by Jennifer Lee | October 15, 2015

Shreveport-Bossier may boast a blend of Texas and Louisiana culture, but there is no doubt that the area has carved out a distinctive identity of its own. Located in northwestern Louisiana, Shreveport and Bossier City are divided by the historic Red River. A quick drive across the bridge and groups meeting in the area can easily utilize both cities’ offerings, which include a number of new group experiences. During my recent trip to Shreveport-Bossier, I was able to participate in some of those activities as well as get a taste of the local cuisine and cultural flavor that emerges from events such as the Red River Revel Arts Festival, the Louisiana Music Prize and the Louisiana Film Prize.

At Sci-Port: Louisiana’s Science Center, group experiences aim to prove that science is fun for all ages. While touring the facility—which can be rented out for special events—we tasted ice cream made with liquid nitrogen, learned about constellations in the planetarium and witnessed the electrifying effects of a Van de Graaff generator.

For an experience that pleases the palate, groups can enjoy the new wine and chocolate pairing at Jimmy’s Seafood & Steak at Margaritaville Resort Casino in Bossier City. The restaurant’s general manager Dexter Huewitt explained the flavor profiles of certain chocolates and wines and provided advice on which wine to pair with spicy seafood and which wine to stay away from if steak is on the menu. The wine and chocolate pairing can accommodate groups ranging from four to 200 people.

Perhaps the gem of the city is the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium. Built in the 1920s, the auditorium was the home of the Louisiana Hayride, which gave rise to stars like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. A backstage tour of the historic venue—which still has the original floorboards, some of the original seats and the original dressing room vanities intact—included standing on the stage where the “King of Rock and Roll” performed during the Louisiana Hayride when he was just 19 years old. The Shreveport Municipal Auditorium offers group tours for up to 100 people and can be rented out for special events.

For larger events, the Shreveport Convention Center offers 350,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 95,000-square-foot exhibit hall, several ballrooms and 10 meeting rooms. Attendees meeting in the Red River Boardroom can look out the windows for a view of the downtown Shreveport skyline. The convention center is connected to the 313-room Hilton Hotel Shreveport, which has brought on a new chef to create a new menu to be unveiled by the end of the year. Other new developments in downtown Shreveport include the renovation of the Sears Building into 50 lofts as well as the opening of Rhino Coffee and expected opening of Rock-n-Sake Bar & Sushi next year.

Another venue that offers convenient access to both meeting space and accommodations is the Hilton Garden Inn and Homewood Suites by Hilton Shreveport-Bossier, Louisiana’s first dual-branded Hilton hotel. The 177-room Garden Inn and the 144-room Homewood suites together offer more than 9,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space.

Not for the faint of heart, a visit to Gators and Friends Alligator Park and Exotic Zoo is sure to get the adrenaline pumping. Just 10 miles from Shreveport in the city of Greenwood, the park offers seven zip line courses totaling about 4,000 feet in length, one of which sends riders over alligators basking in the sun. For those who prefer to stay away from the toothy reptiles, creatures of the more cuddly variety can also be found roaming about. Visitors have the option to pet and feed animals such as ponies, pygmy goats, camels and zebras, to name a few. In addition to offering group rates for the zip line experience, the park also features a room that can be used for a small meeting.

My visit fell during the Louisiana Music Prize, which also served as the opening night party for the Louisiana Film Prize. The annual film contest was started in 2012 and invites filmmakers to shoot a short in Shreveport and/or Bossier City for the chance to win a $50,000 cash prize. After viewing all 20 short films, I got the opportunity to vote for the winning film, which was determined by both festival attendees and a panel of judges. This year’s prize was awarded to “The Bespoke Tailoring of Mister Bellamy,” a drama that takes place in 1964 at the integration of the job market in Louisiana. When Mister Bellamy sees a posting for a janitorial position at a local law firm, he tries to make his best impression by teaching himself how to craft a custom suit using an abandoned sewing machine.

Another event that made the city come alive was the eight-day Red River Revel Arts Festival in downtown Shreveport. I was able to pick up local fare like a Natchitoches meat pie followed by a generous slice of peanut butter cake as I browsed the aisles of arts and crafts. The Red River Revel Arts Festival was a great way to end my time in Shreveport-Bossier, a place that is proud of its unique history and culture.