AROUND THE PORT
The westernmost parish of the River Parishes, St. James has a plethora of ‘must-dos’ for those passing through or setting down roots.
Must-Do No. 1:
Step inside most picturesque plantation homes of the South
The iconic plantation homes of St. James Parish have been immortalized in film, television and print for decades. One look at their majestic beauty and antebellum architecture, and it’s easy to figure out why directors, producers and photographers are drawn to these historic locations.
Located on the west bank of St. James Parish in the town of Vacherie, Oak Alley Plantation is best known for its signature feature — an 800-foot long oak-tree canopied walkway to the main house. Designated as a National Historic Landmark, Oak Alley has been the backdrop for scenes in movies like Interview With A Vampire, TV soap operas like Days of Our Lives and even a Beyoncé music video. Built in 1839, Oak Alley stands as an example of Greek Revival architecture, including 28 columns on all four sides of the house that correspond with the number of oak trees marking the famous walkway. For information on tours, dining, events and overnight lodging visit oakalleyplantation.org.
Within walking distance of Oak Alley is St. Joseph Plantation, which was built in 1830 and features 16 registered live oaks trees on site. Double-wide French doors provide cross-ventilation for the home’s 16 rooms. St. Joseph Plantation has been the setting of the Oprah Winfrey Network scripted series Queen Sugar, Twelve Years a Slave, Skeleton Key, and many other famous productions. Each October through November 1, visitors can experience reenactments of the 18th and 19th century Creole tradition of mourning the dead through “The Mourning Tour.” The house will be “dressed in full deep mourning.” For more information on tours, visit stjosephplantation.com.
Just down from Oak Alley stands Laura Plantation — a restored Louisiana Creole Plantation — which dates back to 1804 when Revolutionary War veteran Guillaume Duprac was granted this parcel of land by then-U.S. President Thomas Jefferson. The guided tours — which start every 40 minutes during open hours — at Laura Plantation are critically-acclaimed, offering historical context of the time while debunking myths of daily life in the South during the 1800s. A glimpse into the way things were back then at Laura Plantation is illustrated during the tour through the stories of four generations of Creole women — both free and unfree — who lived there. To buy tickets or learn more, to go lauraplantation.com.
In Convent, Poche Plantation (pocheplantation.com) is a popular spot for weddings and features a nearby Motor Coach and RV Resort.
Must-Do No. 2
Show Santa the way at Festival of the Bonfires
Louisiana is the land of festivals. More than 400 recognized festivals crowd the calendar each year. With that established, arguably no festival matches the pageantry and uniqueness than that of the annual Festival of the Bonfires at Lutcher Recreational Park on Highway 3193. Thousands of patrons will congregate on the grounds during the second full weekend of December each year and partake in events like a Gumbo Cook-Off, various pageants, a 5K run walk and an antique car show. All the while, the typical festival staples of Cajun/Zydeco live music acts, food vendors and crafts merchants are available to be enjoyed. The showcase, however, is the nightly lighting of the Bonfires along the levee of the Mississippi River — a tradition that dates back centuries. It is believed that the bonfires light the way for Papa Noel, the Cajun version of Santa Claus.
For a full listing of festival activities, check out festivalofthebonfires.org.
Must-Do No. 3
Refuel at area restaurants
After spending time exploring all St. James Parish has to offer culturally, odds are there’s gonna be a rumble in your stomach. So why not check out what St. James has to offer culinarily?
Not surprisingly, the area features fantastic options for world-famous seafood and traditional South Louisiana cuisine. Owned by the Breauxs, a family filled with generations of fishermen, B&C Cajun Seafood Restaurant in Vacherie (2155 Hwy 18, bncrestaurant.com) is right next to Laura Plantation and a mere three miles from Oak Alley and St. Joseph Plantation— making it a popular spot for out-of-towners. Start things off with the Cajun Breaux Sampler and thank us later. For those not in-the-know, that’s a sharing-size appetizer of fried catfish, crawfish kickers, alligator, boudin croquettes and hushpuppies. Moving onto entrees, the grilled catfish or the Tommy Breaux Special Frog Legs are always a winning choice.
Staying and dining in Vacherie, Chenier’s Seafood & Market (22114 Hwy 20, 225-265-1702) features some of the best boiled crawfish, shrimp and crabs while in season. Wanting some smoked andouille sausage and Cajun dishes? Stop by Spuddy’s Cajun Restaurant (2644-LA 20, 225-265-4013). For Italian in the area, DJ’s Grill & Cabahanoce Bar (21060 Hwy 20, 225-265-7600) features top-of-the-line pasta dishes and steaks despite the humble exterior of the building. For some jazzy wings and home-made burgers, Bonnie’s is the place to go (2827 Hwy 20, 225-624-0402). For a quick lunch on the east bank of the parish, try Jenny’s Overstuffed Poboys in Gramercy (114 N. Airline Ave, 225-869-0899) or Nobile Restaurant and Bar in Lutcher (2082 W. Main Street, nobilesrestaurant.com) for a classic plate lunch.