Explore tree-shaded trails on the bank of a tranquil bayou. Uncover the stories of a soft drink pioneer and an American war hero. Sample some of the best locally made wine and craft beer in all of Louisiana. This is just a taste of the many experiences you’ll find this summer in Monroe-West Monroe. Settled among the forests, rivers, lakes, and bayous of North Louisiana, Monroe-West Monroe is two destinations in one where you can truly choose your own adventure. With plenty to do for travelers of all ages, no two trips here are the same. Discover some of the best ways to enjoy summer here below.
Explore a Breathtaking Bayou
Wander along trails shaded by towering oaks and sweetgum trees, paddle on still waters home to alligators, and try your luck at hooking a big bream that’ll make your friends jealous. All of this awaits at the Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge, a 4,500-acre expanse of hardwood forests, cypress swamps, and verdant prairies just 10 miles north of Monroe. Hike along miles of nature trails, spot alligators from the wildlife pier, and get a lay of the land at the Conservation Learning Center (home to a live animal exhibit). The learning center is also the place to go for guided canoe and kayaking trips, a fantastic way to get out on the water and immerse yourself in the rugged beauty of northern Louisiana.
Visit the Home of a Coca-Cola Pioneer
We take bottled and canned Coca-Cola for granted these days, but there was a time in the not too distant past when you could only find this fizzy soft drink at soda fountains. That was until the summer of 1894, when businessman and confectioner Joseph A. Biedenharn developed the process of bottling it at his candy company building in Vicksburg, Miss. In the next 30 years, Biedenharn moved his bottling plant to Monroe, where he expanded his business, became a prominent local philanthropist, and even had a hand in the founding of Delta Airlines.
Explore Biedenharn’s legacy as you tour the elegant Biedenharn Museum & Gardens. Admire all the vintage Coca-Cola memorabilia, including antique signs and a delivery truck. Don’t miss a stop by the old-fashioned soda fountain, where you can get a Coke for a nickel. Then step into the Bible Museum to see unique and historic Bibles and the Russian Icon Exhibition before touring the Biedenharn home itself. End your visit with a walk through the verdant gardens full of fountains, flowers, and statues.
Hear the Tales of an American War Hero
The Flying Tigers, known for their distinctive sharks teeth paint on the noses of their planes, was one of the most famous fighter squadrons of World War II. Started by Louisiana native General Claire Chennault, the group—comprised entirely of volunteers—fought with the Chinese Air Force against the Japanese in the skies over Burma (now Myanmar) and China.
Discover the full story of Chennault and the Flying Tigers at the Chennault Aviation & Military Museum of Louisiana. Housed within one of the last standing buildings of the World War II-era Selman Army Airfield, the museum showcases artifacts and other items related to Chennault, the Flying Tigers, and the military at large. You’ll also find pieces of local and national history, as well as artifacts from Delta Airlines and historic aircraft and vehicles just outside the museum.
Take a Walk on the Wild Side
Embark on a journey through the deserts and rainforest around the globe with a visit to the Louisiana Purchase Gardens & Zoo. Home to more than 400 animals representing in excess of 200 species, the zoo offers an up-close look at the astounding diversity of the world’s animals. Stroll along tree-shaded paths and you’ll encounter everything from African grey parrots and black-tufted marmosets to Galapagos tortoises and tigers. If you have your kids in tow, let them go for a splash in the Zoo Oasis splash pad or to make some new friends in the Children’s Zoo, where they can interact with friendly animals like miniature ponies and pigs. There’s one more kid-friendly adventure you won’t want to miss out on while you’re here: the Safari Boat Ride. Take in the lush surroundings as you cruise along the Zoo Bayou. Keep a keen eye and you may just see something you wouldn’t find anywhere else in the zoo.
Uncover Amazing Treasures & Enjoy Some Seriously Good Food
They call it Antique Alley, and you’ll see why when you stroll past the old-fashioned storefronts in the Cotton Port Historic District of Downtown West Monroe. It’s here that you can unearth some truly spectacular finds—we’re talking vintage pocket watches, furniture, glassware, and European furniture—at one of eight antique shops. Then stop by one of the boutiques to get something trendy before treating your taste buds to a plate of mouthwatering Cajun, Italian, or home-cooked fare. Make sure to get dessert—we suggest the carmelitas—at Miss Kay’s Sweets & Eats, owned by none other than Miss Kay Robertson of Duck Dynasty.
Of course, the one-of-a-kind restaurants in Antique Alley are just four of more than 100 locally owned eateries in Monroe-West Monroe. From down-home cooking to delicious steaks and fresh Louisiana seafood, almost everything is on the menu here. For some dining right along the Ouachita River, bring your appetite to either Warehouse No. 1 Restaurant or Trapp’s On the River. Warehouse No. 1 pairs authentic Cajun fare and steaks with an extensive selection of wines, craft beers, and whiskeys, while Trapp’s On the River serves up juicy burgers and entrees like red beans and rice and fried catfish. No matter where you go, you’ll want to bring your appetite.
Visit One of the Best Wineries in Louisiana
Savor a bright and sweet Blanc du Bois or a gentle blueberry Merlot and take in the bucolic rolling hills surrounding Landry Vineyards. Founded in 1999, the winery crafts a stunning range of reds and whites, including everything from a Malbec and traditional merlots to chardonnays and a decadent port. Try all of these at Landry Vineyards’ tasting room, the perfect place to go to relax on a warm summer day. Take your wine out to the deck area for a photo-worthy view and some fresh air. If you want to get behind the scenes, sign up for the one-hour tour that takes you behind the scenes, the perfect way to learn how your new favorite wine was made. Tours are only available by appointment, so make sure to call ahead.
Cool Off With a Pint of Delicious Craft Beer
When summer’s swelter sets in, chill out with a complex and flavorful craft beer at Flying Tiger Brewing Co. So named after Chennault’s famous Flying Tigers, the brewery is adorned with all sorts of references, such as a small-scale model of a P-40 airplane complete with the famous shark’s teeth. Stop by in the evening and take your pick from several beers like the citrusy On’ry Abbot and the Nitro Milk Stout that tastes like dessert in a glass. Venture on the western bank of the Ouachita River to find Monroe-West Monroe’s other craft brewery, the Ouachita Brewing Company. Purveyors of a full spectrum of beers, including a bourbon barrel-aged stout called Uncle Matt’s Time Travel Sauce, Ouachita Brewing Company has something for all tastes.
These are just a few of the many things you can do this summer in Monroe-West Monroe. Click here to find out more about the events, attractions, and restaurants you can check out while you’re in town.