The Best Things to Do in Natchitoches, Louisiana

Explore Southern history, Creole culture, and Steel Magnolias in this waterfront town.

In This Article
View All
In This Article
Front Street in Natchitoches, LA
Photo: Robbie Caponetto

Natchitoches (pronounced NACK-a-tish) holds the title of Louisiana’s oldest settlement, established in 1714 and besting New Orleans by four years. Wrought-iron balconies and railings weave a whimsical tapestry across the centuries-old downtown storefronts. It’s easy to see how, strolling near the water’s edge beneath a canopy of magnolias and live oaks, you could easily be tempted to gaze up at the night sky and believe your wish might come true.

History lovers can immerse themselves in the town’s cultural diversity, revealed through well-preserved architecture, folk art and rich foodways—specifically its famous meat pies

And for Southern pop-culture aficionados, no trip to Natchitoches is complete without a photo op at the Steel Magnolias house, now conveniently converted into a Bed and Breakfast. Here are some other ideas to keep in mind when planning your stay:

What To Know

Cane River National Heritage Area

Courtesy of Cane River National Heritage Area

Cane River is actually a 34-mile meandering lake that connects the upper Natchitoches historic district to the Cane River National Heritage Area and Isle Brevelle Creole Community, about 15 miles to the south. The waterway, left behind when the Red River changed course and cut off the city from the Mississippi River, still serves as an anchor for the greater Natchitoches region’s culture.

What To Do

Melrose Plantation

Courtesy of Cane River National Heritage Area

Learn About Creole History 

Melrose on the Cane is a former plantation and artist colony made up of nine historic buildings. The museum highlights the complex story of the people who lived, worked, and created there; including world renowned African American folk artist Clementine Hunter. Guests can view a collection of Hunter’s art and African House Murals. 

For a deeper dive, visit the Cane River Creole National Historical Park, featuring two of the most intact French Creole cotton plantations in the United States. The sites open a window into what daily life was like for the people who lived there, as well as the emergence of the unique Creole culture. According to Rebecca Blankenbaker, executive director of Cane River National Heritage Area, many of the tour guides are descendants of Creole people who once lived on the land.

Can River Commissary, Natchitoches, LA

Stroll and Shop Downtown 

The 33-block stretch of Front Street runs parallel to the Cane River and feels like a miniature French Quarter. Nostalgia abounds with family-owned shops, such as Kaffie-Frederick General Mercantile Store, one of the oldest hardware stores in Louisiana—where they still use an antique cash register from 1917. Cane River Candy Company is overflowing with old-fashioned sweets and seasonal treats. If you’re looking to bring home some of the Natchitoches Christmas cheer, a few boutiques offer festive decor and gifts year-round.

Kayaking in Natchitoches, LA

Courtesy of Natchitoches Convention And Visitors Bureau

Wander the River

Enjoy the natural beauty of Natchitoches from the water. Cane River Paddle and Peddle Sports rents standard and pedal-powered kayaks, as well as stand-up paddle boards from its station downtown. For a more leisurely experience, book a cruise on the Cane River Queen River Boat. Both boating companies offer opportunities to float the river during the fireworks display on Saturday nights during the Christmas Festival season

Steel Magnolia House

Courtesy of Natchitoches Convention And Visitors Bureau

Tour the Film Trail

Steel Magnolias fans can take a self-guided tour of 17 locations from the film. The City of Natchitoches offers a downloadable map that will put you on the scene of some of the movie’s most memorable moments, most within walking distance. 

Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest Louisiana History Museum

Courtesy of Natchitoches Convention And Visitors Bureau

Indulge Your Inner Sports Fan 

The ultra-modern Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest Louisiana History Museum building sits at the northern end of Front Street. See stories and artifacts from some of Louisiana’s most celebrated athletes, like Pete Maravich, Archie Manning, and Shaquille O’Neal.

When to Go

Natchitoches, LA christmas

Courtesy of Natchitoches Convention And Visitors Bureau

Natchitoches is at its best September through early spring, when a calendar full of outdoor festivals takes advantage of the Louisiana city’s mild weather. The Natchitoches Meat Pie Festival takes place each September and Melrose on the Cane hosts festivals in the fall and spring. To experience the Christmas Festival of Lights in all its glory, you should plan your trip for a Saturday between Thanksgiving and the Epiphany—when the city pulls out all the stops with fireworks and live music.

Where to Eat

Creole Meat Pies

Courtesy of Cane River National Heritage Area

Lasyone’s, a beloved family-run restaurant, has been serving meat pies to hungry locals and tourists for more than 50 years. (Don’t forget to save room for a side of red beans and rice.) For upscale waterfront dining, book a reservation at Mariners or Mayeaux’s Steak & Seafood. Cane River Commissary serves traditional Louisiana fare downriver, near Cane River Creole National Park.

Where To Stay

Samuel Guy House

Courtesy of Natchitoches Convention And Visitors Bureau

Natchitoches is known for its hospitable bed-and-breakfasts. Try the well-appointed Samuel Guy House or book a stay among the formal gardens of Rusca House. Church Street Inn, a boutique hotel in a former downtown bank, provides easy access to Front Street’s activities.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles