Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
- 1. Festivals Acadiens et Créoles
- 2. Downtown Lafayette
- 3. Downtown Alive!
- 4. Lafayette Acadian Cultural Center
- 5. Vermilionville
- 6. Lafayette Museum
- 7. Swamp Tour
- 8. Blue Moon
- 9. Tabasco Factory
- 10. Jungle Gardens
- 11. Moncus Park
- 12. Farmers and Artisans Market
- 13. Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist
- 14. Rock n’ Bowl
- 15. Zydeco Breakfasts or Brunch
- 16. Dining
Lafayette’s blend of cultures is unique. It is unlike New Orleans, with its predominantly French Creole culture. It’s different from the neighboring small town of New Iberia. which has a touch more of Spanish culture. In Lafayette, you are in Cajun Country. This is one of my favorite Southern Louisiana places. You could do a day trip to Lafayette. It’s about an hour’s drive southwest of Baton Rouge. But, if you want to see all the unique attractions found here, stay longer. Here are 16 of the best things to do when visiting.
1. Festivals Acadiens et Créoles
We visited Lafayette for the Festivals Acadiens et Créoles, held annually the second week in October. It’s a celebration of Cajun culture. Instead of a ribbon cutting to open the event, they had a boudin cutting. The live music is Cajun and Zydeco music with a touch of swamp pop. Roddie Romero & the Hub City Allstars opened with a tribute to Clifton Chenier, known as the King of Zydeco. Grammy-nominated Bonsoir, Catin, an all-but-one-member female band, was the second to last act.
There were food tents from many local restaurants. It’s like taking a Cajun food tour all in one place. We had a cooking class where Chef Kevin Foil taught us to make jambalaya. Chef Colt Patin explained the difference between Creole and Cajun cooking.
Lafayette is big on festivals and events. There is something going on almost all the time. The largest event is Festival International de Louisiane, a five-day event held the last weekend in April.
2. Downtown Lafayette
The Artwalk is held every second Saturday in downtown Lafayette. Artists were outside the art galleries and along the street with fun art. You can get a go-cup of wine at Wild Child and browse the paintings, jewelry, and interactive art. There is so much to see there including Children’s Museum of Acadiana, Acadiana Center for the Arts, Lafayette Science Museum and Planetarium, a candle-making shop, a bookstore, and more.
3. Downtown Alive!
Who doesn’t love music? Make it a free concert and that’s even better. That’s just what Downtown Alive! is. Concerts in Parc International every Friday night downtown. It started as a little street party on Friday, April 8th, 1983. This year, it celebrated its 40th anniversary and hosted some fantastic musicians.
4. Lafayette Acadian Cultural Center
At Lafayette Acadian Cultural Center, you learn Acadian history. It tells of Le Grand Derangement, the exile that created the culture of south Louisiana. In the late 1750s, thousands of Arcadians driven out of Nova Scotia, Canada because of their religion, were welcomed in Catholic Spanish-owned Louisiana.
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem Evangeline tells how loved ones were separated when the Arcadians were loaded onto ships to take them away. Evangeline and Gabrial were engaged and, after the deportment, she spent most of her life searching for her lost Gabrial. In real life, Gabriel had married someone else by the time she found him.
The name Acadians morphed into “Cajuns.” They adapted the customs of the Native Americans already living in the area and from other cultures who had settled in south Louisiana. Germans’ sausage melded into today’s boudin. Okra, brought to Louisiana by Africans, became part of gumbo. The accordion, originally a German instrument, became part of their music.
Vermilionville Historic Village is a living history museum that takes you back to the 18th and 19th centuries with a recreated Acadian village. We entered through Vermilionville’s Visitor Center, also a gift shop, La Boutique.
You experience early Louisiana life as you visit the 1765 through 1890 Acadian homes. La Maison Coussan, House of Cultures, built around 1850 by the Coussan family, is a style that is typical of Cajun and Creole homes of that time. It’s built of cypress and insulated with bousillage, a mix of Spanish moss and mud, that insulated the house.
