I'm not from Louisiana, but I've been traveling down for many years. This guide summarizes some of my experiences in a compact form to help you plan a trip. This should be a companion to the Louisiana Information page that lists the addresses and phone numbers to all of the venues mentioned below. It is my goal pack this guide with useful information, while not overloading you with too much detail. I hope that his guide will help you to pack an incredible amount of fun into a short trip to SWLA. As always, I am always happy to hear your thoughts and comments. -Jeremy Rice
If you're reading this, then chances are you most interested in music and dancing. I like both Cajun and Zydeco music, so this guide covers where to see both.
Every night of the week and weekend afternoons, you can find Cajun music at the Lafayette area Cajun restaurants. This presents a great chance to see great Cajun music for next to nothing in a nice venue with a wood floor. However, I usually buy some food and drinks as this is how the clubs make money to pay the bands. The patrons will be a mix of local and tourists there to mainly eat, but also perhaps to socialize at the bar. In general, you aren't going to find a large number of dancers, so bring a partner if you can. Some exceptions to this rule are the following:
On Sunday night lots of the locals come out to dance from 7-10pm. Great place to meet dancers and you can go without at partner. Great music by Filé is an added bonus. Another good night is Wednesday with Charivari (formerly Mamou Prairie Band). (address/directions)
Go early on Sat. morning until about 1pm. Then the party moves down the street to the Brass Rail. There is plenty of drinking and partying, as well as a some dance possibilities if you can work in a tight space. Fred's has sign on the wall - "Please Do Not Stand on the Tables, Chairs, Cigarette Machine, Booths, and Jukebox! Thank You Fred". That's about sums up the scene. One downside is no real food. However, if you are coming from Lafayette area, I suggest stopping at Johnson's Grocery for boudin on the way up. Nothin' like boudin and cold beer at 9am.
The place to immerse yourself in the Cajun music making traditions. The proprietors, Marc and Ann Savoy, are scholars of the local music and traditions. The Savoys host a jam session every Sat. morning where locals and guests will be playing live music. If you are coming from Lafayette area, you can make this stop before going to Fred's Lounge.
This theater in Eunice is the premier Cajun music show and is to Cajun music what the Grand Ole Opry is to country music. There is a dance area with a number of great local dancers and some tourists dancing. Even if you don't make it to the show (Eunice is about 30 minutes from Lafayette), you can catch these shows on the local radio.
Beautiful location on the bayou in Henderson (about 10 miles east of Lafayette), Angelle's host's a rockin' afternoon Cajun dance experience with lots of dancing - sometimes on table and such. Lately, Geno Delafose has been playing about once a month at Whiskey River. (address/directions)
Located in downtown Lafayette, Grant Street is a music hall hosting many genre's including Cajun and Zydeco. The club is an old warehouse located by the train tracks running through town - the atmosphere gets high marks in my book. The club often attracts student from nearby USL, and the crowd can be younger. However, the local dancer will turn out for the Cajun or Zydeco events, so it's a good dance bet if you like you band that is playing. I have tended to have a good time at Grant Street, especially at festival times. (address/directions)
Located in Breaux Bridge, La Poussier is the real deal for an authentic Cajun dance hall. Unlike the restaurants where the majority is there to eat, the emphasis here is on dancing waltzes and two-steps around a big (and slick) wooden dance floor. You will be amazed at how fast and smooth the dancers are. One bit of advice is bring a partner. The crowd tends to be older, married couples, and this is not the social, grab-a-partner scene that you're more likely to find at festivals, Randol's, or Whiskey River. (address/directions)
Located in Lafayette, the Blue Moon has become a hotspot on the local music scene. The scheduled music on Thurs. to Sun. tends towards roots and Americana and usually has at least one Cajun or Zydeco act every weekend (see website or call for details). There is a Cajun Jam on Wed 7-11pm with local musicans, many of whom also frequent on other nights. The place is connected with the Blue Moon Hostel.
