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Visiting Baton Rouge Like a Local: Where to Eat, Shop, and Play

It was cold outside, the normal bone-chilling “wet cold” of South Louisiana in January. It had been a while since I'd been home, and I'd forgotten what winter felt like. "Oh well, at least I'm home," I remember thinking as the car sped along Interstate 10. Visiting Baton Rouge now is like a vacation of sorts. It's been many years since I've lived there, so going home is like experiencing Baton Rouge as a tourist might. Except there's a lot of history between me and this sweet Southern city.

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Baton Rouge Louisiana | Guide to Baton Rouge | Louisiana Travel Tips | Louisiana Destinations | Louisiana Culture

Callin' Baton Rouge

It didn’t take long for the rain to start. Visiting Baton Rouge any time of year can mean rain, but especially in the winter. Luckily, I love Louisiana downpours. The rain fell the entire way from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, all along the stretch of flat swampland that connects the two cities. We drove slowly and methodically, even though we knew the drive like the back of our hand.

The rain falls so hard you can barely make out the cypress trees, palmettos and moss in between the sheets of rain. Those sights always excite me, even now as I write this. I could hear him ask aloud, “why would anyone want to live here?” “Why would they not,” I mumbled.

The truth is I miss it terribly. Visiting Baton Rouge now is simultaneously heartbreaking and soothing. I need to smell this earth, to hear the sounds of Louisiana marshes at dusk and to smell the fresh green smell of earth after a summer rain. Like a mother, this land nurtures and feeds my spirit. It hurts to feel like a stranger here, but each time I go back I feel more and more foreign.

Visiting Baton Rouge | Baton Rouge Louisiana | Guide to Baton Rouge | Louisiana Travel Tips | Louisiana Destinations | Louisiana Culture

Don't Miss My Map of the Best of Baton Rouge

My Katrina Story

The truth is, I'll always get a funny tingly feeling when I see the Dalyrmple Drive exit on I-10. Driving onto the Louisiana State University campus for my first day of grad school in late August 2005 will forever be etched in my mind, along with the days and weeks that followed. Hurricane Katrina had just decimated New Orleans, but the storm changed lives all throughout South Louisiana, including mine.

As a young Social Worker, the sights and sounds of displaced persons on my new campus were heartbreaking. I’ll remember those moments forever, but the memories flood fast when I see certain places in Baton Rouge. The P-Mac, the LSU basketball arena, is one. The Mississippi River bridge is another. Displaced men, women and children were medically evaluated in one and bused over another, headed to places they didn’t choose to go and may still remain.

Visiting Baton Rouge | Baton Rouge Louisiana | Guide to Baton Rouge | Louisiana Travel Tips | Louisiana Destinations | Louisiana Culture

For me, Baton Rouge will always be part of who I am. I lived and worked here for 6 years after Katrina. They were good years that taught me a lot about life, growth, and myself in that short time. I remember feeling lost and excited when I arrived on campus for grad school, fresh from the farm. My, how things have changed for me since then. Life has moved in a different direction, taking me far from home and far beyond my wildest expectations. But, for now, I'm home.

Visiting Baton Rouge | Baton Rouge Louisiana | Guide to Baton Rouge | Louisiana Travel Tips | Louisiana Destinations | Louisiana Culture

A Taste of Home

It's morning, so a good strong cup of coffee is required. And there's only one option for me, though it's a bit nontraditional. While many locals swear by Community Coffee and their CC's Coffee Houses, I break tradition and head straight for PJ's Coffee House, a New Orleans transplant in Downtown Baton Rouge. Only the super sweet dark chocolate mocha will do. And maybe a pastry? Man, visiting Baton Rouge tastes so good.

Visiting Baton Rouge | Baton Rouge Louisiana | Guide to Baton Rouge | Louisiana Travel Tips | Louisiana Destinations | Louisiana Culture

The Old State Capitol Building

With fuel in my tank, I set off on foot, off to explore Downtown Baton Rouge. Seeing the interactive fountains alongside the Shaw Center for the Arts reminds me of hot summer days when kids try to stay cool by playing in the jet streams. I meet a black iron fence and know I've found my destination: the Old State Capitol Building. Staring up at the historic Gothic structure, mouth agape, I'm struck by the beauty of it all. Many Louisiana school children, myself included, call it “The Castle”, and you can instantly see why. The stark white structure is surrounded by iconic wrought-iron fencing, hearkening back to Spanish colonial Louisiana.