At L’Ecole, a reproduction of an 1890s Cajun schoolhouse, we had an informative docent tell about the evolution of many Cajun words and how the meaning often differs from the original French word. She told us how in the early 1900s, the government almost destroyed the Cajun culture. Children were forbidden to speak French. Adults were ridiculed if they spoke it. Thankfully, now there is a resurgence of pride in Cajun culture. We met a quilter who is still making quilts as they were made in the 19th century. There is a blacksmith shop, a boat builder’s shed and so much more.
We dined at the Vermillonville restaurant, La Cuisine de Maman. I had fried shrimp and loved it. Some of our group had gumbo or etouffee.
6. Lafayette Museum
For more of Lafayette’s history, Jean Mouton, founder of Vermilionville, as Lafayette was then called, built the Lafayette Museum as his home in the early 1800s. It was later the home of his descendant, Alexandre Mouton, Lafayette’s 11th governor, and the first Democrat to hold the office. It’s furnished in the style of the 1850’s. You can take a self-guided or guided tour.
7. Swamp Tour
We took a boat tour of the Atchafalaya Basin with McGee’s Louisiana Swamp and Airboat Tours. Our captain, Skip, was quite knowledgeable and introduced us to some fishermen using a hoop net. He pointed out houseboats where some folks live almost totally in tune with nature.
We saw lots of water birds, egrets, herons, cormorants, and others. We did see a few alligators and the Asian carp were leaping high above the water. The Atchafalaya Basin is the largest swamp area in America. It would be an interesting place to kayak or canoe as well. It’s truly an amazing ecosystem.
8. Blue Moon
Blue Moon Saloon is one of those places that’s impossible to describe. Yes, it’s a music venue, a neighborhood bar that hosts guests from around the world, a dance hall, an exuberant celebration of Cajun and Zydeco music, and an indoor/outdoor mix with a hostel tossed in. Southern Living magazine rates Blue Moon Saloon as one of the “100 Best Bars in the South.”
The original house was a family home and moved to its present location in 1900 on logs pulled by mules. The saloon part opened in April 2001 on the back porch of the Blue Moon Guesthouse. Today, it’s part backyard and part under a shelter. It’s always packed tight. You wend your way through the crowd to the small well-stocked bar. Next, head for the bandstand where things are jumping. There’ll be a solid wall of people, but they’re friendly, so if you bump into a neighbor when you dance, it’s okay. The last time we went Amis du Teche was playing. The band is led by two young women, Adeline Miller, fiddler and vocalist, and Amelia Powell, guitarist, and vocalist, backed by Adeline’s brother on bass and a drummer with a driving beat. No one could stay still.
9. Tabasco Factory
Louisiana is known for spicy food, but did you know one of the largest salt mines in the United States is under the Tabasco Factory? Petite Anse Island became Avery Island when the Avery family owned it. The salt mine recently shut down for safety reasons, but Tabasco is still going strong and selling all over the world. We toured the facility where they make Tabasco sauce and visited a museum that tells the history of Avery Island.
Edmund McIlhenny married into the Avery family. He founded the McIlhenny Tabasco Company in 1868 using seeds of Capsicum frutescens peppers originally from Mexico or Central America. He named his sauce “Tabasco,” from a Mexican-Indian word meaning “place where the soil is humid” The fifth generation of McIlhenny’s still owns and runs the Tabasco factory. Tabasco is one of only 850 companies around the world that hold a royal warrant of appointment certifying the company as a supplier to Queen Elizabeth II.
There are many varieties of the hot sauce. In the gift shop, we saw the latest offering, one called Reaper. I sampled the Raspberry Chipolti Ice Cream but passed on the Reaper tasting. Another way to get a taste of the sauce is to dine in their restaurant, 1868.
10. Jungle Gardens
Ned McIlhenny traveled around the world. He loved the various plants and trees he saw, so he started the garden on Avery Island in 1895. He created a raised rookery for the endangered snowy egrets and called it “bird city” We did the driving tour of Jungle Gardens. We saw a few alligators soaking up the sun and some ancient moss-draped oak trees. Unfortunately, it was too late in the fall for the birds, but the grounds are gorgeous.
