We've always wanted to get a better taste of the unique food and culture along the American southern Gulf Coast so we recently set off on a two week long Gulf Coast Road Trip through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and north Florida. The plan was to leisurely explore the coast and make our way east around the "Big Bend" and back home to southwest Florida. Starting in Lafayette, Louisiana, we flew one way, picked up a rental car, and were off. This was our first time to Lafayette and what we found not only surprised us, but grabbed us so hard, we may never be able to shake the Acadiana bug that bit us. Here are our top 10 things to do in Lafayette, Louisiana (and we haven't even gotten started on the food)!
A Bit of History
Lafayette, Louisiana lies 2 hours west of New Orleans, but might as well be a world away. The distinct French Canadian culture here was brought by the Acadians who were expelled from parts of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and eastern Quebec in the mid-1700's during the British and French hostilities. Over the many years, the word Acadian morphed into Cajun (try slurring the two together and you begin to get the idea) and today the region is rich in jaw-dropping, swampy landscape, OMG tasty food, incredibly friendly locals, and of course their signature Cajun Zydeco music. We'll just say this -- Dang, these people know how to have a good time!
Fun Things to Do in Lafayette, Louisiana
1. Visit Avery Island
This is a must-visit, especially for hot sauce fans! Avery Island isn't actually an island -- it's a salt dome that extends 8 miles beneath the Earth's surface, so you may hear people say Avery Island is where salt and pepper meet. That's because the McIlhenny family - makers of the famous Tabasco hot pepper sauce - started their company here in 1868, and it's still going strong today. Visiting here is an easy day trip from Lafayette, about 20 miles south of the city. The company is still family-owned and operated to this day. You can take a self-guided tour of the museum and factory to see the processing of the pepper plants, the mash warehouse where it bubbles for 3 years, to the tasting room where you can taste the different varieties of Tabasco. The buildings are numbered and well-marked so you know where to go next and the intoxicating aroma of peppers being processed is everywhere. Tabasco Visitor Center, Hwy 329, Avery Island, LA
Tabasco food tours and cooking classes are also offered at McIlhenny, a great way to immerse yourself in Tabasco for the afternoon. But one thing you should definitely count on doing is eating at the 1868 restaurant. The prices are very reasonable unlike many tourist attraction restaurants, and it's delicious...seriously some of the best boudin sausage and crawfish we had during our stay!
2. Don't Miss Jungle Gardens
This 170-acre botanical garden and bird sanctuary on Avery Island - which resulted from Edward McIlhenny's conservation effort of the snowy egret - is one of his crowning achievements and contributions to Lafayette. The grounds are bordered by Bayou Petite Anse and worth spending a day doing the self-guided drive. Stop in the Jungle Gardens Visitor Center and pick up an easy-to-follow map. One of the hallmarks of the garden are the huge and very old live oak trees draped with lots of Spanish moss moving gently in the breeze. We could have stayed here all day. We also saw several working boats returning from the Gulf and some other unexpected sites:
- The centuries old Buddha was a highlight and a surprise; in its own colorful pavilion, sitting atop a large lotus blossom, it was a spectacular setting.
- Visit "Bird City" - hundreds of snowy egrets nesting on elevated wooden racks over the water in a huge pond mostly covered with bright green duck weed. There were lots of chicks and noise, with a few great egrets mixed in.
- Jungle Gardens, Louisiana 329 & Main Road, Avery Island, LA
3. Visit Delcambre & Buy Fresh Shrimp Straight Off The Boat
Just down the road from Lafayette, in the coastal fishing town of Delcambe (DEL-kum), local shrimp boats head out before the sun is up to capture the freshest day's catch. When they return in the afternoon, salivating foodies on the dock can buy the fresh shrimp by the pound, right off the boat! If you miss the boats, the Delcambre Seafood & Farmers Market on the waterfront offers fresh, local produce, wild-caught Delcambre Direct seafood, and homemade food and farm products. Delcambe Direct Seafood, Bayou Carlin Cove, 605 S Railroad St, Delcambre, LA
4. Explore Downtown and Eat Lafayette
Lafayette is a relatively small city and spread out, with several new areas with interesting shops, retail chains and restaurants. But head to Downtown Lafayette near the crossroads of Pinhook Road & Evangeline (Route 90) for some of the more unique shops and eateries in town. The area around Jefferson Street, University Avenue (East and West) and Main Street is walkable and engaging with historic shops and great photo ops like the giant letters that spell out Lafayette in Sans Souci Park (just add yourself as the "Y" in the middle). Check out local places that have been here forever like Poupart Bakery, the oldest authentically French bakery in town, and the last Borden's Ice Cream shoppe in the country for a banana split or malted shake. Downtown is a great place to meet locals who love to chat and give you great recommendations.
