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Baton Rouge, Louisiana

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Did You Know … ?

  • Baton Rouge, meaning red stick in French, was named for blood-red sticks spotted by French explorers.
  • The 53,000-square-foot Nottoway Plantation House is the South’s largest antebellum mansion.
  • The Louisiana State Capitol, at 34 stories and 450 feet, is America’s tallest state capitol building.
  • Baton Rouge was the site of the only Revolutionary War battle outside the original 13 colonies.
  • Baton Rouge is the farthest inland deep-water port on the Mississippi River.

On the Sugar Trail

The largest city in Louisiana, Baton Rouge is a Mississippi River port and the state’s capital. The city is 157 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico in southeastern Louisiana. The warm and humid site introduces visitors to swamplands filled with moss-draped cypress and tupelo trees, making for atypical hiking excursions along raised boardwalks.

But Baton Rouge is better known for other things, and the distinctive Creole and Cajun cuisines, developed by descendants of French and French Canadian settlers, respectively, are high on that list.

The cuisines are a major draw for Baton Rouge’s restaurants anytime and a good excuse for regional food events with tourist appeal. These include a crayfish fest in Beaux Bridge and jambalaya celebration in Gonzales. In addition, the Food Truck Wround Up brings local favorites to Baton Rouge streets.

Music is central to the Baton Rouge story, too. The city hosts regular jazz performances, plus festivals devoted to the blues, country music, gospel and pop music. Further, Baton Rouge offers free concerts in a recently redeveloped city center green space called North Boulevard Town Square.

The square, where cafe tables, benches and game tables encourage people to linger, is Baton Rouge’s premier gathering place. Visitors have to check an event calendar to keep up with the activities — movies, festivals, markets and more — that are on tap for the popular venue.

History buffs are another category of Baton Rouge visitor. A Sugar Trail of museums and plantations recalls a time when sugarcane was king here. Houmas House Plantation, working 98,000 acres, was America’s largest sugar producer before the Civil War. Visitors can build an itinerary around plantation homes of various styles, in the city and beyond, and even spend the night in some. Nottoway is a full-fledged resort.

Another group of attractions, museums and commemorative events surround the Civil War and are at least as compelling. The aficionado will want to attend a reenactment event.

Finally, Louisiana State University offers the sports and cultural events associated with a university; casinos, on and off the river, entice gamblers, and — not least — this city hosts a Mardi Gras of substantial proportions.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Take a long ride on a mountain bike. The Baton Rouge Bicycle Club sponsors two annual 100-mile rides: the Spring Century, held in May; and the Fall Century, held in October. Visitors may join any of a number of other group riding events, too.
  • Attend cooking classes to learn how to make favorite south Louisiana foods.
  • Schedule your visit to coincide with the Baton Rouge Blues Fest, held in the spring.  Or, come earlier, for Mardi Gras.
  • Hike in the Tickfaw State Park following boardwalks across swampland and walk through mixed pine/hardwood forests. Use the park’s Tickfaw River for boat fishing, too. Alternatively, use boardwalks and trails at Baton Rouge’s in-town Bluebonnet Swamp.
  • Attend the Angola Prison Rodeo, described as “legendary for its mix of bulls and convicted felons.” It scheduled for various dates each year at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola.
  • Eat all the crayfish you want — and listen to lots of Cajun and zydeco music — at the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival, held in the spring in Beau Bridge. Watch or participate, as appropriate, in Cajun and zydeco dance contests, crayfish races, a crayfish cook-off and the festival’s parade.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Join a Friday or Saturday night ghost mystery tour at the Myrtles, said to be one of America’s most haunted houses. Also, consider overnighting at the haunted Myrtles plantation home, now a bed and breakfast.
  • Be alternately amused and horrified at the sometimes-outlandish nature of Louisiana politics revealed at the museum at the Old State Capitol Center for Political and Governmental History.
  • Stay at the Nottoway Plantation House, now a resort. Nottoway, once a major sugarcane producer, fits on a suggested Sugar Trail itinerary that includes other plantations and relevant museums, including the West Baton Rouge Museum.
  • Be intrigued by the Rural Life Museum, a working plantation that has a collection of artifacts that once belonged to sharecroppers. It is run by Louisiana State University.
  • Paddle a rental canoe or kayak in Greenwood Community Park (in Baker just north of Baton Rouge).
  • Hear free music concerts, called Live After Five, each Friday evening in spring and fall in Baton Rouge’s North Boulevard Town Square. A popular gathering point for activities, check for other events set in the square during your visit.

Things to do for Authentics

  • See plantation houses in town — Magnolia Mound and Mount Hope — then go farther afield to make the mansions a travel theme.
  • Seek out one or several good Creole restaurants for memorable dining you won’t find at home.
  • Pursue an interest in the Civil War. The story of the Battle of Baton Rouge is told at the Old Arsenal Powder Museum, and much of the fighting occurred at the Magnolia Cemetery. Both sites are downtown. Each March, there is a reenactment event at the Port Hudson State Historic Site. Other sites and museums round out the theme.
  • Enjoy the look and feel of a quiet space that has aged well, the Zachary Historic Village, which boasts several blocks of renovated, turn-of-the-century, Queen Anne structures. Also, shop in the Shop the Mid City Art and Design District, an area with stores specializing in specializing in art, antiques and architectural salvage.
  • Take in the views from the observation deck on the 27th floor of the Louisiana State Capitol.
  • Revel in arts of various kinds at the April FestForAll Art and Music Festival, a free weekend event. On the first Saturday of any month (and the first three in December), shop at the Baton Rouge Arts Market.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult Visit Baton Rouge at www.visitbatonrouge.com