When you are in Monroe, Louisiana, for all intents and purposes, you are also in West Monroe, Louisiana. The city limit lines between them are blurred, and they are congenially referred to as “Twin Cities.” While Monroe is recognized as the larger and more prominent of the two boasting the campus of University of Louisiana-Monroe and a population of more than 47,000, West Monroe adds its charm, population of 13,000, and the fame brought about by the recently popular A & E television reality series known as “Duck Dynasty.”
Monroe and West Monroe are blessed with abundant natural resources, remarkable history, shopping galore, and restaurants offering the amazing Cajun and Southern comfort foods which have made Louisiana famous. Plan your visit around a sports event on the university campus if you’d like, but by all means stay a few days to soak up all the treasures of these towns.
*The writer was hosted for this visit, but all opinions are entirely her own.
Sample Monroe’s Great Food
During a recent visit to Monroe/West Monroe, my two favorite restaurants were Warehouse No. 1Restaurant, situated on the banks of the Ouachita River, and JAC’s Craft Smokehouseat the corner of the block leading to Antique Alley in West Monroe.
Warehouse No. 1 in Monroe began its life as a cotton warehouse more than 100 years ago, then transitioned to storage for wholesale groceries and hardware. The building maintains the original floors and corrugated tin exterior, and the massive beams in the ceiling are exposed. Each meal begins with a basket of fresh, hot hushpuppies.
While the menu leans heavily toward catfish and Gulf seafood, it also contains chicken, steaks, and pasta dishes with highly touted bread pudding and Key lime pie offered for dessert. Request a seat on the outdoor patio to get the best view of the river.
I highly recommend the Redfish Louisianne. The Crawfish Etouffee topping is the perfect touch.
The tantalizing aromas at JAC’s Craft Smokehouse in West Monroe will lure you inside from a block away. This is West Monroe’s first smokehouse restaurant, and it has ample indoor and outdoor seating areas. JAC’s menu is filled with burgers, sandwiches, meat plates, salads topped with smoked meat, and meat-filled nachos and quesadillas.
My recommendation is JAC’s Smokehouse Stuffed Potato drizzled with house queso and sprinkled with chopped green onions. Take a bag of the fried pork skins home for later.
Learn Fascinating Local History
The Biedenharn Museum & Gardensexists because Joseph A. Biedenharn figured out a great way to bottle Coca-Cola in 1894 and distribute it to the masses. His first bottling operation took place in nearby Vicksburg, Mississippi. He moved the bottling and manufacturing operations to Monroe in 1913.
The mansion Biedenharn built for his wife and children is part of the tour. Visitors can enjoy at 2000 Riverside Drive, where they will want to begin with a presentation inside the Coke Museum while sipping a five-cent bottle of Coke. Be prepared because the vending machine only takes nickels.
A surprising find on the property is the Biedenharn Bible Museum, which contains an original 1611 King James Bible, a page from the Gutenberg Bible printed between 1454 and 1455, and many other leaves from Bibles in Emy-Lou’s collection. There is an exhibit of Russian icons and rotating temporary art exhibits.
The Chennault Aviation & Military Museum is the result of the love and devotion of granddaughter Nell Calloway for her grandfather General Claire Lee Chennault. Chennault was an American military aviator best known for his contributions and leadership of “The Flying Tigers” and the Chinese Air Force fighting the Japanese during World War II.
The museum is filled with weaponry, uniforms, photographs, and artifacts from World War I through the more recent wars on terrorism the United States has fought in the Middle East. You will also learn how Delta Airlines started from a regional crop-dusting business.
Experience Nature in the Monroe Louisiana Region
Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge is a mecca for birders and those who want to get closer looks at alligators and their habitat. The refuge is inside the Monroe city limits. It is beautiful for hiking, paddling, hunting, fishing, and taking photos.
If you visit with children or grandchildren, they will enjoy the Louisiana Purchase Gardens & Zoo at 1405 Bernstein Park Road in Monroe. In addition to 400 animals, this attraction provides:
- A splash pad.
- A train ride.
- A jungle cruise on a safari boat.
- 27 acres of gardens.
- A walk-through greenhouse.
Ouachita River, which flows through Arkansas and Louisiana, and Cheniere Lake in West Monroe provide many boating, fishing, camping, and RVing opportunities.
There are plenty of national chains and big box stores in Monroe and West Monroe, but I recommend you head to Antique Alleyon Trenton Street in West Monroe. There you will find 40 locally owned businesses selling antiques, clothing, and home décor.
My favorite store is the Spice & Tea Exchange. It smells amazing, and you will certainly want to try one of their exotic concoctions with teas and special spices.
The Robertson family of West Monroe turned the creation of duck calls and all things related to duck hunting into a commercial mega-success. They are mostly known for their television series “Duck Dynasty.”
It is possible today to visit the Duck Commander/Buck Commander warehouse, gift shop, and museum and schedule a behind-the-scenes tour. The store, located at 117 Kings Lane, is open Monday through Saturday from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM.
Unique Attractions in Monroe
Another remarkable Monroe attraction is NE LA Delta African American Heritage Museum at 1051 Chenault Park Road. At the museum, you can see furniture from old slave cabins, informative displays about Frederick Douglas, Mary Bethune, and others, and an impressive African American art collection.
Before you leave town, save time to drive through the University of Louisiana-Monroe campus. Pick up some university souvenirs featuring Ace the Warhawk, who wears a bomber jacket and flight goggles in honor of General Chennault and Louisiana’s contributions to aviation.
Where to Stay in Monroe Louisiana
I would also like to give a shoutout to TownePlace Suites by Marriott Monroe at 4917 Pecanland Mall Drive. My husband and I arrived at the hotel several hours before the official check-in time. There were tornado watches and warnings in the area, and we really needed to find a place of shelter. The manager graciously allowed us to check in and instructed us on where to go in case official warnings were announced.
The hotel’s location was excellent, and the room was extremely comfortable and full of our favorite amenities.
This article was written by Connie Pearson from Hartselle, Alabama, author of “100 Things to Do in Huntsville and North Alabama Before You Die“.
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