Surreal misty marshes framed by stately old oaks mark the edge of solid land in Louisiana's southwest corner. Here, where state-side turns to Gulf of Mexico waters, you'll find wildlife, wild scenery and bird-watchers glued to binoculars. Not quite a world away, Lake Charles, with a population growing increasingly close to 80,000, serves as a base for exploring the more remote parts of this region and a worthy cultural destination in its own right. Located on the east-west route linking the cities of New Orleans, Lafayette, and Baton Rouge to Houston, Texas, the city settles down easily along the banks of, no surprise here, Lake Charles.
More unexpected are the palm trees casting playful shadows on white sand beaches, a popular sandy playground for locals and travel-weary visitors in summer. When the weather warms up, boaters, windsurfers, swimmers and other sorts of watery activity ensure life offshore is never dull either.
Take a cultural break from the sun with a tour around pretty Victorian-style buildings in the Charpentier Historic District, wander the boardwalk and pose for a picture with one of creative gator sculptures livening up the city. For more things art-related, put a stop at the Zigler Museum in nearby Jennings high on your list, but find also a further range of exhibits in this small town exploring everything from telephones to old grocery stores.
Outdoors enthusiasts can enjoy an afternoon of canoeing along the Calcasieu River; a recreational canoe trail is in the works, but in the meantime there are plenty of places to dip paddles in and glide. For less strenuous introduction to the surrounding region, take a scenic drive along the Creole Nature Trail, a stretch of road meandering 180 miles through bayous and marshlands with views out over the Gulf of Mexico. Keep an eye out for gators!
Lake Charles is 142 miles east of Houston, Texas, and 205 miles from New Orleans. Jennings is 37 miles to the east along I-10.