Guest Blogger Alice Phillips toured each of the eight cities on Louisiana’s Holiday Trail of Lights. This is her experience in Stop 1 – Monroe-West Monroe.
The weeks following Thanksgiving lasting until the New Year are full of holiday parties, indulging in maybe too many sweets and picking out the perfect gifts for loved ones. However, one of my favorite things about the holiday season is driving around and looking at the lights that twinkle in trees, line roofs and shine through windows. To me, seeing lights being hung are the first signal that the holidays approaching.
I was excited when I got the opportunity to be a guest of the Louisiana Holiday Trail of Light’s team and road trip through North and Central Louisiana seeing the holiday lights and festivities that happen each year in the trail’s eight towns. I live in New Orleans but am actually a Louisiana transplant from Alabama. I had never driven across Louisiana and was looking forward to seeing each stop’s unique traditions and cultures. Follow my trip through the trail to learn about the different holiday festivities in the region!
Stop 1: Monroe & West Monroe
Monroe and West Monroe were the first stops on my Holiday Trail of Lights tour. As I pulled in and drove throughdowntown West Monroe, I saw storefronts festively decorated with lights, wreaths and other Christmas decorations.
Miss Kay’s Sweets and Eats was my first stop. If you haven’t been to West Monroe, you probably have heard of the Robertson family from the A&E reality series Duck Dynasty. Miss Kay is the matriarch of the Robertson’s and opened her restaurant at the end of Antique Alley in West Monroe to share her very own recipes.
The menu at Miss Kay’s has a variety of options to choose from including a long list of hamburgers, classic sandwiches and of course, sweet treats like cookies and pralines. It didn’t take me long to decide on my lunch, chicken pot pie topped with a biscuit. It was the comfort food I wanted after my morning drive and satisfied me enough for a full day in Monroe and West Monroe.
Downtown West Monroe has a street known as Antique Alley with shop after shop full of everything from home décor and clothing to art and antiques. There is a little bit of something for everyone in the few blocks of unique stores. Each storefront was decorated with holiday decorations like nutcrackers guarding the door, wreaths donned with red ribbons or fake snow framing the windows. The decorations are as unique as the items you will find inside.
For my next stop, I headed to the Biedenharn Museum and Gardens, home to Joseph Biedenharn, the first bottler of Coca-Cola and later his daughter, Emy-Lou. Out front, sits a vintage car and adorned with garlands and wreaths. Each room in the house is decorated differently thanks to Emy-Lou, a renowned opera singer during the pre-World War II era. We strolled through the house where each room had a tree and other holiday knick-knacks. I took in the holiday nostalgia with a coke costing me only a nickel from an original Coca-Cola vending machine. Visitors can see demonstrations of the original bottling process used by “Mr. Joe” Biedenharn while hearing his fascinating story. The grounds are also home to the Bible Museum located next to the home where you can explore the family’s extensive collection of unique Bibles including a Gutenberg leaf.
After shopping and sight-seeing we were ready for a mid-day pick up and headed to a new local coffee shop, Standard Coffee Co. It was just opened in November 2019 by Cory Bahr and Mac Blades in downtown Monroe. The atmosphere is laid-back and friendly with students and Monroe residents studying or just visiting with each other. The menu offers typical coffee shop drinks whether you want something hot or cold and has homemade muffins, cookies and other pastries ready to satisfy your sweet tooth. Mac sat down on one of the couches and chatted about his vision for the coffee shop and his passion for creating the space where he hopes people want to spend time in downtown Monroe.
After getting caffeinated, I headed to the Northeast Louisiana Children’s Museum to see Santa’s Christmas Village. This museum is a paradise for children and is transformed into a holiday wonderland starting around Thanksgiving until the week of Christmas. Outside, I joined in the fun by jumping inside the giant snow globe and sliding down the blow up slide, “Mt. Sneaux.” Santa’s Village inside includes a snow “blizzard,” cookie decorating, make-and-take ornaments, festive light displays and of course, visits with Santa. This museum is full of festive fun that guarantees great photo ops and memories.
As the sun went down, the streets of Monroe and West Monroe came alive with twinkling lights at every turn. I happened to be in town during The Downtown Gallery Crawl which happens monthly. While stopping into local art galleries, I got to see the artistic side of the town. Pottery, handmade ornaments, photographs, knitted hats and even clothes are just a few items you could buy during the crawl.
After visiting Cory Bahr’s coffee house, I had to have dinner at Parish Restaurant. The award-winning chef opened Parish Restaurant in 2018. The only problem with the menu is how good everything looked. So, we compromised and had a few bites of several appetizers. Tastes of duck wraps drizzled with local honey glaze, roasted brussels with pickled chilis and a spicy aioli, deviled eggs and venison tartare almost filled us up before we had to say no and save room for the main dishes. I had squid-ink spaghetti topped with lump crab sitting in a bed of butter, lemon and herbs. It was delicious and warm and I was sadly too full to even get dessert. If I wasn’t too full, I would have ordered the cookies and milk or coconut panna cotta. The ambiance of the restaurant matched the interesting flavors of the menu – a festive tree sat in the corner and the room was filled with local artwork.
A great way to end the night was with driving through Candy Cane Lane, a mile-long wooded drive with thousands of Christmas lights. We drove through and took in the beautiful lights while listening to holiday music. Light covered tunnels that blinked and moved with the music playing was definitely a highlight.
At the end of the fun day in Monroe and West Monroe, it was time for me to head to my home for the night, the Hamilton House Inn located in West Monroe right on Antique Alley. I walked under the light covered streets and into the warm and inviting bed and breakfast. Breakfast was offered in the morning, but I had to leave early to get to my next stop!
Read more about Alice’s tour in her other four stops along the Trail of Lights.