No matter what you read in the guidebooks or hear from family and friends, until you have stared down the snout of an alligator you really haven’t been to the bayou country of Louisiana. And Baton Rouge, the state capital, is the perfect place to start.
Filled with a rich history of antebellum homes and Cajun music, Baton Rouge rides the great Mississippi River like a NASCAR driver rides the third curve on an oval track: low and smooth. Here the lifestyle is relaxed and filled with a myriad of sights and sounds that were new and exciting to this girl from California, especially the wonderful accents and Zydeco.
On our brief vacation (we were there for the national bowling tournament), my husband and I found it difficult to narrow down our list of things to do into the little time we had. However, there are definitely some “have-tos” that I would recommend to anyone making the trip.
On the top of our list: Alligator Bayou. Thirteen thousand acres of bayous, swamps and lakes filled with egrets, herons, snakes, turtles, furry little critters that look like a combination beaver and rat called a nutria, and, of course, alligators. Not to mention the most beautiful spread of water filled with cypress trees strung with moss like tinsel on a Christmas tree. We took the sunset tour and the orange glow of the setting sun fanned out across the still water. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Thank goodness I had film in my camera!
Speaking of needing a camera, another must see is Louisiana State University (LSU). In addition to the campus itself, there are two museums and the arboretum. However, we chose to see just the campus with its beautiful green lawns and shade trees along with the magnificent red brick buildings. If I didn’t already have a degree, I might have actually enrolled.
Since the city rests on the Mississippi River, naturally, there are riverfront attractions. First up was the U.S.S. Kidd Veterans Memorial. Built during World War II, this wonderfully restored monument to the fighting men and women of our country is also a testament to their fortitude. After seeing the cramped space that housed the 300 men that called this destroyer home, I will never again complain about needing to expand our master bath. The bunks are stacked up to five high and probably offer no more than two feet of headroom between the next bunk. When I got home, I immediately called my Dad to talk about his time in the Navy.
If you like architecture, be sure to check out the Old State Capital across the street. It includes turrets, a spiral staircase and a stained glass dome. My husband and I, however, decided to check out the casinos instead. The two we explored were the Casino Rouge and the Argosy Casino, not more than a mile apart and permanently docked. Even so, you can still pretend you’re a gambler floating down the Mississippi as you play your favorite table game or have a meal.
As for eating, two of the best places to go are Boutin’s Cajun Music & Dining and Mike Anderson’s Seafood. Boutin’s offers a good meal and fun for those who want some Cajun flair. A good toe-tapping time. Mike Anderson’s is a relaxed family spot that offers some of Louisiana’s finest seafood. Unlike my husband who ate everything that swam during our visit including crawfish, crab, and catfish, I am not a seafood lover. However, at Mike Anderson’s along with my shrimp dinner, I was cajoled into sampling an appetizer of fresh alligator. At first I hesitated. Our sunset tour of the swamp was scheduled for the next evening, and I was concerned the gators might want revenge on us for having eaten their cousin. But I found it surprisingly light and nearly flavorless, though the spices gave it a nice kick.
While our time in Baton Rouge was too short to do all we wanted, it gave us the opportunity to experience a city that we had never considered as a vacation spot before. A time we will always remember with fondness, even if we didn’t bowl as well as we would have liked. One warning: the weather can be extremely hot and humid depending on the time of year. But know that this part of the country has a lot to offer anybody choosing to seek it out.