There are a number of zydeco clubs including some small out of the way places. Here's a quick rundown of the better-known zydeco clubs that you will likely visit. For the most part, the zydeco clubs are Friday and Saturday nights only, with some having a Sunday evening dance from 4 to 8 or so. the admission is usually no more than $5. There is another section below on finding out what is going on.
Located in south part of Lafayette, Sid's is one of the best known club's, but has a bad reputation for being empty. I think the reputation is overblown, and I've had real nice times there. Sid Williams, the owner, will go out of his way to make you feel at home. Good potential for meeting and dancing with locals - also seems to be a more racially mixed than other zydeco clubs. (address/directions)
Located north of Opelousas, Slim's is in my opinion, the trendiest feeling zydeco club in the Lafayette area with the top bands and a younger crowd. To me, the atmosphere is less friendly to outsiders (maybe because the local are there to see and be seen), although you should not feel uncomfortable or unsafe there. (address/directions)
(Unfortunately, this clus is now closed - see story link at address/directions) Located south of Lafayette on Verot School, Hamilton's is a zydeco and Blues club. The rustic feel to me is similar to Richard's, but club is much closer to town, and the club often attract student from nearby USL. I have tended to have a good time at Hamiltons. They often host early evening Sunday zydeco dances that is a good option to pack in the dance time in a short weekend visits. (address/directions)
Located north of Opelousas in Lawtell, the Offshore is probably has traditionally been a good bet for zydeco on a Thursday night although now they have switched to primarily Sundays. The club is very rustic looking - you will definitely know that you aren't in the big city anymore. In general, either Roy or another zydeco act will be playing starting around 9pm or so. It's a little hard to find, but don't worry, you'll find it (Lawtell is not that big) - look for a lot of cars parked in front of a long plywood building. (address/directions)
Given that your a tourist and outsider, your best bet is to take it easy and be reserved in the clubs. Most of the community in SWLA is fairly small and folks will recognize that you are an outsider. However, if you are respectful, you will have a great chance of finding the locals to be friendly and hospitable. If you are loud and act like you own the place, you will likely not find the locals so friendly. Imagine how you would feel if loud out-of-towners tried to take over your favorite local spot.
Another important point is that there seems to be a lot of misconceptions about the local customs in regard to dance etiquette. Probably books have been written on this subject, but I will try to put together a couple of quick tips that cover most of the issues :
I have a couple of good sources listed here. I suggest that before you go, join Patsy Hebert's emailing list to find the choices events. Their site also contains lots of other great information about Southwest Louisiana culture and music. After you arrive in town, get a copy of In Tune or the the Acadiana Times - both of these list music events. Some of the zydeco clubs may not have their schedules in the paper, so you may need to call. The names and address of clubs are posted on the Lousiana Information page, so you may want to print and take that page with you. There also internet links to the bigger name Cajun resturarants that have there schedules posted online (i.e. Mulates Cajun Restaurant, Prejean's, and Randol's or see here). During Mardi Gras season, you should see Mardi Gras In Acadiana Schedule compiled by Arn Burkhoff.
Here is a short list other music and dance events that you might want to know about.
The city of Lafayette host free outdoor events on Fri. evenings after work at various locations around town. Lots of local come to dance and hear music, and refreshments are on sale from the vendors. I hear that Baton Rouge and Opelousas also host their own Downtown Alive event series.
