What to do in Lake Charles, LA

Activities, attractions and tours
Lake Charles showing a lake or waterhole and a sunset

Lake Charles Attractions

Lake Charles, located on a level plain roughly 50 miles (80 km) from the Gulf of Mexico, is a major industrial, cultural, and educational center in southwest Louisiana. Like much of the southern part of the state, the city has a romantic air, with exotic landscapes, whimsical architecture, and a fascinating history of pioneers, pirates, and immigrants who came together to build a culture unlike any other. Sitting on the banks of the Calcasieu River and bordering 2 lakes and 3 bayous, the city is a prime spot for outdoor recreation, including hunting, fishing, birdwatching, and guided boat tours through the swamps. Throughout the year, downtown Lake Charles is a thriving community, boasting museums, casinos, festivals, music venues, and culinary events that highlight the Cajun and Creole heritage of the region. Whether you’re staying in Lake Charles or taking a day trip from Lafayette, there’s plenty to do and see in this charming southern town.

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What to do in Lake Charles

Free Things to Do in Lake Charles

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Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu

- Packed with artifacts and displays, this gallery is heaven for minds that burn with curiosity.

McNeese State University

- Visit this landmark and enjoy its distinctive design.

Lafleur Beach

- Go for a nice, relaxing walk by the water's edge and perhaps even dip a toe in.

Lock Playground

- If you're into hanging out in the garden, this attraction will fascinate your inner green thumb.

Areas & Neighborhoods in Lake Charles


Other than outdoor recreational activities, the city’s downtown area—officially known as the Charlestown District—is where you’ll find much of the city’s attractions, including its museums, music venues, and restaurants, many located along the main drags of Ryan and Broad streets. The 40-block neighborhood contains 5 smaller walkable districts, where delightful architecture, lush gardens, and captivating history are just waiting to be discovered.

Broad Street

Running from Hodges Street on the west to Louisiana Avenue on the east, this 7-block stretch of Broad Street boasts an impressive range of architecture, from the Beaux Arts Masonic Temple to a quaint brick building that once served as a gas station in the 1920s.

Central Place

Just a few blocks long, Central Place along South Division Street first developed as a prestigious area with elegant homes in Victorian, Queen Anne, and Colonial Revival styles. As early as 1894, Lake Charles ran an electric streetcar along the west edge of the upscale district to connect its residents to the heart of downtown.


Beginning in the 1840s, one of the largest groups to settle in Lake Charles came from the northern coast of Germany. Skilled as lumbermen and shipbuilders, they left a tradition of excellent woodcrafting that can still be seen throughout the district located northwest of Central Place.

Kirby and Pujo Streets

The largest district in downtown, the area of Kirby and Pujo streets runs for 10 blocks from Lakeshore Drive to Louisiana Avenue. Here, see a variety of house styles built between the 1880s and the 1930s, all set amid an urban forest of sinuous live oaks and sub-tropical gardens. The neighborhood is also where you’ll find the 1911 Historic City Hall Arts and Cultural Center, as well as the Mardi Gras Museum, which houses the largest collection of costumes in the South.

Rail’s End

From the 1870s to the 1940s, this 4-block neighborhood was a working waterfront full of rail lines and sawmills. With the advent of automobiles and trucking, nearly all of the businesses relocated, however, you can still see remnants of this history in the old machine shops and warehouses scattered throughout the district.

Bayou Contraband

On the east side of the Bayou Contraband—named because legendary pirate Jean Lafitte allegedly hid his contraband somewhere along the shores—you can find the center of the city’s nightlife, with bars, lounges, and casinos sitting along Golden Nugget Boulevard and Avenue L’Auberge. Many of these lounges host live music through the week, with a range of popular Louisiana genres including country, Cajun, and zydeco.

Cottage Shops

The Cottage Shops Cultural District in midtown Lake Charles is an epicenter for all things local. This postage stamp-sized neighborhood is where you’ll find an array of tiny boutiques, art galleries, and eateries selling locally crafted knick-knacks, culinary creations, and spices that are all unique to Louisiana.

Shell Beach Drive

Running for less than 2 miles (3.2 km) along the south shore of Lake Charles, Shell Beach Drive is a spectacular stretch of road boasting a stunning display of Southern estates, lavish gardens, sweeping lawns, and massive oak trees draped in moss. During the holiday season, carriage rides provided a dreamy way to see the mansions lit up in lights.

What to See in Lake Charles

Travel the Creole Nature Trail through the Louisiana Outback to see unparalleled views of the spectacular nature that the region has to offer. A drive along the famous roads bring you close to the untamed wonders of the coastal wetlands and rippling marshes, which are teeming with wildlife including 28 species of mammals, 35 amphibians and reptiles, and more than 400 different kinds of birds. Kick off your journey at the Creole Natural Trail Adventure Point, a fun and free attraction that immerses you in the unmatched culture and nature of Louisiana. Through hands-on displays, take a peek at the alligators, egrets, and migrating butterflies that can found in the the bayous and swamps.

Sightseeing in Lake Charles

For Outdoor Adventurers

For even more outdoor adventure, spend a day on the 50,000 acres (20,234 ha) of Grosse Savanne, a site that offers access to a multitude of ecotypes including both fresh and saltwater marshes, cypress swamps, native coastal prairies, and pine forest plantations. Embark on a walk along the private nature trails, take a scenic boat ride through a secluded swamp, or perch along the marsh to see why southwest Louisiana is considered one of the top 10 birdwatching areas in the United States. For sportsmen, the outback also provides the perfect place for fishing and hunting waterfowl.

For Festival Aficionados

With more than 75 special events and festivals held throughout the year, Lake Charles is considered the Festival Capital of Louisiana. From Mardi Gras to Contraband Days to the Black Heritage Festival, there’s no end to the ways you can enjoy the history, culture, sights, sounds, and tastes of the city. Savor mouthwatering creations at culinary events like the Cajun Food, Gulf Coast Shrimp, and Calca-Chew Food festivals, or take in a live concert practically every weekend at local casinos or sites like Lake Charles Civic Center.

For Foodies

Gumbo, jambalaya, etouffée, beignets—there are a plenty of recipes that are renowned in Louisiana. But when it comes to eating in the southwest region of the Bayou State, boudin is something you just can’t miss. Considered the region’s favorite finger food, these sausages are made of varying amounts of pork, liver, rice, onions, and lots and lots of seasoning. The best way to find your favorite is to embark on a self-guided food tour along the Southwest Louisiana Boudin Trail. Running through Lake Charles and 7 nearby cities, the route takes you by more than 30 meat shops, grocery stores, and mom-and-pop cafes, each serving up boudin that’s just as delectable or better than the next.


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