Everything You Didn’t Know You Needed To Know About Lake Charles, Louisiana

When the fine folks at Visit Lake Charles called me in December about visiting their fair parish, I thought I’d won the travel writer lottery. Not only have I never been to Lake Charles (uh, that’s on me), I didn’t know the slightest thing about the city (again, my bad).

I’ve been here less than 36 hours and I’ve already been fully immersed into the area’s rich culture and even richer cuisine. It’s like being placed inside a Mardi Gras snowglobe and thoroughly shaken. That being said, it should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone that their touristy tagline is: “Lake Charles: As Much Joy As You Can Pack In.”

So, without further ado, here are some fun facts I’ve gleaned over the last day or so. Yes, they’re random. Yes, they’re mindless. And, yes, I can only mildly vouch for the validity of what you’re about to read.

You Can’t Spell Sans Without N
Boudin is a staple down here. It’s often made of pork meat, liver, rice, onions, parsley, and various seasonings. Think of it as Cajun sausage. It was invented to utilize every part of a butchered animal. Along with shrimp and grits, it’s on every menu at every restaurant down here. Hell, I think I saw it featured at Starbucks. Anyhoo, the correct pronunciation drops the “n” off the word. If you don’t call it Boo-Deah, you run the risk of being ostracized.

Here She Comes Again—But For The First Time
At age 13, Dolly Parton recorded her first single, “Puppy Love,” at the Goldband Studio on Church Street in 1959. The Lake Charles recording studio was founded in 1952 by musician Eddie Shuler. He started the Goldband label for his own band but soon took on other acts. Ultimately, his label became one of the largest producers of authentic Cajun music. Unfortunately, the studio was torn down in 2017.

No Man’s Land
Founded in the 1830s, the city is “where cowboys and pirates consorted,” our astute tour guide boasted. It got put on the map because French Louisianans came here specifically to work in the booming lumber/railroad/sulfur industries. They’d make cold, hard cash and take that money back to their respective parish.

Speaking of sulfur, there was a time in the late 1880s that the richest 50 acres in the world were found in Lake Charles. The discovery of sulfur and its importance to chemical companies made it a mecca for income and revenue.

Paging Johnny Depp
And speaking of pirates, Lake Charles is famed for Contraband Days, a twelve-day annual extravaganza held during the first two weeks of May. In a nod to the legend of piracy on the lake and Contraband Bayou, the festival begins when the pirate Jean Lafitte and his crew capture the city and force the mayor to walk the plank. With an annual attendance of more 200,000 people, it’s of the largest celebrations in Louisiana.

Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em
Ever heard of Wayne McLaren? The rugged Lake Charles native was one of the original Marlboro Men and appeared as a hunky cowboy in several TV shows, including Gunsmoke. He died in 1992 of lung cancer.

As the crow flies, the Texas border is less than 30 miles away. With its eclectic food scene and monstrous casinos, it’s become quite the weekend getaway for Texans looking for a change of scenery.

Don’t Tell PETA
Just outside of Lake Charles, you’ll find the aptly named Fur and Wildlife Festival which is touted as the oldest and coldest festival in Louisiana. It takes place in the heart of winter—specifically, the second weekend in January. And it features, among other oddities, a nutria skinning contest. (It’s basically a swamp rat. Just don’t call it a muskrat, people!) The current record holder is a woman who managed the feat in under thirty seconds.

Picasso-h, no!
When Hurricane Laura veered and slammed into Louisiana in 2020, Lake Charles residents had very little time to flee. At the time, The Historic City Hall Arts & Cultural Center—which remains home to various traveling art exhibits—had a signed Picasso lithograph in its collection. When the hurricane ripped the center’s roof clean off, the rare painting was immeasurably damaged by water.

By and large, gumbo is a beloved dish in these parts. With its one-two punch of chicken and sausage, it’s a hearty meal. However, in southwest Louisiana, you’ll often find BYOG—a.k.a. Build Your Own Gumbo. Guests are given rice on the side with their gumbo and they can add as little or as much as they want. In addition, it typically comes with a side of potato salad that many locals dump directly in to the dish. (Yes, I had to see it to believe it.)

Want to visit Lake Charles in all its glory and splendor? Two things to note: 1) Plan ahead. Visit Lake Charles’ website is a great place to get inspired. And 2) bring your fattest fat pants. It’s safe to say I’ve consumed 85,005 calories and I haven’t even been here 48 hours. You’re welcome in advance!