A northeastern suburb of Baton Rouge, Central was incorporated as a city as recently as 2005 and has grown considerably since. In fact, the population had risen to almost 30,000 by 2020.
Between the Comite and Amite rivers, this is a largely residential community with low-density housing in picturesque piney woods, laced with parks and preserves.
Despite Central’s seclusion, downtown Baton Rouge is never more than 15 minutes away, putting you within easy reach of some big sights befitting a state capital, along with the oak-strewn LSU campus.
The Baton Rouge summer is no joke, but around Central there’s a big choice of splash pads and public water parks, as well as tubing on the Amite River.
1. Louisiana State Capitol
One monument that defines the Baton Rouge skyline is the 450-foot Art Deco tower of the Louisiana State Capitol.
This is the tallest skyscraper in the city, and the seventh-tallest building in the state. A project spearheaded by 40th Governor, Huey Long (1893-1935), the New State Capitol opened in 1932 after only 14 months of construction.
On entering, you’ll step into the marvelous Memorial Hall, 124 feet long and 40 feet wide, with a huge bronze relief of the state embedded in the floor.
You can go up to the observation deck on the 27th floor for a sweeping panorama of Baton Rouge. Long was assassinated in 1935, and was buried on the grounds, with a statue facing the capitol.
2. Baton Rouge Zoo
This attraction is particularly close to Central, sitting next to Baker, little more than ten minutes away. Baton Rouge Zoo is publicly owned, and takes part in more than 30 Species Survival Plans around the world.
There’s a number of high-profile exhibits, and one of the essentials is the Realm of the Tiger, inhabited by Malayan and Sumatran tigers, Asian birdlife and Siamang gibbons.
Also exciting is L’Aquarium de Louisiane, showing off the state’s native fish, reptiles and amphibians, and the Cypress Bayou Railroad, rattling through the forest enclosing the zoo.
There’s a timetable of activities to catch all day long, including keeper talks, demonstrations at the Wildlife Safari Theatre and the Running of the Ducks at the Kidszoo.
3. Old State Capitol
The striking Gothic Revival landmark looming over River Rd in Baton Rouge was the State Capitol from the mid-19th century to the 1930s.
The Old State Capitol was built on a bluff over the Mississippi and has a sumptuous interior to belie a fortress-like exterior that was famously derided by Mark Twain.
This is rich with marble, wood paneling, and magnificent stained glass, in the main gallery and dome’s skylight.
The building was most recently restored in the 1990s and contains engaging exhibits charting Louisiana’s long and eventful past.
A few recent examples are “Louisiana’s Lionhearted Ladies: Championing the Right to Vote”, “The Boggs Family Legacy” and “Louisiana’s Charity Hospital Systems: Medicine & Matters of State”. You can also catch the immersive 4D presentation, “The Ghost of the Castle”.
4. Blackwater Conservation Area
On the east bank of the Comite River is a stunning preserve on what was once a gravel mine. This site was rehabilitated in the 1990s, and the Blackwater Conservation Area opened to the public in 2002.
On almost 60 acres you can make your way along the riverbank, past restored wetlands and through native forest, composed of oaks, pines, bald cypress, cottonwood, tupelo gum, river birch, red mulberry and persimmon.
Trails help lead you through all corners of the preserve, encircling a pair of large fishing lakes a short way in from the riverbank.
5. Louisiana State University (LSU)
One of Baton Rouge’s most visited locations is Louisiana State University, not far south of downtown and considered among the most beautiful college campuses in the country.
Mostly developed between 1925 and 1940, this green landscape is endowed with Italian Renaissance Revival architecture, typified by the 175-foot Memorial Tower.
The campus is embroidered with six lakes and has more than 1,200 live oaks shading its many paths.
There’s a lot to capture your interest, including five highly-rated museums (LSU Museum of Art, LSU Museum of Natural Science, LSU Rural Life Museum, Louisiana Museum of Natural History, Andonie Sports Museum), 6,000-year-old Native American mounds and the state-of-the-art habitat for the mascot of LSU 21 varsity teams, Mike the Tiger.
The athletics program is held as one of the best in the United States, claiming national championships by the year.
Tiger Stadium, home field for the football team (NCAA Division I champions in 2019), is the eighth largest stadium in the world, with a capacity of 102,321.
6. Frenchtown Road Conservation Area
The Comite and Amite rivers converge in the very south of Central next to this reserve, composed of almost 500 acres of bottomland hardwood forest, comprising endangered and ecologically important parcels of spruce pine hardwood-flatwood Forest and small stream forest.
The reserve is a crucial habitat for migratory birds, and can be discovered along three miles of trails, weaving through the central and northern areas.
These offer access to several impressive overlooks along the Amite River, as well as a series of tupelo-cypress sloughs and a river beach.
