Louisiana's culture and traditions are so distinctive from other parts of the South, it may as well be another country, making it a compelling getaway for those in search of captivating new experiences that feel a world away, but are really close to home. Immerse yourself in the Cajun and Creole traditions preserved in Louisiana's cuisine, festivals and music, and you'll soon join the locals in their laissez les bon temps rouler (let the good times roll) outlook on life.
Here are 9 reasons to visit the Pelican State this fall.
Spuddy's Cajun Foods Cooking Experience. Spuddy Faucheux has been cooking up some of the best Cajun food in southeast Louisiana for more than 25 years, and now he's revealing his culinary secrets, inviting aspiring chefs into the kitchen of his restaurant, Spuddy's Cajun Foods, for a hands-on cooking class. Cooks learn how to coax a roux, the base for gumbo, to just the right shade of caramel, and how to give jambalaya an extra kick without a firestorm of cayenne pepper. Faucheux goes beyond the boundaries of many Cajun cooking classes, demonstrating how to grind and season andouille, a Cajun pork sausage, and even lets folks have a peek inside his sacred outdoor meat smoker.
$125 per person, $240 per couple. 2644 LA 20, Vacherie, Louisiana. 225-265-4013. www.cajuncookingexperience.com
Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu.It's Carnival Season all year at the Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu. This riot of sequin-covered costumes sprouting more feathers than your average peacock housed in an old school is said to be the largest Mardi Gras costume collection in the South. The museum chronicles the history of Mardi Gras in Lake Charles, which claims to have the second largest Mardi Gras celebration in Louisiana. Visitors go behind the scenes, learning about costume design, Mardi Gras royalty and the role of krewes, the social clubs that plan parades and balls. Climb aboard a festive parade float for a selfie.
$5-$10. 809 Kirby St., Lake Charles, Louisiana. 337-430-0043, www.mardi-gras-museum-of-imperial-calcasieu.com
Teddy's Juke Joint.A case of the blues will make you smile at Teddy's Juke Joint. The charismatic personality of owner and record spinner Teddy Johnson is the reason blues lovers seek out this isolated shotgun house 14 miles north of Baton Rouge. The place reverberates with slide guitar and gravelly vocals recounting soulful tales of broken hearts and hard times. Count on live music two or more nights a week; the rest of the time Teddy spins the tunes himself. A mish-mash of old license plates, Mardi Gras beads, music posters, a disco ball and just random stuff that Teddy likes gives the place a fun, devil-may-care vibe – the perfect setting for a night "out jukin."
$10-$20 cover on weekends. 17001 Old Scenic Highway, Zachary, Louisiana. 225-658-8029, www.teddysjukejoint.com
Shreveport Municipal Auditorium. Elvis has left the building, but his memory lives on at Shreveport Municipal Auditorium, a National Historic Landmark that offers guided tours. Long before he was the "King of Rock 'n' Roll," a very young Elvis Presley played regularly on the Louisiana Hayride, a weekly radio show (it later transitioned to TV) nationally broadcast from the auditorium that became known as "The Cradle of the Stars."
Fans can hear a recording of Elvis singing “That’s Alright Mama” on Oct. 16, 1954, the night he made his debut on the show, pioneering a new sound that would forever change American music.
Of course, Elvis wasn’t the only music icon to grace the stage, and the tour showcases memorabilia from other legendary performers, such as Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash.
$20. 705 Elvis Presley Ave., Shreveport, Louisiana. 318-841-4000, www.shreveportmunicipalauditorium.com
The Acadiana Bacon Fest and Boudin Cook-Off.Pork lovers now have one more reason to bring their appetite to Lafayette in the heart of Cajun Country. The inaugural Acadiana Bacon Fest debuts Oct. 19 at the 12th annual Boudin Cook-off, uniting two delicious food festivals at Parc International.
Expect bacon-wrapped shrimp, bacon soup, bacon souffles, and, of course, bacon boudin.
Boudin, a spicy blend of pork, liver and rice in a steamed sausage casing, is as quintessentially Cajun as bayous and backroads, but boudin with bacon is a radical departure from tradition. Bite into one and decide if you’re pro-bacon or pro-tradition.
For locals, the only thing better than boudin is a boudin ball. To make these delicious little gems, boudin is removed from the casing and deep fried. If you think you could eat a bucket of them, join the boudin ball eating contest.
Parc International, 200 Garfield St., Lafayette, Louisiana. Free admission. 337-291-5566. www.boudincookoff.com, www.acadianabaconfestival.com
Solomon Northup Trail.Fans of the Oscar-winning film "Twelve Years a Slave," based on the memoirs of Solomon Northup, know the true story of the 19th-century free black man who was lured from his home in Upstate New York and sold into slavery in Louisiana.
The 91-mile Solomon Northup Trail, which cuts through Rapides and Avoyelles parishes in central Louisiana, chronicles his harrowing ordeal. The Epps House, where Northup was enslaved from 1843-1853, can be visited at Louisiana State University in Alexandria. Northup helped build the single-story Creole cottage that was originally located in Bayou Boeuf.
Other points of interest are Red River Landing in Alexandria, where Northup arrived by riverboat after being purchased at a New Orleans slave auction, and the Avoyelles Parish Courthouse that stands on the same site as the courthouse where Northup was freed in 1853.
Cane River Queen Boat Tour. Hop aboard the new Cane River Queen paddleboat and see Natchitoches, Louisiana's original French colony founded in 1714, from the unique vantage point of the Cane River Lake.
The 1.5-hour narrated tour shines a light on the history and heritage of the waterway that was once the lifeblood of the region. Even before the first French settlers arrived, the Red River was part of a navigable route to the Mississippi River, but a 160-mile log jam known as the “Great Raft” changed that. When the jam was cleared in the 1830s, the Red River changed course, forming a 33-mile lake.
Have your camera ready when you cruise past the city’s Historic Landmark District, a charming mix of Victorian, Queen Anne and Creole architecture.
You’ll also get an introduction to area wildlife. Great blue herons and snowy egrets are common, and iron-jawed alligators occasionally make an appearance.
$5-$25. 100 Rue Beauport, Natchitoches, Louisiana. 318-663-7787, www.natchitoches.com/listing/cane-river-queen
Gotcha Bikes. Cycling is a fun way to see the state capital, and Gotcha, a new bike share program with 500 pedal-assisted bikes around Baton Rouge, provides a hassle-free way to get a set of wheels. Just download the app and find your ride at one of 50 mobility hubs. When you arrive at your destination, drop the bike at another hub.
The Downtown Greenway, a network of urban bike and pedestrian trails, leads to some of the city’s top historic and cultural attractions, including the Old Louisiana State Capitol and the USS Kidd Veterans Museum, a WWII destroyer permanently docked in the Mississippi River.
Louisiana Children's Museum. New Orleans has a reputation as a boozy playground for grown-ups, so it doesn't often make the list of kid-friendly vacation spots, but the new Louisiana Children's Museum may change that. The $45.5 million facility opened in August on 8.5 lush acres in City Park after 30 years in the Warehouse District.
Five galleries features new Louisiana-focused exhibits such as Move with the River and Dig into Nature, that help children interpret the world around them. Old favorites like Follow that Food and the Bubble Studio have been reimagined to amp up the fun factor.
$12-$14. City Park New Orleans, 15 Henry Thomas Drive, New Orleans, Louisiana. 504-523-1357, www.lcm.org