Summer is a time for exploration and discovery.  The state of Louisiana has lots to offer, so I thought I’d share five of my favorite destinations and experiences.

#5 : Visit the Mardi Gras Museum in Lake Charles

Mardi Gras Museum by Linda Aksomitis

Mardi Gras is one of Louisiana’s biggest annual celebrations, and the city of Lake Charles has some of the state’s best family oriented events. The big day of Mardi Gras is Fat Tuesday, which is the day before Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent), in late winter.

Unlike many other communities though, you don’t have to be a member of a krewe to get to see all of the amazing costumes. Everyone is welcome to attend the Mardi Gras Royal Gala showcasing local creative talents. Luckily for those of us who save our holidays for summer when the kids are out of school, hundreds of costumes from galas over the years are on display in the local Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu.

The museum is located inside the Central School Arts & Humanities Center in Lake Charles. Many costumes are displayed on mannequins, so that you can get an idea of how they looked during the Royal Gala. You can also see how detailed and intricate costumes have become over the decades as you follow the timeline through the museum.

Beware though, as kids will find the museum’s collection inspires many ideas for their own costumes at Halloween!

#4: Eat Your Way Around the Boudin Trail

Louisiana is well known for its tasty cultural dishes, from po’ boys, café au lait, and beignets in New Orleans, to  jambalaya and gumbo, both of which can be found pretty much anywhere you stop to eat.

Bacon wrapped boudin - by Linda Aksomitis

Boudin, however, is a Cajun favorite that’s been under the radar of many visitors. I first tasted it during Mardi Gras celebrations a few years ago, and have since discovered many variations of this unique sausage that I’ve enjoyed even more.

Like jambalaya and gumbo, boudin can be made with a variety of ingredients, although rice and some form of meat form the base. Boudiniers all have their own secret recipes, so the meat can range through liver (my first boudin experience) to alligator to pork (wrapped in bacon is my favorite), just to name a few.

The area around Lafayette is home to numerous cooks specializing in boudin, making it so popular that there’s an annual boudin competition cook off in October and a boudin trail!

You’ll find stops on the boudin trail across southwest Louisiana in such communities as Lake Charles, Lafayette, Broussard, and Sulphur–and the whole family will find it a great alternative to fast food chains.

 #3 : Wrestle an Alligator 

 Alligators fascinate me. Little changed for over 65 million years, these creatures seem so slow and lethargic that you’d wonder how they ever capture their dinners.

Linda Aksomitis holding an alligator

However, when you see alligators up close, they sometimes do make a jump for something tasty that shows you just how fast they can be!

Gators and Friends, an alligator park and exotic petting zoo, is situated just ten minutes from Shreveport. Here, visitors young and old can feed all kinds of critters, from lemurs and llamas to miniature horses and kangaroos.

Although wrestling–well holding–an alligator was a thrill for me (see my photo on the right!), Gators and Friends has an even more exciting adventure that was scheduled to open just days after my visit. While I could see the ziplines criss-crossing over the alligators below, I had to leave flying over alligators instead of wrestling them for my next visit.

I can just imagine how much fun it will be for families!

#2 :See a Show at Louisiana’s Only Imax Dome Theater

Just like the kids, I love going to the IMAX. Shreveport, Louisiana, has an even better IMAX than usual–their theater has a 60 foot dome screen, the only one of its kind in Louisiana.

Shreveport Sci_Port by Linda Aksomitis

So, when the herd of elephants came lumbering across the savannah the screen was almost completely around me, so I was in the middle of the herd!

The orangutans and monkeys seemed to swing among green branches that snaked right over my head, so I almost had to duck.

It was amazing.

But the IMAX isn’t the only amazing thing at Shreveport’s Sci-Port, where it’s located. I tried out a number of the interactive games and even managed to land my own space shuttle–virtually, anyway.

I loved the planetarium and body works center. The 3-D tic-tac-toe in the mathematics area kept me busy for ages.

There’s something at the Sci-Port to interest every member of the family.

#1:Explore the Creole Nature Trail All-American Road

 The Creole Nature Trail All-American Road is sometimes called the Louisiana Outback, since it takes visitors into the untamed swamps and marshland of the state.

Running for 180 miles, the trail is awesome for finding wildlife in their natural habitat. We started out being amazed at the sight of a young alligator in the grass along a marsh, and ended up seeing more alligators than we could count.

travl-5

We weren’t the only people out enjoying the day on our drive either. Several families along the road were “crabbing,” so had pails of fresh crabs for their dinners. Others were armed with binoculars for bird watching.

The Creole Nature Trail is home to more than 400 bird species, making it one of the top 10 birding destinations in the country!

Before you go, download the free tour application for your smartphone–it’s a science lesson the kids will always remember.

More information if you go:

Things to do in Lake Charles

It’s Boudin Time!

Gators and Friends 

The IMAX experience at the Louisiana Sci-Port in Shreveport

Creole Nature Trail

Free Smartphone Creole Nature Trail App