When I was a little girl, I went to my grandparents’ house for two weeks every summer in Cajun Country, Louisiana. Being born and raised in small town, Pennsylvania, this yearly excursion was my greatest adventure and something I counted down the days to. Everything was foreign and magical from the food to the accents to the music. You could almost smell Tabasco in the air and it was intoxicating. My cousins and I spent hot, lazy summer days swimming and walking to the snowball stand where flavors such as cotton candy, bubble gum, spearmint and Popeye (your guess is as good as mine!) tempted our taste buds. We played games that only a small child’s imagination could conjure up. My grandfather would take us fishing and everyone won a trophy, from the most fish, to the least fish, the biggest to the smallest. We had parties, and ate the freshest, tastiest seafood the Gulf of Mexico had to offer. My family always had adventures planned and I learned about the history and culture of the area, and of course, how to eat!
When you think of the state of Louisiana, you immediately think of New Orleans, of jazz music, and of Mardi Gras. New Orleans is fantastic, of course, but there is so much more to this southern state. Louisiana has a rich, thriving culture and some of the most fascinating parts are off the beaten track, hidden in the dark, steamy bayou or down an oak-lined road, in Cajun Country. The music, art, language, and food are unique to this amazingly wild and wonderful region. Explore plantations and swamps, taste alligator and crawfish, and listen and dance to local zydeco music. This guide will show you only the best destinations and the most delectable cuisine. Cajun Country vacations are the experience of a lifetime and will not soon be forgotten!
What to See
- Tabasco Museum | Avery Island: Tabasco is the gold standard of hot sauces and it is made and bottled right on Avery Island, LA. Take a tour of the factory, see how it’s made and learn about the island and the people who live there. Sample Tabasco ice cream, Tabasco Coke, and the different varieties they offer, such as chipotle or green chili. Find the perfect Tabasco related present or souvenir in the gift shop.
- Jungle Gardens | Avery island: Jungle Gardens is a 170-acre semitropical garden within walking distance of the Tabasco Factory on Avery Island. Tour the immaculate grounds and see local wildlife, including alligators, deer and snowy egrets. Winding hidden paths take you through walls of bamboo, past a giant Buddha, and through a floral paradise. It is the perfect addition to your day at the Tabasco Factory.
- Jefferson Mansion & Rip Van Winkle Gardens | Jefferson Island: Jefferson Island is riddled with intrigue. The mansion was built in 1870 by Joseph Jefferson, an actor who played Rip Van Winkle on stage over 4,500 times. You can learn about the fascinating history of Joseph Jefferson and his family by taking a guided tour or the property. Stroll through 15 acres of gardens and check out where it is rumored that the infamous pirate, Jean Lafitte, buried his treasure under one the of live oaks. When you need a break from all of that history, stop at the Jefferson Cafe for a delectable lunch. You can even stay on one of the two charming cottages on the property.
- Cajun Country Swamp Tours | Breaux Bridge: Bald eagles, great blue heron, snakes and alligators are just a taste of what you will observe when you hop in your skiff and coast off into the bayou. You will learn about the delicate ecosystem of the swamp and history surrounding it. The guides are educated and informative. This tour is truly a gem and shouldn’t be missed.
- The Liberty Theater, Cajun Grand Ole’ Opry | Eunice: In the tiny town of Eunice, you can get the ultimate Cajun music experience. This 1924 vaudeville/ movie house is home to the “Rendez-Vous des Cajuns” radio show which still plays on Saturday nights. You can attend a live performance which includes zydeco and Cajun music, in a mix of English and French, and there’s even a touch of comedy. Grab a partner and two-step the night away to the lively tune of the accordion. This is an experience that can’t be beat! Take a listen.
Where to Stay
- The Ducote Williams House | Abbeville: The Ducote Williams House will take you back to a world that time forgot. It has a Cajun charm that will envelope you with the sights, sounds and smells of the deep south. Nestled in the historic town of Abbeville, this bed and breakfast is within walking distance to all the best attractions, festivals and restaurants. Relax by the pond or have hors’deourves on the porch while listening to the frogs sing and the fireflies put on a light show just for you. You have two cozy guest rooms to choose from, both with private baths and a gourmet breakfast is included.
- The Caldwell House | Abbeville: Southern Hospitality is a priority at the Caldwell House. This bed and breakfast has 6 spacious bedrooms, most with private baths. Each room is uniquely decorated, and has that district southern charm. The Caldwell House host weddings, family reunions, and business events and will make your experience memorable. The picturesque wrap around porch and surrounding gardens make this quaint bed and breakfast a magical place to stay and relax.
- Rip Van Winkle Gardens | Jefferson Island: Complete your trip to Avery and Jefferson Island by staying overnight at the Rip Van Winkle Garden Cottages. Named for the part played by actor, Joseph Jefferson, these charming bungalows are surrounded by semi-tropical gardens giving you a botanical paradise in your own back yard. You will be transported to another time while staying in the servants’ quarters of the Jefferson Mansion, which are original to the property, built in the early 1900s. Both cottages are equipped with a kitchenette, shaded front porch, complementary breakfast and is pet friendly.
- Le Village Guesthouse | Eunice: Quirky, eclectic, and full of charm, Le Village Guesthouse in Eunice is the perfect place to stay to take in all Cajun Country has to offer. The main house has four guest rooms brimming with style. There is a separate retreat, “The Prairie Barn”, which houses darts, a TV, a bar, and can also be used as an event space. The guesthouse is minutes away from local attractions, including the Liberty Theater, home of the “Rendez-Vous des Cajuns” radio show.
