This is Why Monroe, LA is one of the Cities in Louisiana You Don’t Want to Skip
As she moved from her chair behind the register to a cozy cushioned wicker seat, I knew we were settling into a proper southern visit. I was an out-of-towner who knew nothing about Monroe and West Monroe, Louisiana. These two cities in Louisiana had never been on my radar. Now that I was here, Anne, who ran Coco’s Mercantile on Antique Alley, was ready to fill me in on the local scoop.
Meeting the locals in Monroe, LA
This is one of the many things I love about the south. You never just “cruise through.” No, the locals are just as interested in meeting you as you are in meeting them.
While my friend Allison and I wandered around Northeast Louisiana, everyone wanted to know why we had come to town. What were we doing there? Did we have friends in the area? Did one of us live there? Nope. We were just traveling around, seeing what was in the area.
We found great food, well-curated boutiques and more juicy stories than could fill a book.
Monroe, LA versus West Monroe, LA
To an outsider, the Monroe versus West Monroe rivalry may seem silly. I mean, there is just a small river that divides these two cities. You can literally walk across the bridge that connects the two downtowns in five minutes.
Though the two cities are large (and seemingly divided by a rivalry), business owners in West Monroe’s Antique Alley live in Monroe.
Don’t even get the locals started on the local high school sports teams. Everyone has an opinion on who is the best. Because I’m not much of a sports fan, I did not broach that topic after I saw the fire light in one man’s eyes at the mere mention of local football.
Monroe is not as sleepy as it looks
Once you dive into these two cities, because yes, West Monroe is distinct from Monroe, you will find yourself wandering down side streets, back alleys and realizing that the food is so darn good — and why nobody had mentioned it sooner.
You may not find any massive hurricane drinks like you do in New Orleans, but you will find a northern take on Louisiana cuisine, cooler temperatures (especially in autumn), and a pride in two cities that are still reinventing themselves.
3-Days in Monroe
So, where do you begin when you are planning a trip down to Monroe, LA? Get ready to hit a slower pace of life, but one that is delicious, and can still put a dent in your piggy bank as you shop until you drop. You will learn where Coca-Cola was first bottled (Monroe and Vicksburg, Mississippi disagree over who did it first!), see the birth place of Delta Airlines and learn just why China loves this small city. Rent a car if you are flying in, because driving is the best way to see and do it all.
Day 1: Arrive in Monroe
Downtown Monroe is about 15 minutes from the airport,* so you won’t have to worry about a long commute. Pick up your rental car keys in the terminal and head outside to the parking lot to pick it up. It is really that simple.
*If you are driving through, plan on getting in by late afternoon, so you have plenty of time to freshen up before dinner.
Grab dinner at Parish Restaurant, before checking into your hotel and calling it a night. Unless you visit on a weekend, Monroe is the type of town that shuts down early.
Day 2: Get to know Monroe vs. West Monroe
As a visitor, you will not know the difference between Monroe and West Monroe. It’s OK — your GPS will keep you posted. Grab your morning honey latte at RoeLa Roaster and take a stroll along the River Market. Activities and festivals happen throughout the year, including RiverMarket on the first and third Saturday of the month, March through May and October through November. In December, the market pops up again for a special Christmas Market.
Walk up to Butter A Louisiana Bakery, a gluten-free bakery that everyone will love, for fresh bowls of grits overflowing with eggs, sausage and cheese.
Once you are fueled up, drive over to the Biedenharn Museum and Gardens to learn where Coca-Cola was first bottled and why this family was so important to Monroe over the decades. If you are a fan of architecture, make sure you drive around the Monroe Garden District to see a wide variety of home styles.
If you are lucky, you will be in town during one of the many home tour weekends. Even if a tour isn’t available, don’t miss driving by the Cooley House, one of the last surviving homes created by famed architect Walter Burley Griffin.
After all of your wanderings, you will be starving. It’s time to head to West Monroe. Miss Kay’s Sweets & Eats is the perfect spot to relax. Fun fact: Miss Kay is best known as the matriarch of the Robertson family on the television show Duck Dynasty. Funky chair groupings converge on this gas station turned coffee house, where you are likely to see moms meeting up with their babies and toddlers, a baby shower taking place on the weekend and local business owners catching up over an afternoon chai pick-me-up. The chicken salad on a croissant will hit the spot, but you should save room for the frosted sugar cookies. They are a must, as are any of the cakes on display.
