Is there anyone that doesn’t love the spicy flavour of classic Tabasco sauce? In our family, the answer is definitely a resounding, “No!” And so on our recent vacation to Louisiana, when the city of Lafayette gave us the opportunity to check out the nearby Tabasco Factory Tour on Avery Island, we couldn’t have been happier.
Located about 45 minutes from Lafayette and just over two hours from New Orleans, Avery Island is a top tourist destination and a great spot for families. The island boasts the Tabasco Factory Tour on one side of the highway and the Jungle Gardens Tour on the other.
We headed to the island in the early morning planning to do both, and the boys couldn’t wait to get started. Planning your own trip to Avery Island? Here are the highlights you won’t want to miss!
Watching Tabasco Sauce Go From Plant to Bottle
The Tabasco Factory Tour is a self-guided walking tour with ten different stops. We liked being able to move through the tour at our own pace, since it let us avoid some of the larger crowds that were also visiting. This tour is one popular destination!
Our first stop was in the mini greenhouse, where we got to see the pepper plants growing. The greenhouse was set up mainly for visitors, since the ones used by the company are much bigger!
It was fun to see the tiny red peppers that would create Tabasco sauce, and we learned about the Baton Rouge, a red stick that was used to judge whether a pepper was ripe enough to pick…and which gave Louisiana’s capitol its name!
Next, it was on to the Barrel Warehouse. Here we were able to see the large vats where Tabasco sauce is aged with salt on top. The spicy, salty smell coming out of the warehouse was incredible, and seeing the stacks of barrels had the boys impressed with just how much Tabasco sauce the factory produces!
The Tabasco Factory Blending Room was a spot where we could see the huge bins of peppers, salt and vinegar being blended together. The process takes 28 days and the sauce contains just those three ingredients…it really is all about the blending!
The boys especially liked the spot where they could open a door to get a whiff of the blending room. The scent of Tabasco was immediate! I can’t help but think that the people working in the blending room must have clothing that permanently smells of the spicy sauce!
A display on the history of Avery Island and another on the island’s salt mine help visitors understand why the location was first used for making Tabasco Sauce, and how the island’s population once made their living in the mines. Seeing one of the huge blocks of salt that came out of the mine was an interesting experience; I hadn’t realized mined salt looked so much like a large crystal.
Then it was on to the Bottling Line, where we got to watch the blended, aged and quality-checked sauce going into bottles. Seeing how the bottles were filled, labelled and packaged by the different machines was a treat. And I loved the counter in the plant that told us how many bottles had been created that day. When we visited that morning, there had already been over 88,000 bottles produced!
The tour ended with a look at some of the various Tabasco products available in North America and in other countries, as well as with a visit to the museum. Normally, the Tabasco Museum is the first stop, but we saved it for the end to avoid getting caught in a crowd from a tour bus. It boasted some fun pop-culture Tabasco items, including an adorable dress made from Tabasco neckties.
We also enjoyed reading about how E. McIlhenny, Tabasco’s creator, had once dealt with a competitor that claimed his recipe was the original Tabasco and that McIlhenny had copied him. His sauce was made quite differently, however, and his company soon went out of business as people flocked to buy the superior McIlhenny Tabasco Sauce.
Tasting the Tabasco Difference at the Country Store
With the tour complete, it was time to head to the Tabasco Country Store! The store is packed with exclusive Tabasco items that we enjoyed exploring. But the true appeal is the Tabasco tasting bar at the back of the store!
Here, visitors can try every variety of Tabaco sauce, from the classic Family of Flavours, seven varieties of Tabasco sauce available in stores everywhere, to exclusive flavours like Raspberry Chipotle available only at the store. Want to see just how spicy Tabasco can get? Make sure to give the Tabasco Scorpion sauce a try. Just be prepared to have your socks knocked off!
My personal favourite was the Tabasco Chipotle sauce, and we all enjoyed trying a bit of Tabasco Cola. The woman running the tasting bar mentioned that it’s easy to make at home; just add a few drops of classic Tabasco sauce to your favourite type of cola. The spice goes surprisingly well with the drink!
After trying a bowl of Tabasco Chili and sampling sauces to our hearts’ content, it was time to head across the highway to the Jungle Gardens.
