The first time I visited Shreveport, it rained for 72 hours straight. We’re talking torrential downpours.
Meh. Meh. And meh. Repeat.
The only time I ventured out of the hotel and into the never-ending monsoon was for a few client meetings. All truth be told, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
So, imagine my surprise when the Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau reached out and invited me to write about their fair city—and during a raucous Mardi Gras weekend, no less. If there was ever a time to scrub my horrific, initial visit from my memory bank, this was it. In fact, I joked with the Uber driver on the way to the hotel that I saw more of the city in that fifteen-minute ride than I did in my previous 3-day stint.
The first thing to know about Shreveport-Bossier is they affectionately refer to themselves as Louisiana’s other side. In fact, it’s their slogan, their mantra, and their calling card.
Here’s what I gleaned during my second go-around as Joe Tourist:
9) It’s a casino destination—a sort of Louisianne gambling getaway, if you will.
Because the city is near Texas and Arkansas, it’s become a perfect respite for people who want to lose big, then win big, then lose big again. I stayed at Sam’s Town, a gigantic casino megaplex right on the river. Four other behemoth Vegas-style casino hotels were nearby.
Because of its close proximity to Texas, the city has an oddly welcoming Creole-meets-cowboy uniqueness to it. If variety is the spice of life, Shreveport has it in spades—you know, once you tear yourself away from the slot machines.
8) A Musical Heritage Hub
Shreveport is a noteworthy town for music. (Pun intended.) The Shreveport Municipal Auditorium is famous for several reasons. First up, it was home to the Louisiana Hayride, a radio (and later television) country music show broadcast from the auditorium from 1948 to 1960. That show singlehandedly helped launch countless careers of some of the greatest names in American country/western music.
Hard to imagine, but it’s where an unknown 19-year-old Elvis Presley made his professional stage debut. The auditorium pays homage to him throughout the venue, including a rockin’ bronze statue of him out front. The auditorium even has a mini museum featuring all the country crooners who cut their teeth there.
7) A Movie Making Mecca
When Hurricane Katrina obliterated the New Orleans area, countless films and TV shows in production had to punt. Instead of scrapping schedules or canceling shoots, many production companies quickly moved north.
Shreveport welcomed the film community with open arms and has become a go-to place for filmmakers ever since. Why has it become so popular? As our tour guide told us, the city can easily look like Anywhereville, USA. Go twenty minutes in any direction and it can also have a swamp, rural farmland, or bayou-esque feel. In a word, Shreveport is versatile. Plus, there’s plenty of film tax credits to entice producers. Oh, and there’s now a daily direct flight from LAX to Shreveport’s teeny regional airport. How cool is that?
In addition, Louisiana has one of the most robust film festivals in the country. Appropriately named Louisiana Film Prize, it offers directors the chance to win a whopping $50,000 grand prize if their film was shot entirely in Shreveport’s bustling Caddo Parrish.
6) Fin-tastic Aquarium
The Shreveport Aquarium will be celebrating its fifth anniversary this year. The aquarium—set right on the river—offers visitors a chance to explore more than 300 species and 1,000 sea animals up close and personal. And there’s plenty of lively aquatic interaction if that’s your jam, including a chance to touch moon jellyfish and hand-feed gigantic stingrays.
Our tour guide was quick to point out the aquarium has started seeing a renaissance now that the pandemic has tapered. Good thing—as there’s a healthy amount of event space at the venue, including a new riverfront event pavilion.
5) Over-the-Top Mardi Gras Festivities
Yes, while New Orleans is the more famous of the two cities, Shreveport spares no expense when it comes to Fat Tuesday festivities. They’ve turned Mardi Gras into a two-weekend extravaganza with plenty of parades, parties, and outlandish grand balls.
I got the opportunity to attend the bananas-bonkers Krewe of Highland Ball which, unlike traditional fare, has a wild, hedonistic vibe to it. The theme this year was—from what I could ascertain—Vegas showgirl. People don’t just hurl beads at this party. They’re also apt to throw hot dogs, mini-liquor bottles, Jell-o shots, and every type of snack food imaginable. I was bonked on the head so many times by flying party shrapnel and the occasional Southern Maid glazed donut, I took it as a sign the party was a success.
Because I got a last-minute invite, I had nothing formal to wear. Faster than you can say ensemble, the SHR-CVB hooked me up with a mask and a trash jacket, a tuxedo coat with tails that had been bedazzled and bejeweled within an inch of its life. I fit in nicely, in a tacky, haphazard sort of way.
4) Razors and toasters and bread, oh my!
Speaking of parades, these double (and sometimes triple) decker floats were awash in beads. Thousands upon thousands of strands aligned the upper tiers ready to be flung with wild abandon. But I also caught my fair share of other sundry items, including frisbees, cups, a Gillette razor, and, um, a loaf of sourdough bread.
Many of the krewes in Shreveport are known for tossing anything that isn’t battened down. While beads are highly coveted, so are giant stuffed alligators, customized footballs, and decks of cards.
3) All Hail the King Cake
Fun fact: a one-inch sliver of king cake is approximately 200 calories, give or take the frosting factor. I consumed approximately 3,400 calories during a taste-testing, um, seminar.
I learned there are many nuanced ways to prepare the legendary king cake and recipes vary wildly. Some are dry, others laden with cream cheese and frosting. And one local bakery we visited had 31 different varieties available—everything from cherry almond to pralines and cream. Regardless, it’s a sugar-laden, caloric bomb—one I’m proud to say I indulged in wholeheart-attack-edly.
2) Jared Leto is the city’s hometown boy.
While Elvis got his obligatory start here, Oscar winning actor Jared Leto hails from Bossier City. While the city claims him, the same can’t necessarily be said of Leto who quipped in a 2014 interview how he ”escaped” from his hometown at an early age. He told FourTwoNine magazine: ”We escaped early on. We would go back for the summers and stay with our grandmother, though. So, the culture was always there that we returned to.”
1) It’s a haven for foodies.
There’s an abundance of fantastic food to be found throughout Shreveport. I should know. I ate all of it. During a Friday food tour, I sampled everything from poblano tacos to cornmeal waffles. Was it daunting? Yes. Did I turn anything down? No.
Highlights include several flambéed dishes from Ernest’s Orleans Restaurant, homemade lemon crinkle cookies from Whisk Dessert Bar, and a heavy-duty, flavorful crawfish boil courtesy of BeauxJax. (Oh, and there was also shrimp and grits, beignets, boudin, bananas foster, a shrimp po’boy, andouille, dirty rice, and an obscene amount of warm, glazed Southern Maid Donuts.)
Clearly, the CVB wanted to impress us Shreveport newbies with some of the region’s best eats. “Hope you wore your stretchy pants,” read the e-mail they sent us beforehand. (After arriving, I realized that was more of a mandate than a suggestion.) Bless their hearts.