Unapologetically Cajun. Those two words sum up what it’s like to experience Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou. The people there know who they are, they know where they come from and they are proud of it… not in an arrogant way, but in a way that exudes authenticity. Life revolving around the Bayou has not changed in many ways and yet the area continues to grow and evolves as more people become interested in becoming part of its story in the type of community that really knows its neighbors.
So how can you experience “Unapologetically Cajun?”
I’m glad you asked.
Let’s start in Thibodaux, Louisiana, located a little over an hour from New Orleans to uncover another layer of insight into Cajun culture.
Take a Scenic drive along Louisiana Highway 1
Travel alongside the Bayou as it shifts and widens and the landscape transforms around it as you move along Hwy1 from Thibodaux down to Leeville. During the scenic drive, you will see many shrimp boats and industrial boats, a handful of local businesses, a small cemetery, and several lock and dam areas. If you find something that catches your eye, I suggest pulling over for a moment to take it in. That’s how I discovered the park bench pictured above. (I actually had to turn around because I originally passed it.) You really have to keep your eyes alert or you might miss something.
The scenic drive is both interesting and can almost take you off guard as the drive transforms. It was almost eerie as I pulled over in awe of drastic shift in landscape past Golden Meadow surrounded by water and wetlands that almost reached the road.
As you enter into Leeville there is no need to go on the toll bridge unless you want to reach the Gulf. If you continue straight onto the gravel road you will end up at the Leeville Boat Launch and Pier. The Pier is a great spot for fishing and also for dolphin sightings. The area is a popular spot for fishing camps for those who want to spend more time around the outdoors.
Learn the History of Local Live Oaks
If you have extra time and a person who can navigate by your side, you might want to deviate a bit and check out the Lafourche Live Oak Tour. I would recommend doing a little prep work before you start the tour to make the most out of your experience.
Start by checking out the Lafourche Live Oak Tour homepage map. Click on tour sign to find out the location and backstory of the tree and the property. There are 40 sites on the tour which is why you will want to prioritize the stories of the oaks that speak to you. Otherwise, go the spontaneous route and have your navigator find ones along your route as you are approaching the area. There are more than 400 oaks registered with the Live Oak Society as notable oaks which really adds to the scenery in Lafourche Parish. You don’t have to start in any particular order on the tour but many of the live oaks on the tour are on private property so you might have to look at some from a distance.
Step into History
Speaking of live oaks, there are eight oaks on the grounds of the E.D. White Historic Site that are registered with the Live Oak Society. There is even a live oak on the property that is 450 years old! The National Historic Landmark was the previous home of former Louisiana State Governor, Edward Douglas White and his son Edward Douglass White who later became a U.S.Supreme Court Justice.
The Creole Plantation architecture dates back to 1825 with original cypress floors. One of my favorite parts of the tour was most likely left by one of the children who lived in the home. Our tour guide Herbert, who can also speak Cajun French, pointed out a carving on the upstairs bedroom floor that looked a lot like a bicycle. (Our theory is that it was definitely the boys’ room)
I also found a Cincinnati connection as I was looking at the photos on the wall. Edward Douglass White was nominated by Cincinnati native, William Howard Taft, as the 9th Chief Justice of the United States. There are exhibits and artifacts located throughout the home that help you understand more about the Bayou Lafourche area over the years touching on the Chitimacha Indians, slavery, sugar cane plantations, Acadian settlers and even more about the lives of the White family.
Take a Ride in a “Cajun Limo”
A swamp tour with Airboat Tours by Arthur Matherne in an incredible adventure that gives you access to wildlife and areas of the swamp with ease. You are more likely to see alligators from February to November and bald eagles from September- May. There are a variety of bird species in the area as well. During our tour, an alligator moved from the surface of the water just as we were approaching. We waited for a bit in hopes of another sighting but the alligator never resurfaced. We did see a deer in the marsh area which was definitely an unusual site given the location.
Did you know that airboats can even go on land??!!!
Well, they can and I have the picture and footage to prove it!
If you take a tour during the cooler months it’s referred to as a “Cajun Sleigh Ride.” Our tour guide, Greg was a wealth of information and has been giving tours for over 15 years. Along the way we saw a variety of birds and stopped to learn more about Spanish Moss affectionately called “Cajun toilet paper” that was used as surgical thread and that the sex of an alligator is determined by the temperature of the egg. Males are warmer temperatures and females are colder…followed by a few jokes. He made our experience FUN and educational for all ages!
The Airboat tours are very popular and I would recommend making your reservations in advance.
Learn More About Cajun Culture
The Acadian Wetlands Cultural Center shares more about Acadians (Cajuns) with exhibits that talk about their music, homes, clothing, religion and the best part, their food. The center is free to visit and only charges for special events. There are a few exhibits geared towards younger children and kids can also earn a badge with the Junior Ranger program. The Center is part of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. The boardwalk on the back of the property is also a wonderful spot for watching wildlife along the Bayou.
The center also hosts ongoing cultural events. (Check website to confirm dates and times prior to attending)
Cajun Music Jam – Mondays from 4-5:15 where you can observe or bring an instrument and join other local musicians.
Free Walking Tour of Historic Thibodaux – Tuesday-Thursdays at 2pm Join a ranger for a historic tour of downtown
Boat Tours of Bayou Lafourche– (These are very popular and advance reservations are required)
Tours visit the historic Boat Tours of Bayou Lafourche on Mondays and Fridays, 10:00 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and include lunch in the formal dining room and a guided tour of house and grounds or the Boat Tours of Bayou Lafourche, the birthplace of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Edward Douglas White, on Wednesdays 10:00 a.m.-noon.
