There are things and places in this world that everyone should see and/or experience at some point in life – the ocean, the Grand Canyon, the Empire State Building, the Lincoln Memorial. Yet there are other places closer to home that everyone in Acadiana should see or experience, as well.
But life gets in the way sometimes, doesn’t it? Even with the best of intentions, come Saturday, there are clothes to wash, towels to fold and yards to mow. Although we may visit a few of the regional hotspots regularly, others just a few hours away remain as unknown as the road to Timbuktu. All the while, many of us continue planning trips and taking flights to faraway places while some of the roads closer to home remain less traveled.
As one of the coldest winters on record turns to spring, it’s time to take the road less traveled – and we’re making it easier for you to do just that. We’ve created the Acadiana Bucket List, and we’d like to recommend that you take action.
Tick some boxes off that list. To be clear, we are not recommending you take yet another trip to New Orleans to do the same things you do every time you take out-of-town visitors or go yourself. We want you to experience some new things. Consider this Acadiana’s version of New Yorkers visiting the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty.
We recommend that you visit at least one new place each month. Or go to a festival you’ve never attended in the past. If you’re in a rut and want to shake things up (and are feeling energetic and ambitious), visit two … or three … or even four new regional places each month until you mark off every one on the list.
Take pictures. Document what works for you and what doesn’t. Let us hear from you.
Yes, we know there are a few places we may have left off – and we’d love to hear about those from you. We may create a follow-up list in the not-so-distant future.
In the meantime, go ahead and check off the ones you’ve already done. Don’t fudge. Tell the truth. If you went by it once when you were a kid but didn’t stop, it doesn’t count. The time has come to do it right.
Go. Visit. Soak it in.
Mark items off your and Acadiana’s bucket list.
Close to home
• Atchafalaya Basin tour
If you don’t have a friend with a boat (which is always a good thing to have), hire a private tour such as Atchafalaya Experience or jump on one of the group tours at McGee’s Landing in Henderson.
Get up close and personal with Spanish moss-draped trees, bald cypress and water tupelos. See alligators gracefully submerging. The Atchafalaya Basin is the largest swamp in the United States. If the only way you’ve seen it is driving over it on Interstate 10, you owe it to yourself to see it from a different perspective.
Want to learn more? Go to www.theatchafalayaexperience.com, or call 337/277-4726. You can also check out www.mcgeeslanding.com, or call 337/228-2384. The tours, depending on which one you pick, range from $20 to $50 for adults and $15 to $25 for children.
• Blue Moon Saloon & Guesthouse
If you need a refresher on what Acadiana is all about, go hang out on the Blue Moon’s back porch on a Saturday night – or any other night live music is playing (generally Thursday through Sunday evenings). The setting is as unpretentious as old-fashioned fais do-dos. The music is right. The drinks are cold. The air is sweet. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself smiling and thinking for a moment that all is right with this world.
Want to learn more? Go to www.bluemoonpresents.com, or call 337/234-2422. The Blue Moon is located at 215 E. Convent St. in Lafayette, and the cover charge most evenings is $10.
• Dance on a levee by the light of a full moon.
Check a lunar calendar, and figure out when the next full moon will be shining. Pick a levee, any levee. Invite six or seven folks to join you – or at least one. If you have musician friends, invite them. If you want to get swanky, hire them. On the other hand, you could grab an iPod or boombox and your favorite tunes. (If push comes to shove, a car with a decent sound system and a good battery will work, too.) Drive to the levee of your choice; let the music play. And dance.
• Lake Martin
In recent years, Lake Martin’s spring bird migration hasn’t been what it has in the past. But birders and naturalists have high hopes for spring 2011. The site of bald cypress trees filled with nesting roseate spoonbills, great egrets, snowy egrets and blue herons, with a bald eagle thrown in for good measure, is breathtaking. From early February through July, birdwatchers from around the world flock to Lake Martin to see the spectacle. While there, keep a keen eye out for alligators, along with the many other types of reptiles and amphibians that call Lake Martin home.
Lafayette’s Pack and Paddle offers guided canoe trips through Lake Martin year-round. Some parts of the lake are closed throughout nesting season, but most of the lake and its cypress-tupelo forests are accessible to paddlers year-round.
Lake Martin’s new visitor center, hosted by The Nature Conservancy, along with a picnic pavilion and boardwalk are open weekend days from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. and occasionally during the week, but the walking trails and Rookery Road are open year-round.
You can find Lake Martin and the Cypress Island Preserve by using either Highway 353 from Lafayette or Highway 31 from Breaux Bridge.