Exploring the Ecosystem of Jungle Gardens
The Jungle Gardens experience is a self-guided tour through the 170-acre semitropical garden that stretches along Bayou Petite Anse. It was our family’s first chance to see what made the landscape of Louisiana so unique, and we found every moment fascinating.
The land was once owned by Edward Avery “Ned” McIlhenny, the son of Tabasco’s original inventor E. McIlhenny. He had been an avid naturalist and had created many exotic and unique features within the grounds.
The Live Oaks were our first stop and we couldn’t resist getting up close and personal with the huge trees. You simply don’t realize how big they are until you take a photo of somebody beside one of them!
Driving alongside the bayou is a wildlife-lover’s dream come true. We saw dozens of alligators swimming in the water and sunning themselves on the shore. Birds of all types flocked around the area. And when pulling up to one walking path, we even got to see an adorable fawn get up from his nap in the sun and bound away.
Certain spots in the grounds also boasted walking paths over ponds and through unique garden features. My personal favourite spot was the Jungle Gardens Shrine, home to a Buddha statue that’s said to be over 900 years old.
The Shrine was designed with classic Eastern elements and we felt immediately peaceful walking into the area. The statue itself was a gift to McIlhenny from two friends in New York and has now become the centerpiece of Jungle Gardens.
The mansion home of McIllenny is also featured during the drive through Jungle Gardens, though it’s not open for public viewing. Seeing the house from the outside is still an interesting experience, though, when we remembered that it was because of the one man that lived there that Jungle Gardens has so much beauty to enjoy.
Along the drive we were also able to enjoy seeing bamboo, azaleas, camellias and other unique flowers and plants. I especially liked this experience, since the ecosystem of the island is so different from our prairie home.
Bird City is definitely a must-visit spot along the Jungle Gardens route and for bird-lovers, perhaps the biggest attraction of all. Ned McIlhenny started the rookery in 1890 with just eight snowy egrets in an attempt to protect them from hunters.
The birds were released to migrate in the fall, but six of them and their mates returned in the spring to nest. Each year, more birds returned to the area until, in 1911, an estimated 100,000 birds were nesting in Bird City!
Looking out over the sea of birds nestled in Bird City is awe-inspiring. And realizing that the entire population of birds owe their peaceful lives to just one man and those first eight birds shows just how much small actions can have a big impact over time!
Visiting both Jungle Gardens and the Tabasco Factory Tour has an added bonus…a free full-sized bottle of Tabasco sauce from the Jungle Gardens gift shop! The boys were delighted by the fun souvenir and after a quick photo with the 14′ alligator in the shop, we decided to head back across the road to the restaurant on the Tabasco Factory site.
Cajun Cooking at Tabasco’s Restaurant 1868
After learning so much about Tabasco sauce, we couldn’t help but want to try it at its best in the factory’s Restaurant 1868! The spot is known, of course, for its rolling carts featuring every possible variety of Tabasco!
My oldest son and I both decided to get our first taste of Cajun cooking and ordered the Crawfish Etouffee. Topped with a bit of Garlic Pepper Tabasco, it was a great choice for seafood fans like us.
My husband, on the other hand, decided to stay a little bit more classic with his meal choice and had the 7 Spice Chili Dog. Served on a Po Boy bun and topped with Tabasco’s famous 7 Spice Chili, it was a fun Cajun twist on a traditional favourite. He added some Sweet & Spicy Tabasco for the perfect amount of heat.
For those looking for a dream cocktail, Restaurant 1868 also features a Make Your Own Bloody Mary bar! Use a variety of toppings and Tabasco sauces to make your own perfect Bloody Mary, complete with a souvenir glass to take home.
With our meal complete and the island explored, it was time to head back to our hotel and plan more fun things to do in Lafayette with kids for the rest of our time in the area. Our visit to the Tabasco Factory Tour and Jungle Gardens had been the perfect half-day excursion.
And if you’re planning a trip to Southern Louisiana, this is a spot you don’t want to miss! Full of fun activities and information for all ages, it’s an ideal family spot that’s also very educational. As an added bonus, it’s also budget-friendly! Doing both the Tabasco Factory Tour and the Jungle Gardens Tour is just $12.50 for adults and $9.50 for kids.
There are plenty of other sites to see in and around Lafayette as well, so try to spend at least two days in the area if possible. It’s got all the fun and energy of New Orleans, with a kid-friendly atmosphere that families will love!