The city dates back to a settlement on the Vicksburg, Shreveport, and Pacific Railroad in the 1880s. It’s only right that Railroad Park, on the former grounds of a depot, should remain a gathering place for concerts and festivals more than a century later.
The surrounding Lincoln Parish is peach country, and Ruston has a long-running Peach Festival around the harvest in June.
Ruston’s historic downtown deserves your time, with scores of annual events, local shopping and dining, and an acclaimed farmers’ market running all year round on Saturdays and Tuesdays.
The Louisiana Tech Campus, embellished with old oaks and Colonial Revival landmarks is a short walk west of downtown, and known for big-hitting football and women’s basketball programs.
1. Downtown Ruston
Set on 18 charming blocks, downtown Ruston is a Louisiana Historic District, in the care of people with a lot of love for their community.
Even when we wrote this list, streetscape improvements were taking place, with new sidewalks installed along West Park Ave.
Museums, arts venues and dozens of small businesses, including stores and restaurants for all tastes, help to make downtown Ruston special.
A few stars of the dining scene are the Heard Freighthouse Food Truck Park, Ponchatoulas for Cajun and Creole seafood, and Raw Restaurant for sushi.
The social calendar is non-stop, with big events like the annual Peach Festival, as well as outdoor concerts at Railroad Park downtown.
2. Louisiana Tech University
The 280-acre main campus for Louisiana Tech University is only a couple of blocks west of downtown Ruston. Furnished with stately Colonial Revival architecture and grand oak trees, the campus merits a self-guided walking tour.
The centerpiece and oldest portion of the campus is the Quadrangle, anchored by the Lady of the Mist fountain, and encircled by solemn buildings like Keeny Hall, the Howard Auditorium, University Hall, the Wyly Tower of Learning and the Student Center.
Louisiana Tech has a high reputation for sports, most notably football (more below) and the successful Lady Techsters women’s basketball program, with 13 Final Four appearances and three national championships.
3. Peach Festival
Held at the height of peach season every June, Ruston’s Peach Festival has been an annual tradition since 1951. North Louisiana is renowned for its fruit growing, and the big crop around Ruston is the peach.
This was harvested by small operations until the creation of the Louisiana Fruit Growers Association in the late 1940s, which organized the first festival a few years later.
The Peach Festival is a one-day event on the first Saturday in June, packing more than ten hours of live music at the Railroad Park stage, along with contests, a juried arts market, multiple food vendors, peach-infused treats like peach ice cream, and all kinds of fun to keep children entertained.
4. Ruston Farmers’ Market
A lovable biweekly ritual, the city’s farmers’ market is held in a beautifully decorated warehouse right on the edge of the downtown area.
This building is open Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings and is a treasured community gathering where you can support the local economy and small businesses rooted in Louisiana.
Everything for sale here, from seasonal fresh produce to eggs, meat, salsas, honey, jams, baked goods, tempting prepared food, artisanal cosmetics and handmade crafts, is local or has come from within the state.
5. Rock Island Greenway
Developed in phases since breaking ground in 2016, this multi-use path and linear park courses through Ruston for nearly six miles.
Traveling the Rock Island Greenway you’ll be on the right-of-way of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad, which played a part in Ruston’s development at the turn of the 20th century.
The greenway is unique for this region, linking recreation amenities, residential neighborhoods, local businesses and several educational institutions including Louisiana Tech.
Being on a railroad corridor, the path is smooth and wide, but also well-shaded in summer.
6. Mitcham Farms
The largest peach orchard in the state is in the countryside northwest of Ruston. Established in 1946, Mitcham Farms has 120,000 trees, and sells its hand-picked and graded peaches at the Peach Store farm stand.
If you’re in town for the Peach Festival, then Mitcham Farms is a must visit. As well as juicy and sweet peaches in baskets of all sizes, there’s a big choice of peach products including cobbler mix, preserves, jellies, jams, peach candy and pies.
Added to all that are fudge, ice cream, seasonings, teas, fresh and canned vegetables and a selection of Louisiana-specific gifts.
7. Joe Aillet Stadium
In fall one of the hottest tickets in Ruston is Louisiana Tech Bulldogs games at the 28,500-seat Joe Aillet Stadium, named for the head coach who took charge of the team for 26 years between 1940 and 1966.
Joe Ailet (1904-1971) led the Bulldogs to nine conference championships and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1989.
Wearing their famous red and blue, the Bulldogs compete in NCAA Division I’s Conference USA, and have produced an amazing number of famous pros.
A condensed list features Terry Bradshaw, Pat Tilley, Fred Dean, William Roaf and Roger Carr.
The stadium opened in 1968 and has been altered a lot since then, making a slew of improvements such as LED lighting, an athletics complex in the south end zone and a $16.6m press box and guest suite facility.