Want to learn more about visiting Lake Martin? Call 337/342-2475.
Want to learn more about the Pack and Paddle tours? Go to www.packpaddle.com, or call 337/232-5854.
Visiting Lake Martin is free. Pack and Paddle tours are around $30 each including guide, boat, paddles, life jackets – and usually even a meal.
• Vermilionville Living History Museum/Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve’s Acadian Culture Center
Although the two sites are not formally connected, Vermilionville and the Jean Lafitte Historical Park share a look into the region’s past.
Surprisingly, a high percentage of locals have never visited Vermilionville or the National Park Service’s ode to the Acadians. At the Jean Lafitte site, rangers offer tours and visitors watch a short movie telling the sad story of the Acadians leaving what is now known as Nova Scotia and finding their eventual way to Louisiana.
At Vermilionville, historic re-enactors authentically demonstrate a variety of aspects of life long ago – including spinning cotton, cooking over an open fire, blacksmithing, basket-making and more.
Want to learn more? Go to www.vermilionville.org or call 337/237-8360 for Vermilionville, or go to www.nps.gov/jela/new-acadian-cultural-center.htmor call 337/232-0789 for Jean Lafitte National Historic Park.
Find Vermilionville and Jean Lafitte National Historical Park at 300 and 501 Fisher Road, respectively, in Lafayette.
Jean Lafitte National Historic Park is free. Admission to Vermilionville is $6 for students 6 to 18 and those 62 and older and $8 for adults 19 to 61, with special rates for groups.
• USS Alabama Battleship
703 Battleship Parkway
For more information, go to
Tickets range from $6 to $12.
Sometimes called the Redneck Riviera. Sometimes called the Emerald Coast. Call it what you want, but there’s little doubt that the Florida beaches closest to Acadiana rival any beaches in the world: Perdido Key, Pensacola Beach, Destin: the white-white sugar sand, the blue-blue water, the mild waves and warm sun. They are barely five hours away, and life doesn’t get much better. Hotels run the gamut from the basic to the sublime. Find one that suits your needs.
Chances are you’ve already marked this one off your list, but it’s worth a repeat visit.
Every item on this list is within a five-hour drive from Acadiana. Some are much closer than that. Some are in Acadiana. We consider a few items as prerequisites to the list:
• New Orleans: Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. (Have you been since they re-opened after Katrina? You don’t have to take the kids or grandkids. Enjoy it on your own.)
• New Orleans: Audubon Zoo.
• Avery Island: Jungle Gardens/Tabasco factory.
• Lafayette: Festival International de Louisiane.
• New Orleans: French Market. (Yes, there are a lot of trinkets these days, but it’s still worth a Sunday morning stroll.)
• New Orleans: Jackson Square street vendors and performers.
(Don’t rush through it. Sit for a couple of hours. Listen to the bands and people-watch.)
• Houston: NASA Johnson Space Center.
If you haven’t experienced these seven prerequisites, do not pass Go or collect $200. No Acadiana bucket list is complete without them.
In the meantime, check out the rest of the list. How many have you done?
Baton Rouge and surrounding areas
• Game day tailgating outside Tiger Stadium
Whether you like LSU Tiger football or not, spending a day soaking up the sights, sounds and smells of the faithful is mandatory. You need to experience this unique slice of Louisiana at least once. You don’t even have to go to the game; just pack a cooler, load up the grill, pitch a canopy tent, and take in the glory of the purple and gold.
• The State Capitol
Gov. Huey P. Long wouldn’t let a little thing like the Great Depression halt his plans to build the tallest state capitol building in the country – 450 feet high and 34 floors tall. Later, he was assassinated in its halls. Visitors can make their way through the capitol’s halls and to the observation deck on the 27th floor.
• The Myrtles
Built in 1796, the Myrtles Plantation – in its entire antebellum splendor – is said to be one of the nation’s most haunted places. It is allegedly home to a dozen ghosts, and the plantation’s most famous resident haunt is Chloe, a slave who wore a green turban. The house is open for daily historical tours and mystery tours on Friday and Saturday nights.
Want to know more? Go to www.myrtlesplantation.com, or call 225/635-6277. You can find the Myrtles at 7747 U S Highway 61 in St. Francisville. The historic tours are $4 for children 12 and younger and $8 for adults, and the mystery tours are $10. Reservations are recommended for the mystery tours.
