For the Big Easy, we had a big rush – Amtrak’s intermittent scheduling through New Orleans meant that we could only have 3 days in town. Having our bikes with us made even our brief, full visit feel chill. It was easy to let our plans come together slowly, as we could see so much of the city just cruising on our bikes.

I got serious on the train with Charles, sat him down and made it clear that we needed to eat out three times a day the whole time we would be in NOLA, because of how many different restaurants I wanted to try and areas of the city I wanted to visit.


We stayed at the Brandywine by Sextant, a 5 minute walk from the Amtrak station and a 25 minute walk from the French Quarter, with plenty of close food, drink, and shopping options. The neighborhood (Central Business District / Warehouse District) felt completely safe, no matter how late we were out, without being very crowded. Everything was really clean, a very pleasant surprise, especially compared to the Bay Area these days.

The Brandywine was not so much a hotel as an apartment building, but about half of the units do not have any windows – beware. We had a choice between a studio with no window and a two-bedroom with windows, so we went with the two-bedroom apartment. It was really a blast, fun decorations, tons of room, good showers, everything functional. There is a rooftop pool and hot tub, which we did not use, but was a very chill space.

The Brandywine did not seem to have staff… at least not often. The front desk was unstaffed 99% of the time, other than an iPad on wheels with a video feed to someone off-site. Awkward. The other unit we looked at had laundry, which we thought our unit would have also, but it didn’t. There were no staff to ask about it. The room had a big touchpad where we could submit a service request, which was answered by someone off-site. We didn’t get the info we needed until the last day we were there, but they did have a communal laundry option on the 5th floor, so we were able to get clean before our bike ride from D.C. to Pittsburgh.

Touring & Tunes

Having the bikes in NOLA was awesome, despite the condition of the roads (aka pay attention when you are biking and engage your core early so your wrists don’t explode). Our first day, we rode from the Warehouse district to City Park, zig zagged across the park, out to Lake Ponchartrain, up the levee, along the lakeshore, to Deanie’s for lunch, and then along the 17th Street Canal Trail on our way to the Metatarie Cemetery. On the way there, Charles lost his crank on the left side, popped clean off. Fortunately, all the necessary pieces were located along the trail, and we put it back together.

We spent some time in the cemetery, looking at families and epitaphs and decorations. We noticed one man, born in New Orleans in the 1790s and died in the 1870s, who could feasibly – without moving – have lived in Spain, France, the United States, the Confederate States, and the United States again.

On the way home from Metatarie, we passed a mechanic wearing gear from Bayou Bicycles along the Lafitte Greenway, and asked about a torque wrench to get the right tightness on Charles’ crank. He asked what the torque range was (40+ N), and just recommended “ooga booga” without overtightening with a too powerful wrench. We also cruised to RideTHISBike, to potentially get fenders and a bungee. The guys there were awesome, really friendly, knowledgeable, and talkative. Even though we could only get the bungee, it was a really worthwhile trip.

Even with the pandemic, music was unescapable – not that we were trying. Our first night, we went for a midnight walk in the neighborhood and stumbled into the Hot 8 Brass Band at Howlin’ Wolf, who fully lived up to their name and tore the roof off the venue. They play every Sunday night, tickets are expensive but seemingly if you go late enough they just wave you in.

Even with the pandemic, music was unescapable – not that we were trying. Our first night, we went for a midnight walk in the neighborhood and stumbled into the Hot 8 Brass Band at Howlin’ Wolf, who fully lived up to their name and tore the roof off the venue. They play every Sunday night, tickets are expensive but seemingly if you go late enough they just wave you in.

We skipped Bourbon Street altogether (touristy music, drinks, and strip bars) and spent our time at venues on Frenchman Street and in Treme. The Royal Frenchman hotel had phenomenal jazz, and their backyard courtyard ended up being where we spent the most time. The Broadside was also a fun venue, skewed much older but great adirondack chairs & good COVID protocols (but underwhelming music).

Biking to the Bayou – Jean Lafitte/Barataria Preserve

We got really lucky with our weather window in New Orleans – it rained the week leading up to our arrival, stopped in the morning of the day our train arrived, then started raining the afternoon we left.

While we had beautiful clear skies, it also meant everything was saturated with water. The City Park grass was a wading pool, the cemeteries seemed moments from floating away, and the bayous were too flooded to get a boat into. The boat tour operators recommended we visit the boardwalk at Jean Lafitte National Historical Preserve. We considered renting a car, because it looked like a drag of a bike ride, but there were none available on short notice. So, we planned our route.

It was a quick jaunt from the Brandywine to Mother’s for a very filling breakfast, then a few more minutes to the ferry crossing the Mississippi River. They recommend you get an app to get your tickets, and it’s really astonishingly functional – you tap any stop you are going to (bus, trolley, ferry), it shows you the schedule with real-time arrivals, and you can buy & use your tickets.

I highly recommend visiting… by car. The bike ride was not for the faint of heart, most of the way. The river crossing on the ferry was lovely, then the first 3+ miles are on a beautiful and well-maintained bike path along the river. Then you get into the pitted streets and surprises.