7. Old Governor’s Mansion
The former governor’s residence is a short walk east of the Old State Capitol, and is another attraction to keep on your radar in downtown Baton Rouge.
Completed in 1930 during the governorship of Huey Long, this Classical Revival residence bears a striking, though coincidental, similarity to the White House.
Up to 1963, this was home to nine Louisiana Governors and was opened as a historic house museum in 1999 following a restoration and a 12-year stint as the HQ for the Louisiana Arts & Science Museum (1964-1976).
You can drop in for a tour (before 3pm) to see memorabilia relating to the mansion’s residents, and admire some of the opulent decor and fixtures, from the grand marble staircase to the French wallpapers.
8. Jackson Community Park
This medium-sized community park is close to the Central High School Football Stadium, off Hooper Rd.
What puts Jackson Community Park on the map is its splash pad, with a cluster of interactive sprays and jets. Open April through October, this is a great way for youngsters to escape the summer heat.
There’s also a more conventional playground close by, as well as amenities for grownup recreation, including a fitness station, walking loop, tennis, lighted multipurpose ballfield, a soccer field and a rec center.
9. Aqua PARDS
A few minutes from Central in Denham Springs is a small but well-appointed public water park, next to the PARDS Fitness Center.
Open full-time from late May, Aqua PARDS has more than enough for active families, including a lazy river, two twisting water slides for bigger kids, a wading pool and a large play structure with a tipping bucket at the top.
With a total absence of deep water, the park is perfect for children of all swimming abilities. Parents can relax under the surrounding umbrellas, and there’s a snack bar for fast food.
10. Capitol Park Museum
A branch of the Louisiana State Museum, the modern Capitol Park Museum has world-class exhibits touching on all aspects of Louisiana’s past and present.
This might be music, the Mississippi, famous traditions like Mardi Gras, sugar cane, fisheries on the Gulf of Mexico, oil drilling or the turmoil of the Civil War.
You’ll discover how Louisiana was populated by Native Americans; French, Spanish and British colonists; enslaved Africans and Acadians from Nova Scotia, to evolve into a remarkable 21st-century melting pot.
There’s a trove of awesome finds here, from 19th-century steamboat artifacts and a Civil War submarine to treasured music memorabilia like Buddy Guy’s Stratocaster and a bugle Louis Armstrong played as a child.
11. Kidz Korner Playland
Also next door in Denham Springs is one of just a handful of all-abilities playgrounds to be found in Louisiana.
The origins of this remarkable attraction go back to 1997, when the Pilot Club of Denham Springs sponsored a handicapped softball team.
This program was curtailed by an absence of appropriate facilities for participating children, which set the ball rolling for a playground where children of all abilities could play together.
That project was realized in 2011, and Kidz Korner remains a world-class play facility, immaculately maintained and accompanied by a large picnic shelter and splash pad (April-October).
12. Baton Rouge Raceway
For something a little different there’s a ⅜-mile clay oval, just northwest of Central in Baker. There’s noisy high-speed action at the Baton Rouge Raceway most Friday nights, April through October, culminating with the Louisiana State Championships.
Among the classes you can catch here are CRUSA Crate Late Models, Stingers, Mini Wedges, Street Stocks, Pure Stocks and Limited Mods. There’s plenty going on to keep kids entertained, so keep an eye on the schedule for seasonal events.
13. Central Sports Park
On more than 50 acres, Central boasts a top-notch facility for sports and active recreation, also ideal for more relaxed visits.
Central Sports Park has seven lighted diamonds for competitive baseball and softball, all constellated around a central concession building and children’s playground.
These are complemented by four multipurpose fields, a fishing lake, two ornamental lakes, a ⅓-mile walking trail and a nature trail that is slowly taking shape.
The three lakes are popular with waterbirds, and the entire park is enclosed within beautiful hardwood forest.
14. Comite River Park
Downriver from the Blackwater Conservation Area, on the west bank, is more than 100 acres of riverside forest and a stretch of Cypress Bayou.
The hilly landscape at Comite River Park is primed for mountain biking, with more than five miles of trails, and some exhilarating, sharp elevation changes.
You’ll have to contend with interesting obstacles, including boulders and thick roots, and there are wonderful scenic views closer to the water.
Comite River Park is equipped with a picnic shelter and bike cleaning station. If you’re here to walk or run on the trails, it’s best to travel in the opposite direction to the mountain bikes.
15. Tiki Tubing
Another way to cool off during those hot and humid summers is on a tubing trip along the slow-moving Amite River.
Tiki Tubing is based on the opposite bank in Denham Springs, and as well as tubes, also rents ice chests for your trip.
It’s a peaceful journey, as the wooded banks of the Amite River have almost no development, and there are several sand bars along the tubing trail where you can take a break.
It’s also worth remembering that the river can be deep, and tubing comes with risks, so you’ll have to sign a release form (best downloaded in advance for convenience), and lifejackets are recommended for all tubers.