11. Moncus Park
Our guide, Mary Allie Hebert, led us around Lafayette’s newest treasure, Moncus Park. It was once part of the University of Louisiana and used for agricultural research since 1920 and was known as “the Horse Farm.” In 2005, the university put it up for sale. It was doomed to be another mall or golf course but two concerned university seniors, Danica Adams and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks launched the “Save the Horse Farm” campaign. The community agreed and thanks to those concerned citizens and Mr. Jim Moncus, who contributed the initial funding, it’s preserved as a community park.
It’s beautifully landscaped with native plants. There’s a Veteran’s Memorial, a children’s playground with a splash pool, Orlando Mountain, which is the highest point in Lafayette at about 60 feet, hiking trails, a fishing pier, an amphitheater, a small dog park (ground has been broken on a larger second one), and the cutest tree house built from lumber from a horse barn that was on the property. The tree house is accessed from a boardwalk.
12. Farmers and Artisans Market
The park is also home to the market every Saturday. It’s so much more than a place to buy produce. There are artists ranging from jewelry makers to authors with the Writers Guild of Arcadiana. Local musicians do an informal jam there. Of course, you can find food ranging from fresh veggies to Creole and Cajun cuisine.
13. Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist
There has been a church on the site since 1821 when Jean Mouton donated land to the Catholic diocese. The present church structure is a stately Romanesque Revival style with stained glass windows, oil paintings, and statues of saints inside. It was built in 1916 and elevated to the status of a cathedral in 1918. Its Casavant Frères organ and elaborate gold-toned altar are worth a visit.
St. John Cathedral Oak adjourns the cathedral. It’s one of the largest live oak trees in the United States and is almost 500 years old.
14. Rock n’ Bowl
Rock n’ Bowl is one of the fun things to do in Lafayette. It’s a combination of dining, dancing, and bowling alley. The original one was opened in New Orleans but during Hurricane Katrina, the owner evacuated to Lafayette and fell in love with the city and opened a branch here.
15. Zydeco Breakfasts or Brunch
A popular tradition is a Zydeco breakfast or brunch. At Breaux Bridge, the Crawfish Capital of the World, Buck and Johnny’s Zydeco Breakfasts, the food and music get everybody on the dance floor doing the two-step while they dine on breakfasts like Don’t Mess with my Tasso and Swamp Rice.
Bayou Teche Brewing mixes a Sunday Zydeco Brunch with music, unusual pizzas, and craft beer that will get your feet moving. The band, John Wilson and the Zydeco House Rockets, even invited one of our group to play the fretboard with them.
It’s nearly impossible to get a bad meal in Louisiana. Since Cajuns love food almost as much as music, there are some of the best restaurants you’ll ever find here.
Creole culture is represented at Laura’s II. Owner, Madonna Brussard, based it on a small restaurant her grandmother founded. The most popular specials are the Turkey Wings and the Fried Pork Chops.
Spoonbill Watering Hole and Restaurant was once a gas station. It still keeps a lot of the signage, but the food is not gas station stuff.
Romancelli Bistro e Vino offers elegant Italian mixed with Cajun dining with wine pairings. I loved my Shrimp Scampi, and the chocolate cake is to die for.
Johnson’s Boucaniere has been processing boudin and smoked meats as a family tradition dating back to the 1930s. They donated the boudin used for the boudin cutting at the Festivals Acadiens et Créoles.
Pampalona Tapas Bar is one of the restaurants where that serve a more Spanish cuisine with just a hint of Cajun. One unusual drink special is Absinthe, a licorice-tasting green drink once banned.
The French Press’s Chef Justin Girouard was nominated for a James Beard award. I enjoyed French Toast with cream cheese and banana filling and topped with a berry/champagne compote.
Borden’s has their last remaining ice cream parlor located in Lafayette. It dates to 1940.