Lake Charles, the un-New Orleans Louisiana

Say “Louisiana” and New Orleans immediately comes to mind.

But, once you get out of New Orleans, you’ll find that there is an entirely new world in Louisiana.

Lake Charles, once a sleepy municipality on the shores of a pretty lake, has matured into one of the hot vacation destinations for residents of The Pelican State, nearby Texas and in surrounding states where people know a good thing.

If there is a caution here it is that the summers tend to be…well, you know…summers.  Dallas in July could be a movie location for a film with purgatory as a destination. While Lake Charles does tend to the warm side, it usually does not approach Dallas for withering heat.  Maybe that’s why Texans come here to decompress.

Activity options in Lake Charles present an amazing variety and offer something for everyone of every age. On the upscale side is the L’Auberge Casino Resort with its amenities, top notch restaurants, shops, accommodations, meeting facilities and…of course…a rather large casino.

Louisiana is very diligent in ensuring that underage guests neither frequent a casino nor gamble in one. Security personnel are posted at every entrance to the gaming halls and will very politely check identification of anyone they suspect might be under 21. Some women have been known to hope they are “carded” so they can go home and tell friends casino security thought they were younger.

In fact, Louisiana is so strict that those under 21 cannot legally purchase a lottery ticket.

Being part of the Old South, Lake Charles has an abundance of Old South historical areas.  The Charpentier Historic District is noted on all street signs for the edification of visitors, and many of the homes located therein are on the high end of the real estate market.

Homes in Charpentier range from modest bungalow styles to rather pricey columned mansions. You could almost picture Scarlett O’Hara tripping over her hoop skirt as she chased Rhett Butler down a circular staircase.

You can do a walking tour of Charpentier or other historic districts but you’ll be far better off discussing it with the concierge at your hotel and seriously considering a tour with a guide.

Lake Charles lays claim to being the “Festival Capital” of Louisiana with some 75 citywide parties a year. There is, of course, a Cajun Cook-Off.  In a city that prides itself on its Cajun heritage and the spicy foods Louisiana is rightly famous for, would you expect any less?

But there is a caveat for non-Cajuns or Louisiana natives…bring the Tums. Much of the food, while exceptionally tasty, is also exceptionally hot. Louisianans have been known to light cigars with their breath after sampling Cajun cooking. Tasty though it may be, Cajuns love to have their food top the Scoville Scale.

There is also a rollicking festival called “Contraband Days” celebrating the state’s pirate past that includes the Jewish pirate (yes, there were a bunch of Jewish pirates) Jean Lafitte who had a hand in winning the War of 1812. Contraband Days runs for two weeks and turn the Lake into a party zone.

If the kids don’t get a charge out of watching all that pirate activity, let them go back to the hotel and keep on playing with their video games.

Night life in Lake Charles rocks. There is the Cowboy Nigh Club that is particularly popular with the college set with dollar drinks on Thursday nights. Well, that would be popular with an older set as well.

Next door to Cowboys is Yesterdays, a haven for country music fans that is open Friday through Sunday. Too bad you can’t get a couple of those dollar drinks and then head over to Yesterdays for a couple of great C&W sets.

When you are down there, dress like a local. Most Louisianans don’t wear shorts, especially at night. Dress in casual and light — very light — slacks and short-sleeved sports shirts.

So why not check out a piece of old Louisiana and the South? You’ll find Lake Charles and its people very welcoming…even to Yankees.

Bob and Sandy Nesoff are members of the American Society of Authors and Journalists.

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