Lafayette Louisiana and its Cajun Roots, contributed by Susan Moore, who blogs at Solo Trips and Tips is the sixth small town expose in the series Small Town Explorer. You can find Susan’s bio and social media links at the end of this post.
The villages and towns we visit in our travels are often the hidden gems of a country or region. In this series readers are introduced to small centers around the globe from travel bloggers who have experienced the location firsthand; featuring their uniqueness, their history, what to see and do, and often where to stay and where to dine.
Previous towns featured in the series:
“Jus’ feels more like a small town,” locals commented to me on several occasions during my stay in Lafayette Louisiana. And it’s true. Lafayette is a small city with a big heart and a laid-back vibe. Laissez les bon temps rouler! as the saying goes in South Louisiana, it means “Let the good times roll”.
Lafayette is the heart of Cajun Country, in South Louisiana, where the Acadians migrated in the 1760s after being forced out of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick by the British. The music, recipes, and stories handed down over the centuries traveled with the Acadians to their new home.
Lafayette is the unofficial capital of Acadiana, the region commonly referred to as Cajun Country in South Louisiana. The Attakapas Native Americans were the earliest known inhabitants of the area around Lafayette. Then came the Europeans, with enslaved Africans, and a small population of free people of color. The economy based primarily on agriculture, and slave workers, in the early years, with the petroleum and gas industry becoming the main industry around the 1940s.
Vermilionville Historic Village is an excellent place for visitors in Lafayette to take a step back in time and learn about the Cajun, Creole, and Native Americans cultures. Artisans dressed in period costumes give demonstrations, and they were happy to chat with me and answer all my questions. There are several buildings, dating from 1765 to 1890, restored with period furniture and household goods.
I first traveled to Lafayette in 2016, staying downtown at an Airbnb apartment for the entire month of December. In 2015 I chose to live a nomadic lifestyle so that I could explore the United States and Canada while working remotely via my laptop as a bookkeeper. The gypsy life, with a steady income. Digital nomad is the term many people use to describe this lifestyle.
Arriving in a new town and knowing absolutely nobody, I tend to seek events that will allow me to mingle with local folks and learn about the town. Searching online for events in Lafayette, I discovered Stories and Songs: Archives of Cajun and Creole Folklore – House Concert with Goldman Thibodeaux and Darrell Bourque.
I was lucky to buy the last available ticket for the intimate concert held at the home of Caroline and Barry Ancelet. They had graciously opened their home to the 20 attendees and treated us to a delicious gumbo as well.
Barry Ancelet has been instrumental in preserving Cajun and Creole culture. He is Professor Emeritus at the Department of Modern Languages at University of Louisiana at Lafayette. His enthusiasm is evident in his continued involvement in studying and sharing the history of the Cajun and Creole cultures. In October I attended a presentation at the Festival Acadiens et Creoles, The Falcons and The Breauxs with Wade Falcon and Dr Barry Ancelet.
Back in December, when I mentioned to Ancelet that I had wanted to attend Lafayette’s Festival International in April he told me I should come back in October instead, for Festival Acadiens et Creoles, celebrating the crafts, music, and food of South Louisiana. My nomadic lifestyle made it all possible. I returned to enjoy another month exploring Lafayette and Cajun country from mid-October to mid-November 2017.
Again I stayed at an Airbnb house, this time with two roommates, both musicians, and I enjoyed their weekly jam sessions at the house. Friends cooked up a meal for all to enjoy. A variety of musicians showed up, Wilson Savoy of the Pine Leaf Boys played keyboard at the first Sunday jam session.
Usually I book a whole house or apartment to myself, but I thought it would be good to try something different and save some money at the same time. Although I saved on my accommodation, I used all those savings to buy food and drink instead. I think of it as money well spent!
Restaurant recommendations Lafayette
Irresistible is the word I use to describe the food in South Louisiana. Gumbo, jambalaya, etouffee, boudin, po’boy sandwiches, rice and gravy, and crawfish boils are some of the mainstays of Cajun and Creole cuisine.
Lafayette’s food scene features Cajun and Creole foods, plenty of seafood restaurants, Tex-Mex, and much more. Many places are closed on Sundays or close between lunch and dinner so check their website or call to get info on opening hours.
