From Political Intrigue to Natural Beauty,
Baton Rouge Wields 10 Fun Things to Do
Louisiana's Old State Capitol building, a top attraction in Baton Rouge, resembles a castle.*
Original Story By Lorry Heverly - Updated in August 2009 by Susan J. Young
Baton Rouge is a city of quirky curiosities. From flamboyant politicians to its unexpected and eclectic attractions, I'm always discovering great places to share with family and friends.
1. The "House that Huey Built," the Louisiana State Capitol is the tallest state capitol building in the United States. Governor Huey P. Long built the 34-story capitol in 1932. Creating the structure was a lifelong dream for Long. Ironically, it also was the site of his assassination.
Louisiana's towering Capitol building is one of America's most impressive.*
Ride the elevator to the Observation Deck for great views of the city and gardens. Self-guided tours are free.
(Personal note from Susan J. Young, editor of SouthernTravelNews.com): If you go, check out the commemorative photo displays of past legislators. They're located along the walls leading to the legislative chambers. In the early 1960s editions, you'll find a photo of my uncle Charles McHenry from Pineville, LA )
2. Known as the "castle on the river," the Louisiana Old State Capitol (www.sos.louisiana.gov/museums or 225-342-0500), 100 North Blvd., is an interesting mix of Gothic and Victorian architecture. Inside is an intriguing spiral staircase leading to an exceptional cathedral dome of stained glass.
Long, also known as the Kingfish, made some of his fieriest speeches here. The highlight of the political exhibits is the animatronic show, "Huey Long Live! - The Kingfish Speaks." Admission is free.
3. Step into the Louisiana White House at the Old Governor's Mansion (225-387-2464 or www.fhl.org), 502 North Blvd. Building the grand Georgian-style mansion in 1930, Long had some lofty political ambitions. He wanted it designed to resemble The White House so when he became President, he would already know where everything was located.
(Shown at right, the Old Governor's Mansion was built to resemble the White House.* )
Similarities include The Oval Room, the East Ball Room and a Rose Garden. Most interesting is the secret staircase off the West Wing.
Other colorful Governors resided in the mansion like Jimmie Davis, the singing governor who penned "You Are My Sunshine." Davis also liked to ride his horse up the steps and into the mansion to show him around.
4. Shopaholics might head for the Mall of Louisiana (225-761-0307 or www.malloflouisiana.com), 6401 Bluebonnet Blvd. It's the largest mall in the Southeast and has a new outdoor lifestyle area with shops and restaurants. Other Baton Rouge area shopping venues include the Boulevard, Perkins Rowe and Towne Center.
5. Five minutes from the mall is Bluebonnet Swamp (225-757-9390 or www.brec.org), 10503 N. Oak Hills Pkwy. It's an oasis of beauty in the heart of the city. Walk along quiet nature trails and boardwalks linking two pristine ecosystems, an enchanted grotto of Cypress-Tupelo swamp and a magnolia-beech hardwood forest with dramatic ravines.
You'll have good chances to see wildlife including birds, racoons, turtles and more. The park's Nature Center features a large duck hunting decoy collection, carved wood animals and other exhibits. Admission is $3.
6. Enter a magical place where fairytales and childhood dreams come alive at The Enchanted Mansion (225-769-0005 or www.enchantedmansion.org), 190 Lee Drive. Fall under the spell of this unique doll museum with exceptional exhibits of antique, rare and whimsical dolls.
Walk through a life-sized Victorian doll house. Take a trip to the magical land of the Gazoba fairies. The storybook collection features dolls from childhood books like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.
Drop by on Thursday afternoon for the complimentary tea party. Museum admission is $4.50 for adults, $2 for children, with kids under two admitted free.
7. Food is not mere dining but an intense activity for Baton Rouge visitors. For a taste of Louisiana steeped in tradition, "pass a good time" at Boutin's Cajun Music & Dining (225-819-9862 or www.boutins.com), 8322 Bluebonnet Blvd. Headlining this traditional Cajun menu are such eclectic dishes as gumbo; boudin and andouille (both types of sausages) and crawfish etouffee.
(As shown at left, you won't go hungry in Baton Rouge, where crawfish rule!*
Travelers likely will enjoy the fun and infectious beat of live Cajun and Zydeco bands. The songs, usually sung in French, reflect the culture and traditions of the Acadians and life on the bayou. Young and old alike enjoy a “fais do do,” dancing a lively Cajun two-step or swaying to an accordion waltz. Entrees range from $15 to $20.
Another option? Searing a sassy fusion of Cajun spices and fresh seafood, you'll never leave hungry at Ralph and Kacoo's (225-766-2113 or www.ralphandkacoos.com), 6110 Bluebonnet Blvd.
Hardy platters of local crawfish, crab, shrimp and oysters tempt the tastebuds. Check out the 12-foot gator (stuffed) in the lobby and the alligator starters on the menu. Entrees start around $15.
8. The historic Heidelberg Hotel, where Governor Long used to wheel and deal in the 1930's, was re-opened after a multimillion dollar renovation as the Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center (225-3-HILTON or www.hiltoncapitolcenter.com), 201 Lafayette St. Travelers can still get a taste of the hotel’s past at the new “Fabulous Flapper Jazz Brunch.” Service staff are costumed as Roaring 20s flappers.
The Heidelberg was briefly the Louisiana State Capitol when Governor Long set up headquarters there, refusing to hand over power after winning the U.S. Senate race. The governor went underground, literally, going to clandestine meetings through a secret tunnel connecting the Heidelberg with a neighboring hotel. Today the tunnel is a small private dining room at the hotel's Kingfish Restaurant.
9. Ten flags have flown over Baton Rouge throughout its history. Louisiana State University’s Rural Life Museum and Windrush Gardens (225-765-2437 or http://rurallife.lsu.edu), 4650 Essen Lane, adeptly reveals the day-to-day lives of the region’s earliest residents -- native Americans, French and Spanish settlers, Anglo-Americans, Germans, Africans, and Acadians.
Located on the Burden Research Plantation, the museum displays many pre-industrial age structures. So visitors may tour or view a shotgun house, slave cabin, kitchen building, schoolhouse, overseers’ cottage and barn, to name just a few. The museum is open daily. Admission is $7 for adults, $4 for kids 5-11.
10. Finally, when you’ve seen and done it all in Baton Rouge, kick back for a little gaming action at the city’s casinos, all located along the river. The Belle of Baton Rouge (225-378-6000 or www.belleofbatonrouge.net), 103 France St., has three floors of slots and tables games. Hollywood Casino (225-709-7777 or www.hollywoodbr.com), 1717 River Road North, has 1,080 slot machines and 31 table games. Parago Casino Resort (318-240-1033), 711 Paragon Place, Marksville, is another option.
A Bonus Experience While Visiting...
Increasingly, Baton Rouge is a magnet for production companies filming movies, documentaries and television show scenes in the city. So you might come upon live action sequences or movie making sights while visiting the city.
For example, this fall Columbia and Sony announced they'll film a sci-fi flick, "Battle: Los Angeles," in the Baton Rouge area. In addition, the HBO show "True Blood" shoots many scenes in and around Baton Rouge.
To view behind the scenes footage, check out www.youtube.com/user/batonrougetravel.
Contact the Baton Rouge Convention and Visitors Bureau at 800-LA-ROUGE or www.visitbatonrouge.com. It’s located at 730 North Blvd.
Lorry Heverly, an adventure travel writer and photographer who resides in Baton Rouge, LA, writes a column on scuba diving for the Miami Herald and travel articles for magazines and newspapers.
*All photos on this page are copyrighted, owned and shown courtesy of the Baton Rouge Convention and Visitors Bureau. All rights reserved. Please do not link to nor copy these photos. Thank you.