gear.
Locals Help with Picnics and Sightseeing Tours
With plenty of picnic sites along the route, stopping at a local restaurant to pick up lunch is a must. For burgers and traditional Louisiana Cajun food, there’s T-Boys Cajun Grill.
If you’re looking for a po-boy to pack on your picnic, you’ll want to try Anchors Up Grill. Both restaurants will give you that authentic Louisiana cuisine – and plenty of it – so you can fuel up for this adventurous trek.
Long the site of a popular wilderness lodge, Grosse Savanne Ecotours now runs guided daytrips and swamp tours within their 50,000-acre property. Bring bug repellant! We hear the water’s clean enough to swim and the birdlife is wonderful to see — a testament to the cleanup after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil well a decade ago.
For more ideas of what to do along the waterfront, from standup paddleboarding to fishing in Houma, staying in the charming historic Covington, or catching one of the wild Mardi Gras boat parades, do your research at VisitLouisianaCoast.com. It’s also a good place to find licensed fishing guides.
Home at L’Auberge Casino Resort Lake Charles
Lake Charles boasts the highrise L’Auberge Casino Resort, whose golden glass façade is straight from Las Vegas. With more than 1,000 rooms, several banks of elevators, the Contraband Bayou golf course designed by Tom Fazio, bayou-facing beach and extensive lazy river and pool complex, there’s plenty of age-appropriate fun for every member of the family.
We were just 30 miles from the Texas border but worlds apart. Grandparents and parents from Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Texas and Louisiana were in the house, along with couples and bachelorette parties who flocked to the Adults-only pool and cabanas. At night, hundreds more arrived for a poolside rock concert, complete with after-hours DJ and dancing.
Everyone was there to have a good time in a much more genteel way than we’ve seen at other casino resorts. Our kid-friendly tower room with two queen beds was spacious and elegant, there was a coffeemaker (something you never find in Vegas!) and the staff could not have been more accommodating.
One of the resort’s big attractions is the fine dining available at the Ember Grille & Wine Bar, a celebratory big steak kind of place. We liked Jack Daniel’s, where live music added to the comfortable ambiance for enjoying nachos, burger and local IPAs. From Asian to Italian to the bayou-facing snackbar, there are several choices with well prepared food (but not all welcome kids, so inquire ahead.)
Trip Planning Details for a Lake Charles Getaway
If this sounds as fun to you as it was for us, go ahead and book your stay — at least several weeks in advance if you’re planning a summer or holiday weekend. Being there for work, we didn’t have time to see and do everything in Lake Charles, but we caught some local highlights of Cajun Country, as you can see in this video.
At L’Auberge Casino Resort, the current Bed & Breakfast Package includes a comfortable double guest room with two queens, breakfast for two, or a $30 food credit to spend on lunch or snacks later in the day. Take advantage of it and other special room rates on week nights; with rates starting at $149/night.
Try to time your visit for one of the dozens of festivals held in this party-hardy region, although COVID-19 restrictions mean you have to double check what’s happening this year.
You can pick from Mardi Gras (there are several kid-friendly events too), Calcasieu’s two-week Contraband Days Pirate Festival honoring Jean Lafitte each May, the Lousiana Fur & Wildlife Festival held over 10 days in January in Cameron Parish, the Black Heritage Festival, the Iowa Rabbit Festival, Westlake Family Fun & Food Festival, Cajun Music & Food Festival, and the Southwest Louisiana Christmas Lighting Festival.
For current schedules and more lodging ideas, visit the helpful team and explore the Lake Charles CVB online.
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