BREC’s Baton Rouge Zoo

Sure the kids like going to visit Mike the Tiger. But hop on Interstate 110 and head north for 15 minutes and dazzle them with more than 1,800 animals, including a white tiger! From alligators to zebras, there’s an animal sure to win your child’s heart and captivation. There’s also a safari playground, otter park, aquarium, parrot paradise, kidszoo and scenic train rides. With year-round special events like Zippity Zoo Daze and Boo at the Zoo, there are reasons to keep going back.

3601 Thomas Rd., 775-3877, brzoo.org

Animal lessons
Have you ever been to the zoo and seen these creatures? Typically they walk upright on two legs, they often point with their index fingers, travel in groups and shriek with excitement when they come across a monkey.

They’re school kids.

And believe it or not, there’s a school group that goes through BREC’s Baton Rouge Zoo every weekday. In April alone, 8,665 students and 4,222 teachers/chaperones took a tour. The record for highest single-day visitors is 7,498, when costumed kids and adults came to the Oct. 28, 2007 Boo at the Zoo event. The entire four-day event drew 27,321 people—a nice chunk of the 261,407 total visitors in 2007.

Not one of the visitors last year? Be sure to drop in this summer—maybe even on Wednesdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. when admission is $1—to check out newly constructed amenities and attractions, like climate-controlled restrooms, the conservation plaza and Gateway to the World, which includes a new visitor bridge and various reminders of our local zoo’s far-reaching conservation efforts. —M.F.

Cinemark at Perkins Rowe

This movieplex has only been open six months, but that’s more than long enough to make a big impression. From the moment you step through the grand, chandeliered entrance, you know you’re in for a cinematic experience of a different kind. The 16 screens feature all-stadium seating—great for the little guy—and digital surround sound means you hear more from the movie and less from any Eberts who might be sitting near you.

10000 Perkins Rowe, Suite 125, 761-7844, cinemark.com

Spanish Town Mardi Gras

Even the fiesta of the Capistrano swallows can’t compare to the excitement of locals when the flamingos appear in the LSU lakes. Spanish Town prides itself on the celebration of the gaudiest and bawdiest aspects of Mardi Gras. Held annually with themes like “FEMAture Evacuation” and “Leathers and Feathers,” Spanish Town may not be winning any awards for good taste. But be honest—it’s that opportunity to be gloriously, blissfully tacky that we most relish about the season. spanishtownmardigras.com

Pink is the Color of Baton Rouge Mardi Gras
The Spanish Town Mardi Gras parade got started in 1981. The first one was a simple affair: fewer than ten people, most of them kids, and the beads being tossed back from spectators to marchers so the parade didn’t have to end. But it’s grown in size and popularity since then.

“Our permit from the city limits us to 80 floats,” says Dusty Kling, a board member of the SPLL (Society for the Preservation of Lagniappe in Louisiana) which organizes the parade. “Every year we have to turn away more floats… I’d say 30-40.”

And a crowd of more than 100,000 people come to watch, making it Baton Rouge’s largest Mardi Gras parade.

The rituals have gotten more elaborate, too. The flamingos of Capitol Lake—the kitschy symbol of Spanish Town—have grown into their own tradition. Set out 2-3 weeks before the parade itself, it’s become a challenge to see them in their “natural environs” before they’re nabbed and carried off to balconies and front yards all over the city. Some years they last less than 24 hours. —R.U.

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

Local may be debatable, but there’s no question many Baton Rougeans make the annual spring trek to the New Orleans Fairgrounds and use a vacation day—or seven—for Jazz Fest. With 39 years under its belt, it’s hard to stop this music train with big names like Stevie Wonder, the Neville Brothers, Jimmy Buffett, Santana, Tim McGraw, Robert Plant and Widespread Panic. It’s the ultimate mix of music topped off with crafts, beer and food galore. nojazzfest.com

What makes Jazz Fest special?
In its humble but pure beginnings, Jazz Fest was all about original New Orleans music.

The festival may have blossomed into a much wider celebration of music and culture, but it’s still a special festival for jazz purists.

Nowhere is the festival’s jazz tradition more alive than the fabled Jazz Tent, which has staged some of the festival’s most memorable performances.

To Baton Rouge jazz drummer Herman Jackson (whose brother happens to be American Idol judge Randy Jackson), “festivals are festivals.” However, Jazz Fest stands apart, thanks to its rich history and rare camaraderie.

“It’s special playing because of all the legendary players. You have a chance to interact backstage with everybody that you’ve read about and tried to emulate in your musical career,” Jackson says.

But most of all, it’s the home turf.

“I’ve done all major jazz festivals throughout the world, but New Orleans is the biggest in the world. It’s a very gratifying experience to be able to play that festival on that stage at home.” —M.F.

Louisiana Art & Science Museum

Under what roof can you find a 2,300-year-old mummy, prints by Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, paintings by Clementine Hunter and a 60-foot dome theater? Check under the roof (or series of roofs) at the Louisiana Art and Science Museum, which has something stimulating for every kid and adult. Aside from its permanent collection, the museum’s traveling exhibits bring work from international names like Marc Chagall, Howardena Pindell and Jim Henson to town.

100 South River Rd., 344-5272, lasm.org