Play Centered Learning
The Bayou Country Children’s Museum does a fantastic job of touching on all of the unique aspects of Cajun Culture in the area through active play. The 35 exhibits at the museum are targeted toward ages 1 – 10 years old with activities that can involve the whole family. Younger children will especially love toddler town and the bubble area.
Kids of all ages can climb into the seat of a real sugarcane harvester that shows the perspective of the field from the farmer’s point of view, ride a Mardi Gras float and throw beads, fish from the top of a Gulf oil rig, play inside a shrimp boat, create music, step inside a giant bubble, and shop for Cajun ingredients at a pretend local grocery store.
A local deputy from Lafourche Parish also gives presentations to children in the exhibit called Safetyville that focuses on fire and weather safety.
At Donner-Peltier Distillery you can tour and then taste spirits that are locally sourced. Their rum is made from local sugarcane and you can literally see some of the sugarcane fields that they use from their property and their vodka and gin are from local rice, and whiskey.
The tour gives you more insight into how each product is made from start to finish but of course, the best part is always the tasting! Our tour guide Danielle did a great job of not only sharing the passion behind the product but also the passion behind the people involved. The company is very involved in the community and even has bragging rights as the 1st legally made aged whiskey since Prohibition.
They have also involved Cajun culture into their branding with their Rum product that incorporates the legend of the Rougaroux.
“The Rougaroux legend has been told in Louisiana for many generations. A Rougaroux is often described as a creature similar to a werewolf. He prowls the swamps during a full moon. If cursed by the Rougaroux, legend says the spell will last for 101 days. Their Sugarshine Rum is 101 proof, representing the 101 days of the Rougaroux curse. This rum is a full-bodied rum with the rich, robust flavor of cane. The Rougaroux is said to roam the swamps and cane fields of Louisiana during a full moon. Their Full Moon Dark Rum is 80 proof and captures the spirit and mystery of Southern Louisiana with its undertones of vanilla, caramel, and spices. A trick for keeping the Rougaroux away is to place 13 small objects (such as pennies) in the doorway of a home. It is said that the Rougaroux can only count to 12 and will be forced to start over each time he reaches this number. Inspired by the traditional pecan praline, 13 Pennies Rum is distilled from Louisiana sugarcane, naturally-flavored with vanilla, pecan, and sweetened with small batch local cane syrup.”
Now that you know about the legend, be on the lookout for the pennies on their doorstep.
Discover Cajun Cuisine
One of the best things about visiting the area is definitely the food! From fine dining to casual, the food in the Cajun Bayou region is off the charts.
You can’t visit the Cajun Bayou without experiencing a Po Boy sandwich and Bubba’s II does not disappoint. I opted for the Shrimp Po Boy served with lettuce, tomato, mayo, and pickle on slightly toasted bread. I also tried their seafood gumbo which is the best I’ve tried to date.
Known for their catfish, amazing bread pudding and their Bloody Mary’s so, of course, I had to try all of them! I had honestly never tried a Bloody Mary before because I’m not a big fan of tomato juice which is a pretty critical ingredient. I did have to try it in the name of research. I did like the kick from the Tabasco sauce and I think that anyone who enjoys Bloody Marys definitely will want to try one here.
Another stop in Downtown Thibodaux that is one of Thibodaux’s fine-dining restaurants perfect for a date night or evening with friends that blends a fusion of Creole and Italian flavors with memorable results that will have you craving your meal weeks after you ate it.
I tried the Seafood Napoleon thanks to the recommendation of our server Tori. The dish has layers of fried eggplant medallions and seafood mornay, topped with sauteed shrimp, crabmeat, and oysters, then draped with two sauces, herbal infused cream, and homemade tomato sauce. I could not decide which side that I preferred more between the white or red sauce which led to many more flavorful bites! We did not have any room for dessert but I have no doubt that their desserts are amazing too!
You can enjoy Sunday brunch while listening to jazz at Flanagan’s. I opted for the Chicken & Waffles made with Hand battered chicken breast topped with bacon-tomato marmalade served with a buttermilk waffle topped with grilled peaches and honey butter. That was the first time that I tried grilled peaches on a chicken & waffle along with cane syrup.
If you need a fast meal in between adventures you might want to check out Off the Hook. This fast casual restaurant features Cajun flavors and dishes from Southern Louisiana prides itself on using fresh ingredients and products. I tried the Catfish Louisianne made with lettuce, tomato, mayo, fried catfish, crawfish etouffee.
Where to Stay
During my visit, I stayed at the Hampton Inn in Thibodaux. The location was central to everywhere I needed to be with friendly staff and a spacious room.
You are still close to NOLA
New Orleans is only about an hour away which makes the Cajun Bayou area a perfect base for affordable lodging, meals, and activities. I decided to check out Frenchmen Street one evening during my visit, thanks to a recommendation by a NOLA local. I spent a few hours exploring the incredible art and even found a print to take home. I also listened to talented musicians on the street and also watched INCREDIBLE artists inside several local jazz clubs. The reasonable drive from my hotel made it easy to spend a few hours in the city and still be back that night for a great night’s sleep.
After you experience Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou for yourself, you’ll understand why experiencing “Unapologetically Cajun” culture gives you another perspective and really enhances your visit to Louisiana even more.
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