From meeting new people to experiencing new sights, sounds, and smells – is there anything more exciting or rejuvenating than a break from the day-to-day mundanity? Traveling is an excellent way to immerse yourself in a new culture, setting, or way-of-life, but the best part is this: you don’t have to venture far from home to enjoy what this world has to offer.
Whether your journey takes you across your own city, to an unexplored part of your state, or even to the other side of the world, there’s no doubt you will still learn a lot about your surroundings – and yourself – along the way.
While the culture an hour away from your home might not be drastically different from what you’re used to, you can still gain a deepened sense of appreciation for where you’ve laid your roots. Plus, traveling locally has a lot of benefits:
More cost-effective. Local travel is certainly a budget-friendly way to explore! Many activities and parks are free or have a low cost of entry. For day trips, you can also pack your own meals to save.
Eco-friendly way to travel. Travel is hard on the environment, but putzing around your area is more sustainable than air travel.
Quick trips. Getting out locally means you can do it more often! Long weekend trips are a lot easier to take when the destination is a short drive away.
Easy to plan. Preparing your itinerary for a local getaway will likely save you some time and stress.
More convenient. Especially if you have little ones, sticking close to home may be much more convenient than far-off destinations. If you forget something, have an emergency, or need to cut the trip short, being closeby definitely has its benefits.
Known for its gambling scene, sweet southern music, and, of course, its delicious cuisine, Lake Charles is something of a hidden gem tucked into west-central Louisiana — and it’s a perfect place to spend some serious time exploring, whether you’re a long-time resident or just visiting. In this guide, we’ll introduce you to some of our very favorite things to see, do, and experience in Lake Charles, Louisiana, no matter what you’re into, how you’re getting there, or how long you plan to stay. (Though we have to say, we think you should stay awhile.)
*Note: Some of the suggestions may not be doable due to coronavirus closures, but keep this list handy for when things start opening back up more! Be sure to check individual pages for specific operation details.
Nestled where the woods meet the water in western Louisiana, Lake Charles is rich with local wildernesses to explore. Here are some of the coolest state and national parks and preserves in and around Lake Charles, LA.
Originally established all the way back in 1937, Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge has been preserved as a breeding ground and habitat for migratory birds and local wildlife for almost a century. Among many other examples of creatures you might find there, commonly spotted denizens include armadillos, foxes, bobcats, alligators, turtles, snow geese, and a wide variety of ducks!
Another famous wildlife habitat preserved near Lake Charles, the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge is home to a wide range of migratory waterfowl, such as mottled ducks, wood ducks, and fulvous whistling ducks. This preserve also provides refuge to alligators, muskrats, raptors, wading birds, shore birds, and many other types of mammals, reptiles, and avian wildlife. Visitor activities include hunting and fishing as well as hiking and wildlife photography.
Immediately adjacent to the city of Lake Charles, Sam Houston Jones State Park provides an easily accessible getaway for both day trips and overnight stays; the park offers over 60 campsites, many of which feature hookups. The park is also home to vacation cabins and tent sites, not to mention more than 1,000 acres of wooded countryside perfect for hiking, biking, and other outdoor pursuits.
Louisiana may not be as famous for hiking as, say, Colorado. But flat doesn’t mean boring! Here are some of the best hiking trails within an easy day’s drive of Lake Charles, from short and easy strolls to longer, more involved trekking options.
A loop trail of about four miles in length and with less than 100 feet in elevation gain along the way, Moonseed Loop is a great hike for a beginner looking for something a little lengthier to tackle or a moderately experienced hiker who wants a leisurely afternoon meander. Tucked into Acadiana Park Nature Station, sections of this hike are on raised wooden boardwalks, parts of which are reported to be kid, stroller, and wheelchair friendly. The trail is also open to well-behaved dogs who remain on-leash for the entire time.
A short and easy hike of less than two total miles, the Acadiana Nature Station Loop is a great way to get familiar with Acadiana Park Nature Station. Offering beautiful views of the dense Louisiana woods as well as a variety of local flora and fauna, this hike sees less than 40 feet of elevation gain along the way, making it a great spot for those just looking to stretch their legs without taking on anything too serious.
A moderately-trafficked, out-and-back trail running just over five miles altogether, the Lake Martin Levee Trail offers sweeping views of Lake Martin and the surrounding woodlands, and is also known as a great place to spot local wildlife. Case in point, this trail closes seasonally for alligator nesting season, and in the spring, it’s inhabited by a variety of birds who nest and rear their young in the nearby rookery, including great egrets, little blue herons, cattle egrets, snowy egrets and roseate spoonbills.
