Travel

A Weekend in Lafayette: The Capital of Cajun Country

Ready for another road trip? Recently I headed out to Lafayette — a place that feels surprisingly different from New Orleans.

It’s been home to American Indians for thousands of years, as well as the expelled Acadians (now “Cajuns”) from Canada who moved here in the 18th century. The region was initially developed as sugar plantations, and — in the South — that, unfortunately, meant the use of slave labor. At its peak in 1860, slaves made up 49.6% of the parish’s population, and many of their descendants remain in the region today, creating a thriving Creole culture.

 

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Whether it’s Zydeco music — Cajun food, or one of countless other unique cultural attributes — when we arrive in Lafayette we arrive at the gateway to a world unlike any other.

Getting There

Lafayette’s nickname is “Hub City” — deserved because of its place at the nexus of several transportation lines. From New Orleans, you have a few viable options.

Driving is the easiest and allows you the most flexibility when you arrive at your destination. Along I-10, it will take you about two hours and 15 minutes to get to your weekend getaway. The suggested itinerary, below, assumes a car, but most of it is possible without one. Remember, if you don’t have a vehicle of your own, you can rent one in New Orleans or Lafayette, often for less than $25 per day.

Greyhound travels between the two cities approximately four times a day, and Amtrak makes the trip three times each week. A ticket on either can be as low as $22 each way. If you have the time flexibility to make it work, train is a relaxing and unique way to travel.

 

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Where to Stay

You’ll have no trouble finding a place to stay in Lafayette. If you’re into the standard business-y hotels you can find in countless places across America, this city has them too with no shortage of Hiltons, La Quintas, Doubletrees and the like.

For the least expensive options, you might try Cajun Hostel’s downtown location, with dormitory-style beds as low as $19 per night, or a private room for as low as $20!

For bed and breakfasts full of local character, try Mouton Plantation — built by the son of Lafayette’s founder — with beautiful rooms available for as low as $94 and just a 15-minute walk into downtown; or T’Frere’s House, a property overflowing with charm, though a little farther from the city’s downtown, for as inexpensive as $84.

Friday

7 p.m. — Tonight’s for Tapas
OK, either by train, bus or car, you’ve made it to Lafayette and you’ve dropped your stuff off at your fabulous accommodations. What now? I suggest starting off with dinner and drinks at downtown’s Pamplona Tapas Bar & Restaurant. Whether you want the freshly- and creatively created meats, seafood and farm-fresh produce of the Basque region of Spain; or you’re looking for entrees where the flavors of Spain meet those of France, Italy and North Africa, this romantic — and impeccably designed restaurant — will have something for you. For me, the bacon-wrapped dates, boquerones, Andalucian lamb sliders, and foie gras were all dreams come true.

 

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9 p.m. — Absolutely Not the Wurst
After dinner, it’s just a few minutes to The Wurst Biergarten, which — contrary to its name — is the best place to grab beers in Lafayette. This 3,500-square-foot deck in the middle of the city is home to more than 30 beers on tap, plus another 60 cans and bottles. You’ll also find wine and non-alcoholic options, plus a popular Jamaican food pop-up. Check out their Facebook Events page for a full listing of comedy shows, farmer’s markets, bands and everything else taking place at this popular hang.

10:30 p.m. — A Music City
Music is a huge part of Cajun Country, and there’s no shortage of places to hear it — and groove to it — in the region’s capital. The Pearl has a full-service bar and some great beers on tap, with a handful of live shows each week. This excellent music venue features a wide range of local and touring acts, so check out their website to see who’s playing that night. If you’re on an off-night, have no fear: see what’s going on down the street at the Acadiana Center for the Arts, or at the nearby venues on tomorrow’s itinerary.

Saturday

 

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8 a.m. — Dance the Morning Away
There’s nothing more unique about Cajun Country than Saturday mornings. Local music and dance lovers head to small towns around the region and dance their hearts out to live music at bars, restaurants, music stores and clubs. It all kicks off with Buck & Johnny’s in nearby Breaux Bridge. Get there early to grab a table, down your bottomless mimosas and Bloody Marys (only $15!), line your belly with a rich Cajun breakfast, and get those feet scootin’ to some fiery live Zydeco music. Most of the crowd will leave by late-morning to head to another nearby party — and that’s going to be a future Get Outta Town, so get ready. For you, this Zydeco breakfast is only meant to give you a taste of what’s out there, because this weekend has Lafayette at its center. So let’s head back that way!

11 a.m. — Go Back in Time
Vermillionville Historic Village is one of Lafayette’s most popular attractions, and there’s no better time to visit than on a Saturday. (Admission is $10.) Walk among and into seven restored 18th and 19th century Cajun homes on this beautiful 23-acre tree-covered space along the banks of Bayou Vermilion. Costumed artisans provide demonstrations of period crafts, Cajun and Creole food is available at an on-site restaurant, and weekends also feature live music and dancing (a Cajun jam session on Saturdays at 1 p.m., and Zydeco at the same time on Sundays). Canoe and kayak rentals — as well as guided tours — are also available, but make your reservations in advance.

 

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1:30 p.m. — Get ‘Dem Smoked Meats
Owned by the same family who opened Johnson’s Grocery back in 1937 in the nearby town of Eunice — and still using many of the save recipes — Johnson’s Boucaniere near downtown Lafayette is a must-stop. They’ve got a porch to relax on, a great selection of local music to buy, and a massive and impressive smoker they built themselves. The reason to go, though, is the food. Holy moly, the food! Everything is delicious, but the boudin and the ribs steal the show for me.