8. Lincoln Parish Park
This green space a few miles northeast of downtown Ruston is a hotspot for outdoor recreation. Mountain biking is the big activity at Lincoln Parish Park and there are more than 10 miles of trails, suiting both new and experienced riders.
The large Hoogland Lake takes up much of the park, and you can walk along the shores via a scenic 1.25-mile paved path.
Head to the lake to fish from the piers or launch a kayak, canoe or other non-motorized boat.
If you’d like to stay overnight there’s also a campground at Lincoln Parish Park, offering primitive sites with electricity access and campfires permitted, as well as RV sites with full hookups.
9. North Louisiana Military Museum
There’s a comprehensive military museum a couple of blocks east of Vienna St downtown. The North Louisiana Military Museum has memorabilia relating to every conflict from the French and Indian War (1754-1763) to Desert Storm.
There are two floors of exhibits, as well as a striking display of artillery, tanks, helicopters, anti-aircraft guns, and a Civil War cannon outside.
Downstairs you can check out three Congressional Medals of Honor, from three different branches of service. Upstairs is a remarkable display of uniforms, small, flags and much more from all branches, including a rare collection of seized Nazi memorabilia.
10. Ruston Artisans
A leading fine art hub for northern Louisiana, Ruston Artisans can be found downtown, rolling together a gallery, event venue, gift boutique and co-op studios.
Above all, this is a place for more than 50 local artists to display and sell their work, and you’re sure to find something unique here.
As a community-oriented place, Ruston Artisans has a packed schedule of workshops and art-themed social gatherings every week, and also caters to children’s birthday parties, in case you have a budding artist in the family.
11. Dixie Center for the Arts
A cultural mainstay in Ruston for almost a century, the Dixie Center for the Arts goes back to a silent movie theater and vaudeville stage opened in 1928.
Originally known as the Astor, the Dixie took on its current name when it was acquired by the Dixie Theater Corporation of New Orleans in the 1950s.
This was also the origin of the signature flashing neon star over marquee. After running its course as a movie theater, the Dixie lay unused for decades before being restored and reopened as a performing arts center in 2006.
When you’re in town, be sure to check the schedule for stage productions, concerts, dance performances and classic movie screenings.
12. Autrey House Museum
For a little excursion you can make the drive north to this preserved house, managed by the Lincoln Parish Museum & Historical Society.
Constructed in 1849, the Autrey House is a rare example of a dog trot house, named for the large breezeway through the center of the building to cool residents during the hot southern summer.
Once commonplace across the North Louisiana hill country, fewer than ten dogtrot houses survive to this day.
The Autrey House has two rooms flanking that central hall, with a sleeping loft above. You can check out the original ironstone chimney, as well as the family cemetery behind, where founder Absalom Autrey, his first and second wives, several other family members and enslaved people are buried.
13. Lincoln Parish Museum
At 609 North Vienna Street is an historic residence in the care of the Lincoln Parish Museum & Historical Society.
The Kidd-Davis House was built in 1886, and initially had an Italianate design before gaining its Colonial Revival appearance around 1920.
This is an apt location for the Lincoln Parish Museum, with a focus on the 19th century. On show are period furniture, dolls, kitchen supplies, clothing, photographs, drawings and a collection of other items from the 1800s.
The Walls That Talk exhibit features seven murals offering snapshots of the parish’s past, accompanied by informative voice recordings by local residents. Upstairs is a display of farm equipment and an exhibit for colorful Louisiana governor Huey Long (1893-1935).
14. Eddie G. Robinson Museum
A great reason to make the ten-minute trip west to the town of Grambling is for this museum honoring record-breaking football coach Eddie G. Robinson (1919-2007).
Robinson was the head coach for Grambling State University (GSU), historically an African-American university, for an incredible 57-year stint, from 1941 to 1997. In that time he achieved 408 NCAA Division I victories, the second most in history.
The Eddie G. Robinson Museum opened on the GSU campus in 2010 and is a loving portrait of the great man.
Exhibits detailing the 200 players, including four NFL hall-of-famers, that he guided into professional football, enhanced by an awesome collection of artifacts, awards, documents, art and photography relating to Robinson’s career.
15. Downtown Ruston May Days
May is a wonderful time to be in Ruston, with a feast of cultural activities on Saturdays to coincide with the farmers’ market.
Every Saturday there will be a performance in Railroad Park, accompanied by all kinds of other activities, including arts shows and food trucks.
Downtown Ruston May Days is a showcase for local creative talent, and several of the performers at Railroad Park will be Louisiana Tech music students.
After the concert you can head off to grab a bite from one of the assembled food trucks, and take a look around downtown Ruston’s boutiques.