Visiting Baton Rouge | Baton Rouge Louisiana | Guide to Baton Rouge | Louisiana Travel Tips | Louisiana Destinations | Louisiana Culture

Exploring Downtown Baton Rouge

I spend some time exploring the museum and grounds. Looking down the hill toward the Mississippi River I feel a little like Scarlett O’Hara, swaying in hooped skirts. Imagine the courts of Louisiana royalty held here! The expansive rooms and manicured grounds remind me of Chicago’s Gilded Age mansions, complete with gorgeous stained glass features and ornate staircases. I can almost see myself gliding down those elegant stairs and into the arms of a beau, provided that he looks like Rhett Butler.

Back outside I notice the USS Kidd in the distance. I smile, fondly remembering my visit with my young nephews who thoroughly enjoy exploring every nook and cranny of the retired WWII ship and Veteran's Museum. Seeing the sleeping quarters on the "Pirate of the Pacific" was pretty cool for the boys, but tough for me. I could never live in such close quarters. "What a fun day that was," I think to myself.

Visiting Baton Rouge | Baton Rouge Louisiana | Guide to Baton Rouge | Louisiana Travel Tips | Louisiana Destinations | Louisiana Culture

Sweet Spanish Town

A short drive away is my old home in Spanish Town, a quaint and quirky historic district adjacent to the "new" State Capitol building and grounds. It's quiet today, but, man, you should see it during parade season. People come from all over South Louisiana for the risque and sometimes raunchy Spanish Town Parade.

Anyone visiting Baton Rouge during Mardi Gras season should make time for Baton Rouge's many Mardi Gras parades. The annual Spanish Town Parade is by far the best and most well-known. The Pink Flamingo themed parade is Baton Rouge's most outlandish and fun event of the year. I definitely miss my parade-route apartment and the fun times had there.

Across the street is the crown jewel of Louisiana architecture, the State Capitol Building. While walking the grounds of State Capitol Park you get a sense of the visions of grandeur that Huey P. Long had for the state of Louisiana. Imagine an empty space where perfectly manicured gardens now lay. It's easy if you’ve seen how rural Louisiana can be.

The Legacy of Mr. Long

As governor, Mr. Long commissioned multiple projects, including the towering State Capitol building. Standing at 450 feet tall, the remarkable structure later became the place where he would meet his fate, shot dead by an assassin. Lovely gardens now surround his tomb, a marble reminder of the tempestuous world of South Louisiana politics.

Stepping onto the giant steps of the Capitol and into the marvelous Art Deco foyer conjures feelings of growth and expansion that must have intoxicated Long and his staff. I head up to the observation deck to take in the view of the Mississippi River and the surrounding State Capitol Park.

Visiting Baton Rouge | Baton Rouge Louisiana | Guide to Baton Rouge | Louisiana Travel Tips | Louisiana Destinations | Louisiana Culture

The Louisiana State Capitol Grounds

After exploring the opulently decorated ground floor and Senate chamber, I head back outside for a long walk around Capitol Lake. I find myself in the rose garden adjacent to the Arsenal Museum. Although the roses aren't blooming right now, my memories of the multi-colored blooms are vivid, and I can almost smell their sweet, sweet scent.

The arsenal reminds me that not everything here was sweet and flowery in the past. The arsenal played a key role in the Battle of Baton Rouge during the Civil War. The exhibits, the grounds, and the history are a special part of Baton Rouge. “What’s that?” I ask, suddenly noticing a strange sensation. I’m hungry. Lucky for me, I'm visiting Baton Rouge.

Visiting Baton Rouge | Baton Rouge Louisiana | Guide to Baton Rouge | Louisiana Travel Tips | Louisiana Destinations | Louisiana Culture

Up-and-Coming Shops & Restaurants

Having heard from friends about the newest addition to the Perkins Road development, I take a chance on City Pork, a new pork-centric deli/restaurant featuring house-made sausages and smoked meats. Stormy skies and rain clouds be damned, I shall have my pork sandwich.

I quickly order the Big Pig sandwich and a Tin Roof beer, a local brew. You know you’re home in Louisiana when you see Crystal Hot Sauce and Tony Cachere’s seasoning blend on the tables. The smell of roast pork permeates the room, welcoming me home. Crystal Hot Sauce and Tony Cachere’s sit at the table like old friends.

An hour later, and with a full belly, I make my way from shop to shop, checking out the local goods and South Louisiana couture. For few special gifts, I head to my favorite shopping spot in Baton Rouge, The Royal Standard. I find a few unique pieces of vintage jewelry, trinkets, and Louisiana-themed home decor. Next up is Bella Bella, another favorite of mine, and a few newer neighboring shops.

Forever LSU

I leave Perkins Road in search of some inspiration. Heading North through the Garden District, I drive alongside the mossy oaks surrounding the Baton Rouge Lake and the Louisiana State University campus. Anytime I'm visiting Baton Rouge I make time to exploring my old stomping grounds, gazing at the magnificent oak-lined streets and the lush green grass that carpets the parade grounds in front of the Memorial Tower, Tiger Stadium, and Mike the Tiger's million-dollar habitat.

The history and strength the trees represent always reminds me of the resilience of my state and our ability to withstand disasters and challenges with a smile, a song or a parade. Soaking it all in, I stop to buy some LSU Tiger gear at Bengals and Bandits, my go-to place for LSU goods. After all, Los Angeles could use a little more Geaux.

Visiting Baton Rouge | Baton Rouge Louisiana | Guide to Baton Rouge | Louisiana Travel Tips | Louisiana Destinations | Louisiana Culture

One Last Bite

That strange sensation is back; I’m hungry again. It feels strange to be hungry in South Louisiana, the place where all my foodie daydreams come true. No trip home is complete without friends and food at The Chimes, a local restaurant/institution on the LSU campus. Red beans and rice, blackened alligator, and local beer are all a Louisiana girl needs to feel warm and fuzzy in her old skin, if only for a day.

Visiting Baton Rouge | Baton Rouge Louisiana | Guide to Baton Rouge | Louisiana Travel Tips | Louisiana Destinations | Louisiana Culture

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xoxo

Carlie
Baton Rouge Louisiana | Guide to Baton Rouge | Louisiana Travel Tips | Louisiana Destinations | Louisiana Culture
  • Reply
    elaine@familytravelescapades
    February 23, 2016 at 5:20 am

    I have never been to Baton Rouge, but lived in New Orleans years ago. You write this with the emotion that draws the reader in; that is good and the article was really well written. It sounds like Baton Rouge would be a good place to visit.

    • Reply
      aCajuninCali blog
      February 23, 2016 at 6:39 pm

      Thanks so much Elaine, for your wonderful feedback. The emotion comes from a very real place. I love Baton Rouge, the good with the bad. Like most of the rest of La, it’s soooooo different from NOLA. You should give it a shot 🙂

      • Reply
        elaine@familytravelescapades
        February 23, 2016 at 7:30 pm

        I very well might! I know what you mean by emotional. When we left Louisville I would cry just thinking about it and every time we fly away and get ready to land I cry. I’m not even born and raised here but it’s been my home for quite a while.

        • Reply
          aCajuninCali blog
          February 24, 2016 at 10:22 pm

          The concept of “home” is so subjective. I’m not from Baton Rouge either, but it will always be home. So I completely understand!

  • Reply
    Pamela Konjevod
    February 23, 2016 at 7:19 am

    I love how I discover so much about USA from American bloggers 🙂 Makes me wanna visiti for a longer period of time. It’s not all LA and NY

    • Reply
      aCajuninCali blog
      February 23, 2016 at 6:37 pm

      Oh Pamela, you are so right! The US really does have SO much to offer visitors. I’ve lived here all my life and haven’t seen but a fraction of the amazing places and things. I hope I inspire you to visit!

