Tucked away in the northwest region of Louisiana, the charming city of Natchitoches (pronounced Nak-A-Tish) is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. Located on the banks of the picturesque Cane River, it’s no surprise that Natchitoches, LA, was the backdrop for the entire film Steel Magnolias.
The French-inspired architecture of Natchitoches’ buildings rival even the famed French Quarter of New Orleans, and the entire downtown area boasts a proud designation as a National Historic Landmark District spanning 33 blocks.
With a rich history dating back to its founding by French Canadian explorer Louis Juchereau de St. Denis in 1714, Natchitoches is proud to have the distinction of being the oldest city in Louisiana.
Discover Natchitoches, LA, on Foot
Discover Natchitoches’ rich history and culture with a free guided walking tour provided by the Cane River National Heritage Area, available for viewing times on the Natchitoches Convention & Visitors Bureau website.
Afterward, explore the small city’s historic charm with a stay at one of the many captivating bed and breakfasts.
Famous Museums and Artworks
Don’t miss a visit to the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest History Museum, housed together in a stunning copper clad building. Learn about Louisiana’s sports legends, including Terry Bradshaw, Lou Brock, Joe Brown, and Shaquille O’Neal.
Experience the rich heritage and culture of the Natchitoches region with a visit to the Northwest History Museum. The exhibits showcase a fascinating timeline that spans over 3,000 years, capturing the history of the Caddo tribe, French, Spanish, African and Creole settlers.
The best part? Many of the artifacts displayed date back to the early 1700s! But there’s more! Explore the 12 captivating paintings by the renowned self-taught artist Clementine Hunter.
Born in 1887, Clementine’s pieces depict plantation life in Natchitoches, from farming and pecan picking to courtships, weddings, and even funerals. And if you’re a history buff, be sure to check out the three pre-Civil War plantations that are open to visitors.
Oakland Plantation and Historic Sites
Take a tour of Oakland Plantation, established in 1789 or Magnolia Plantation (outer buildings only) that was built in 1830, to get a glimpse into the past. Come, explore, and immerse yourself in the heritage that shaped this beautiful region.
Experience living history at the breathtaking Melrose Plantation, a National Historic Landmark boasting antebellum charm from 1815. Witness the past come to life through blacksmith shops, cotton picker’s sheds, gristmills, slave hospitals, and slave quarters. Step back in time to life on a Louisiana plantation before the Civil War.
Step even further back in history with a visit to the meticulously reconstructed Fort St. Jean Baptiste, using the same mud and grass mixture as the original in 1714. Strategically located on the Cane River, Natchitoches served as a crucial trading post during battles between French and Spanish forces.
Enjoy exhibits and costumed re-enactors bringing the battles to life before your very eyes.
More Natchitoches Fun Finds
Discover the enchanting Briarwood Nature Preserve National Historic Place, where naturalist, artist, and trailblazer Caroline Dormon once lived. Stroll along the lush trails and soak in the beauty of the flora and fauna that line the way.
As the first woman employed by the U.S Department of Forestry, Caroline believed in preserving the environment, and her legacy lives on with the Briarwood Estate, a true nature preserve.
Unleash your inner shopaholic in the Historic Downtown District, where you’ll find an array of unique shops waiting for you. Pick up an iconic Clementine Hunter print at Plantation Treasures. For those who appreciate beautiful craftsmanship, don’t miss Olivier Woodworks with its stunning handmade furniture and lamps constructed with Creole Cypress wood.
The grandfather of all the shops is Kaffie-Frederick General Mercantile. Founded in 1863 by Adolph and Harris Kaffie, Jewish immigrants from Prussia, it is the oldest general store in Louisiana. Today a third generation of the Frederick family owns the store, they still ring up sales on a 1910 cash register.
Food and Restaurants in Natchitoches
When it comes to food, Natchitoches, LA, has a rich tradition of meat pies that dates back to the 1700s. These pies were sold from kiosks lining the streets and were considered the first fast food of the town. The Natchitoches meat pie is a delicious blend of beef, pork, onions, garlic, and peppers, all wrapped in a flavorful crust and shaped like a half-moon.
If you visit Natchitoches in September, make sure to check out the Natchitoches Meat Pie Festival to celebrate this beloved treat. If you want to try the best meat pies in town, Lasyone’s Meat Pie Kitchen and Restaurant is where the locals go. They are also well-known for their tasty crawfish pies and corn fritters.
And if you’re looking for a casual dining experience with a view of the river, head to Maglieaux’s Riverfront Restaurant on the Cane. Their menu is extensive and includes unique dishes like portobello mushroom fries and seafood cannoli. Come hungry, leave happy!
You’ll find delicious and refined cuisine in the Historic District of Natchitoches, namely The Landing restaurant. Their menu offers delightful dishes like shrimp etouffee or quail and shrimp over jambalaya with rosemary scented gravy that will leave your taste buds wanting more.
And if you’re feeling adventurous, give their alligator sausage gumbo a try!
Natchitoches, LA: A Must-See
IWhether you’re exploring Beau Jardine Park or marveling at the stunning architecture on Front Street, you’ll definitely want to make a return trip to charming Natchitoches.
This article was written by Frances J. Folsom.
Images courtesy of Natchitoches Tourism.
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