Looking for all the excitement and glamour of Las Vegas, but don't want the hassle of flying all the way out to Nevada? There's a much, much closer option: Lake Charles, Louisiana.
Only a short, two-hour drive from Houston, Lake Charles boasts high-end casinos, world-class spas and golf courses, fine dining, and big-name concerts, all with an added flair that's unique to Southwest Louisiana.
There's so much to do that it can sometimes even feel a bit overwhelming, especially for first-time visitors. What should you be sure not to miss on a weekend trip? Let us break it down for you.
Cajun cuisine is a must in Louisiana, and we wouldn't judge you one bit if you picked up a po' boy the second you got to town. For the best around, order the Darrell's Special at Darrell's. It piles ham, turkey, and roast beef onto a crunchy French loaf, then drowns it all in roast beef gravy. Satisfy your seafood craving with an extra-large seafood platter at Steamboat Bill's on the Lake, and make sure to sample the boudin and cracklins' along the Southwest Louisiana Boudin Trail.
Rise early and hit the links. One excellent choice (no membership required) is The Country Club at Golden Nugget, an 18-hole, par 72 golf course designed by the award-winning Todd Eckenrode and Origins Golf Design. Located right on the bayou, the course has Miniverde greens and Celebration tees, fairways, and roughs, along with 15-plus acres of waste bunkers. The outer grass is planted with numerous ornamentals, giving it a natural, native look. The contrast of the bayou, bunkers, and greens makes this a must play-for visitors of all levels.
The unique Contraband Bayou Golf Club at L'Auberge Casino Resort is a public 7,077-yard, par 71 championship, Tom Fazio-designed course. Golfers of all skill levels are challenged by the natural vegetation that lines eight lakes. If you're not up for a full round, the driving range gives you a spot to stretch out your swing. Cool bonus: An interactive touchscreen GPS is available in every cart.
After your game (or if you're not the sporting type), head to Crying Eagle Brewing Co. It's one of the newest additions to the Louisiana Brewery Trail, and offers tours and a tasting room. Be sure to get a sample or a full pint of the Louisiana Lager, a crisp rice lager that pairs perfectly with Cajun seasoning.
While you're sampling the local libations, make sure Yellowfin Vodka and Bayou Rum are on the list. Both are distilled using 100-percent Louisiana sugarcane, and are 100 percent delicious. Take a tour to learn how these craft spirits are made, and marvel at the homegrown, from-the-ground-up stories shared by both these distilleries.
Need some food after all that booze? Blue Dog Cafe's popular Zydeco lunch celebrates the local South Louisiana musical tradition from 11 am-2 pm (the main dining room is still open and serving all day, with no cover). Chow down on charbroiled Gulf oysters, cast-iron cornbread, and pecan-smoked catfish while listening to live musicians playing this Louisiana folk-music tradition, which has a fast tempo beat, French and English lyrics, and focuses on the accordion and wash-board.
Build in a little time for relaxation at Scarborough's Salon & Day Spa, which offers everything from stress-relieving massages to an entire day built around pampering.
Both of the spas at Golden Nugget and L'Auberge offer a full slate of services designed to remind you that you're truly on vacation, from steam rooms and saunas to beauty and body treatments.
1740 Barbier at L'Auberge Casino Resort is the essential stop for every gentleman. Their services go a cut above your ordinary barber shop, with premium Scotch or bourbon offered with every grooming and the option to enjoy a cigar in the Barbier Cigar & Whiskey Lounge. Even if you can only stop in for a little while, take a break from the day with a shoe shine and save face with a professionally sculpted beard or mustache trim.
Make a reservation at Ember Grille & Wine Bar in L'Auberge Casino Resort. It's widely considered to be Louisiana's best modern steakhouse, and offers more than 240 bottles of wine from the area's most extensive cellar.
Get to Vic & Anthony's in the Golden Nugget a little early to sip on a cocktail in the lounge, then prep your belly for a menu that includes USDA Prime Midwest grain-fed beef, fresh seafood, and decadent desserts.
After dinner, head to the gaming floor at either casino. You'll find vibrant, Vegas-style gaming with poker, blackjack, roulette, craps, and slots, and any bet could be the one that instantly changes your life.
It's brunch o'clock, so get to it with Chef Lyle Broussard's offerings at Jack Daniel's Bar & Grill. Known for this Cajun and Creole flavors, the chef has been cooking with L'Auberge since its grand opening in 2005 and creates bold barbecue selections, off-the-grill entrees made with Jack Daniel's sauces and glazes, and savory specials cooked in the spirit of Broussard's authentic roots.
At the Chart House in the Golden Nugget, everything from eggs benedict to French toast to the restaurant's signature shrimp "Depeto" casserole (brown Gulf shrimp scampi, bacon grits, and mozzarella cheese custard) is on the menu from 10 am-3 pm.
Feel like a jazz brunch? From 10 am-2 pm, nod along to a live band while downing traditional favorites like bacon and eggs, omelets stuffed with delicacies from the Gulf Coast region, sweet and savory crepes, and other brunch delights at Luna Bar & Grill.
Before you head out of town, pick up one last pick-me-up with a bag (or several) of Acadian Coffee Roasters coffee. This local micro roaster offers 100-percent organic, Fair Trade organic, and Rain Forest Alliance coffees, with top-grade beans from all around the world. Find it at local farmers markets, City Market & Deli, The Bekery, or in local Lake Charles grocery stores.