NATCHITOCHES, La., June 3, 2014— Just off of Interstate-49 Exit 138 sits a sizable brick sign, announcing to passersby the historic city of Natchitoches — pronounced “Nack-A-Tish” and not to be confused with Texas’ own Nacogdoches. Although it is not as widely recognized as the more populated areas of Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Natchitoches attracts sightseers from all over the state — not to mention the country — with its distinct “Old Southern” charm.
The town has reasons to boast. When French-Canadian explorer Louis Juchereau de St. Denis founded it in 1714, Natchitoches claimed the title of oldest established settlement from the Louisiana Purchase. This year, residents celebrated its 300th anniversary. In the colonizer’s memory, Rue St. Denis runs through the historic district. Robert Harling, a Natchitoches native, wrote the play Steel Magnolias, which was adapted into the beloved film in 1989 and shot in the city.
One of the movie’s focal settings, the Steel Magnolia House, is located at 320 Rue Jefferson and has now been transformed into a bed and breakfast. The town offers a selection of over 25 B&Bs, earning the label of the Bed & Breakfast Capital of Louisiana.
From winter to summer, Natchitoches hosts a variety of events to entertain both tourists and its 18,000 inhabitants. From the perspective of a one-year resident, here are the best places to visit and things to do on weekend trips.
Places to Visit
The Historic District
One of the most beautiful areas of Natchitoches is recognized as Downtown, which consists mainly of Third Street, Second Street, and Front Street. Front Street, separated from the Cane River by a sloping hill, attracts the most attention with its regal river oaks on the right and aged storefronts on the left. Its red brick sidewalks are dotted with glowing street lamps and the balconies of the two-story shops boast beautifully constructed latticework. Meander along the Riverwalk, where gardens bloom mere feet away from the water, or take in a sunset on the wooden public dock. Elegant historic buildings, like the city churches and the courthouse museum on Second Street, await exploration.
Make sure you stop by:
Mama’s Oyster House on Front Street for their delicious spinach and artichoke dip, served with a side of fried bow-tie pasta.
Papa’s Bar and Grill on Front Street for their unique Caesar Burger — a traditional hamburger of epic proportions topped with caesar salad.
Cane Brake Cafe on Front Street, Natchitoches’ only coffee house and known for their wide variety of creative cupcakes, like the wedding cake and coconut. A student favorite.
Lasyone’s Meat Pie Restaurant on Second Street for the best meat pies in town and an atmosphere similar to your Southern mother’s kitchen.
The Landing Restaurant & Bar on Front Street for their decadent blackened alligator with Hollandaise sauce.
Beau Jardin on Front Street, the most romanic spot in the Historic District. Walk down the lit stone staircase into a beautifully constructed garden, focused around a man-made stream, with quaint bridges criss-crossing over. The breath-taking spot is often used as a setting for weddings.
Northwestern State University
In Louisiana, we do not have an “autumn” — we have football season. For that very reason, an afternoon spent in Harry Turpin stadium on the Northwestern State campus is sure to entertain. Watch the Demons play their school rivals, the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks of Nacogdoches, in a battle over the game’s traditional wooden trophy — recognized as the largest in college football — named after Chief Caddo.
Legend has it that the chief was the father of two sons, who respectively settled each college town. This past year was the first time since 2008 that the Demons brought Chief Caddo home. Additionally, the game against Southern University and A&M College is always captivating — the stadium, packed, and the tailgating, drunken.
Both schools are revered for their talented bands and, so, the half-time shows are highly anticipated.
Stop by the three white columns, often lit purple in the evening, just past the Northwestern State main entrance. A depiction of the columns is used as a symbol for the university, which was once home to the Bullard family and their lavish mansion. The trio of columns are the only remnants of the original property.
The two major plantation homes in the area are the Oakland and Melrose. However, there are many smaller surviving Southern mansions still standing as well.
READ ALSO: The ghosts of Louisiana’s Myrtles Plantation
The Oakland, included in the Cane River Creole National Historical Park, was owned in 1821 by the Prud’hommes.
Their staple crop was cotton and, to this day, the slave quarters, overseer’s house, and original plantation home persevere.
The Melrose Plantation was founded on a very different basis— the home was constructed by Louis Metoyer, a free person of color, in 1832. Buidlings on site consist of the Yucca House, Ghana House, Clementine Hunter House, Africa House, and the mansion itself.
The Cane River National Heritage Trail
For those who enjoy scenic drives, this particular trail spans over 35 miles, passing dozens of historical sites and examples of Southern beauty. The route extends through Natchitoches and beside plantation homes and churches. The entirety of the surrounding region is known as the Cane River National Heritage Area.
The city has much to offer for those willing to look. It is located almost four and a half hours from New Orleans and an hour and a half from Shreveport. Whether your travel bug focuses on traditional Southern beauty, drool-inducing meals, or lessons in Louisiana history, Natchitoches should be the next stop for your weekend getaway.