Yes, it’s true, New Orleans is pretty amazing! But, every now and then, I need to explore life beyond NOLA, so I recently took a road trip to Baton Rouge. It’s a little more than an hour’s drive from New Orleans. I’m lucky because I have family and friends who live there, so I’ve always visited Baton Rouge for more than just LSU football games. Spring is a perfect time to visit the Capitol City. My friend, Sandy and I kept our exploring to Downtown Baton Rouge. We parked our car and took off for a fun day of eating, shopping, culture, and catching up! First stop…
This charming European patisserie (you can’t miss the bright blue building on Laurel Street) is worth the trip alone! It’s a family business started by Bruce Blanchard and his Venezuelan-born wife, Lilia. Sadly, Bruce passed away last year, but Lilia and their daughter Lilita carry on. It’s hard not be drawn in by the smiling faces behind the counter. Honestly, I felt like I knew them for years after one visit.
Lilita is a talented baker and chocolatier. Remember a couple of years back when the cronut was the craze? Well, Lolita has created the Piessant – a delicious combination of a pie and a croissant with creamy filling in the middle and strawberries. Yummy!
They have a huge menu of specialty coffee drinks, we both ordered the White Chocolate Mocha Latte. Lip licking good! There are entrees, sandwiches, and salads too. Don’t forget to take some chocolate to go, all-handmade using Venezuelan chocolate. The ganaches and caramel fillings are made with local ingredients.
Tummies filled we were on to our next stop…
Capitol Park Museum
This museum is like a giant postcard of the state’s history, culture, and joie de vivre, then and now. You’ll hear Governor Huey P. Long doing what he does best, see a 50-foot wooden shrimp trawler (you can’t miss it as soon as you enter the museum), experience what it’s like to ride on a Mardi Gras float (kids love this), plus celebrate the great jazz, zydeco, and Cajun music rooted in our state. My favorite was the exhibit by cartoonist Bunny Matthews of Vic and Nat’ly fame, depicting the different dialects of New Orleans and how the neighborhood where you grew up influences what you call the Crescent City. True Dat!
Little Village Downtown Baton Rouge
I admit it, when we left the museum we weren’t quite ready for lunch but when we passed the Little Village Downtown restaurant Sandy told me they serve one of the best breads in town. So… we had to go in for a taste test! The manager says nearly every table orders the bread and I can see why.
Fresh from the oven, it’s served in a puddle of olive oil and topped with herbs, spices, and cheese. You’ll want to order sides of tapenade and roasted garlic to slather all over. It lures the Downtown lunch crowd by day, and at night, it’s the perfect spot for a romantic Italian dinner. Speaking of romance, they say you shouldn’t order garlic on a date but the bread is so worth it. Just pop a breath mint!
Walk the Mississippi River Levee
Just like New Orleans, the city of Baton Rouge is on the Mississippi River. We took a walk along the riverfront with its view of the USS Kidd Battleship and if you turn away from the river you will see an imposing castle structure that, at one time, was Louisiana’s State Capitol.
Louisiana’s Old State Capitol
I always wondered why Louisiana had two capitol buildings and after visiting here, I know the answer (Gov.Huey P. Long figures in the story). There’s no admission to tour Louisiana’s Old State Capitol. We climbed the gothic castle’s spiral staircase to see a gallery wall of Louisiana’s governors and to take in the beautiful stained glass dome and windows.
There are some who believe the castle is haunted. I highly recommend buying a ticket to experience the film, “The Ghost of the Castle”. The “ghost” of Sarah Morgan takes you on a four-dimensional tour of the castle’s turbulent history and shares what her life was like back in pre-Civil War Baton Rouge.
Fun fact,the “new” state capital, built in the 1930’s, is the tallest state capitol building in the United States. It’s worth a tour too.
I’m a sucker for a great rooftop view and the popular sushi restaurant Tsunami has one of the best in Baton Rouge. I’m sure it’s even better at night! Tsunami recently opened its third location in New Orleans. The original location is in Lafayette.
Watermark Baton Rouge
Back on the ground, we stepped into the Watermark Baton Rouge to check out this art-deco building recently converted into a luxury hotel. It was Baton Rouge’s first skyscraper when it opened as a bank in 1925; decades later it became a state office building, and now it’s a 144-room boutique hotel.
Restored original art murals designed in the 1940’s by the late New Orleans born sculptor/artist Angela Gregory surround the hotel’s restaurant, The Gregory, named in her honor. Her artistry is truly beautiful and it’s worth stopping in to see her work.
Jolie Pearl Oyster Bar
The Jolie Pearl specializes in oysters from regions all over the U.S. and Canada and offers over 50 different types of oysters at any given time. Impressive…and so is expert oyster shucker, Raymond…he’s the one with the smile you can’t miss, as soon as you enter the restaurant.
Visit Baton Rouge
This is just a small idea of what you can see, do, and eat in one day of exploring Louisiana’s capitol city. I recommend planning your trip online with Visit Baton Rouge, the official travel resource for the city. I’m sure you’ll find southern hospitality alive and well in BR!