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Baton Rouge: A roaring good time

Courtesy Visit Baton RougeEverything in Baton Rouge makes an impact. From the city’s legendary political history to its burgeoning arts scene and one-of-a-kind cuisine, every experience in this city is sure to be a memorable one.

Halfway between New Orleans and Lafayette, Baton Rouge sits at the crossroads of Louisiana’s Cajun and Creole cultures. It plays an important role in the state, as both the capital and the home of its flagship higher-education institution, Louisiana State University (LSU). Around town, elements of history, politics, art and faith blend like the ingredients of a great gumbo.

On a tour of Baton Rouge, group leaders can count on finding ways to please all of the travel personalities in their flocks. Historical encounters, epicurean adventures and opportunities to celebrate with the locals make this riverfront city a memorable destination.

Louisiana Legacies
As the capital of Louisiana, Baton Rouge is uniquely positioned to teach visitors about the state’s storied history, including some of its most famous and infamous characters.
Start from the beginning at LSU’s Rural Life museum, an indoor-outdoor facility that depicts early life in Louisiana.

“That’s really great for groups to see because it represents what 95 percent of Louisianans lived like in the plantation era,” said Katie Guasco, director of communications at Visit Baton Rouge. “You’ll see different cottages and walk through slave cabins that they have on property there. You can have group demonstrations like syrupmaking or soapmaking as well.”

Next, head downtown to learn about Louisiana’s legendary political history. The Old State Capitol, a Gothic-style building that resembles a castle, has exhibits that describe the state’s controversial political past. Groups can also tour the new state Capitol that was built during the Depression-era administration of Gov. Huey Long, one of the state’s most fascinating and polarizing political figures.

“Huey Long was both loved and hated,” Guasco said. “The Old State Capitol has a wonderful exhibit that goes over that. It talks about the wonderful things that he did for our area and the ways that he went about things that weren’t popular with some people.”

Long was so polarizing, in fact, that he was assassinated inside the current state Capitol that he helped construct. Tours of the building stop in the corridor where the action went down, and visitors can still see bullet holes in the marble walls.

Culinary Experiences

Visitors who love to experience new foods will find plenty to excite them in Baton Rouge. Because of the city’s location, it enjoys a great blend of Cajun and Creole flavors.

“We get a real fusion of Cajun and Creole foods here, since we’re about an hour away from both Lafayette and New Orleans,” Guasco said. “We’ve got over 400 restaurants that offer you a lot of local flavor, and many of them serve fresh Louisiana seafood.”

For a group culinary experience, begin at Tony’s Seafood Market, said to be the largest seafood market in the South. Visitors learn about how seafood is harvested locally, and workers introduce them to the wide variety of fish available in the area. Groups can shop for some goods to take home and can experience local specialties like boudin balls: sausages stuffed with rice and seafood that have been rolled into balls and deep fried.

For a more hands-on experience, book a session at Baton Rouge’s new Viking Cooking School.

“The Viking Cooking School overlooks the Mississippi River, and it’s the only Viking school in the country that is outdoors,” Guasco said. “Groups of all ages can come in and soak up that local atmosphere and learn how to make local food.”

Another culinary attraction, Red Stick Farmers Market, has been growing in popularity with tourists recently. Visitors come to the downtown market on Saturdays to sample local produce and fresh meat and to enjoy the live music that accompanies the event.

An Arts Explosion

Fine arts are on the rise in Baton Rouge, finding outlets both temporary and permanent. On the first Saturday of every month, the downtown farmers market is joined by an arts market, which is sponsored by the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge and its member artists and galleries.

To find more immersive arts experiences, take your group to the Shaw Center for the Arts.

“It houses the LSU Museum of Art, the Manship Theatre and a fantastic sushi restaurant that overlooks the Mississippi River,” Guasco said. “The LSU Museum of Art presents historical and contemporary exhibits from its permanent collection, and the Manship Theatre is a state-of-the-art venue with around 300 seats.”

There’s more art to be discovered at the Louisiana Arts and Science Museum. That institution showcases fine arts in a series of rotating exhibits throughout the year; there is also a planetarium.

For a one-of-a-kind Louisiana art experience, groups can visit the studios of Henry Neubig, a Louisiana mud painter.

“He uses five different colors of mud from around Louisiana as his medium,” Guasco said. “He paints with that and offers free demonstrations for groups. It’s so interesting to see how he takes something like dirt and makes it into a work of art.”

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.