5. Visit Vermilionville and Acadian Village
Lafayette has two villages you can explore to get a real sense of Lafayette’s history. Vermilionville is a Cajun and Creole living history museum with a dozen or so period buildings, including 7 original structures that were moved here and restored about 20 years ago. Tours are self-guided and historians throughout the buildings are a wealth of information about the homes, the original families who lived there, local crafts and 19th century Acadiana life. Kids will love the local flora/fauna exhibits, and some cool demonstrations of the weather in south Louisiana. Acadian Village is similar to Vermilionville with less of a living history element, and guided tours instead. There are eleven structures here along with a General Store. Download the "Vermilionville Living History Museum" app in the iPhone App Store to take their audio-visual tour (available in both English and French).
Vermilionville Historic Village, 300 Fisher Rd, Lafayette, LA
Acadian Village, 200 Greenleaf Dr, Lafayette, LA
6. Dance to Live Music at an Acadiana Dancehall
Any local culture with enough venues and "dancehalls" to keep your dance card filled for months you just know is gonna be a good time. Whether you're up for local zydeco dancing or a good honky tonk, this is where you'll find the spirit of Lafayette... any night of the week, in any part of town you'll find locals dancing to a Cajun beat. But don't let that stop you from joining in.....the simple steps are easy to learn and the locals are more than welcoming and willing to lead you around the floor!
We had some of the most fun of our entire stay the night we danced to Terry and the Zydeco Bad Boys at Artmosphere, a funky and friendly bistro and night spot that serves good food and drinks til 2am. We danced as best we could to the fast temp Zydeco beat and the joint was jumpin' (literally, the drinks on our bar table were spilling over!). The locals who all seemed to know one another danced til the wee hours doing what looked like a Zydeco Cajun jitterbug.
Many restaurants offer live music and dancing like Randol's Restaurant and Cajun Dancehall, or Prejeans who has live music nightly. You'll also find nightly jam sessions all around town - there's a good Cajun jam every Wednesday at the Blue Moon Saloon. Great music, good food, nice people, and a very fun night. When you're in Lafayette, Go!
7. Craft Beer
Craft beer lovers have some serious options when it comes to tasting local craft brews. Lafayette's first microbrewery, the Cajun Brewing Company in downtown Lafayette was born from friends and a home brewing club called the Dead Yeast Society. The brewery opened in 2015, and today produces great tasting, home brewed beer like their signature "Cajun Wit" and other favorites like Bayou Brunette and Freetown. In addition to being sold in local restaurants and retail stores, they now have a 10,000 square foot home with a brewing warehouse, lab, office space, and a Tap Room with 15 rotating taps. Their tasting room, the "Front Door" is open Wednesday through Saturday 2pm-8pm, and they'll be happy to provide a free tour. along with your beer! Cajun Brewing Company, 206 Rayburn Street, Lafayette, LA
Bayou Teche Brewing started in 2009 with a single mission - to craft beers that complement the cuisine and lifestyle of Cajuns and Creoles. After converting a discarded rail road car on their family farm into a farmhouse brewery in Arnaudville, local brothers Karlos, Byron, and Dorsey Knott set about honing their craft and today Bayou Teche produces so many styles of beer, it's hard to know where to begin pairing with your favorite local foods. Which is why you need to visit and taste for yourself. Check out 24 taps ofinnovative ales and lagers at their Tap Room and Beer Garden near the banks of the Bayou Teche river. They're open daily with free public tours on Saturdays. Bayou Teche Brewing, 1106 Bushville Hwy., Arnaudville, LA
8. Eat Crawfish in Lafayette...and Cajun Gumbo, and Boudin, and...
We were pleasantly surprised at the food scene in Lafayette. Not that we didn't expect great food -- we just didn't expect so many great variations on the Cajun theme, nor the new and modern twists that local Chefs are creating. Before our visit, my only knowledge of local food in Lafayette was crawfish and gumbo. But after eating so many variations on the theme, I can tell you there's no one thing called gumbo, or étouffée (Aay-too-FAY), or Lafayette's famous pork and rice sausage known as boudin (pronounced boo-DAN). Sure, there are several integral ingredients that go into a traditional Acadiana gumbo like the "trinity" (sautéed onions, celery, and green bell pepper) and filé (pronounced (FEE-lay, which is ground sassafras leaves). Everyone here will also tell you that the flavor is all about how you cook the roux. But there are as many variations as there are parents and grandparents who made it before, especially with boudin. Everyone adds their own special touch, ingredient, or technique. And it's all good. So take your time and try as many as you can.