• St. Francisville
Take the car ferry across the Mississippi River, and enjoy the quaint shops of St. Francisville. The Myrtles isn’t the only plantation in the area. Take time to walk the streets and enjoy the array of fine shops. John J. Audubon loved this area, and it’s easy to see why.
Greater New Orleans area
• New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
Everyone needs to see what all the fuss is about. Jazz Fest brings in top-name entertainers from the world over. Check this year’s calendar of events. Pick your favorite artist, and go spend a day enjoying the tunes.
Pack a hat, your shades and sunscreen, and be prepared for rain. And if the skies open and the clouds pour, all the better. Little in life is better than standing in a crowd full of happy people swaying to the melodies you love. Forget sitting down or staying dry. Just enjoy the music.
For a schedule and more information, visit www.nojazzfest.com. Ticket prices for any day of the seven-day fest are $45 in advance and $60 at the gate. Children 10 and younger get in for $5.
• Ogden Museum of Southern Art
Trace the history and presence of Southern art. There’s free admission on Thursdays for Louisiana residents. On other days, admission ranges from $5 to $10.
For more information, go to www.ogdenmuseum.org.
If you live in Louisiana, you need to see at least one show at Tipitina’s.
For more information, go to www.tipitinas.com.
Tickets range from $12 to $41.
• The National World War II Museum
Doing this museum right takes more time than you might expect. Plan to arrive early in the day and spend at least three hours. You’ll be glad you did.
For more information, go to www.nationalww2museum.org. Tickets range from $9 to $18; military in uniform are free.
• Global Wildlife Center
You can find this free-range wildlife preserve at 26389 Highway 40 in Folsom.
For more information, go to www.globalwildlife.com. Tickets range from $11 to $17.
• Natchez Pilgrimages
Held in the spring and fall. For more information, go to www.natchezpilgrimage.com.
• Vicksburg National Military Park
Vicksburg’s National Military Park is a tribute and historical record of the defense, campaign and ultimate siege.
When the city finally surrendered on July 4, 1863, Union troops gained control of the Mississippi River and the tide of war turned. The park is home to more than 1,340 monuments, a restored Union gunboat and an impressive national cemetery along a 16-mile tour road.
For more information, go to www.nps.gov/vick/.
• Ship Island
Ship Island, off the Mississippi Gulf Coast from Gulfport, is home to Acadiana’s closest picture-perfect beaches. The barrier island’s pristine beaches and waters invite visitors to soak up the rays, picnic, explore and relax.
Don’t expect the amenities you’re used to on a first-class beach or resort. Ship Island is remote. It’s managed by the National Park Service, and there are affordable snacks available on the island, but most visitors pack it in – and everyone packs it out: There are no trash cans on the island.
The ferry voyage to Ship Island is 11 miles and is open this year from April 2 through Oct. 30. Once visitors arrive, the vast majority hike an easy one-third of a mile to the beautiful beaches open to the Gulf on the island’s south side.
Ship Island was a pivotal port in the war of 1812 and the Civil War. Today many visitors enjoy exploring the remains of Fort Massachusetts, a fort that was begun way back in 1859 (but never finished). Guided tours are also available through the National Park Service.
Small backpacks are allowed, but no glass containers may be brought to Ship Island. A word of caution: Ship Island sunburns are legendary – especially from mid-June through August. Go prepared to rent one of the umbrellas, and take hats, sunglasses and plenty of sunscreen. Also, take cash to the island. Once there, your credit cards are no good.
The cruise to Ship Island takes about an hour one-way. Visit lengths vary from an hour and 15 minutes to seven hours. Don’t be surprised to see bottle-nosed dolphins on your way to and from the island, and be sure to pay close attention to the boat departure schedule.
Want more information? Call 866/466-7386 or 228/864-1014, or go to www.msshipisland.com.
Ferry tickets range from $14 to $24.
Find the ferry dock in the Yacht Harbor next to the U.S. Coast Guard facility off Highway 90 (near the intersection of Highway 49) in Biloxi.
• Houston Museum of Natural Science
Go for the Butterfly Center alone, but the museum’s world-class exhibits remind visitors that Houston is the fourth-largest city in the country and its museums demand international respect.
For more information, go to www.hmns.org.
• Contemporary Arts Museum Houston
If you are a contemporary arts buff and haven’t yet visited Houston’s amazing homage to contemporary art, shame on you. If you aren’t a contemporary arts buff, you should go. Standing and contemplating contemporary art makes the mind wander and wonder. Even if you don’t understand – especially if you don’t understand – what you’re looking at, you should go. Stretching is good for the mind.
For more information, go to www.camh.org.