Offbeat Louisiana: quirky things to do in the Bayou State
Louisiana's reputation has always been about the unusual, whether it's the craziness of Mardi Gras, the exquisite food or the greatness of its Dixieland jazz and zydeco traditions. But the state goes above and beyond in other ways too: from macabre museums to totally off-the-wall exhibits, from spooky boutiques to foods that you won't find elsewhere, Louisiana has the upper hand when it comes to all things strange.
Voodoo and vampires
Only in New Orleans could the French Quarter's Historic Voodoo Museum be something that's almost normal. The museum is dedicated to the dark arts and black magic, and the myths and mysteries surrounding one of America's least known and most-feared religions. This small yet fascinating museum delves into voodoo history, including Marie Leveau, the city's grand ‘Voodoo Queen’, who is arguably the most famous voodoo practitioner to this day. The museum is full of art, relics and photos that bring voodoo to life. One room shows a voodoo offering, instructing viewers to write a note and offer something on their own. The truly inspired can have readings done; those less inclined may want to simply purchase a memorable souvenir.
If vampires are more your thing, stop into the Boutique Du Vampyre. You’ll find an excellent book selection, spells and potions, and (if you're lucky) get the skinny on a nearby (and secret!) vampire-themed speakeasy. Those who can't take a jaunt over to the French Quarter can rest easy, as they have mail-order vampire games and even vampire adventure travel opportunities through their website.
Built in 1796, Myrtles Plantation in St Francisville is famous for a number of paranormal happenings (and at least one documented murder). Some of the tales are a bit far-fetched, but others are curiously intriguing. In the case of the ‘slave girl photo’, a human form is seen standing next to a wall… yet the wall's slats are visible through her. There’s also the story of the spirit seen staring out a window as a group photo was taken. If that sounds ‘romantic’, you can spend a night here as Myrtles Plantation is now a bed and breakfast, or you can just take an evening mystery tour in hopes of seeing a specter or two. Whether you see something paranormal or just normal, it's sure to be a memorable visit.
A quirky stop for couples who dig the outlaw vibe is the Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Museum in Gibsland. It occupies the former Ma Canfield’s Cafe, the last place ever visited by the notorious outlaws before they met their bloody fate (according to accounts, Bonnie died holding her half-eaten sandwich). Highlights include gruesome photos of the pair riddled with bullets, one of Clyde's shotguns, Bonnie's red hat, and some glass from the death car windshield. Eight miles down the road is their exact death site, marked by a small stone monument. Over the years, it has been covered with graffiti, gouged with axes and blasted with gunfire to the point where its inscription is barely legible.
If you look out of your car window on a drive through Louisiana, you just might think you’re hallucinating. From giant crawfish, root beer mugs, catfish, Ronald Reagan statues, fake pigs, safety pins, giant white shrimping boots in Houma, you name it: Louisiana has it on display. Most notable is a pair of giant frogs perched on two brick columns just north of Rodessa. The twin frogs are named Alabama and Georgia, and they commemorate a unique part of Louisiana's past: Rodessa was once named ‘Frog Level’ for the noisy level of the frogs croaking nearby.
Perhaps the most random roadside stop is the totally bizarre and yet somehow perfectly ‘offbeat’ Abita Mystery House in Abita Springs. This museum is home to Buford the Bassigator, the Aliens vs. Airstream ‘crash site’, a hose collection, the House of Shards and lots of remarkably random exhibits and displays that are as equally peculiar as they are compelling. But back to Buford: you really can't claim to have seen strange until you’ve laid eyes on the giant half-alligator, half-fish cement creation and (of course!) taken a selfie with it. And if the Bassigator isn't wacky enough for you, wander through until you find Darrel the Dogigator, a half-alligator, half-dog statue ‘guarding’ the museum’s antique barbed wire collection.
Marvel at the Shrimp and Alligator Cheesecake, a staple at one of NOLA's most creative kitchens, Jacque Imo's. Yes, you read that right: shrimp, alligator and cheesecake; three words one wouldn’t normally see in the same sentence, let alone in the same entrée. Yet there they are, and Jacque Imo's makes it work.
After dinner, have a Pork Belly Old Fashioned nightcap, one of Wayfare restaurant's signature drinks. If pork belly doesn't seem like a natural in your glass of bourbon, think again: the smooth and smoky flavors pair perfectly with the hints of caramel in the liquor, making for a lovely, unique and offbeat cocktail you won't forget. Even better, come in the early afternoon when their signature cocktails are half price for happy hour.
Of course everyone knows Mardi Gras, the grand finale of the Carnival season when Louisiana celebrates like nowhere else on Earth. But March also sees Super Sunday, which brings groups of Mardi Gras Indians out into the streets in all their feathered, drumming glory.
It doesn’t end there: the debauchery continues into the depths of summer. Every July, New Orleanians like to recreate Spain's running of the bulls (sort of). Thousands dress in white and wear red scarves, proceed to get rip-roaring drunk, and then run through the streets chased by 'bulls'... roller derby girls with horned helmets brandishing plastic baseball bats. This is a real thing, and it is amazing. The city also sees red every August when revelers don a dress for the Red Dress Run, a 3- to 4-mile charity run with one rule: wear a red dress. Open to both men and women, there’s lots of crimson cross-dressing afoot.
Come fall, think about moseying over to Abeville for the Giant Omelet Festival, held in early November each year. Over 5000 eggs are sacrificed to the scrambling gods (aka, a twelve-foot wide skillet), with other festivities like dancing, arts, and crafts. Juniors take note: there's a four-foot wide skillet for you as well.
Lonely Planet has produced this article and video for Louisiana Office of Tourism. All editorial views are those of Lonely Planet alone and reflect our policy of editorial independence and impartiality.
Updated June 2019.