Settled by Acadians in the 19th century, Abbeville is a pretty town on the Vermilion River, with landmarks traced by historic live oaks.
Abbeville is in the middle of the Cajun Corridor byway, and you can stop at museums celebrating Cajun culture and recalling the deportation of the Acadians from Nova Scotia in the mid-18th century.
Cajun food is central to Abbeville’s charm, and there are few better places for oysters, crawfish and beloved Cajun preparations from gumbo to étouffée and even fried alligator.
Abbeville has some first-class events, and you might find yourself tapping your toes to live music under the twisting oak branches at Magdalen Square in spring, or watching a team of chefs in toques blanches making a 5,000-egg omelette in November.
Abbeville’s Cajun heritage manifests itself in many ways, and not least in the rich and exciting food culture.
There are more high-quality Cajun and Creole-infused eateries in and near Abbeville than you could possibly fit into one trip.
This close to the coast, you’ll be near the very source of many regional signatures, from crawfish and oysters in season, to crawfish étouffée, gumbo, fried catfish, crab cake, fried alligator, po-boys and many more.
A few spots to keep in mind are SHUCKS! (701 W Port ST), Dupuy’s Seafood and Steak (108 S Main St), RiverFront (530 Park Ave), Richard’s Seafood Patio (1516 S Henry St) and Cajun Claws (1928 Charity St).
2. Magdalen Square
The space that ties downtown Abbeville together is beautiful Magdalen Square. This plaza is enclosed by a low wall and has dense tree cover from its historic live oaks, giving a lot of shade to its cluster of benches.
There’s a sweet gazebo here, as well as a central fountain. No surprise that this is the location for Abbeville’s many community events, including a bustling farmers’ market on Saturday mornings, so popular that there’s a waiting list for vendors.
You can catch live music most weeks at the market, as well as during the Sounds of the Square concert series on Thursday evenings.
This article will talk about some of the attractions within walking distance of the Magdalen Square, but on the south side is Magdalen Place event center, while Concord St leads you east to the Vermilion Parish Courthouse (1952), with a pair of giant live oaks standing sentinel.
3. Abbeville Cultural & Historical Museum & Art Gallery
On the north side of Magdalen Square, the Veterans Memorial Building is a few things rolled into one. First off, this is a visitor center and gift shop for Vermilion Parish, and the ideal place to begin your Abbeville experience.
There’s much more to see, including a series of enthralling permanent displays. These tell the story of Le Grand Derangement, of Acadian people from Nova Scotia in the 18th century, and document other aspects of local history.
One must-see is the Morgan Effigy, discovered in a Native American mound and carved from a deer antler in the 10th century CE.
You can also admire rotating art exhibits, updated five times a year, featuring local talent and exploring themes like the swamps and African American history.
4. Palmetto Island State Park
There’s a protected expanse of South Louisiana nature, an easy drive south of Abbeville. Palmetto Island State Park gets its name from the dense layer of dwarf palmettos under the cover of coastal bottomland hardwood forest.
From the visitor center you can see this habitat along a walking trail three quarters of a mile long. If you’re here with children, they’re sure to love the large splash pad at the visitor center, a must in summer.
You can stay overnight in this unforgettable environment, with 96 campsites and six vacation cabins provided. The park is also a paradise for paddling, either along the Vermilion River via a boat launch or in the serene interior lagoons.
5. Depot at Magdalen Place
For a glimpse of the city’s industrial past you can check out the relocated Abbeville freight depot, raised in 1894.
Now found a block south of Magdalen Square, this wood-frame structure was previously next to the Vermilion River and is accompanied by two cabooses.
The building now contains a small visitor information post, as well as a gift shop selling authentic local and Cajun items.
There’s a small but diverting display on Abbeville’s railroad history, endowed with some interesting memorabilia.
6. Sam Guarino Blacksmith Shop Museum
At 304 S State St downtown, you’ll come across a building that is clearly from a different time. Dating from around 1913, this is the Sam Guarino Blacksmith Shop, which was originally located where the Abbeville freight depot is now.
This business, in a wooden shack with a dirt dloot, survived for much longer than you might expect, only closing in 2004.
Some of the items crafted or repaired at this place were cattle brands, tractor components and stretchers for muskrat and nutria hides.
There’s a display of historic tools inside, which is like a time machine, taking you back to Abbeville a century ago. If you’re just passing by there’s a detailed information board out front.
7. St. Mary Magdalen Church
On the west side of Magdalen Square, another abiding part of the Abbeville townscape is the spire of St. Mary Magdalen Church.
Built from brick in a Gothic Revival style, with Romanesque Revival flourishes, this is the fourth Catholic place of worship on the site, and was completed in 1920.
If you’re interested in the building’s architecture, fixtures and liturgical art, head inside to view the 18 Ionic and Corinthian column capitals, as well as the oak ciborium in the apse, depicting Christ and the twelve apostles.
Also noteworthy are the Carrera marble side altars with images of Mary and St. Joseph, and the European-crafted stained glass windows lining the nave, portraying the church’s saints and scenes from the life of Jesus.
The adjoining cemetery dates back to c. 1844, while the Foursquare rectory building is from 1921.