What we especially loved about Lafayette is their simple plate lunches. Haven't heard that term before (or in the last 50 years)? It's actually a throwback to a time when working-class Americans needed a cheap and filling meal. But the plate lunch thankfully never left Lafayette, and today you can find good ones all around town, along with a story or two from the local sitting on the stool next to you.
If you fall in love with boudin (and foodies generally do!), travel the self-guided Cajun Boudin Trail, with nearly 50 local producers and directions to each. Download your Trail Map and go! CajunBoudinTrail.com
8. Get a Daiquiri To Go!
One of the strangest and yet so wonderful experiences a foodie (or boozie) can have in Lafayette is the beloved Daiquiri To Go, a phenomenon as simple as it sounds. Louisiana's use of the straw as a litmus test to the state's open container law has turned Drive Thru Daiquiris into a favorite booze experience. Served in generous sized styrofoam cups, the wayside drive-thrus stay legal by fixing a piece of tape over the straw hole, and handing you the straw "on the side". Pull up and choose from hundreds of flavors of frozen daiquiris, and pick it up at the window. If the straw comes out of the paper and into the cup before you stop driving, you're busted.
We hit up Frankie's Daiquiri near downtown and Frankie was a hoot. He's well-known in Lafayette as "Frankie Burger" after years as a burger and fries restaurant owner in town. He's got many flavors, but his most popular is the "Frankie Says Relax". And we say, listen to Frankie. :-) Frankie's Daiquiris, 110 14th Street, between West & East Bound Streets, Hwy 90/Evangeline Thruway, Lafayette, LA
9. Visit Jefferson Island and Rip Van Winkle Garden
A great way to spend an afternoon is to drive a half an hour south of Lafayette to Jefferson Island. Built in the Southern Plantation style in 1870, the Jefferson Mansion is the centerpiece of the Rip Van Winkle Garden. The beautiful exotic plants of the 15 acre garden are surrounded by cypress and 350 year old oak trees. The beautifully manicured Garden includes fountains, statues, and even peacocks. The nicest surprise we had was seeing carved Balinese works of art meant to give people an awareness that there are other points of view in the world. Rip Van Winkle Gardens, 5505 Rip Van Winkle Rd, New Iberia, LA
10. Take a Swamp Tour
In Lafayette, you're never far from the bayou, and taking a boat tour to get into this unique ecosystem is a fun way to spend the day. There are several local swamp tour companies who do airboat swamp tours, paddling excursions, sunset tours, birding and wildlife tours, and even photography trips. Cajun Country Swamp Tours leaves from nearby Breaux Bridge, and popular McGee's tours the Atchafalaya Swamp about 30 minutes from Lafayette.
There are so many things to like about Lafayette and southern Louisiana. If your visit is just a few days, you'll only be scratching the surface, so be sure and hit these highlights. We were happy to have gotten a little taste of the local flavor, but there's still so much more!
Where to Stay in Lafayette
Home2 Suites by Hilton
While a chain hotel may not offer as much as a local B&B in the way of local flavor, the centrally-located Home2 Suites is a super comfortable stay in the Parc Lafayette, and walking distance to dining and shopping. We loved our stay here. This new hotel is modern, stylish, and wired for working away from home. There are full kitchen and work spaces in all suites, an outdoor pool, and free wireless printing. There's also excellent Wi-Fi and free breakfast every morning. Home2Suites by Hilton, 1909 Kaliste Saloom Rd, Lafayette, LA
T'Frere's House Bed & Breakfast
A century-old home located in the Acadiana area of town, this comfortable B&B was once a grand home with grounds to roam. Today, the rooms are not typically what you'd expect to find in a historic bed and breakfast, but are cozy and nicely decorated. Guests are free to roam or settle in around the entire home including a guest fridge in the large farmhouse kitchen, are treated to a full sit-down breakfast every morning in their sunny morning room, and also receive free entry into Feed & Seed, a live music venue in downtown. T'Frere's House B&B, 1905 Verot School Rd, Lafayette, LA
Mouton Plantation Bed & Breakfast
Built in 1820, this former Plantation features bedrooms in the historic main house, and individual cottage rooms with modern amenities and solid Wi-Fi. The home itself and period furnishings are fun to explore and we loved the air of history that surrounds your every move. It's truly a special place to stay. The complementary (and delicious) Cajun gourmet breakfast and Manager's cocktail hour were two more great reasons to stay here. If you're lucky, they'll be serving their Southern Tea Julip - it's the best! Mouton Plantation, 338 N Sterling St, Lafayette, LA
Many thanks to LafayetteTravel for hosting our overnight accommodations during our stay. As always, all opinions are our own based on our firsthand experience.