Pass a Good Time in the Red Stick
Story by Lyda Kay Ferree, The Southern Lifestyles Lady. Photography courtesy of Visit Baton Rouge.
Over 300 years ago, in 1699, French explorer Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d’Iberville named Baton Rouge for the “red stick” along a Mississippi River bluff. It is from this “red stick” that Iberville christened Baton Rouge “le Baton Rouge.” In 1846, Baton Rouge earned its title as Louisiana’s State Capital, and nearly four years later, the Old State House was completed.
Many people refer to Baton Rouge (pop: 230,000 and 800,000 in the Greater Baton Rouge area) as “the crossroads of the South.” It is an easy one-hour drive from New Orleans. From Jackson, Tennessee it is 458 miles and it takes about 7 hours to get there, allowing for rest stops. It is known for a fusion of Creole and Cajun cultures, it has a colorful political history, and it is a culinary destination.
The Cook Hotel & Conference Center At LSU
The Cook Hotel was ideally situated for my visit as it is near downtown and in the heart of LSU’s beautiful campus. The story behind the Cook Hotel and Conference Center at LSU evolved over nearly 10 years of friendship between LSU Alumni Association President Dr. Charlie Roberts and then-ARCO Industries CEO, Mr. Lod Cook, The two met in 1984 when LSU alumni traveled to Los Angeles to support the Tigers in their highly anticipated football matchup with USC. Cook was a longtime LSU benefactor.
The hotel, which opened in 2001, is expertly managed by the LSU Alumni Association. The staff is helpful and friendly, and the 128 rooms (Deluxe Guest Rooms and Luxury Suites) are spacious, comfortable, and well appointed with tastefully selected LSU-themed décor. Word has it that Shaquille (Shaq) O’Neal, retired professional basketball player, maintains a suite at The Cook Hotel and lives nearby overlooking one of the lovely lakes.
The hotel has a great LSU Lakes location. My suite faced one of the three lakes. A bountiful breakfast buffet is served in the mornings. For dinner, guests have a short walk or drive to several good restaurants like The Chimes, a good place to grab a Po’ boy, Cajun or Creole food—a must while you’re in town. The restaurant is named for the sounds emanating from LSU’s Memorial Tower. (3357 Highland Rd. at E. Chimes St.)
Be sure to shop in the Shelton Gift Shop in the hotel lobby, which is known for its LSU gear from cookbooks to clothing.
On night one of my stay in Baton Rouge, I dined with a staff member of Visit Baton Rouge at City Pork restaurant, known for its excellent smoked and cured meats. It was packed and high energy, obviously a very popular restaurant for locals and visitors alike.
On my first morning in Baton Rouge, my charming tour guide and new friend, Christy Chachere, Communications Coordinator of Visit Baton Rouge, (Her family is known for its famous Chachere seasonings.) met me to discuss the itinerary for the day.
Louisiana State University
This picturesque 2,000-acre campus is home to 31,000 students, largely from Louisiana but from throughout the country and the world. The university was founded in 1853 in Pineville, Louisiana and came to Baton Rouge in 1869. The campus was located downtown prior to its move in 1926 to its present location. LSU is the flagship institution of the Louisiana State University system and the largest institution of higher education in Louisiana in terms of student enrollment. It is a state-funded institution.
On campus, visitors will find history, science, and art museums, along with lovely Mediterranean-style architecture. Home to the Fighting Tigers, the university community loves football, and its autumnal tailgating festivities are legendary. Geaux Tigers!
Our first stop on Day 1 of my trip to Baton Rouge was the LSU Stadium. Wow! It is most impressive!
I was privileged to be offered a behind-the-scenes tour of the massive LSU Stadium. Years ago, when I was a student in Law School at the University of Mississippi and dating a die-hard Ole Miss fan, I remember attending a football game between Ole Miss and LSU on Halloween night at LSU. I shall never forget the electric atmosphere in the stadium that night!
My stadium tour guide—Katie Gerlach, External Events Coordinator—gave me and a handful of visitors a pre-arranged tour of the stadium. We toured the Helmet Room, a multi-purpose Bowl Room, the Game Day Room (only used 7 times a year), Team Tunnel, Half Time Room, The Win Bar and the Locker Room. Recent improvements to the stadium include the addition of more suites and an upper deck on the south side.
The Tiger Stadium, built in 1924, has a capacity of 102, 321. Every true fan knows it’s called Death Valley because lots of teams don’t make it out alive!
The habitat of mascot Mike the Tiger is on the LSU campus. Most SEC fans can only see their live mascots on the sidelines on game day. But at LSU you can pop in and visit Mike whenever.
The best tailgate spot is the Parade Ground near the campus’ student union. The LSU Tiger Marching Band’s pregame show is as good as any in the country. Be in your seat early. Make sure you wear purple and gold and bring your pom poms of the same color for night games in Death Valley. The bucket game to see: LSU vs. Alabama.
