Sounds like someone’s been spending a bit too much time ordering paprika-covered entrees off menus in chain restaurants and not enough time perusing the old history books, huh? The term Cajun (or Acadian) actually refers to the ethnic group of French Canadians who migrated to Louisiana in the mid 18th century. The Cajun heritage is as prevalent today in Lafayette as it was more than 250 years ago, and Cajun cuisine, music, arts, and festivals continue to play a major role in the city’s culture.
To your credit, though, yes, Cajun food is spicy.
The Creoles, meanwhile, are closely related to the Cajuns but hail from a distinct heritage of their own. The descendants of French, Spanish, and Haitian colonists in the New World, the Creole culture continues to leave its mark on the élégance de style of modern Lafayette as well. The lines between Cajuns, Creoles, and everybody else have obviously blurred over the years, but even today, the Cajun-French and Creole languages are spoken fluently by more than 12 percent of residents.
Gotcha. The 1760s were pretty happening in Lafayette. But who lives there today?
Modern “Laffy” is not only a hotbed and tourist destination for the Cajun/Creole crowd; it’s also one of the Old South’s most eclectic college towns. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette (which enrolls 16,000-plus students) is one of the city’s largest employers and economy boosters while nearly ten percent of residents are full-time students.
The medical, information technology, and retail industries have strong presences in the city as well, with the bulk of Arcadia’s shopping, commerce, and healthcare facilities falling within city limits.
How about entertainment? I’m not going to be sitting around all day doing nothing but eating crab gumbo and listening to fiddle music, am I?
Lafayette is a hotspot for live music, Cajun and Creole festivals, and art exhibitions, which tend to go on year-round as the weather rarely dips below 45 degrees. The downtown area, which is similar in ambiance to New Orleans’ famed French Quarter, is dotted with pubs, clubs, and live music venues, while the McKinley Street Strip adjacent to the university offers a watering hole for every taste. For those who need a drink but have places to go and people to see, drive-thru daiquiri stores allow commuters to pull up to a window and order rum-laced libations from the comfort of their own cars (Word to the wise: Open containers are illegal in Lafayette, so don’t remove the piece of tape that covers the lid until you reach your destination).
If you prefer your fun under the sun, Lafayette, aka “Sportsman’s Paradise” offers a ton of outdoor activities, from hiking and biking trails to a variety of gardens, parks, guided bayou boat rides, and golf courses. Lafayette is well known for its alligator population, so please, don’t slurp down a few too many drive-thru daiquiris and dare yourself to go wrestle a gator in Cypress Lake. You will lose.
Can I take public transportation?
Most people prefer old-fashioned gas-guzzlers for transportation here, but the city bus is a reasonable option and makes frequent stops around town. Traffic is rarely backed up and even in the downtown area, plenty of parking can be found. Parking and gridlock can be a bit more problematic around the university, but students, faculty, staff, and visitors have the option of parking at the Cajun Field lot and catching the shuttle to campus.
Any advice for future renters?
Nope. None at all.
Seriously? You’ve got nothing for us?
Fine. As the old Creole saying goes, “Ask once and we’ll tell you no. Ask twice and you shall receive” (Psych. Made that up.)
The first thing you should know about leasing in Lafayette is that, fortunately, you should be able to pay the rent and still have enough greenbacks left over for a night or two of well-mannered frivolity on the Strip. The average rental price is lingering around $700, and even 2BR units, especially around the university, are available for under a grand. Occupancy tends to spike just before the fall semester, so if you’re a student on the prowl for a killer crash pad, don’t be a slacker and wait until the last minute to begin your hunt or your options will be severely limited. In other parts of town, including popular residential areas like River Ranch, Broadmoor, and downtown, it’s unlikely you’ll ever come across a waiting list.
Also, be prepared to fork over the necessary documents along with your leasing application, including names and numbers of previous landlords, references, banking info, and proof of employment. Some Lafayette landlords cover certain utilities while others don’t so be sure to factor these costs into your budget.
Finally, apartment rates in Lafayette aren’t always set in stone, so read your contract carefully and bring those infamously shrewd negotiating skills of yours to the table-many property managers are willing to bargain.
Any particular part of town you’d recommend?
Where you decide to live in Lafayette depends on your personal tastes. Downtown Lafayette and the areas immediately around it offer a mixture of historic, renovated, and brand spanking new apartments, lofts, and condos while landing leasers in close proximity to the Mall of Acadia, numerous nighttime hotspots, and a variety of shops, eateries, and small businesses. The areas surrounding the Strip cater mostly to the college crowd and offer some of Lafayette’s most budget friendly apartments (often less than $600). River Ranch is the city’s most affluent and modern ‘hood and is a popular locale for growing families and longtime Laffy leasers alike.
Plenty of other neighborhoods have their own perks, quirks, and drawbacks, so be sure to visit a prospective area in person (on multiple occasions) before committing to anything.
One last question: Why do people keep asking me what “parish” I’m from?
One last answer: Louisianans use the word “parish” in place of “county.” So the ragin’ Cajuns who ask you this question are actually inquiring if you come from Lafayette, Vermilion, Iberia, Acadia, Evangeline, Saint Landry, Saint Mary, or Saint Martin, not what church you attend.
And now, wise guys and gals, you’re all set to join the Cajuns, Creoles, and Ramen eaters in the capitol of Arcadia. So best of luck on your hunt, welcome to Lafayette, and remember to leave the alligator wrestling to the professionals!
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