Garth Brooks was onto something when he sent his love down to Baton Rouge, home to LSU and Southern University.

Advertisement

Founded more than three centuries ago by French explorers, the area that's now known as Baton Rouge was originally named for the "red stick" the explorers spotted upon landing. It's said that there was a wooden pole with blood on it that marked the territorial boundary between the hunting grounds of two tribes. Though still referenced by locals as "Red Stick," Baton Rouge today is a modern city, with more than 225,000 residents and an eclectic flavor all its own. Like much of the South, history runs deep, here—Baton Rouge is said to have been influenced by seven different nations, giving way to a diverse culture that's alive and thriving. The city's place as Louisiana's state capital drives visitors, too, not least for having the tallest U.S. State Capitol House in the nation, standing 450 feet tall. Here's what to do, what to eat and where to stay on a visit to Baton Rouge.

Baton Rouge, LA
Credit: Sean Pavone Photo/Getty Images

What to Do

Local tour company Red Stick Adventures offers a wide variety of sightseeing tours (via foot, microbus or boat), where you can let guides do the planning for you. The most popular option is a microbus tour of the Capitol Park Museum, but the haunted adventure and swamp tours are equally as engaging. You can also get a fascinating history lesson aboard the Fletcher-class destroyer USS Kidd, the 661st destroyer built by the United States Navy and one of only four of its kind still preserved as museums. Visit the attached Louisiana Veterans Museum, too. The 2020 movie "Greyhound" featuring Tom Hanks was filmed on the ship.

Dive into the arts and culture scene in Baton Rouge by visiting galleries such as Ann Connelly Fine Art, Baton Rouge Gallery Center for Contemporary Art or KAWD Art Gallery, or wandering about LSU Museum of Art downtown, which showcases 17th-century portraits to contemporary works. Then, shop wall-to-wall treasures inside the nearly 7,000-square-foot Pink Elephant Antiques, find unique home décor and vintage furniture at Circa 1857 or explore the latest women's fashions at Louisiana staple boutique HerringStone's.

Where to Eat

You can eat your fill of Cajun food with a twist in Baton Rouge (and in fact, you should — try the chipotle shrimp or oysters Lagniappe at Louisiana Lagniappe or the cioppino at Beausoleil Coastal Cuisine), but there are plenty of other foods to try here, too. For instance, take Soji: Modern Asian, where Executive Chef Thien Nguyen serves sushi and from-scratch ramen in the trendy Mid City neighborhood. At Mestizo, a menu of tasty options (think crawfish chimichangas) complements a buzzy bar, making it a great date-night spot. At newcomer The Vintage, a New Orleans original that opened its second location in Baton Rouge in 2020, the hot beignets (offered in both sweet or savory form and served all day) paired with a glass of bubbles are a must. For a sweet tooth, you can't beat the s'mores or turtle pies at Elsie's.

Where to Stay

One of the city's newest hotels, Watermark Baton Rouge (an Autograph Collection hotel) opened in 2016 in the former Louisiana National Bank building, which was the financial and governmental hub downtown from the 1920s-1970s. Art lovers will enjoy restored pieces and bas-relief murals by New Orleans sculptor Angela Gregory, to which the hotel's elegant restaurant The Gregory pays homage. A block away, Hotel Indigo Baton Rouge Downtown on the Mississippi River is steps from the Old State Capitol and the grand Old Governor's Mansion plus theaters and nightlife. And on the southern end of the city, Renaissance Baton Rouge Hotel is a prime spot if you're looking to be near shopping and lots of local restaurants, or take advantage of its resort-style pool.