      • Reply
        Pamela Konjevod
        February 24, 2016 at 12:12 am

        Most def 🙂 I always say exploring our own countries counts too, maybe even more 🙂 So keep up exploring and sharing to us <3

        • Reply
          aCajuninCali blog
          February 24, 2016 at 10:22 pm

          I completely agree! And I’ll definitely keep sharing 🙂

  • Reply
    Journal of Nomads
    February 26, 2016 at 1:59 am

    Coming home after traveling makes you see your home through different eyes. I can feel the love for your home in your post! It’s nice that you describe it like you’re visiting the place! My home town is Bruges and I never really realized what an amazing and historical place it was after I returned from a 2 year trip! I don’t live there anymore as I’m full time on the road but last time I looked at it as I would be there for the first time. All I felt is proud and love. I’m happy to read you experienced the same!

    • Reply
      aCajuninCali blog
      March 1, 2016 at 6:14 pm

      Thanks so much @journalofnomads:disqus for your kind words of encouragement. And for sharing your story of #returninghome. When I go back now I definitely feel like I’m only visiting. It feels less and less like home, but I’ll always be nostalgic for that feeling.

  • Reply
    Taylor
    February 28, 2016 at 11:35 am

    There’s no feeling like coming back home after traveling. I personally think it’s one of the best feelings, you love the things you missed, forgot about some things and are happy to be reminded of them.

    • Reply
      aCajuninCali blog
      March 1, 2016 at 6:12 pm

      It can be wonderful, but also very bittersweet. Thanks for the great comment!

  • Reply
    2TravelDads
    February 29, 2016 at 6:16 am

    What a fun place, and I can see why this is your happy place. And apparently Baton Rouge makes a person hungry? I do love touring government buildings too, I’m glad you included that.

    • Reply
      aCajuninCali blog
      March 1, 2016 at 6:11 pm

      It def makes me hungry! Ha! It really is one of my favorite cities to find great food. One of many reasons the city is fun. Lots of good memories.

  • Reply
    Joe Baur
    February 29, 2016 at 6:27 am

    Love reading about cities I’ve never visited and that (perhaps) don’t rank so high on travel lists. You always find out that they are, indeed, worth visiting. Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply
      aCajuninCali blog
      March 1, 2016 at 6:10 pm

      You are most welcome and most right! There are quite a few cities like that, and I, for one, am all about those trips! Did you see my post on Columbus, Ohio. Totally rocked!

  • Reply
    Ajay Sood
    February 29, 2016 at 6:36 am

    A proper trip down the memory lane! Beautifully written!

    • Reply
      aCajuninCali blog
      March 1, 2016 at 6:08 pm

      Thanks so much, Ajay! It means a lot coming from you. I love your writing style.

  • Reply
    Melody Pittman
    March 2, 2016 at 5:13 am

    I’ve had business friends that live there for about 20 years now and had no idea what amazing little treasures Baton Rouge offered. Great post!

    • Reply
      aCajuninCali blog
      March 7, 2016 at 12:29 pm

      BR is full of treasure if you know where to look! I hope you go see for yourself @melody_pittman:disqus

  • Reply
    Travel Lushes
    March 3, 2016 at 10:21 pm

    Wow you were there after Katrina? I have been to Louisiana sooo many times, but never thought about visiting Baton Rouge. It sounds like it’s worth visiting.

    • Reply
      aCajuninCali blog
      March 7, 2016 at 12:29 pm

      Yes, @travellushes:disqus, I was. It was a very scary time in my state’s history, but a wonderful time to be a social worker. So many people needed help. Baton Rouge is definitely worth seeing. I love the LSU Campus and surrounding lakes. It is so beautiful.

  • Reply
    Nellwyn
    May 12, 2016 at 5:09 pm

    I’ve love to take a trip to Louisiana one day! It seems like there’s so much history and interesting things to do. Great photos 🙂

    Nellwyn | http://www.thecardinalpress.com

    • Reply
      acajunincali@gmail.com
      May 12, 2016 at 5:15 pm

      Thanks so much for your kind words, Nellwyn! You totally should visit. It’s an amazing place, rich with history, culture and amazing food 🙂

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