Running just under five miles through beautiful oak woodlands strewn with Spanish moss, the Roy E Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary Trail may technically be over the state border in Texas, but is still an incredible example of the unique landscape that characterizes this part of the south. Seeing less than 100 feet in elevation gain, this trail is long enough to feel like you’ve made an effort but not so long that you’ll leave feeling totally wiped out, and is also a popular destination for local trail runners.
Located right nearby in the closest state park to Lake Charles, Sam Houston Jones State Park Trail runs almost eight miles altogether and sees about 160 feet in elevation gain over that time, meaning it’s still not a tough trail by any stretch of the imagination — but is more in the “moderate” category than the “easy” one, which most of the above-mentioned trails fall into. Featuring riverside views as well as dense Louisiana tree cover, this trail is most comfortable in the fall and winter months when the southern sun isn’t blazing quite so hotly.
No matter what else you do while you’re in Lake Charles, one thing’s for certain: you’ve gotta eat! Here are some of the best restaurants in town, whether you’re after classic Italian, spicy Mexican, or something else altogether.
If you’re going to eat anywhere to get a true taste of Cajun-style Louisiana cooking, let it be Steamboat Bill’s on the Lake. A home-grown favorite which has since expanded into a small chain, this fish house is known for its authentic fried dinners, such as oysters and gulf shrimp, as well as po boys, red beans and rice, gumbo, étouffée and more.
Some nights, only a classic Italian meal will do. The Villa Harlequin is renowned for both its elaborate dinners and its leisurely Sunday brunches, and its menu of appetizers, salads, and entrees is matched only by its noteworthy wine list. Whether you’re after a big, classic cut of steak or a more refined dish, this is the perfect spot for date night… or any night, for that matter.
You can’t say you’ve been to the south if you haven’t enjoyed some southern comfort food, and Southern Spice Restaurant and Grill is full of delicious, hearty, stick-to-your-ribs favorites. A community institution serving up the good stuff to in-the-know Lake Charles residents since 1997, you can’t go wrong with anything on this joint’s menu, but we hear especially good things about the fried shrimp dinner.
The Mexican border might not be immediately adjacent to Lake Charles, but it’s not too far away… and when you take a trip to El Tapatio Mexican Restaurant, you’ll feel as though it’s right around the corner. This place serves up delicious and authentic south-of-the-border treats like tacos, fajitas, and more, and is the kind of home-grown hole-in-the-wall that doesn’t have so much as a website. (They’re too focused on the food itself!)
Although it may not be as popular as Indian or Asian cuisine, Mediterranean food is an incredible option for those looking for something both healthy and satisfying — and Toga Grill is the Lake Charles go-to for all things Lebanese and Greek. In addition to its sumptuous meat and dairy-based dishes, this spot also offers a wide range of plant-based options, making it a great choice for hungry vegetarians and vegans.
Whether you’re exploring with the family in tow, tackling town on your own or showing around a significant other, here are some of our favorite things to see and do in Lake Charles.
Lake Charles has tons of fun things for kids to do! Here are some of the best all-ages alternatives.
Not only is Creole Nature Trail Adventure Point a fun and educational way to get the family excited and informed about the great outdoors — it’s also totally free to enter! Offering a variety of interactive attractions and family friendly programming, chances are even mom or dad could learn a thing or two at this nature center.
Giving the entire family the opportunity to get up close and personal with a real piece of naval history, the USS Orleck Naval Museum is a decommissioned vessel that was originally constructed back in the 1940s. It went on to serve during the Korean, Vietnam and Cold Wars, and after a few more journeys opened as a museum in Lake Charles in 2010. Visitors of all ages can climb aboard to learn what life was like on this ship, including a peek into the onboard barber shop, crew’s quarters, galley, bridge and more.
One of the best children’s museums in the state, if not the entire south, the Children’s Museum of Southwest Louisiana is beloved for its interactive exhibits that exist at the intersection of fun and education. With activities designed for kids ranging from toddlers to school age and beyond, this museum truly is a fun stop for the entire family.
There’s no shortage of diversions while that strong Louisiana sun is in the sky, but what about after dark? Here are some of the best nighttime diversions in Lake Charles.
