Lake Charles: casinos, horse racing, and the largest Mardi Gras Museum in the world

Lake Charles: casinos, horse racing, and the largest Mardi Gras Museum in the world

Lake Charles, Southwest Louisiana’s premier destination for luxurious Vegas-style casino resorts. With a Southern welcome, Lake Charles offers its visitors gourmet restaurants, derby race tracks; and something you won’t find in Las Vegas – deep sea fishing and the Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu.

 Louisiana’s Neutral Strip and Riverboat Casinos

Originally known as the “Neutral Strip” about the time of the Louisiana Purchase, Lake Charles was part of a sliver of no man’s land between East Texas and Western Louisiana. Due to a dispute over boundary lines, local officers of both Spain and the United States agreed to not regulate or monitor the area with militia until the boundaries could be established. This lack of governing made Lake Charles an ideal second home for the infamous pirate Jean Lafitte and set the stage, so to speak, for making Louisiana a hot spot for gambling in the South.

a picture showing the area of Louisiana's Neutral Strip
Louisiana’s Neutral Strip

Louisiana gaming laws have required casinos be on the water. Since 2001 with the change of legislation, riverboat casinos that once cruised the lake, could now permanently moore to the shore. Today, the riverboat casinos with paddlewheels are gone and have been replaced with well disguised massive barges built over sections of water thus still adhering to the riverboat status for gambling. The hotel part of the resort is built on the land. See the picture below.  

The arrows point to the casino section of the resort located over water and the smoke stack from the barge. Photo credit: Lake Charles Southwest Louisiana CVB
The arrows point to the casino section of the resort located over water and the smoke stack from the barge. Photo credit: Lake Charles Southwest Louisiana CVB

Why you need to go to Lake Charles

Want to get off the beaten path and explore a destination that is virtually unknown (AKA avoiding huge crowds of tourists)? Then Lake Charles is the place to go. It was voted as one of the top 10 under-the-radar places to visit in the US by

Extravagantly detailed costumes in Lake Charles Mardi Gras Museum
Extravagantly detailed costumes in Lake Charles Mardi Gras Museum
Notice the towering snake headpiece next to the mannequin.
Notice the towering snake headpiece next to the mannequin.
one of the hallways of the Mardi Gras Museum lined with costumes
one of the hallways of the Mardi Gras Museum lined with costumes.

Lake Charles boasts several historical attractions for visitors looking for art and culture, such as the Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu which holds the largest collection of intricately beaded Mardi Gras costumes and headpieces, some dating to 1962. The headpieces can reach heights of six-feet tall and weigh as much as 50 pounds! As you stroll from room to room, you will learn about the history of Mardi Gras from animated mannequins.

picture of a wine glass on a paper napkin
Are you feeling lucky?

Several casino resorts in Lake Charles have completed multi-million dollar renovations recently. Some of the renovations include luxury garden suites at L’Auberge Casino Resort, an upscale resort designed after the Texas Hill Country with a rustic lodge elegance vibe. Delta Downs Racetrack Casino and Resort added a hotel tower housing 167 new guest rooms and restaurant. Isle of Capri Casino and Hotel added a concert venue.

Not into gambling?

Lake Charles is more than a gambling destination. It is also home to a slew of other activities and outdoor adventures.

The Creole Nature Trail is a drivable route through Louisiana’s outback. Along the 180-mile scenic byway, adventurous explorers can discover 26-miles of natural beaches along the Gulf of Mexico, see marshlands with alligators and over 400 different species of birds, and you can go freshwater, brackish, and deep-sea saltwater fishing. You can also try your hand at crabbing for fresh Louisiana Blue Crab and creating mouthwatering recipes.


Regardless of the time of year, it is always tee time in Lake Charles. In addition to sporting six public courses, Lake Charles is also home to one of Louisiana’s 12 prestigious Audubon golf courses – Gray Plantation.

Golden Nugget golf course
Golden Nugget golf course


Lake Charles is Louisiana’s premier destination for festivals. They celebrate over 75 festivals throughout the year – that averages to a festival every week.

Festivals start in January with the Fur and Wildlife Festival where you can try your hand at oyster shucking and skeet shooting. The Cajun Music and Food festival later in the year is dedicated to preserving the Cajun heritage with cuisine and music. The Gulf Coast Shrimp and Jazz Festival promotes the cultural importance of jazz and the bounty of cuisine from the Gulf Coast with after-dark jazz concerts and performances.

One of my favorite festivals is the Louisiana Pirate Festival, a two-week festival celebrating all things pirate! The events include fireworks over the lake, pirate musicians, performers, a boat parade… oh, and the mayor walks the plank. Arg Mattey!

My man makes a great pirate

Where to eat

There is a lot to do in Lake Charles – but where can you get some good Southern grub? The list is long, but here are some that I would recommend.

The Blue Dog Cafe, founded in 2000 by Louisiana native George Rodrique – creator of the Blue Dog art series. The Blue Dog Cafe serves Cajun specialties with a twist, such as La Cajun Macaroni Gratin with crawfish tails, pecan-smoked catfish, and Blue Crab spaghetti. The cafe also celebrates Saturdays with live zydeco bands and Sundays with a brunch that offers free mimosas.

