Tonight, my home state of Louisiana is hosting the Miss USA competition, thanks in part to a motion picture tax credit that has made the Pelican State the #1 place to film in the U.S. While Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on our home, it also brought a renewed interest for the land of Mardi Gras, those boys in black and gold, alligators, winding oak-lined roads, tasty food, plantation homes and a people whose joie de vivre is the envy of the world.
As a result, Louisiana’s tourism industry has enjoyed record-breaking growth. Last year alone, 27.3 million people — nearly seven times the state’s population — visited La Louisiane. Whether for work or for fun, there are a lot of reasons to visit.
Here are my top 25 ways to “pass a good time” in Louisiana:
1. Louisianans love to get together over food, music, drinks, sports — anything, really. That’s why the state has more than 400 festivals – from the music mecca of Jazz Fest to the sweet potato favorite, the Yambilee. There’s something for everybody! Check out the schedule of year-round festivals where you can “laissez les bons temps rouler!”
2. Visit the South’s largest remaining antebellum mansion, Nottoway Plantation, located across the river from Baton Rouge.
3. Try a bowl of the award-winning gumbo at Prejean’s in Lafayette, while an authentic Cajun band serenades you with some local tunes.
4. General Dwight D. Eisenhower declared that the Higgins boat, manufactured in New Orleans, won World War II for the Allied Forces in its critical role at Normandy. Check out the National World War II Museum in New Orleans to learn more.
5. Go deep sea fishing off the coast and catch some tasty Gulf seafood of your own!
6. Sports are serious business in Louisiana. From Shaquille O’Neal to Terry Bradshaw to Karl Malone, America’s sports heritage is uniquely tied to Louisiana. Visit the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in Natchitoches to see some fantastic memorabilia.
7. Take the elevator to the top of the country’s tallest state capitol for a gorgeous view of Baton Rouge.
8. Visit the bearded boys at Duck Commander in West Monroe. The Robertson clan also has some hometown recommendations to share with folks who stop by.
9. If you’re a gambler, try your luck at one of Louisiana’s gazillion casinos. There’s L’Auberge du Lac in Lake Charles, Harrah’s in New Orleans and Coushatta Casino Resort in Kinder, for starters.
10. Abita has quickly become one of America’s most popular brewers. Take a tour of their facilities in Abita Springs and enjoy some brews, too!
11. Speaking of tours, have you ever wanted to see an alligator up-close-and-personal? There are lots of great swamp tours where you’ll not only get to know some fascinating wildlife, but also learn about a resilient culture that has weathered it all.
12. Ever heard of Mardi Gras? Didn’t think so.
13. Ever heard Tabasco? Didn’t think so.
14. Attend an LSU football game with more than 100,000 rabid fans (and 200,000 fellow tailgaters).
15. Visit the Acadian Village in Lafayette to learn about the incredible history of the Cajun people. Not to be confused with the Creoles of New Orleans, the Cajuns have endured it all — most notably a horrific diaspora, “le grand derangement” — with the tenacity, creativity and optimism that for generations have preserved this extraordinary culture.
16. Nestled in the rolling hills of West Feliciana Parish, St. Francisville is home to some of the cutest antique and specialty shops in Louisiana. It really is “Main Street USA” with beaucoup Southern charm.
17. Visit the Cabildo, Louisiana’s state museum, in New Orleans’ picturesque Jackson Square. It houses the most complete collection of artifacts and art in the entire state.
18. If it’s in season, try crawfish. Just make sure you learn how to eat them, first!
19. Just outside of Alexandria, Ferriday is home to the Delta Music Museum. Here, you can explore Louisiana’s undeniable contributions to modern music — from rock’n’roll to the blues.
20. Hit the links on the Audubon Golf Trail. It features 12 courses by renown designers Hal Sutton, David Toms and Pete Dye.
21. If you’re in Louisiana around Christmas, be sure to check out the phenomenal lights display in Natchitoches. It’s truly beautiful.
22. Visit the city of Shreveport and take a cruise down the Red River.
23. The Children’s Museum of Acadiana is a fun, interactive way to teach kids about everything from life skills to science.
24. Discover Louisiana’s, well, lively political history at the Old State Capitol and the Old Governor’s Mansion in Baton Rouge.
25. Ok, you are allowed to have too much to drink in New Orleans. Just keep it under control when visiting the French Quarter. Who am I kidding?
It’s hard to pick just 25 reasons to visit Louisiana, and if you find yourself there, you’ll likely come up with your own. For more information, visit the Louisiana Office of Tourism, where you’ll learn how you can “pick your passion” in a state with plenty of it to go around.