Fa La La, Louisiana! – Mid November to the end of December brings on Louisiana’s Holiday Trail of Lights. Make it a mini-vacation, or if you have more time on your hands, stay longer. There are so many activities to see and do!
Our tour started in Shreveport/Bossier City in northern Louisiana at IH-20 and IH-49, and it ended in the oldest city in the state – Natchitoches (Nak-a-tish) for the “Turn on the Lights” event and Tri-Centennial Kick-Off that featured fireworks, food and bands from the entire north Louisiana region.
There are many quaint and beautiful small towns along Louisiana’s Holiday Trail of Lights. Our first day was mostly spent in the very interesting and bustling Shreveport-Bossier City area.
A visit to Shelby Lane’s Closet in Bossier City is a fantastic stop for do-it-yourself crafts. They produce items for purchase, as well as offering public and private crafting. We made wooden Santa boot plaques and decorated them in our individual tastes – fun!
Even Santa Bob and Mrs. Beth Claus showed up to bring cheer and to admire our work (I’m almost certain). Santa Bob is a card-carrying member of the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas. He takes his vocation very seriously and appears locally throughout the season.
Lunch at Shelby Lane’s Closet was culturally prepared by Chef Pansou of Soumas Heritage Creole Creations, and it was definitely Creole “Taste-Sinsationeauxl.”
There was much more to see and do in Bossier City that day, and as luck would have it, Les Boutiques De Noel was in progress at the Bossier Civic Center. Each year more than 10,000 holiday shoppers visit 100 holiday-themed booths, which represent 10 states. Proceeds from Boutiques De Noel benefit the Shreveport Opera.
Shreveport and Bossier City are merely separated by the Red River, so we crossed the river to see a screening at the IMAX Dome Theater, which is located at Sci-Port: Louisiana’s Science Center in Shreveport. Featuring more than 290 science, space, technology and math exhibits, it’s a great place to bring the family. My group was especially drawn to their new Lego Exhibit.
During the holiday season, frozen eggnog daiquiris are a Shreveport tradition and, not to feel left out, we stopped to enjoy the take-out service at Tony’s Discount Beverage. It’s a good way to beat holiday shopping stress! We thanked manager Joseph “Bubba” Cordaro and went on our way.
Strolling among the Outlets at Louisiana Boardwalk, which is the largest outlet, lifestyle, dining and entertainment destination in the State of Louisiana, is a shopper’s must-do. There are more than 70 retail stores and restaurants, including Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, to keep every shopper happy.
This night was different from any other! It was time for the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, on the Louisiana Boardwalk! Maybe it was fake snow, but children of all ages loved it!
Our next adventure took us east on I-20 to Minden, our second stop on the Holiday Trail of Lights. Minden is known for the Fasching Fifth Season Festival, which celebrates the community’s German heritage, and the Winter Wonderland Festival. We took a brief driving tour of the charming, lighted streets.
While in the town of Minden, we visited an eclectic, and very interesting shop called Second Hand Rose, among others. This vintage boutique is filled to the brim with Coca Cola memorabilia, antique jewelry, housewares and much more. Visitors take away more than a shopping experience, as they listen to the eccentric owner’s delightful stories. Millie Rose welcomes everyone with a smile and sometimes a song.
Also in Minden, we found a unique Mexican place for dinner, Habascus. This restaurant serves the biggest burrito we have ever seen – probably would feed a half dozen folks! Just recently, LA Rider TV filmed there, which made the restaurant an instant big hit!
The next morning we drove further east on IH-20 to visit and explore Monroe-West Monroe. While in Monroe, we toured the Biedenharn Museum and Gardens, which was beautifully decorated for the Holiday Season. We loved that each room epitomized a unique theme designed by Monroe Garden Study League. Biedenharn created the Coca Cola formula and the house and furnishings reflected his abundant affluence of that time period.
The Chennault Aviation and Military Museum, which would delight any history buff, is also in Monroe. They take great pride in preserving military history memorabilia, and it is well worth the time we spent there – very inspiring.
