The twin cities of Monroe and West Monroe, facing each other across the sleepy Ouachita River, have evolved in the last decade with new attractions, shops, restaurants, and outdoor fun. With the addition of 5 Louisiana Cultural Districts between them, along with recent recognition for their Main Street districts, the duo defines revitalization.
What to do
Start your exploration at one of the region’s long-standing gems: the Biedenharn Museum & Gardens. Coca-Cola was born in Georgia, but originally was available only at soda fountains. Joseph Biedenharn longed to extend soda sales beyond the counters of his Vicksburg, Mississippi, candy company to those who couldn’t visit the store. In 1894, he became the first to bottle Coca-Cola and later opened a bottling plant in Monroe.
Tour his elaborate home, the ELSong Gardens (named after his daughter, Emy-Lou), the Bible Museum featuring Emy-Lou’s extensive Bible collection, and the Coke Museum filled with nostalgic memorabilia. Adults, $7.
The Chennault Aviation & Military Museum in Monroe tells the stories of Major General Claire Chennault and his World War II Flying Tigers, and traces the start of a small crop-dusting business that later became Delta Air Lines. The free attraction also commemorates soldiers from World War I through modern conflicts with thousands of artifacts, including restored military aircraft.
While West Monroe’s 150-acre Kiroli Park opened decades ago, it’s constantly being upgraded and will see a lodge renovation and updates to its dog park this year. Follow well-maintained hiking and mountain biking trails through woods and along streams and fishing ponds. Enjoy picnic areas, playgrounds, tennis courts, and gardens. Just a short drive from both cities, it’s the perfect way to escape to nature. Admission, $1.
Take a break from exploring to visit family-owned Thirsty Farmer Winery & Vineyard, which opened last summer in nearby Calhoun. Sip fruit-forward wines and nosh on small bites on the grounds overlooking a vineyard. Listen to live music on Saturdays.
Where to shop
Several blocks make up West Monroe’s ever-evolving Antique Alley with its numerous boutiques, such as Cotton Port Antique Mall, which showcases items from 20 dealers. Contemporary stores and restaurants also populate this shopping district, which often hosts festivals and events.
Where to eat
Start the day at Delta Biscuit Company, one of Monroe’s newest breakfast and brunch spots. Designed to resemble a pleasant home kitchen, the restaurant’s decor is colorful and bright. For dinner, chef Cory Bahr serves fine-dining specialties at Parish Restaurant & Bar in Monroe; his elevated deviled eggs are hugely popular. Pair a pint with New York–style pizza at Flying Heart Brewing & Pub in West Monroe.
Where to stay
The historic 2-story Hamilton House Inn in the heart of West Monroe offers elegantly furnished rooms, all with private bathrooms. Relax with drinks on the back deck and enjoy breakfast in the expansive kitchen. Rates start at $140.
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