Easy Southern Escapes: Baton Rouge, Louisiana

by  Melanie Warner Spencer | Oct 29, 2015
Louisiana State Capitol
Louisiana State Capitol / iStock

Settled on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River, Baton Rouge -- French for “Red Stick” -- is the capital of Louisiana and its second largest city, but it manages to retain small-town flavor. Perhaps it's because the city, as the home of Louisiana State University, is a college town. Maybe it's the quaint downtown with historic buildings and views of the river. Whatever the reason, there are eateries that'll make your mouth water, art and history museums, historic architecture, plantations, and a local brewery. If you can't have fun in Baton Rouge, you're doing it wrong. 

Activities: Start at the Baton Rouge Zoo and Botanical Gardens for some fauna and flora, respectively. Then, take a trip back in time at the circa-1791 Magnolia Mound Plantation ($4-$10), a rare example of architecture influenced by France and the West Indies that offers a fascinating glimpse into French Creole life. Amble through Baton Rouge’s historic neighborhoods -- Spanish Town, Beauregard Town in downtown, and the Garden District in Mid-City -- to view homes and buildings from the 1700s, 1800s, and early 1900s. Of particular note in Beauregard Town is the grand, four-story, Art Deco Old Governor’s Mansion ($8-$10), built in 1929 by Louisiana Gov. Huey P. Long, who was famously known as the “Kingfish.” Louisiana’s castle-like Old State Capitol, a Gothic Revival structure designed by architect James Harrison Dakin more than 160 years ago, houses a political history museum. After viewing it, make your way to the home of the current seat of government, the Art Deco Louisiana State Capitol building. With a 450-foot tower and park-like grounds, it’s a must-see when you're in town.

Eat: City Pork Brasserie & Bar offers slow-roasted, smoked, and braised meats, hand and house-made pickles, and artisanal cocktails and local craft beer. The interior has an old-timey, butcher shop charm with a rustic pier and beam ceiling and chalk art signage. Get the Cuban sandwich and mac and cheese or a charcuterie plate. Wash it down with a Bloody Mary. Jolie Pear Oyster Bar has a vast array of oysters from the West and East Coasts, as well as the Gulf Coast, naturally. Get them baked or raw with toppings, such as the Bloody Mary granita or cucumber mignonette. Chargrilled versions come in a variety of styles, including a bleu cheese, New Orleans–style barbecue (with Worcestershire butter sauce, garlic, rosemary and Tabasco sauce), Italian, Asian, and Buffalo. For local fare, go to Restaurant IPO. The “Southern Tapas” menu has crawfish tasso deviled eggs with fried oysters and red onion tasso preserves, fried quail, and Abita beer barbecued shrimp. The a la carte “proteins” menu features steak, duck, pork chops, tuna, and a fish of the day; pasta lovers can get duck pappardelle, lobster and crawfish mac and cheese, and Southern-style gnocchi with crab meat.

Drink: Beer lovers rejoice and proceed directly to the taproom at the Tin Roof Brewing Co. for a few pints, a tour, and maybe to play a few rounds of cornhole. The Chimes, near the LSU campus, has a selection of more than 200 beers on tap, as well as tons of TVs and a raw oyster bar. It’s the best place in town to watch the game.

Museums: The LSU Museum of Art at the Shaw Center for the Arts ($13 for adults; $5 for youth; and children under 12 are free), features 13,000 square feet of space for touring exhibitions, as well as more than 6,500 works of photography, painting, sculpture, and decorative arts. Visit the USS Kidd, a Fletcher-class destroyer ($8 for adults; $7 for seniors; and $5 for children ages 5 to 12), which first launched in 1943 and is moored in the Mississippi River in downtown Baton Rouge. Groups of at least 20 can stay on the ship overnight.

Stay: One of Louisiana’s upscale casinos is located a few minutes from downtown. With a river lodge theme, the L’Auberge Casino & Hotel ($129-$449) has spacious, apartment-like suites, a rooftop pool overlooking the Mississippi River, and several onsite lounges, restaurants, and bars. Butler service, private cabanas at the pool, concerts, and in-room spa treatments can all be arranged by the knowledgeable staff.

Getting There: Fly into the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport, which is serviced by American Airlines, United, and Delta. Or, you can make a day trip from New Orleans, which is about an hour-and-a-half drive away. From Jackson, Mississippi, it's about a three-hour drive.

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