Café des Amis hosts a Saturday morning brunch from 8:30 to 11am with Jean Pierre and the Zydeco Angelle's. Café des Amis is located downtown in Breaux Bridge. (address/directions) Another zydeco brunch gas started at Pat's Café Creole from 7-11am. (address/directions)
Live Cajun or zydeco music and dancing from 1:30-3:30 pm on weekdays and 3:00-5:00 pm on weekends. Vermillionville is at 600 Surrey St. in Lafayette and the phone number is 337-233-4077 (address/directions)
My vote for the newest must-stop for shopping is Louisiana Heritage and Gifts located two exits up I-49 on Gloria Switch (going north, take right at exit and go about a half mile). The shop has books, CDs and local crafts and is run by Mitch and Lisa Reed, two local musicians (Mitch plays fiddle with Charivari and other bands, Lisa is in the Magnolia Sisters). With the closing of Raccoon records in Lafayette, La. Heritage and Gifts has become the spot for Cajun, zydeco, and Swamp Pop Records in the greater Lafayette area. However, the best feature is the room for jamming by local musicians and guests. There is jam session every Sat. from 2 to 5 pm, and sometimes an impromptu jam session will be going. (500 E. Gloria Switch Rd., Lafayette, LA 70507, 337-237-9258)
These events are generally Sunday afternoons at private farms. The basic idea is to ride your horse (or non-riders follow on a wagon). At the end of the ride, there is band, dance, barbecue, and drinks. Best way to find out about these is word of mouth, radio, or signs posted at highway exits. One word of caution, of all the event I've been to in SWLA, I have felt the most like an outsider at a trail ride. Not that it was dangerous or anyone said anything unwelcome - just a general feeling I got, maybe because these aren't big tourist events (this may be something to consider if you have a lot of other music options). Some location for trail rides are Kings Ranch in Carencro and Franks Ranch in Lawtell. For directions, see here.
Here are some ideas for things to do during the day. For more ideas, you might want visit the Visitor's information Center on NW Evangaline Thwy. as you enter town from I-10.
I find Eunice to be a very charming place that is worth a trip. You can visit the Cajun Husic Hall of Fame and The Liberty Theater. As a note, you can hear the live show from the Liberty Theatre on Saturday nights at 7pm on KRVS 88.7 FM
(came hear anywhere in world with online connection, see here). Another place worth a stop is the Music Machine (235 W. Walnut, 337-457-4846) a great place to pick up Cajun or zydeco tapes or CDs. Owner Todd Ortego will help you find whatever you need. If it is hot out, then you get yourself a sno-cone as well.
These are a little further up the road than Eunice. Ville Plate has another famous record store with a great selecton called Floyd's (434 East Main, Ville Platte, 800-738-8668) that claims to be a Lousiana's oldest record store. Mamou is home to Fred's Lounge - the famous Saturday morning Cajun spot. Chicot covers over 6,400 acres of rolling hills and water in South Central Louisiana. The attactions include wildlife and fish and some get scenary with walkout piers into the bayou. I had a really nice time there listing to music, drinking wine, and in a desolate but beautiful environment of cypress trees and swamplands. Here are some photos of Chicot in Louisiana Riding Pictures that includes some other great shots of Cajun Country taken on a motorcycle tour.
This a tourist stop if there ever was one; however, it is still worth a visit to the home of Tabasco sauce. You can see the filling and labeling bottles destined for the four corners of the earth. There is also a wildlife refuge area that you can take a walking tour through. One last note, the place was originally chosen because it's a salt dome, a geological formation that pushed the ancient sea bed up out of the surrounding bayou. When you drive up, you can see the salt dome if you are looking out for it. On the way to Avery Island, there are a number of other attractions in New Iberia Parish including Olivier Plantation Store (6811 Weeks Island Rd., New Iberia 337-369-7696); Konriko, America's oldest rice mill (307 Ann St., New Iberia 337-364-7242); and St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church in St. Martinville with the statue of Evageline from the famous poem by Longfellow (103 South Main St., St. Martinville 337-394-7334).
Swamp tour recommendation from Tricia Restivo: "Atchafalaya Basin Backwater Adventure Tour is not really an adventure, but very informative and interesting. The tour kicks off in Gibson, midway between New Orleans and Lafayette by way of RT 90. The tour lasts about 3 hours and includes sampling of local fare. The tour is run by Jon Faslun. Call for time, cost and other details 985-575-2371." There are also a number of other swamp tours on the SWLA area. For example, Angelle's Whiskey River Tours is connected with the well-known dance hall Whiskey River Landing (1365 Henderson Levee Rd., Henderson, La. 70517, 337-228-8567). You might also try McGee's Basin Tours" 1337 Henderson Levee Rd., Henderson, La. 70517, 800-445-6681.