One LSU fan said, “Regardless of your sports preferences and teams, you should visit this awesome place at least once!” And this comment from former LSU star Patrick Peterson: “I always wanted to go to a school that had a fan base that supported the team through thick and thin and that’s definitely LSU. There’s no place like Tiger Stadium. I swear it shakes!”
Beignet Fingers At Coffee Call
After my tour of the stadium, it was time to sample a beignet finger, a Baton Rouge specialty which is an elongated version of a beignet served at Café du Monde in New Orleans. My guide and I visited Coffee Call, a popular place for beignets and café au lait on 3132 College Drive.
After a pick-me-up on a very hot day, it was time to tour some of the attractions in Baton Rouge.
Louisiana’s Old State Capitol
Although Mark Twin had no fondness for this Gothic Revival structure, describing it as a “monstrosity,” the Old Capitol boasts unmistakable presence. Situated to overlook the Mississippi River, it was in use from 1850 to 1932 and even served as a prison. Today, the beautifully restored building houses a museum and it archives film, video, and other governmental documents. Exhibits detail the voting process, the assassination of former governor Huey Long, and the statehood and history of Louisiana. A gift shop with attractive gifts and interesting books is on site. Free admission. Note: Ask about the female ghost in this lovely old building.
Fun Fact: Louisiana Governor Huey P. Long had the H.P. Long Bridge in Baton Rouge built too low to the water on purpose so ships would have to dock and unload in the city instead of passing through, making Baton Rouge a crucial port city.
Magnolia Mound Plantation
Nestled in a grove of gracefully arching trees, Magnolia Mound (built in 1791) began as a small, late 18-century home and was expanded into a plantation home. Its French Creole styling is relatively simple, and the home, elevated on piers, features a generous porch. One of Louisiana’s oldest wooden structures, it also features a coved ceiling and French and Caribbean details. Along with the home itself, guides in period costume point out gardens, dependencies and slave cabins. It is one of the closest plantations to Baton Rouge. (225-343-4955)
“Downtown Baton Rouge is making a comeback,” said Chachere. “Many downtown buildings have been converted into offices and shops with apartments upstairs, especially on Historic Third Street.” There are several attractive downtown restaurants, one of which is Capital City Grille, which offers a large selection of Louisiana lunch staples like red beans and rice and seafood.
The list of notables from Baton Rouge is long and varied. A few of the well known personalities who hail from Baton Rouge are as follows: Pete Maravich, NBA; Shaquille O’Neal, retired professional basketball player; Holly Clegg, cookbook author and TV personality; West Brown, actor (We Are Marshall, Glory Road, Beach Girls); and Governor Bobby Jindal, Baton Rouge native.
What To Know
Visit Baton Rouge
359 Third Street
Baton Rouge, LA 70801
1-800-LA ROUGE (527-0843)
The Cook Hotel
3848 West Lakeshore Drive
Baton Rouge, LA 70808
(225) 383-COOK (2665)
(866) 610-COOK (2665)
Where To Shop
(“A big reason people come to Baton Rouge,” say Visit Baton Rouge officials)
- Mall of Louisiana (It’s huge!)
- Perkins Rowe (upscale shopping center with apartments over shops, restaurants, and a theater: an eat, play, shop area)
- Towne Center (upscale shopping area)
Where To Eat
- Coffee Call: beignet fingers and beignets, café au lait
- Chimes: Louisiana staple foods; near LSU campus
- Louie’s Café: a 24-hour diner at LSU; The North Gates of LSU
- City Pork: smoked and cured meats; City Pork Brasserie & Bar (upscale); City Pork Deli and Charcutiere (lunch style with meat counter, farm fresh eggs and fresh bacon); and City Pork Kitchen & Pie (plate lunches, homemade pies)
- Parrain’s: local Louisiana seafood
- Mike Anderson’s: seafood and Alabama staple dishes
- Capital City Grille: big selection of lunch Louisiana staples like red beans and rice, seafood; located in downtown Baton Rouge
Attractions In Baton Rouge
- Mike’s Habitat at LSU (Mike the mascot)
- Old State Capitol (Be sure to tour the top!)
- Louisiana State Capitol
- Capitol Park Museum
- LSU Museum of Art
- USS Kidd Veterans Museum
- Rural Life Museum
- Magnolia Mounds Plantation
- Old Governor’s Mansion (open for tours)
Live After Five Fall Concert Series
Every Friday from 5-8 pm: Free concerts in downtown Baton Rouge’s North Boulevard Town Square at Galvez Plaza
Louisiana Book Festival
Festival of Lights
December 2: beautiful Christmas décor, a snow village, a magical train ride at the Old Governor’s Mansion, a visit from Santa at the Old State Capitol and Reindeer Run.