7 Things to Do in Lafayette, Louisiana

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Lafayette, Louisiana, offers a captivating blend of culture, cuisine, and natural beauty. Here are 7 things to do in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Most people visiting Louisiana head directly to Bourbon Street and Mardi Gras in New Orleans. However, they would be missing out on exploring smaller Louisiana cities like Lafayette that offer a unique cultural experience you can’t find in its more renowned neighbor. Lafayette blends Cajun and Creole culture, Cajun and Zydeco music, and fabulous festivals into one unique, community-driven town. Here is my list of 7 things to do in Lafayette on a weekend trip.

Cyprus Island—University of Lafayette

I flew into Lafayette for the Festivals Acadiens et Créoles on the second weekend of October. I arrived before the festival opened in Girard Park, so I had time to explore the University of Lafayette next to the festival grounds, a picturesque campus with a lake at the heart of it. Cyprus Lake is a two-acre swamp-like lake next to the library. Walking out on the boardwalk, I saw the platform in the middle of the lake with a couple of alligators sunning themselves. I imagined Lafayette would look like this: Cyprus trees coming straight out of clear water where you could see the fish swimming below and the alligators claiming ownership of the water. I don’t know what it is, but Cyprus trees in a swamp with Spanish moss hanging down from the branches are beautiful. Visiting Cyprus Island is an excellent start for a Lafayette trip.

Cypress Lake on the University of Lafayette Photo Credit - Lafayette Convention & Visitors Commission

Cypress Lake on the University of Lafayette campus. Photo courtesy Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission

If you do visit Lafayette, try to come during one of the big festivals like Festivals Acadiens et Créoles, Festival International de Louisiane, or the Lafayette Mardi Gras. You’ll be able to enjoy some toe-tapping, swing-you-around music and sample delicious Cajun food like Boudin, Cracklins, po-boys, etouffee, and chargrilled oysters.

Sampling Cajun Food

Many locals and visitors check out the Lafayette Farmers & Artisan Market on Saturday mornings. I love exploring farmers’ markets when I travel, and this one is exceptional. As I wandered by the stalls, I was floored by the diversity of food choices, even with the limited number of stalls selling produce, which is the opposite of Michigan’s farmers’ market.

I tried Gumbo for the first time; it had chicken, sausage, rice, and a brown roux. Louisiana Cajun food has a reputation for being spicy. At least, that is what I thought when someone mentioned Cajun cuisine. However, that is inaccurate; Cajun food is well-seasoned—not spicy. I also picked up dumplings from a Korean stall, where the lady makes her sauce. Delicious! I munched on them while listening to a Cajun jam in the market. This spontaneous Cajun jam session is a recurring theme from locals everywhere. A common occurrence in Lafayette is that people gather at family or a friend’s house to share a meal, pull their instruments out, and jam all night. Besides the huge cookies, a bag of mini meringues, and a cup of freshly squeezed orange lemonade, I had a fabulous breakfast to start exploring the rest of Moncus Park.

Moncus Park

Moncus Park is massive with 100 acres of parkland, walking paths, hiking trails, an amphitheater, a lake for fishing, a children’s playground with a splash pad, a huge treehouse built within a very old oak tree, a veterans memorial, and the tallest hill in Lafayette at 63 feet. Most of the park is being preserved. Moncus Park is a fabulous outdoor venue for families to gather, have picnics, or enjoy being outside. They are even expanding the dog park area. One of the many things I enjoyed in Lafayette was the massive live oak trees in the parks. They are protected in Lafayette. The live oaks in Moncus Park are over 230 years old, and in the children’s section, they built a treehouse and incorporated it within the tree without damaging it. It is wonderful that this city is preserving them and planting new ones for generations to enjoy.

Enjoying Moncus Park

Enjoying Moncus Park. Photo courtesy Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission

Vermilionville Historic Village

After visiting the farmer’s market and Moncus Park in the morning, head to Vermilionville Historic Village. This living history museum along the Bayou Vermilion has restored 18th- and 19th-century homes you can explore. I wandered inside and around the houses, seeing how a large family of eleven lived in tiny homes throughout Louisiana. You can see how they lived off the land, crafted hand-quilts, and pet the farm animals.

Historical Vermilionville

Old Home in the Vermilionville Historic Village. Photo courtesy Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission

The day I visited was also the solar eclipse, and as we walked around the village, it dawned on me that I was watching the path of the eclipse on the sidewalk. You could see the patterns the sun was making through the trees, with the crescent getting thinner than wider.

I recommend lunch at La Cuisine de Maman in the village. It offers delicious, authentic Cajun food. For appetizers, I tried Gator Balls, Zydeco Beans, Duck Quesadilla, and Meat Minced Pie. My main meal was a cup of Gumbo. I’m not a big fan of Gator Balls, though.

La Cuisine de Maman at Vermilionville Historic Park Photo Credit - Lafayette Convention & Visitors Commission

Dine on Authentic Cajun food at La Cuisine de Maman in Vermilionville Historic Park. Photo courtesy Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission

Before we left, we stopped in to listen to a Cajon Jam Session in one of the larger buildings in the village. It is so neat to watch and listen to a group of strangers who meet up with their instruments and put on the most amazing show. You can tell these musicians have played these Cajun tunes for their entire lives. Plus, I love seeing couples get up and dance to the music. You don’t get to see that in many places.

Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist

The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist is a historic landmark in downtown Lafayette. Pulling up to the beautiful cathedral, you see a massive live oak tree in the yard. The tree, one of the largest live oak trees in the United States, is estimated to be over 500 years old. The trunk’s diameter is 9’2”, and the circumference is 28’9”. It stands over 126 feet high. If you look at the large limb extending toward the church, it is being held up with green stands to support the 72 tons of limb.

St. John Cathedral

St. John Cathedral and live oak tree. Photo courtesy Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission

The cathedral is as impressive inside as the outside. The altar is magnificent, but you have to turn around and look backward toward the organ. I don’t know if I have ever seen as massive pipe organ as is in this church. Even a few large pipes point inward toward the altar, which I have never seen before.

Second Saturday Artwalk

Lafayette has a Second Saturday Artwalk on the second Saturday of the month. This is an open market on the sidewalk, and the galleries and shops open their doors in the evening for visitors to enjoy the art on display and take some home with them.

Lafayette Artwalk.

Couple enjoying Lafayette’s Second Saturday Artwalk. Photo courtesy Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission

I started the evening at the Wild Child, where I tried wine samples before getting a to-go cup of Meinklang ‘ Prosa,’ a sparkling pinot noir. The fun thing about Lafayette is you can take your cup of wine and walk around downtown. It felt so thrilling to feel like I was misbehaving and walking around sipping the wine. While browsing the art on sale, I also captured the beautiful street murals on the buildings throughout the downtown.

Dinner was at the Spoonbill Watering Hole & Restaurant, a cool retro Conoco gas station anchoring the end of downtown Lafayette. The group I was with ordered tons of food to sample—ginger chili cauliflower, crispy duck tenders, crab quesadilla, BBQ shrimp, and seared tuna, and I ordered a Bibimbap Wrap for my dinner.  The food has an Asian twist that was familiar to me after spending time in Southeast Asia.

Spoonbill Watering Hole & Restaurant Photo Credit - Heather Raulerson

Spoonbill Watering Hole & Restaurant. Photo by Heather Raulerson

Afterward, we walked to Borden’s Ice Cream Shoppeone of the last original Bordens—for ice cream.

Bordens in Lafayette

One of the last original Borden’s Ice Cream Shoppes. Photo courtesy Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission

To end the night, we headed to Blue Moon for toe-tapping Cajun music. The two girls performing, Adeline Miller & Amelia Powell from Amis de Teche, were amazing. It was amazing to hear them play. Later at the festival, I learned that they come from musical families playing on the stage.

McGee’s Louisiana Swamp Tour

On Sunday, we had a 90-minute boat ride through the Atchafalaya Swamp with McGee’s Louisiana Swamp Tour. Our captain was funny, knowledgeable, and engaging. Most of the Cyprus tree trunks were visible, as the water was so low that you could see watermarks 10 feet higher under the bridges.

Cyprus Trees in the Atchafalaya Swamp with McGee’s Louisiana Swamp Tour Photo Credit - Heather Raulerson

Cyprus Trees in the Atchafalaya Swamp with McGee’s Louisiana Swamp Tour. Photo by Heather Raulerson

The captain found us a couple of alligators, tons of birds, numerous flying Asian Carp that seemed almost to want to jump into our boat, and two friendly fishermen. The fishermen showed us how they use nets to catch. It was also neat to see a couple of houseboats on the swamp. They live here all year long and go to land every few weeks for groceries. Lafayette’s community focus shows up even in the swamp as everyone looks out for each other and checks up on the houseboat guys.

Avery Island

If you have some extra time, drive south to Avery Island, where you can tour the historical Tabasco plant and drive through the Jungle Garden.

The Tabasco Fan Experience shows the whole bottling process, where Edmund McIlhenny invented the pepper sauce around 1868, and his family still runs the business today. I’m not a huge fan of spicy food, but I appreciate the commitment dedicated to this family-owned business. You can try samples of the famous hot sauce in the country store. I tried the milder versions—Raspberry Chipotle and Sweet & Spicy. I even dabbed a tiny bit of the Reaper on a pretzel. The hottest sauce is not even on sale. That was an experience I don’t think I’ll ever repeat.

Large bottles of Tabasco Sauce at the Tabasco Fan Experience Photo Credit - Lafayette Convention & Visitors Commission

Seeing the Tabasco bottling process on the Tabasco Fan Experience. Photo courtesy Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission

In the drive-through Jungle Gardens, this sanctuary is designed with plants Edmund McIlhenny brought back from his global travels. You’ll see alligators lounging by the ponds and tons of birds. Beware of the mosquitos, though. I would love to return when the Camille flowers bloom and the birds nest.

Bird City in Jungle Gardens

Bird City in Jungle Gardens on Avery Island. Photo courtesy Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission

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When Visiting Lafayette, Louisiana

Lafayette, Louisiana, offers a captivating blend of culture, cuisine, and natural beauty. With all Lafayette has to offer visitors, it is a must-visit destination with its authentic Cajun experiences and cuisine, vibrant music scene, and abundant outdoor adventures. On your next trip to Louisiana, consider stopping in Lafayette; you won’t be disappointed.

Written by Heather Raulerson

Heather is a freelance travel writer and photographer who left a traditional 9-5 job to explore the world. She spent a year backpacking through Europe and Asia, even living in Thailand for four months. She loves SLOW travel, getting to know the local culture, and is always exploring with her camera. She has been published in several publications.

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