Whether you’re looking for things for couples to do in Lake Charles or you’re off to hit the town on your own, you haven’t really seen this city until you’ve partaken in its local casino scene. There are many combination hotel/casinos to choose from, but some of the best known are the Golden Nugget and L’Auberge. Play responsibly!
It’s a bar. It’s a restaurant. It’s an intimate concert venue. It’s a great time and a unique opportunity for those looking to experience Lake Charles nightlife in a whole new way. It’s Panorama Music House, and you don’t want to miss it if you’re looking for fun after-hours to-dos in this city!
There are so many incredible things to do in Lake Charles that don’t require overtaxing your wallet. Here are some of our top picks for cheap things to do in town.
If there’s one thing Louisiana is known for, it’s Mardi Gras — and the Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu is a unique treasure trove of Mardi Gras history, which it traces and displays in the form of costumes, artifacts, and even a climb-aboard parade float. Prices start at $10 per adult head, but senior and large group discounts are also available.
Held every Saturday morning, rain or shine, the Charlestowne Farmer’s Market is a great place not only to shop locally produced fruits and vegetables, but also to enjoy prepared foods, baked goods, local honey, local arts and crafts, herbs, plants, and so much more. Along with the affordable shopping opportunities, this market also presents a chance to support the local community and gather in a fun and family-friendly way in a festive atmosphere.
Cheap things to do are good — but free things to do are even better. Here are some of the best no-cost options to consider in Lake Charles.
A 24-acre green space offering not only wide-open fields and trails to roam in, but also developed amenities like playgrounds, picnic tables, and more, Tuten Park is a great free space to enjoy time outside with the family, or even solo. Do be aware that the park is undergoing renovations and redevelopment after sustaining significant hurricane damage.
A unique white sand beach along Lake Charles itself, North Beach will make you feel as though you’ve driven to the Gulf coast — or even the Atlantic. Along with the sand and waves, this beach also offers visitors volleyball courts and picnic sites, and is a great spot to take a swim.
Everyone needs some R&R from time to time. Fortunately, there are a great diversity of day spas and salons to choose from in Lake Charles, each of which will ensure you leave feeling as good as you look.
Your one-stop-shop for all things beautifying and rejuvenating, Scarborough’s Salon & Day Spa offers everything from massage to mani/pedis to a full-service menu of hair salon options such as cuts, color, and styling. This salon also employs professional estheticians who can offer restorative facials and skin care treatments, and they also offer waxing services.
Sometimes, a massage is about more than just feeling good and relaxing. Sometimes, it’s a downright healing experience. At Massage Lake Charles, a range of seasoned and knowledgeable professional therapists offer massage in a wide range of modalities, including lymphatic drainage, myofascial release, prenatal and more.
Looking great is one thing… but feeling great? Now that’s a motivator. Here are the best gyms and yoga studios in Lake Charles for those looking to add some much-needed sweat to their day.
The big-box guys can only get you so much, but Gigi’s Downtown is a great local establishment that offers all the equipment you need with the added bonus of community and motivation. From a stacked cardio floor that will get you moving in whichever way you choose to free weights, strength-training machines, and more, this spot also offers amenities to make your workout easier, such as childcare. In other words, you have no excuse!
The kind of welcoming atmosphere you’d expect from a yoga studio with the perfect amount of southern flare, Yoga Y’all is a local Lake Charles favorite where everybody, and every body, can feel welcome. Offering a wide range of classes suited to all skill and interest levels, this is a great place to start your yoga journey or amplify an existing yoga practice.
As fun as Lake Charles is, it’s not the only thing to see and do here in the beautiful Gulf south! Here are some other nearby spots to consider if you’re looking for a day trip or weekend getaway.
Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans? You almost certainly do… and if not, you will once you visit. Known for its music, cuisine, and plain old romance (and, yes, some refreshing rowdiness), NOLA is a one-of-a-kind town… and for Lake Charles residents, it’s all just three hours away.
Cross the border into Texas and find yourself awash in beautiful green spaces — including many with Gulf-front views and access. Texas’s Sea Rim State Park is known for its sweeping coastal views and birdwatching opportunities, and the McFaddin and Texas Point National Wildlife Refuges aren’t far at all, populated by many types of migrating waterfowl.
As a final reminder, some of these activities may need to wait until businesses fully reopen from coronavirus closures. However, there is still much to see and experience in Lake Charles that you can enjoy today! What are your favorite spots in Lake Charles? Send them our way to [email protected] or by tagging us on Instagram @rvshare and using the hashtag #rvsharelocal.