8. C.S. Steen’s Syrup Mill
Abbeville is wrapped in sugarcane fields, and one of many special things about the town is that there’s an open-kettle sugarcane syrup mill still operating a block west of Magdalen Square downtown.
Set next to Abbeville’s hydro plant (1922) and opposite the cemetery, C.S. Steen’s Syrup Mill has been in business since 1910. Steen’s 100% Pure Cane Syrup has been a staple of South Louisiana kitchens for well over 70 years now.
After five generations the mill continues to use the open kettle method, and you can head across to check out the yellow Steen-branded tanks.
Tours of the mill had been available until recently, and when we wrote this article there were plans to open a visitor center here.
The proprietors have been known to greet visitors on an informal basis, sharing the company’s history and complimentary bottles of syrup.
9. Rip Van Winkle Gardens
About 15 minutes east along LA 14 you’ll arrive at Jefferson Island, one of several salt domes in the area.
An accumulation of rock salt, these large, wooded formations rise abruptly from the low-lying landscape, with salt deposits that descend miles deep into the earth.
In 1870 the renowned stage actor Joseph Jefferson (1829-1905) chose Jefferson Island for his grand Late Victorian home, serving as a painting studio and hunting lodge.
This residence sits among gorgeous semi-tropical gardens, also featuring Rip’s Rookery, a man-made wetland providing a safe habitat for thousands of nesting wading birds.
You can take a tour of the Jefferson House, still adorned with paintings by Joseph Jefferson. Café Jefferson here is one of the best Cajun restaurants in the area, with views of Lake Peigneur.
This 1,100 acre body of water has an interesting story, and accidentally became the deepest lake in Louisiana in 1980 when oil drilling caused a salt mine under the lakebed to fill with water, swallowing dozens of acres of land.
10. Acadian Museum of Erath
Ten minutes east and you’ll be in the little town of Erath, and it’s a trip worth making to visit this compact museum downtown.
The Acadian Museum of Erath gives some insight into the Acadians who settled this area following their expulsion from Nova Scotia in the 1760s and 1770s. There are five rooms of bilingual French-English exhibits to browse.
Of particular interest is the Acadian Room, presenting four centuries of rare artifacts and going into depth on Joseph Broussard (1702–1765) who led the first wave of 200 Acadians, arriving in Louisiana aboard the Santo Domingo in 1765.
Also significant is the Queen’s Royal Proclamation Room, documenting the signature of the Royal Proclamation by the British Crown in 2003, which acknowledged the wrongs committed against the Acadians in the 18th century and established July 28 as Day of Commemoration of the Acadian Deportation.
11. Louisiana Military Museum
Out at Abbeville Chris Crusta Memorial Airport in the east of the city is a free museum at the Louisiana Military Hall of Fame.
Inside and outside this attraction you can view a range of hardware including tanks, artillery, armored personnel carriers, artillery, jeeps, a helicopter and a preserved Higgins boat.
This is all combined with information boards, field equipment, uniforms, small arms, photographs, correspondence, flags, medals and a big cache of other memorabilia.
At the time of writing, the museum was undergoing improvements and could be visited by appointment only.
12. AA Comeaux Park
Abbeville’s largest public park is a few blocks south of downtown, and is a go-to for active recreation.
There’s a skate park, a dozen baseball fields, soccer fields, eight tennis courts, rec center and a walking path about a mile in length.
If you’re here with youngsters the park has fantastic, recently updated play areas, including a brand new splash pad.
AA Comeaux Park also has several rentable shelters, including grills, for birthday parties and family reunions.
13. Lafitte Cinema
There’s a first run multiplex at Lafitte Mall shopping center, less than five minutes east of downtown Abbeville. This spot has a bit of history, as the setting for Abbeville’s former drive-in theater.
Lafitte Cinema’s proximity to the heart of Abbeville is one of its best qualities, but this is also a cozy and friendly place to watch a movie, equipped with all-digital projection and sound in its four auditoriums.
There are specials on all matinees (all shows before 4:30pm) and advance tickets are available for all movies during normal box office hours.
14. Giant Omelette Celebration
South Louisiana has a lot of eccentric public celebrations, but even by those standards, the two-day Giant Omelette Celebration in downtown Abbeville is something special.
This colorful gathering takes place over the first weekend in November As you might gather, the iconic event on the Sunday involves a team of chefs from around the world teaming up around a 12-foot skillet to cook a 5,000-egg omelette.
There’s also a Jr. omelette, with a mere 600 eggs in a 4-foot skillet. The celebration kicks off on Saturday at Magdalen Square, with two days of arts and crafts, live music, a kids’ zone, dance performances, classic cars and crazy competitions like an egg-cracking contest.
15. Sicilian Celebration
At the turn of the 20th century there was a big wave of immigration from Sicily to New Orleans.
For many families, NOLA wasn’t the final destination, and many settled in the Vermilion Parish, where names like Guzzardo and Campisi are still common.
Since 2019, Abbeville has celebrated this aspect of its heritage with a free program of activities at the Sam Guarino Blacksmith Shop Museum & Heritage Center.
At the core of the event is a cooking contest, and there’s also imported wine and beer, pizza, muffalettas, live music and free guided tours of the Sam Guarino Blacksmith Shop Museum.