Walk off all of those extra calories on Antique Alley. Don’t let the name fool you. There used to be more antique shops on Trenton Street, but over the years, well-curated clothing boutiques and specialty stores selling home goods, tea and spices, furniture and wood crafts have moved in. It’s the perfect spot to load up on a few staples for your wardrobe as well as those special pieces that will set you apart from the crowd. Make sure you chat with the shop owners too. This is where you will get the stories and local gossip and find out where to eat dinner tonight.
Speaking of dinner, it’s time to head to Restaurant Cotton just over the river in Monroe for a smoked pear rosemary martini, redfish on the half shell and some s’mores roasted right at your table. You’ve had a long day. Don’t you deserve a treat?
Day 3: Museums, Bayous and moving on
Get up early so you can tackle a whole lot before you have to head home or be on your way to your next destination. Grab a little to-go breakfast at RoeLa Roasters. Their VooDoo-glazed croissants are worth it, but they do have paleo and gluten-free pastries for those who need it.
Drive out to the Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge to get a little exercise hiking across the pier over Black Bayou Lake. If the kayak and canoe rentals (seasonal) are available, paddle out and look for gators and other wildlife.
Enjoy lunch at Waterfront Grill, where you will see a connection to your last stop in Monroe, the Chennault Aviation and Military Museum. The Grill was the private club for sergeants stationed at Selman Field in Monroe during WWII. You’ll find loads of memorabilia and photographs on the walls from the dances and parties that took place at that time.
Monroe, LA Hotels
Now that you have your plan, you need to know where to stay. There are a plethora of chain hotels to choose from in Monroe and West Monroe with a sprinkling of B&Bs and inns, including the Hamilton House Inn in West Monroe, LA.
Many of the chain hotels can be found along Highway 20, catering to the road trip traffic going back and forth between Atlanta and Dallas. Prices are reasonable, and the staff is always friendly. Pick your favorite and book a few nights.
Make sure you look at a map to see where the hotel is located. The further from the highway the better, as there is a lot of big-rig truck traffic moving back and forth throughout the night.
You already know that Antique Alley in West Monroe is way more than just antique shops. In fact, many local shop owners have started referring to it as just “The Alley,” so people won’t be confused.
Keep in mind that when you shop Antique Alley, you are not only shopping local, but many of these shops are also women-owned, a cause we always love to support as well. We went into several shops, but here are just a few of our favorites:
- Coco’s Mercantile, 400 Trenton Street, Suite B. One of the most beautiful home décor shops I’ve been to in ages. I instantly had ideas to decorate my bedroom and wish I could bring it all home, including a 4×5 foot painting the owner’s daughter had created.
- The Nude Nomad, 222 Trenton Street. A great collection of t-shirts and well-priced casual wear for every day, as well as a few nice date night pieces.
- Eleven 26 Boutique, 314 Trenton Street. Formal wear is at the back of the shop for those times you need a gown, but the front is filled with the latest trends and shoes.
- Rusty Nails and Pearls Boutique, 209 Trenton Street. That shop where you can find everything you need to decorate your home for the holidays, and a unique gift for your impossible to shop for mother-in-law too. Do not miss the stellar collection of handbags that take over an entire wall in the front.
- K-Sera Boutique, 507 Trenton Street. A bit farther down Trenton Avenue, you will find the stand-alone K-Sera. This shop caters to a slightly younger crowd, but still has plenty of business casual wear and date night outfits to fit most ages.
Louisiana is no stranger to good cuisine. Jambalaya, gumbo, boudin — we’ve all heard of it (OK, so I had never heard of boudin before), but there is so much more to it. Dive into things like redfish on the half shell, grilled catfish, local trout, grits with and without shrimp, and a burgeoning cocktail culture that would make New York City blush. Yes, they still like it battered, buttered and fried, but Northeast Louisiana cooking has evolved, and we were happy to sample it all.
This post is part of a paid partnership with Louisiana Travel and Travel Mindset. As always, my opinions are my own. When they aren’t you will be the first to know.