The charming city of Lake Charles sits directly west of Lafayette along the coast of Louisiana. And just next to that sits New Orleans, which is the destination most people think of when they're planning a trip to this southern state - without even realizing that another great city is only a short drive away. While Lake Charles is the fifth-largest city in Louisiana, it has the same atmosphere that one would expect from a small Southern town.
Guide2Travel refers to this big city with a small-town attitude as the 'festival capital of the world' and it's easy to see why. For the perfect weekend in this lesser-known city, here are all the things travelers can fit into one weekend in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
Take A Stroll Around The Historic District And Head To A Festival
It could be said that Lake Charles is a little bit quirky. This Gulf-front city has it all from pirate celebrations (more on that later) to a rich southern history, much of which is on full display through its architecture. Falling in love with any number of historical, Victorian buildings is easy to do when you're walking around the Charpentier Historic District, and, for a while, it's easy to forget the time period that one actually resides in. Many of the homes that line these streets have been maintained so well that their colorful exteriors, sharp gable lines, and window towers seem as though they were just built yesterday. Gardens that line the walkways and yards of each building serve as reminders of lavish this city really was during the late 1800s, as it was once a booming lumber town.
When travelers have had enough southern historic charm (but really, how much is too much?) they can experience Lake Charles history in a new way. The city hosts many festivals throughout the year and if Mardi Gras has already come and gone, fear not - there are plenty more to choose from! Seventy-five, to be exact. One of the most popular annual festivals is called Contraband Days, and it's held in May every year over the course of two days. The festival celebrates the tale of Jean Lafitte, who was rumored to be a pirate who stalked the coves around the area. Among many fun and unique pirate's-life traditions, a favorite of locals is when 'pirate' Jean Latiffe makes the mayor walk the plank at the waterfront.
Visit One Of Several Fascinating Museums
Surprisingly, Lake Charles is home to one of the most decorated wartime U.S. Navy ships in history, the USS Orleck. The ship was built in 1945 for use in World War II before it was eventually retired by 1982. Now, it sits in the harbor in Lake Charles as a museum, open to visitors who wish to see it up close and learn about the role it once played when it was active. The anti-submarine ship was top of the line during its prime, with technology that's far outdated today, but was the most advanced anyone had ever seen during the Second World War.
If you've missed Mardi Gras, don't worry - Lake Charles is also home to the Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu, which happens to be open year-round. Here, visitors can see Mardi Gras costumes from decades past, as this one museum is home to more of them than any other in the world. Each year, the outfits change and as new ones are created, they're swapped out annually so that there's something different on display during each festival season.
Soak Up Louisiana's Nature At The Beach Or On The Trails
Of course, no visit to Louisiana's coast, or Lake Charles, in particular, is complete without a beach day. There are several beaches that travelers can choose from including North Beach, which is also home to a boardwalk that connects several nature trails and memorial parks. The Cajun Riviera beaches are the most popular for locals and tourists but still provide a great day in the sun despite the fact that they can get crowded on weekends and holidays.
For anyone looking to get up close and personal with Louisiana's wildlife, the Creole Nature Trail is the place to be. This preserve is protected and offers a glimpse into a natural marshland biome of Louisiana, which is home to alligators, more than 120 species of fish, and many rare bird species. This is also the gateway to the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, which spans 124,511 acres in total, offering plenty of scenic vistas for travelers looking to escape the city for a while.