Are you planning a trip to Louisiana? Well then, you’ll want to make sure to spend a few days in Lafayette. The best food and the friendliest people await you, and hey, there’s some amazing things to do there and in the surrounding area!
Just recently we were in the beautiful city of Lafayette, in Louisiana. Maybe it’s not high on anyone’s Louisiana bucket list, but after spending a week there, we aren’t sure why. The food is a step beyond anything you can find in other parts of the state. Cajun food at its best, that’s for sure.
The warm hospitality, the energetic, thriving downtown, and the historical things to do in the area really make Lafayette a great stopping point. A good friend of mine suggests that when planning your trip to Louisiana, go to New Orleans during the week and hit Lafayette for the weekend.
Why? Because New Orleans never closes. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want, regardless of the day of the week. But, Lafayette, on the other hand, is a much quieter, more family-friendly area, and most of the bars and music venues close down during the week. So, it’s best to experience this lesser-known jewel on the weekend.
Note: We also talk all about Lafayette on our podcast. You can listen to it here:
In this article you’ll find:
What are the best things to do in Lafayette?
Lafayette is the heart of Cajun cuisine, and folks will tell you that you can’t get better anywhere else. They scoff at the idea that New Orleans has better Cajun food. Scoff, I tell you. “It’s just they have better marketing campaigns,” they claim.
Well, I’ve eaten tons of food in both places, and I find them both tantalizing and scrumptious. However, there is no doubt that a true food culture, a love for food, exists in Lafayette. I would say food and football. Never have I ever heard so many football analogies to describe life than the week I spent here, but that was only outdone by the folks talking about food.
We ate at some amazing places as we tried to go to a different restaurant every day. So, if you don’t do anything else in Lafayette, stop in for some great food.
Fun Things to Do
There are some pretty fun things to do in Lafayette including:
- Meander the boardwalk at the Visitor’s Center
- Take a Cajun swamp tour or four
- Chat with docents at Vermillionville
- Have an ice cream at the last Borden’s restaurant in the country
- Go bowling and listen to live music at Rock n’ Bowl
- Taste Tabasco like you’ve never tasted it before
- Enjoy Zydeco music downtown or at a festival
- Learn history at the Acadian Cultural Center
- Buy a specialty Daiquiri at a Drive-Thru
- Go looking for the best boudin
- Gawk at a 500 year old live oak tree
- Look for the alligators in the University of Louisiana’s pond
- Meander Downtown and enjoy the street art
- Hire a Traiteur
Map of Things to Do in Lafayette
The map shows you some of the many things to do in Lafayette. Orange pins are places to visit, and blue pins are places to eat and drink.
The Lafayette Visitor’s Center
Located just outside of town in a large highway island between the northbound and southbound lanes of the Evangeline Thruway (route 167), the Lafayette Visitor’s Center is a slice of lush Louisiana swamp. There’s a beautiful garden showcasing local flora and a spacious swampy, boardwalk area complete with bald cypress trees, turtles, egrets, and herons. I’m not 100% sure, but there may even be a gator lurking about.
Once you’ve spent some time wandering around the gorgeous grounds, stop in the center for a chat with some locals that can answer your questions and point you in the right direction for adventure and fun, Lafayette style.
Take a Swamp Tour
The first thing those ladies in the visitor’s center recommended was a swamp tour on Lake Martin. And for good reason. The visitor center might have a little taste of swamp life in Cajun country, but for the real deal, you need to get out on the water. There are tours on kayaks, canoes, and small motorboats offered by a variety of tour operators. We tried several different swamp tours on our visit, all were spectacular.
Take a Meander through history at Vermillionville
A live history museum championing the unique cultural history of the Lafayette region, Vermillionville has docents in many of its buildings to tell you stories and information about all kinds of things. While we were there, we talked to the local Native American Chief, a weaver using the old spindles, listened to some folk music, and tried a couple of dishes from their on-site restaurant.
Borden’s Ice Cream Shoppe
Originally built in the 1940s as a truck stop for milk being transported between the dairy and the Borden factory, this dairy store quickly became a Lafayette ice cream institution. Now it is the last standalone Borden’s restaurant in the USA. The building’s exterior and interior have been restored beautifully with curving lines, terrazzo tiles, and a beautiful pressed tin ceiling.
Of course, the ice cream is amazing. I recommend the hand-spun shakes or a chocolate malt.
Rock n’ Bowl
With it’s original location in New Orleans being so popular, opening a Rock n’ Bowl in Lafayette was a no brainer. This city loves its live music, food, and dancing. Here they’ve taken over an old downtown bank, complete with walk in vault, and converted it into a bowling alley with a stage, bar, and amazing food. This is the place to be on any given weekend night. Try the muffaletta flatbread, yumm!
Learn About Tabasco at Avery Island
I’ve always loved Tabasco sauce, I can remember always having a bottle during military deployments to spice up the MREs (meals-ready-to-eat). Other than enjoying the heat and flavor, I never knew anything about it. That all changes with a visit to Avery Island, home of the Tabasco factory, and so much more.
Listen to Zydeco Music
Whether you go to a live music show in one of the bars or at a festival, there’s bound to be plenty of Zydeco music. According to Meriam-Webster, Zydeco is a popular music of southern Louisiana that combines tunes of French origin with elements of Caribbean music and the blues and that features guitar, washboard, and accordion.