These are a few of my favorite restaurants in Lafayette, so far. There are many more restaurants I would like to try next time I am back in town.
Rusted Rooster – recommended by my favorite bartender at my fave hangout, Wurst Biergarten. Rusted Rooster is the place to get a breakfast biscuit with fried chicken, along with classic breakfast offerings in a casual setting at 105 St Landry Street, downtown.
Bon Temps Grill – owners Steven and Patrick O’Bryan have an extensive Cajun and Creole menu to choose from, casual setting at 1312 Verot School Road in South Lafayette.
Saint Street Inn – Farm to table restaurant with live music several nights per week. The musicians play outside so I advise making a reservation if you want to sit out on the porch to enjoy the tunes. Excellent staff, full bar, only 1 dessert on the menu and sometimes they run out, so best have a secondary option for your sweet tooth. Located at 407 Brook Avenue, a short walk from downtown.
Taco Sisters – owned by sisters Molly and Katy Richard, serving up tasty Tex-Mex cuisine in a casual outdoor setting at 407 Johnston Street, downtown.
Wurst Biergarten, my favorite hangout in Lafayette, and walkable from my Airbnb abode. Friendly staff serve up craft beers, delectable poutine and other cuisine, plus there is live music several times per week. Wurst’s “Poutine Light” reminds me of classic Montreal poutine. There are variations to suit the Southern palette, including the 3P Poutine: pulled pork poutine with pork gravy. Another twist is Boutine, a combination of poutine with boudin. Located at 537 Jefferson Street, downtown.
Staying in downtown Lafayette I could leave my car parked and enjoy walking everywhere. Plenty of restaurants, bars, art galleries, shops, along with attractions such as Acadiana Center for the Arts, Cathedral of St John the Evangelist, Alexandre Mouton House, and Lafayette Science Museum are all within walking distance downtown.
Free events in Lafayette
Free events are a nice surprise when visiting any city. Lafayette has several events, large and small, that are free to attend.
Mardi Gras! Lafayette Louisiana is home to the second largest Mardi Gras party in Louisiana. Everyone knows about New Orleans Mardi Gras, but Lafayette puts on a great party too. Mardi Gras occurs in February or March each year (always 47 days before Easter)
Festival International occurs in April at the Festival International in downtown Lafayette. This 5-day music and art festival is one of the biggest international music festivals in the United States and it is FREE to attend!
Downtown Alive is a free street party series every Friday in the spring and fall at Parc International. I attended two great concerts, Marc Broussard from Carencro Louisiana, and Flow Tribe, from New Orleans. Downtown Alive begins with the Happiest Hour at 5 PM, followed by live music from 6 to 8:30 PM. There are concession stands selling food and beer. Many visitors bring chairs to sit back and enjoy the show. I prefer to get up close to the stage and dance to the grooves. Lafayette’s Downtown Alive is a fun event for all ages event.
Art Walk occurs on the second Saturday of each month. With galleries and studios opening their doors and artists setting up booths around the downtown area, this is a fun event that is also free to attend. I enjoyed talking with the vendors and shopping for local arts and crafts at Art Walk.
Music is a big part of Cajun and Creole culture. The event pulling me back to Lafayette Louisiana, Festival Acadiens et Creoles, occurs each October at Girard Park. The vibe at this festival reminds me of what Jazz Fest in New Orleans was like, back in 1994 when I visited Louisiana for the first time. This small-scale and free event features Cajun and Creole crafts, food, and music, along with educational sessions. There are 2 main stages along with several tents set up throughout Girard Park. There is one for dancing, one for kids, etc. A fun event for all ages.
Looking for a rich cultural experience like no other? Spend a few days in Lafayette Louisiana and you will not want to leave. Laissez les bon temps rouler!
Have you been to Lafayette Louisiana? Let us know in the comments.
Susan Moore has traveled extensively both for work and pleasure. She is a traveling bookkeeper and travel blogger. Susan is the founder of the website SoloTripsAndTips.com and is currently living a modern nomad lifestyle while on a solo multi-year road trip around the USA and Canada.