Baton Rouge lies along the banks of the legendary Mississippi in southeast Louisiana. It is the state’s capital, famous for its sports-mad universities, its cultural fusion and of course, its laid-back southern charm.
Larger-than-life legends of politics, music, and sport weave their way through the pages of Baton Rouge’s storied past. From the days when a red stick (or Baton Rouge) marked the boundary between native tribes, to its subsequent administration by France, Britain, and Spain, the transformation has been built into the DNA of this city.
In 1846, a stroke of the pen made it the Louisiana State Capital – providing a moral alternative to what was then considered “sinful” New Orleans.
The city’s downtown
Today, Baton Rouge is undergoing another transformation, and there is no better place to start the tale than in the city’s downtown. Art spills onto the streets and walkways here in a combination of temporary and permanent installations.
The Shaw Center for the Arts
The contemporary cultural scene continues at the Shaw Center for the Arts, a dramatic symbol of the city’s revitalization. The center spreads across a full city block and includes the Manship Theater and the LSU Museum of Art.
Louisiana’s Old State Capitol
Across from the Shaw Center is the Old State Capitol. This was the seat of power when Baton Rouge first became the capital and it was designed to symbolize prestige. Mark Twain adored all of Baton Rouge, except for this building, which he called a “whitewashed castle.”
Make up your own mind about this neo-gothic landmark, which was later a prison and then housed a garrison during the civil war.
The Louisiana Governor’s Mansion
Tour the Louisiana Governor’s Mansion, one of the legacies of controversial politician Huey P. Long. Some say he used the White House as a template for this mansion so that he’d be comfortable in the former …. once he became president.
The art deco State Capitol Building
Huey Long left another gift to the people of Baton Rouge – the art deco State Capitol Building. Created to symbolize a new era in Louisiana’s power and politics, alas it was also the scene of Long’s bloody assassination in 1935.
With its complex blend of European, African and Native American history, Louisiana cultural traditions are among the world’s most diverse.
Less than half a mile to the South is Spanish Town, a neighborhood famous for its annual Mardi Gras parade. Eclectic costumes and cut-out pink flamingos are familiar symbols of this parade’s motto – “poor taste is better than no taste at all.”
The Capitol Park Museum
For decades, Baton Rouge was the blues capital of the world and that hardscrabble spark still fires deep in this city’s belly.
Learn more about Louisiana greats such as Louis Armstrong and Sharkey Bonano at the Capitol Park Museum.
From its earliest days, Baton Rouge has been plantation country, and many of the area’s elaborate mansions have been lovingly preserved. Visit Magnolia Mound, one of the earliest antebellum homes in the city.
Stroll the grounds and peer into the lives of the privileged few – as well as the many on whom fortune did not shine.
Arsenal Park and the Old Arsenal Museum
Head to Arsenal Park and the Old Arsenal Museum, once the site of a massive military storehouse. This complex played a pivotal role in the Confederate war effort by keeping vast reserves of gunpowder dry.
The U.S.S. Kidd & Veterans Memorial
Baton Rouge owes much to the mighty Mississippi, whose waters have long flowed through the nation’s stories, songs, and psyche.
Come aboard the U.S.S. Kidd & Veterans Memorial, a World War II destroyer. She was known as the Pirate of the Pacific and was the only US warship allowed to sail under the skull and crossbones.
A Japanese kamikaze plane struck her in 1945, killing more than 30 of her crew. Today, she is fully restored and offers an intimate window into naval history.
Mark Twain is often quoted as saying, “Throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
And there is no better place to catch the trade winds in your sails than Baton Rouge.