3 p.m. — The Founding of a City
This antebellum home was built in 1800 by the city’s founder, Jean Mouton, and then belonged to his son — and the first Democratic governor of Louisiana — Alexandre. Now the Alexandre Mouton House and Lafayette Museum, for just $5 visitors will learn a lot about the city’s early history through house and its collection of antiques, paintings and Mardi Gras costumes.

5 p.m. — Take a Walk
Lafayette’s downtown is dotted with an array of beautiful and meaningful public art. Murals are especially present, and this guide by LafayetteTravel.com organizes the highlights for you. Much of the art was created by world-renowned artist, Robert Dafford, who lives here in Hub City and has hundreds of pieces on public display across North America and Europe. And don’t forget to pose as a “Y” in Parc Sans Souci’s “Lafayette” sign. If you don’t, I’m not sure you can even claim you’ve been to the city.

 

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7 p.m. — Dinnertime
Tonight we’re hanging out in the area just on the southern edge of downtown, only a handful of blocks north of University of Louisiana – Lafayette. Start with dinner at one of the hottest of the city’s newer eateries: Spoonbill Watering Hole & Restaurant. On the beverage side of things, you have a choice between a standard array of beers, cocktails and wine, or swinging for the fences with their creative offering of tiki drinks. For food, you can go with local flavors like alligator au gratin, crawfish and corn fritters, and Louisiana caviar; or you can sample the tacos, ceviche, mussels, Japanese flavors, and just about everything else under the sun. I loved the duck bao, but in my experience, you can’t go wrong at this restaurant.

Pro tip: If you happen to be in Lafayette for the second Saturday of the month, you might consider diverging from this plan for a bit to check out some of the city’s impressive galleries during Artwalk.

9 p.m. — It’s Not Just the Atmosphere, and It’s Not Just the Art
With local art on the walls, a strong selection of beers on tap, a diverse set of cocktails on which to sip and a dance floor full of regulars bopping to the night’s band, there’s a lot to love about Artmosphere Bistro. Blues, Cajun, Zydeco, karaoke, and a lot more: check their website to see who’s playing the night you’re there!

 

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11 p.m. — Howl at the (Blue) Moon
Blue Moon Saloon is part hostel with some seriously affordable rooms; it’s part bar with all the classics and some appealing local beers on draft; and it’s also one of the best venues to catch music in town. There are Cajun jam sessions, singer/songer writer nights, and plenty of bands touring through. The music goes late into the night, so it’s the perfect place to end your Saturday (or start your Sunday).

Sunday

 

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9 a.m. — One Last Breakfast
The problem with only spending a weekend in a place is that there’s going to be tons you didn’t get to do. I guess that just means you’ve got to come back. Where to go for your last breakfast is no easy decision in this jewel of Cajun Country. Prejean’s is a classic and has dancing and music, but it’s a little more tourist-focused than its heyday. Blue Dog Cafe also had music, and I was a big fan of the seafood wontons and the beignets. The French Press is also a good downtown option, but my opinion is it’s worth the 12-minute drive to Social Southern Table & Bar. The cocktail and spirits program is top-notch, the vibe is lively, and the smoked fried chicken-n-biscuits and the brunch burger are great ways to kick off the last day of your trip.

11 a.m. — Shop Your Heart Out
Sans Souci Gallery is home to some of the South’s finest artisans, with traditional and contemporary crafts including pottery, jewelry, glass, textiles, metal, wood and more. Stop in to see what catches your eye, and to admire the skill of regional artists. If you didn’t get to take that “Y” picture yesterday evening, you’re right by Parc Sans Souci and their “Lafayette” sign, so this is your last chance!

 

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Noon — Weird Science
Lafayette’s got a strong selection of museums to choose between. Few are more informative than the Lafayette Science Museum. Admission to the expansive museum is only $5, and includes access to exhibits on paleontology, biology, nanotechnology and seemingly every other kind of -ology. Highlights include information on a 1957 meteor that tore across the Louisiana sky, and an exceptional planetarium with several afternoon shows to teach you about our universe.

 

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2 p.m. — Gators and Frog Legs and Crawfish, Oh My!
Bon Temps Grill isn’t fine dining, but it will give you the chance to try some regionally unique food items before you head home. The creamy bechamel crab cake was delicious, the crawfish pot pie was glorious, and the garlic paneed frog legs? Well, you’ve got to try frog legs.

4 p.m. — Swing Back Through Breaux Bridge on Your Way Home
I-10 takes you right through Breaux Bridge, and it would be malpractice not to stop for a few things. First, swing by Poche’s Market and Restaurant to stock your car with some regional fare. Cracklins, boudin sausages, and an assortment of sweet dough pies will all make for great snacks on the ride home. Pack your cooler with specialty sausages, smoked tasso, stuffed chickens and the like to keep that weight on the following weeks. Then head down the road and stop in at La Poussiere, an authentic Cajun dancehall. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but once you walk in you’ll find somewhere between 50 and 100 locals downing beers and scootin’ around the dance floor to the Zydeco sounds of Jackie Caillier or Ivy Dugas & The Cajun Cousins.

 

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The music ends at around 5:30 p.m., and — sadly — so does this trip. It’s time to head home, but it’s also time to start planning your next regional adventure. We’ll be here to help, so stay tuned!

WRITER MATT HAINES LIVES IN NEW ORLEANS. FOLLOW HIM AS HE DISCOVERS ALL THINGS LOUISIANA, TRAVEL, AND LOUISIANA TRAVEL AT MATTHAINESWRITES.COM, AND ON FACEBOOK, INSTAGRAM AND TWITTER.

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