Southwest Louisiana’s year-round outdoor playground, Lake Charles has been designated as Louisiana’s “Festival Capital,” boasting over 70 annual events celebrating everything from Black heritage and the arts to the region’s vibrant, multicultural culinary and music scene.
Colorful lights, the thumping of the bass drum, and the roar of cheering fans. Nothing gets everyone moving quite like concerts and live music, and some of the best entertainment for families, couples, and music lovers is free and readily accessible to downtown businesses or the lakefront.
Fall is peek festival season, and a crowd favorite is Chuck Fest! On October 22, the streets of downtown Lake Charles come alive with an array of musicians, artisans, and delicious food. Chuck Fest is a festival dedicated to celebrating the rich cultural bounty found in Lake Charles, or “Lake Chuck.” The single-day event is free to the public and features local restaurant favorites, Louisiana-made beer and spirits, and bands from all across Louisiana. Chuck Fest is equal-parts food, drink and music, garnished with a twist of art, served chilled with neighbors.
And don’t miss the holiday happenings that quickly follow – every year, the first weekend in December is alive with city-wide events throughout Southwest Louisiana. Sulphur’s Christmas Under the Oaks boats local art, music, food, carnival rides, and “snow.” Lake Charles hosts a lighted boat parade with fireworks and more. And, there is a collection of shopping and performing arts throughout the season! Check out visitlakecharles.org/CajunChristmas for details.
Compared to its more publicized neighbors to the east, Southwest Louisiana’s cuisine is a lighter take on Creole cooking. Dating back to the 18th century, its culinary traditions are largely informed by its coastal waterways, swamps, and the Mississippi River—as well as the region’s Cajun and African American influences.
Fresh Gulf seafood takes center stage, which you’ll taste at spots like Restaurant Calla, with its craft cocktails and blue crab beignets, or local institutions Darrell’s Famous Po’Boys and Buffi’s Peaux Boys, where buttery sautéed shrimp and spicy crawfish are piled high on crackly French bread.
While there’s no shortage of laidback eateries (don’t miss the bistro selections at Crying Eagle Brewing Co.), Lake Charles also excels at fine dining. Be sure to book dinner at New American eatery 1910, or downtown’s Villa Harlequin, located in the historic Noble Building. Villa’s executive chef Amanda Cusey was recently crowned Queen of Louisiana Seafood, having won the 15th annual Louisiana Seafood Cook-off with her pan-seared red drum with tomato polenta and crawfish cream sauce. The first chef from Lake Charles and the second woman to win the honor, Cusey brings a thoughtful Italian touch to the Villa’s menu with dishes like prosecco risotto with oysters, crab, and crawfish arancini.
Intrepid diners can also integrate outdoor recreation into their exploration of the region’s cuisine. There’s abundant fresh- and saltwater fishing and chartered tours, and Lake Charles Creole Nature Trail All-American Road is a favorite among locals for shrimping and seasonal crabbing. If you have transportation, the Southwest Louisiana Boudin Trail maps out the best mom-and-pop stores, meat markets, and grocery stores to sample this iconic pork-and-rice sausage. In October, Boudin Wars kicks off, when restaurants and chefs battle for the title of “Best Boudin in SWLA,” while providing visitors with samples and recipes.
If food festivals are your thing, don’t miss Smoke & Barrel’s eponymous event on November 19. The non-profit organization produces events that provide community enrichment while raising funds for charity. The namesake festival showcases top bourbon producers and barbecue pitmasters from Louisiana and Texas (e.g. Blood Bros. from Houston, Mimsy’s Craft Barbecue in Crockett) with proceeds benefitting the United Way of SWLA.
To help celebrate, Visit Lake Charles is offering Austin Monthly readers a chance to win a two-night stay at Golden Nugget Lake Charles (with a $200 resort credit), VIP tickets to Smoke & Barrel in November, a $150 gift card to sample chef Amanda Cusey’s exquisite food at Villa Harlequin, and swag bag filled with all kinds of goodies. To enter, just click here by October 16.
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