We went to the Festivals Acadien et Creoles where we were able to listen to zydeco music all night long. Don’t worry if you’re not in Lafayette during the festival, though, there are plenty of places around town that highlight zydeco bands. Don’t miss it.
Visit the Acadian Cultural Center
The Acadian Cultural Center is a National Park and Preserve that is well worth a visit. Like many national parks, there is a film to watch that really delves into the history and contributions of the Acadians. The rest of the center sports displays showing the past lives of these locals and their unique history and culture.
I really don’t know how Louisiana gets away with having drive-thru daiquiri shops, but it does. We were flabbergasted at the length of the alcoholic menu on offer. After making our choices (one with bananas foster and one peach), we received huge styrofoam cups of frozen boozy goodness.
We wondered how they can legally do this, and I guess the trick is they serve it to you with the straw still packaged. If a policeman stops you, your straw better still be in the package or you could get a DUI. We just took ours to the hotel for an afternoon cocktail.
Find the Best Boudin
Boudin, pronounced “boo-dan”, is a pork and rice sausage very popular in the Lafayette area. This was a new one for me. I knew that people loved boudin, but I had no idea to what extent.
Apparently each person or family has their favorite boudin places, and they will fight you to prove their choice is the best.
I tried boudin from a few of the more popular places around town, but since I didn’t grow up with it, it was hard for me to determine the best.
Suffice it to say, you definitely have to try this local specialty and if you want to compare, get a boudin map from the visitor’s center and go try them all.
500 Year Old Live Oak Tree
The St. John Cathedral Oak, in the front yard of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, is one of my favorite things we saw in Lafayette.
With its outstretched limbs, hanging low from years of bloom, this oak has seen it all. If you are a tree lover like I am, stop by and take a look.
Finding Alligators at the University of Louisiana Lafayette’s Campus
This cool city is also home to the University of Louisiana Lafayette campus, which is green and gorgeous. It has its own Cypress Lake, which maybe is not so unique, but what is unique is there are alligators in this pond. Live ones.
It sounds dangerous, but really the only time the students need to worry is during “mating time when the alligators can get aggressive.” Um, what? If I were the mother of one of those students, I’d be a little scared. But, I guess there are plenty in the area. Might as well get used to them, right?
Downtown and Its Street Art
The downtown of Lafayette is quaint, kind of old-fashioned with its French architectural details, like curvy wrought-iron gates. You should definitely take a walk.
Another great thing about downtown is the amount of street art found on many of the buildings and around every corner. Some of the murals are huge, like the bird one across from the Dwyer Café, and some are even moving like the loaf of bread at the Evangeline Maid bakery.
Hire a Traiteur for some Spiritual Healing
Some of the old ways are still in practice as I met a traditional traiteur or spiritual healer. He was fascinating to talk with about his upbringing, family life, and his training. His aunt started training him when he was about 12 years old.
A friend of mine booked a session with him, because her back was acting up and afterward told me that she really did feel better. I didn’t book with him, but hey, if you’re in pain, there’s nothing to lose, right?
Things to Do Nearby
Make Gumbo at Spuddy’s Cajun Foods
One of the activities I did a couple hours from Lafayette was take a cooking lesson with Spuddy. He taught us how to make gumbo and jambalaya, and then we sat down and ate to our heart’s content
Making the food was of course fun, but listening to Spuddy’s stories made the experience that much better.
Visit some True Southern Plantations
Louisiana is full of old southern plantations, some with pretty grisly histories. I got the chance to explore the Houmas House, Laura, and Destrehan plantations. All were impeccable tours, and to my surprise did not shy away from their histories of owning slaves.
Tour New Orleans
New Orleans is a magical, crazy city. It’s one of the most unique cities in all of the U.S., and we love it. From the famous French Quarter to the iconic architecture of the Garden District, this is a city of art, music, food, culture, and history. Make sure to take some time and explore this cultural gem.
How to Get to Lafayette
There really are only two ways to get to Lafayette, drive or fly. There’s plenty to do in Louisiana, so driving is a great option. We rented a car for some of the time we were there and found I-10 to be up on pylons for much of the way, driving over the swamps and bayous of southern Louisiana.
However, you can easily and pretty inexpensively fly either right into Lafayette or into New Orleans and drive the rest of the way. The Lafayette airport is right on the edge of town, small and super convenient.
Where to Stay
As always, we highly recommend you stay smack dab in the middle of all the action, and in this case, we mean right downtown. There are none of the larger branded hotels in the downtown core, they tend to be a little further out, but there are a few small quaint options, which we prefer.
When planning a trip to Louisiana, make sure to set aside a few days for Lafayette. It’s welcoming, got the best food in the state, and altogether, you will want to come back again and again.
Note: We were sponsored on some of these activities as part of our TBEX travel conference, working with Visit Lafayette.
Author Bio – Corinne is an avid camper and traveler. She’s been to all 50 of the US states and has four more Canadian provinces to visit. However, she’s not stopping yet. There’s always more to see of this great continent! Corinne loves local foods, getting outdoors, landscape photography, and road trips.