Blue Dog Cafe
lunch at Blue Dog was delish

Named after a buccaneer and one of Jean Laffite’s captains, Arsene LeBlue,  Le Blue”s Landing offers authentic Cajun cuisine – homemade chitlins, Crawfish Pistolette, Crispy Alligator Bites, and a live presentation of how boudin is made and put into casings.

homemade Crispy Chitlins at Le Blues Landing
homemade Crispy Chitlins at Le Blues Landing
watch boudin sausage being made at Le Blues Landing
watch boudin sausage being made at Le Blues Landing

If you want to step back in time and experience something, like, so tubular then you must check out Pops and Rocket (named after the 1985 alternative rock band Love and Rockets). This ice cream shop is a frozen culinary journey to rediscover 1980’s culture. Not only is the 1980’s retro decor (imagine cassette tape labels, records, Atari arcade games) fun and unique, the ice cream flavors all sport song titles or phrases from the 1980’s. Pops and Rockets offer dairy and vegan ice cream as well as hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows.

Pops and Rockets - for the love of the 80s
Pops and Rockets – for the love of the 80s
vegan ice cream
Hot chocolate with homemade marshmallow cube
Hot chocolate with homemade marshmallow cube


Jack Daniel’s in L’Auberge Casino and Resort  is the place to go for Chef Lyle Broussard’s legendary deep-savory Cajun and Creole-style BBQ or grilled oysters. Chef Lyle’s personal cooking style for adding a touch of “bam” to dishes make Jack Daniel’s a must for at least one meal while visiting.

Jack Daniels is a must for lunch or dinner when in Lake Charles
Jack Daniels grilled oysters
Jack Daniels grilled oysters

If you are looking for a place that is more luxurious and upscale to celebrate a special event, then make a reservation at La Truffe Sauvage. It is a culinary adventure in flavors and chef recommended wine that compliment each other fabulously.

La Truffe restaurant
mini pot pie. The top was buttery and flaky
white chocolate mousse topped with passion fruit gelee and macrons on the side. Inside the mousse were perfectly fresh raspberries.
lump crab tower enclosed by thinly sliced cucumbers on a bed of tomatoes
lump crab tower enclosed by thinly sliced cucumbers on a bed of tomatoes

The Bekery  is a great little locally owned breakfast and brunch location with a cozy vibe. They bake all of their muffins, pastries, and quiche fresh every morning. This is a hot spot for locals and a must for brunch.

The Berkery
the counters at The Berkery are full with freshly baked brunch goods
They had several different flavors of homemade quiche
cozy and comfortable country cafe

Places to stay

L’Auberge Casino Resort offering its guests the relaxed, laid-back casual environment of the Texas Hill Country with the luxurious upscale vibe you would expect from an exclusive mountaintop villa. Designed with natural elements in wood, wrought iron exposed beams, earthy-toned rugs, and massive double-sided stone fireplaces – L’Auberge entices you to stay for a weekend of gaming or live entertainment.

L'Auberge entrance and fountain
L’Auberge entrance and fountain
L'Auberge Casino Resort
L’Auberge Casino Resort


Golden Nugget Lake Charles  provides an upscale Vegas-style glamorous environment for its guests. At Golden Nugget you will find luxurious spa treatments for individuals and couples, golf, live entertainment, and an assortment of gaming tables.

Golden Nugget


Combining the spirit of the Kentucky Derby with the charm and style of New Orleans, Delta Downs Racetrack Casino Hotel brings a dynamic mix of gaming enthusiasm, horse racing grandeur, multi-screen off-track betting, live entertainment, and delicious food.

Delta Downs Rosewater Cafe

Getting to Lake Charles

Getting to Lake Charles is pretty easy regardless if you are driving or flying. If you are driving from Texas, Lake Charles is easily accessible from Interstate Highway 10. It is about a 2-hour drive from Houston or a 6-hour drive from Dallas. Lake Charles Airport (LCH) is a nice, small airport with direct flights under an hour from both Dallas/Fort Worth on American Airlines and Houston on United Airlines.

Empty Nestopia’s Destin-O-Meter Ranking

Lake Charles is a hidden gem for couples who want to experience a multitude of fun possibilities. With luxurious getaways, live entertainment, gaming, and outdoor adventure Lake Charles is that destination. It has something for everyone – outdoor activities, luxurious spas, culinary trails, historical tours, sports, gambling, retail therapy, and more.

For this reason, Empty Nestopia gives Lake Charles a solid 10 as a top hidden gem to be discovered. It should be on your list to discover

To plan your trip to Lake Charles and see a full list of activities, please visit

Thank you for reading this travel nugget of knowledge about Lake Charles, Louisiana. This article may contain an affiliate link or two, which does not affect you in any way. It will allow Empty Nestopia to continue to bring you travel tidbits.

About Donna

Helping mid-life empty nesters discover adventurous, authentic experiences in cuisine, cocktails, and countries - from beach bars to five-stars

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