Our route got completely changed by a bridge closure (but we got to talk to a construction worker with a great local accent), so we considered our options and re-routed through Harvey Tunnel (awful), next to I-90 (not ideal, even on the designated bike path), through some neighborhoods (okay…), and a very busy street (not my favorite). The neighborhoods and busy street would have been part of either route, so even with the bridge open it’s not an easy recommendation to make.

But as we got further from the busyness, first into less crowded neighborhoods, then into big greenery and quiet roads, then into the din of the bayou… it was so special. We pulled in to the visitor’s center parking lot, locked the bikes, and spent the next 4 hours walking the 4-mile round-trip boardwalk. The boardwalk was magical – loud with frogs and birds, shockingly green, with flowers and cypress trees dotting the view. The water itself was coated in tiny green leaves.

We saw alligators, frogs, snakes, birds, bugs, and greenery to infinity and beyond, and… armadillos! I had never seen them in the wild before, they were so cute and so close, I could not believe it. Very socialized, they ignored us and just kept digging for snacks.

After the armadillo section, it transitions from bayou to marsh – which is where we saw the most alligators, and met some hilarious local guys telling tales in thick Cajun accents about sinking Texans into the mud and how many alligators there were when they were kids.

Food & Drink

We stayed in the Central Business District, so a lot of these places were within a 30 minute walk, but having our bikes with us meant that we could go anywhere without worrying about parking, and while exploring the neighborhoods around each restaurant. The positive atmosphere around eating & drinking is really comfortable – it was so great to be ready to leave a bar and have them offer you a “to go” cup for your beer. We had many walking beers as we explored the city.

We biked to the French Quarter location first, as it was closest to where we were staying, but it was packed with a long line. So we hopped back on the bikes to go to the City Park location – not crowded, absolutely gorgeous in the park, highly recommend this du Monde location. Coffee and beignets are the only thing on the menu, we found 1 order of (3) beignets plus a coffee each to be a lovely and affordable breakfast.

Of all the places we ate, this is the one we would go back to again and again if we could. Warm boiled potatoes for the table (no charge), I had the BBQ shrimp appetizer (plenty of food as a meal), Charles had crawfish étouffée. Both were sublime, the BBQ shrimp was dense with spices, spectacular for bread afterwards. Filled with locals, off the main drag, and near Lake Pontchartrain so there are plenty of good walks/rides to be had along the way.

Coop’s is a dive-y bar, with plenty of cocktails and limited (canned) beer. The bartenders were low-key, funny, and fast. Very local-oriented, food was fast and pretty good, but definitely in the “cheap food” zone. Jambalaya was fine, fried chicken decent too, but with the atmosphere it made for a fun meal. Apparently the smoked duck quesadilla is a “must” when it’s on the menu.

Open since 1938, great food and good service, with blended chicory & coffee. Very quick to get your food out, so a good place to go in a rush as long as there isn’t a line. I had the crawfish étouffée omelette and a biscuit. Charles got the Famous Ferdi Special debris sandwich, which was functionally two sandwiches. Even with our 3-meal-per-day eat out goal, we were so stuffed we couldn’t eat again until dinner.

Pretty fun, laid-back place for BBQ and pool. A little empty because of COVID, but the outdoor seating was great people watching. Drink specials were legitimately special and really cheap, so that was fun, and there were plenty of beers on tap. The BBQ was pretty damn good, especially for the price/ease.

Of all the places we went, the least memorable. Fine atmosphere and coffee, and good ingredients in the food, but a very limited menu and they run out of anything interesting early. Feels more California than NOLA.

Famous muffuletta sandwich, a very worthwhile visit as long as you are very passionate about olives. Half size is plenty for a single person, or two people who want a light lunch. In & out, no seating, but right in the French Quarter so there are plenty of spots to sit and eat.

Our last dinner in NOLA was Jacque-Imo’s (hey now!), boasting warm beer, lousy food, and poor service. Unfortunately, they failed in every respect – fine beer, delightful food, and phenomenal service. If you don’t want a long wait, a reservation is recommended. In non-pandemic times, the next door music venue (Blue Nile) is an easy place to spend time, but it was closed while we were there, so we arrived at our reservation time. Cornbread as the table starter, delightful. The alligator cheesecake came highly recommended (apparently more eggy than cheesecakey), but we got two of the different white fish specials. Some of the best cooked fish I have had in a long time. The atmosphere was a lot of fun, very colorful and funky.

Other recommendations (we missed on this trip because of when they were open, how limited our time was, and various COVID closures):

  • Cochon – oyster BLT and baked oysters, pork belly sandwich
  • Domilse’s – poboys / bar
  • Felix’s – oysters
  • Napoleon House – shrimp remoulade and pimm’s cups
  • Stanley’s – any of their soft shell crab meals, especially benedict or poboy
  • Acme Oyster – baked oysters
  • Elizabeth’s – brunch
  • Willie Mae’s – friend chicken
  • Lola’s – Spanish cuisine with NOLA atmosphere. BYOB for waiting in the line – it can take a while to get in, so everybody does it, and make new friends while you wait.

Overall, gotta go back. The music, the food, the vibes, the walking beers, the people, the sights, the smells… and we were not there for a single weekend day.