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Lake Charles, LA (Population: 71,757)

Lake Charles is located 30 miles from the Gulf of Mexico and has a population of 71,757 (2000), making it the fifth largest city in Louisiana. Lake Charles is known regionally as an important cultural and educational center within Acadiana, or Cajun Country. McNeese State University, known for its biology and education programs, is located here, as are other vocational schools. Lake Charles is known as the Festival Capital of Louisiana, hosting over 100 festivals annually.

In the years following the Civil War, Lake Charles regained its status as a lumber community, in turn building a number of Victorian houses that now stand in the Charpentier District just east of the modern day downtown area. Today the city is known as a major petrochemical refining center as well as a gaming center. Lake Charles is home to riverboat casinos such as The Pride of Lake Charles, as well as the hotel and casino L'Auberge du Lac, which employs over 2,000 Lake Charles residents and boasts a championship golf course. Other popular cultural attractions are the city's museums and art offerings including the Imperial Calcasieu Museum and the Lake Charles Symphony.

Among all of the carnivals and festivals that have earned Lake Charles its reputation, the Contraband Days are certainly the largest and most well known. Second only to the Mardi Gras Festival, this is one of the largest events in the state. This twelve day event is filled with Cajun food, family fun, live music and entertainment. The festival begins when the pirate Jean Lafitte captures the port and throws the Mayer of Lake Charles into Lake Charles (the lake itself). Other popular festivals celebrate the heritage of the residents- Cajun, African and Celtic alike.