Each year Monroe-West Monroe hosts the Christmas on the River Festival, where parades and foodie activities prevail, with displays of dancing lights all season long. Someone mentioned Duck Dynasty, but we were unable to fit them into our schedule.
We came away from Big Mamma’s Fine Foods with the satisfied feeling that a home-cooked meal brings. It’s been a featured restaurant in Louisiana Cookin magazine’s Ultimate Fried Chicken Trail. Known for Big Mamma’s hot water cornbread and desserts, we could understand why it’s a place the locals go to time and again.
Ever heard of Antique Alley in West Monroe? This list of 30 different shops is an antique shopper’s must see, located primarily on the banks of the Ouachita River. Most shops are open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., while some shops are open Monday and Sunday afternoons, offering antique treasures, clothing, kitchenware and much more.
From Shreveport-Bossier City, IH-49 took us south to the Alexandria-Pineville area, passing by Natchitoches along the way (we’ll get back to that part later.)
After having a superb dinner at Diamond Grill in Alexandria, we ventured out to explore the Alexandria Zoo Holiday Light Safari. Thousands of lights glistened all around, giving the zoo the feel of a sparkling winter wonderland. Generally held on weekends in December, this safari will excite the entire family. Jack Hanna, so we’re told, once said that this zoo is one of the “best small town zoos in America.”
Alexandria hosts An Old Fashion Christmas at the historic Kent Plantation House, which we toured the next day, after spending the night at Lloyd Hall Plantation (rumored to be haunted) in the Alexandria-Pineville area. Kent Plantation House is an authentic Creole house, steeped in history, and is the oldest known standing structure in Rapides Parish, circa 1794.
We also visited the Inglewood Plantation, which hosts a weekly Harvest Barn on Tuesday afternoons and Saturdays, plying their wares, such as produce, fruit, meats, eggs and other local organic products. Inglewood is one of the few plantations to survive the ravages of the Civil War.
We checked out Atwood’s Bakery, which is a local favorite, before heading to Melrose Plantation, which is now a hub for art and education.
As an interesting side story, Solomon Northup’s book and the recent movie by the same name “12 Years a Slave” took place in Central Louisiana. Northup told his story to a carpenter named Samuel Bass, while working on the cedar house for plantation owner Edwin Epps. The Epps House now stands on the campus of Louisiana State University Alexandria.
Our last stop was my personal favorite. Natchitoches, founded in 1714, comes from a Caddo Indian word meaning “Chinquapin eaters.” This city is currently celebrating 300 years and has hosted many events commemorating their tri-centennial throughout 2014.
Here you will find a house built in the 1830s where the movie “Steel Magnolias” was filmed in 1989. In 2013, it opened as a bed and breakfast. Can you imagine spending time in that house with so much Southern charm and history?
Nestled along the Cane River, historic Natchitoches transports visitors back in time. Quaint shops and restaurants line the street overlooking the river. The oldest store in Louisiana is located here – Kaffie Frederick General Mercantile. What a treat to explore!
Touring the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Regional Museum in Natchitoches brought us back to the future! The architectural style of this 27,500-square-foot contemporary building compliments Louisiana’s rich sports heritage.
We waited with excitement in the air for the “Turn on the Holidays!” event, which included fireworks and live entertainment. The light displays alone that run along the river bank bring holiday enjoyment and delight, infusing a nostalgic feel to the season.
This year Louisiana’s oldest celebration, The 88 Annual Festival of Lights, is sure to bring more excitement to the holidays – culminating the end of Natchitoches’ tri-centennial events. The city hosts 10 hotels and more than 30 B&B’s.
To wind down our Louisiana Holiday Trail of Lights tour, we relaxed at “2439 - A Bed and Breakfast” located in Shreveport on Fairfield Avenue. A sublime complimentary breakfast was included and topped off the comforts of this establishment, which was once showcased in Southern Living.
For more information and dates for scheduled events in central Louisiana, visit holidaytrailoflights.com.