As New Year festivities come to a close across the nation, Louisiana keeps right on celebrating. January rings in the state’s storied Carnival season, which means parades, seasonal foods, and balls, all leading up to Mardi Gras day. This giant party might inspire visions of floats in a Bourbon Street parade, or catching colorful beads — and these are indeed iconic Mardi Gras celebrations — but there’s much more to see and do throughout the state of Louisiana during this season. There’s something for every type of traveler here, whether you’re interested in history, fashion, food, or a fun weekend with your family. Here are some ideas as you laissez les bon temps rouler (let the good times roll).
For Social Butterflies: New Orleans — the poster child of Louisiana’s Mardi Gras celebrations — is the place to go if you like your parties endless and rollicking, and if you love making new friends. If this is you, head straight to the parade thrown by The Krewe of Bosom Buddies, whose prized “throw” — a gift or trinket tossed from a parade float — is a decorated brassiere. This kicks off in the French Quarter on February 9. For lots more parade action, head to the Uptown and Mid-City neighborhoods February 8-13. There are up to eight parades per day in different parts of town, so get ready to buy (and receive) drinks, shake hands, take selfies and introduce yourself to locals and visitors who you’ll be returning to visit next year.
For Families: The Alexandria-Pineville area, about two hours northwest of Baton Rouge by car, hosts a carnival season that’s great for the whole family. Start at the Hixson Classic Cars and College Cheerleaders Parade on February 9. The next day, enjoy Mardi Gras at the Alexandria Zoo, where you can eat king cake, hear live music, and watch a kid-friendly parade. Alexandria’s Mardi Gras Association also hosts an annual children’s parade downtown. Look for the alcohol- and tobacco-free zone at the corner of Masonic Drive and Texas Avenue from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on February 11. If mom and dad need a kid-free night out, they can enjoy the Finale Royale ball at the Rapides Parish Coliseum. Tickets are $15 for the general public. To get away from the revelry for a little quiet time, take the kids on a hiking adventure in the Wild Azalea Trail. There are outdoor spaces for fishing, picnicking, birding, and horseback riding.
For Multi-Generational Groups: The town of Houma throws a Mardi Gras celebration that’s steeped in traditional Acadian history, and feels right for the youngest and oldest members of your family. Even MawMaw and PawPaw -- as many Cajun children call their grandparents -- will love the festivities here. From the Friday before Fat Tuesday through February 13, you can attend a walloping 13 parades, some of which will feature a special throw -- coveted glass beads that are a throwback to the Czech-made beads of the 1800s. The best part? Lodging and food here are blissfully economical, so traveling with a bunch doesn’t cost a fortune. Look for Mardi Gras hotel rates around or even less than $100 per night.
For History Buffs: The Cajun Courirs de Mardi Gras are an otherworldly experience. This medieval French tradition is celebrated throughout the Acadiana region in Landry, Jefferson Davis, and Allen parishes. A courir involves costumed and masked participants, on horseback or on foot, singing and dancing to collect ingredients for a gumbo feast. There’s also a rousing chicken chase. For more Mardi Gras history — if you’re willing to take a break from the actual festivities — check out Mardi Gras World in New Orleans, the Mardi Gras exhibit at the Slidell Museum, or the Mardi Gras Museum in Bossier City. You’ll find costumes, photos of past celebrations, vintage throws, floats and more.
For Fashionistas: For a fantastic girls’ getaway, head straight to Lake Charles. There’s only one place to start: The Imperial Calcasieu Museum, where rooms of spangled and beaded Mardi Gras costumes from years’ past are on display. Plus, downtown Lake Charles is chock-full of charming historic buildings, casual and fine dining eateries, and casinos. With the second-largest Mardi Gras celebration in the state, you’ll find endless options for jubilation here. Look for krewes -- club-like organizations that host Mardi Gras celebrations — with balls that are open to the public. In Lake Charles, the Krewe of Illusions is one, with $40 ball tickets. You can also join the Lundi Gras Day party on February 12 — a masked ball (cocktail attire required) — for $75.
For Foodies: When not catching beads and people-watching at the parades in Baton Rouge (don’t miss the satirical and daring Krewe of Spanish Town parade on February 10), you can explore this culinary mecca at your leisure. In downtown Baton Rouge, Cocha offers seasonal cocktails, local beer, an extensive wine list and an elegant, Venezuelan take on regional fare. Sushi lovers should proceed directly to Tsunami. The rooftop bar is swanky and playful with views of the storied Mississippi River, and the sushi is expertly crafted. On February 10, head to the free Mardi Gras festival, where you’ll find food, live music, and activities. For $50, you can buy a VIP ticket that includes unlimited eats.
For Small-Town Guys and Gals: The joie de vivre of Cajun culture is contagious and you will catch it during the Mardi Gras celebrations in Bayou Lafourche. Beginning with the Krewe of Athena in Golden Meadows on February 9 and continuing through Krewe of Maasai in Thibodaux on Fat Tuesday, you’ll get all of the fun with none of the big-city fuss. Visit Boudreaux’s Restaurant, which is known for seafood and po’boys, or for more sophisticated fare, head to Cinclare and grab a craft cocktail with your veal chop, potato cake, Brussels sprouts, and garlic beurre blanc.
For the Well-Heeled Traveler: If you appreciate the finer things in life, there’s plenty for you in Louisiana during Mardi Gras. In New Orleans, when you’re not out celebrating, make the opulent Roosevelt Hotel, an historic Waldorf Astoria Hotel, your home base. Enjoy a massage in the spa, lounge poolside on the rooftop, and have an eponymous cocktail in the famous Sazarac Bar. For a quieter escape, plantation country has plush bed-and-breakfasts for miles. Located between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Houmas House features 38 acres of gardens and world class dining in circa-1800s splendor. You can stay here while you enjoy the low-key Mardi Gras festivities in Houma, a little more than an hour away. Myrtles Plantation in St. Francisville was built in the 1700s and is known as one of America’s most haunted homes. Breakfast, a daily mystery tour, and the beautiful grounds will keep you relaxed, entertained, and wanting for nothing. Plan a jaunt into downtown St. Francisville to tour additional plantations, shop and dine, or enjoy all the Mardi Gras fun in Baton Rouge, just 40 minutes south. Also 40 minutes from Baton Rouge, the circa-1850s Nottoway Plantation and Resort is one of the South's largest existing antebellum mansions. Gardens, fountains, verandas, fine dining, tennis courts, and swimming pools await in this deluxe getaway.
For Movers and Shakers: If you like your Mardi Gras with all the amenities — and the easygoing atmosphere — of a big resort, Shreveport is your city. By day, take in shopping, a film at the Robinson Film Center, or explore the galleries at the R.W. Norton Gallery. By night, roll the dice in Shreveport or Bossier at one of the six riverboat casinos, as well as horse racing at Harrah’s Louisiana Downs. Enjoy stuffed and busted shrimp at the famous Herby K’s or the exquisite Mexican soul food at Ki’ Mexico. On February 10, the popular Krewe of Highland Parade kicks tosses grilled hot dogs, ramen, and other fun and funky throws to parade goers. Get the full parade schedule and learn about the krewes here, then book your stay at the elegant Remington Hotel and Spa.