Highway 31, Breaux Bridge, Mon.-Sat., 6 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sunday, 5 a.m.-6 p.m. 337-332-2108. Information submitted by Nelson Robbie who wrote "Poche's is a great restaurant. They have been open since 1850. The owner of Poche's is Floyd Poche. They are known worldwide for their cracklins, as well as their boudin. Our waiter at Mulate's recommended it (I always try any recommendation by a waiter). Poche's serves incredible home cooked plate lunches with about 5 entrees to choose from, extremely reasonable prices and large portions, and they have the best andouille I've ever had. They have lots of stuff ready to go home with you, either hot, cold or frozen, and some great fruit pies to go as well. they serve lunch from 11-2 and dinner from 2 - 8 (not exactly sure of times). It's real hard to find the place, go exactly two miles north of the interstate on the road that comes out of Breaux Bridge, then turn left down a road towards a subdivision that has a little bridge over the bayou teche, then it is on the left. they do mail order also (praise the lord!)"
Louisiana is a most unique place with a tremendous amount of culture and charm. Here's some pointers on non-music related topics.
Boudin- I never go to SWLA without eating lots and lots of this stuff. It's not health food, but this spicy sausage of meat, rice and spices (pronounced "boo-DAN", literally "blood sausage") is worth the indulgence. However, not all boudin is created equal - the bad stuff can be a greasy mess. I can recommend a few of places
Don's Specialty Meats & Grocery in Carencro (Hwy. 726 & I-49 Fontage Rd., 800-896-8370)
Johnson's Grocery in Eunice (700 East Maple Ave., Eunice, Louisiana 70535, 337-457-9314)
Charlie Ts - Hwy 31 in Breaux Bridge
Sunset Specialty Meats in Sunset, LA.
Best Stop Supermarket in Scott, LA Hwy. 93 N. (337) 233-5805
Poche's Market and Restaurant, Hwy 31, Breaux Bridge
(337) 332-2108 (for more description, see here)
I'm sure there a lots of other great places as well, and it's not a big investment to try a lot of different sources. There is guide to local sellers called Boudin Trail from LaffeyetteTravel.com. Also, if you go to the Tourist Center in Lafayette, they actually have a guide to the local sellers of boudin. However, don't write boudin off because you don't like your first try. Like my hometown, Baltimore, is known for crabs, but it can be hard to find the right places that serve the most delicious crabs. The tourist traps serve cold, bland crabs that leave out-of-towners mystified what all fuss is about.
Western Wear - SWLA is definitely horse country, and the cowboy look can be worn about anywhere. In the music clubs, a large percentage of men and even women too will be in hats and boots. If you are looking for a great place to get western wear, I can recommend The Horseman near the intersection of Ambassador Cafferty an I-10 (in Scott, just west of Lafayette, 337-593-0020, Map and Driving Directions). This is the real cowboy deal, great selection for men and women, and low prices. Another good place for boots is Boot Hill in downtown Lafayette. Boot Hill has a good selection men's boots, but carries only one variety of women's boot (yes, only one). Boot Hill can also handle repairs or adding silver tips to toes or heels of your boots.
Souvenirs and lunch stops - On the high end of the scale, there are a couple or recomendations. Louisiana Heritage and Gifts (500 E. Gloria Switch, Lafayette, La. 70507, P337- 237-9258) has a nice selection of gifts, books and music. The shop is run by two musicians, Lisa and Mitchel Reed. They also have a room for musicians to jam so you might just catch some live music (regular jam session is Sat. afternoons but impromptu sessions happen other times). I also hear that Steve Riley has been given accordion lessons some nights. If you are headed north on I-49 from Lafayette to Opelouses, take right off the Gloria Switch exit (just past the Plantation Inn) and head a few mile (shop is on the right). If in Opelousas, a recommendation for an excellent lunch stop is Back In Time - Miss Wanda's Cafe and Gift Shop (on West Landry St.) I t's a great pit stop for good food, gifts, and small-town color. This place is a good source for some delicious healthy non-fried food, sandwiches and salads (and decadent desserts also). Another great spot to eat (especially for less healthy, local cuisine) in Opelousas is T-Bebs, a Creole restaurant (1131 W. Landry, 377-407-1024, formerly known as the the Cajun Potato).