Where to Eat
- Dupuy’s | Abbeville: Home of some of the best oysters the Gulf of Mexico has to offer, Dupuy’s has them any way you want them, cornmeal fried, raw or adorning your gumbo. Be sure to sample their shrimp and catfish, oh and the crawfish! Let’s face it, you are better off just getting a combo platter. You can’t go wrong with anything on this menu. Need a little culinary adventure? Try the alligator bites, crawfish or fried pickles as an appetizer. Dupuy’s famous seafood gumbo is a Cajun favorite. The locals can’t be wrong when it comes to food and they love this casual seafood hot spot.
- Shuck’s | Abbeville: Shuck’s is a seafood smorgasbord. The corrugated metal walls and exposed wood beams give it a rustic, down home feel that is perfect for a casual lunch or dinner. They offer to-die-for Cajun favorites such as shrimp roumelade, duck and andouille gumbo, crawfish etoufee, and shrimp and grits. They also serve a good burger or steak, if you are craving a little red meat. Shuck’s makes their own sugarcane based sauce and vinaigrette that you can buy in a take home bottle.
- Bon Creole Lunch Counter | New Iberia: Get your Po’Boy fix at Bon Creole Lunch Counter in New Iberia. From crawfish to catfish, these tasty sandwiches are created on fresh baked french bread, topped with lettuce and tomato and seasoned to perfection! The casual, kitschy ambiance just adds to its charm.
- Cafe Jefferson | Jefferson Island: Enjoy elegant dining at Cafe Jefferson. With views of the lake, gardens and the roaming peacocks who inhabit the property, this restaurant is pure charm. More traditional options such as chicken Caesar salad, club sandwiches and lasagna adorn the menu along with beloved Louisiana fare including, seafood bisque, Italian muffulettas, and chicken sauce piquant. Lunch or dinner is always a pleasure at Cafe Jefferson.
- Ruby’s Restaurant and Courtyard | Eunice: Ruby’s serve breakfast, lunch and dinner with a Cajun flare. Located in Downtown Eunice, this home style eatery offers a home cooked meal just like mama used to make, if mama was sassy and southern! The warm and friendly staff treat you like family and you will never leave hungry. Stop by for a hearty breakfast or a quick and tasty lunch.
Learn the Language
- Années passées [a-nee pass-ay]- Years gone by
- Bayou [bi-yoo]- A slow moving stream
- Beaucoup (boh-KOO)- French for a lot
- Beignet [bin-yay]- A fried square French donut dusted with powdered sugar
- Bon ami [bon ah-mee]- Good friend
- Ca c’est bon!- It’s GOOD!
- Catch me- “Get for me” or “Bring to me.”
- chere (shaa, with an a as in cat)- French for dear, a term of endearment
- Come see- “come here.” “take a look.”
- Crawfish-“Mudbug” – edible crustacean served boiled or fried
- Étouffée [ay too fay]- Smothered seafood, Cajun stew
- Fais Do-Do (fay doh-doh)- a big party where dancing and festivities last long into the night
- Gris-Gris- A spell using physical items, like a charm or talisman
- Gumbo- African word for okra, which is used as a thickening agent in a dark stew of seafood or meat, served over rice
- Jambalaya [jum-buh-ly-ah]- Well-seasoned mixture of rice, meat and vegetables cooked in one pot
- Laissez les bon temps rouler! [lay-zay lay bon tom roo-lay]- Let the good times roll!
- “Me” is often used as a secondary possessive to reinforce the primary possessive noun. E.g., “I’m gone to town, me” – meaning “I’m going to town.”
- Parish- A political division resembling counties in other states. Louisiana is the only state with parishes (dating back to Napoleon and a strong Catholic influence)
- Pirogue [pee row]- A small, canoe-like boat
- Pshaw- “ain’t nuttin’ to it!”
- Rougarouin’- Getting into trouble; causing trouble
- Roux [roo]- A classic Cajun concoction made by blending oil and flour and cooking them together. Used in Cajun Gumbo, stews, fricassees, etc
- Sauce piquante [saws pee-kaw(n)]- Tomato base; rich stew
- Skiff- Small boat for crabbing or shrimping
- Who dat?- Who is that? Who goes there?
- Weather: The best time of year to go to Louisiana is during the winter or spring. The temperature ranges from hot in the late spring, early fall and summer, to cool and rainy (50s-60s) in the winter. Summer is sweltering and, although great for swimming and snow balls, is pretty daunting when you are strolling through gardens with sweat dripping down your face.
- Oyster Season: Oysters are in season mostly during the month of “R”. This means, only months that have the letter “R” in them- most of the winter, spring and fall months. They are fine during May-August, just not the best!
- Spicy Food: If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen. Cajuns love their spicy food! They add Tabasco to everything, so start prepping your palate now!
- Mosquitoes: These blood suckers run rampant in the evenings and at night and seem to be bigger and hungrier down south. Don’t forget the bug spray!
- Flights: Laffayette, La is the most convenient airport. To find the best deals on flights to Cajun Country, click here.
Summing It Up
Cajun Country is an entire magical world unto itself. It is beautiful and wild, and one of the United States’ best kept secrets. Nowhere will you find tastier food, more eclectic people or lovelier scenery. This is just the tip of the iceberg of what this region has to offer. Plan a trip and explore and as they say in Louisiana, laissez les bon temps rouler! Let the good times roll!