Beer - The overwhelming choice is good old American beer (Bud, Miller Lite, Coors Light), but in 10 oz cans. Why 10 oz cans? Probably because it doesn't get as warm as fast as a 12 oz can does in the Louisiana heat. A little bit of trivia, SWLA is one of only three areas in the whole country where 10 oz beers outsell 12 oz beers. If you like microbrews, you might try an Amber at Mulate's which is actually an Abita Springs from New Orleans. Other good Abita Springs beers are Turbo Dog and Purple Haze, while Dixie's Blackened Voodoo is another pretty good brew. Note that these beers are from New Orleans, although you may run across them in SWLA.
Drive-thru Daiquiri Stands - I not advocating drinking and driving, but Lafayette has some mighty fine place to get frozen drinks without leaving your vehicle. Two stands, Daiquiri Depot and Bogart's are located centrally in Lafayette. Look for them both between the two north and south lanes of near the crossing of Johnston St. Another good place is Don's Drive-thru Liquors on Hwy. 190 in Opelousas. I recommend the Cajun Monkey at Don's on the way to Richard's or Offshore Lounge. If you are headed west of Lafayette, you might try the Geaux Cup. Look for a little white A-frame shack at the exit for Crowley off of I-10 (you might be going this way to Eunice or Mamou).
A best bet in my book used to be the Plantation Motor Inn (337-232-7285) on I-49 just north of I-10. The place is clean, cheap (even by Lafayette standards), and you get a free donuts, juice and coffee for breakfast. Lately, I think the place is slipping a little bit in quality, although I am still staying there. Lately, some friends have been staying at Blue Moon Hostel in Lafayette, which may also be a good bet although I have heard that it is sometimes loud. It is connected to the Blue Moon, a cool music venue (see here). If you want to stay up near Henderson (near Whiskey River, McGee's Landing and Breaux Bridge), there is cool place called Louisiana House to rent. If you want to stay up near Eunice, I've heard good things about the Seal House and L'Acadie Inn looks very nice. I have also heard about a B&B in Mamou named La Maison Blanche. Note that you can now book hotels online, see the website of the Lafayette Convention and Visitor's Commission.
There is good chance that you will be traveling from New Orleans on I-10. It's not the most scenic ride, and the anticipation of getting to Lafayette make it go really slowly. Here a couple of tips for the ride:
First Cajun music on the radio - I never cease to get a thrill from tuning in local music on the radio. Your first chance is KLRZ 100.3 FM and KLEB 1600 AM in Larose, Louisiana (SW of N.O.), Plays Cajun French, Cajun, Zydeco, and swamp pop, 24 hrs a day / 7 days a week. Once you get to Lafayette, see the Radio Listings on the Louisiana Information page.
Truckstop Showers - Here's a real time saver if you are running late (the days seem to get away from me when I'm in Louisiana). I a tip to get to the clubs faster is to stop and grab quick shower at a truck stop. For 5 bucks, you a hot, shower, clean towel, and fresh bar of soap. I can recommend the truckstop on Grosse Tete exit just after Baton Rogue.
My guide will never be able to cover everything, so you may want to check out these other great guides:
36 Hours in Lafayette - The New York Times article by Alicia Ault on Sept. 1, 2006. Great quick rundown and travel tips.
Travel Notes From Last Visit - My travel partners and I have put together notes and travel tips from our adventures in SWLA. Please see here for the writeup on our last trip to Festival Acadiens in Sept. 2003.
Tips to Vistors to Acadiana - Really great tips from Elizabeth who lived in Opelousas before moving California. Great insights - a good read.
Recommended Restaurants in SWLA - By Chuck Taggart of the Gumbo Pages, this guide covers regional restaurants. Chuck also has an extensive compilation of online Cajun/Creole Recipes.