New Orleans is known for many things. It is the birthplace of jazz, home of Cajun and Creole music and cuisine, purveyor of the oyster po’boy, and host to the most famous Mardi Gras party north of the Panama Canal. Recently, the Big Easy has been carving out a reputation as a bike-friendly destination as well. With a downtown area approximating only 35 square miles (91 km2) and nary a hill in sight, New Orleans is an ideal city for a strong bike culture. Because of the hard work of passionate residents and advocacy organizations such as bike easyThat possibility is quickly becoming a reality. The City has built over 100 miles (161 km) of bike lanes in the past 10 years, and social bike rides, bike parades, and bicycle valets at music festivals are becoming commonplace in the balmy Southern city.
How to Get a Bike
New Orleans now has its Blue Bikes bike share program with more than 500 bicycles available to visitors for a pay-as-you-go rental at $.15 per minute. Gerken’s onSt. Claude offers bike repairs and rentals, with friendly, knowledgeable staff who will gladly tell you great places to check out and how to get there. Buzz Nola Rentals & Tours has a large fleet of cruisers ready to rent and a few great tours as well if you’re interested. A Musing Bikes is your bike rental spot for the Garden District, and both tour groups Crescent City Bike Tours and Confederacy of Cruisers offer rentals as well.
Where to go
Cruise down to historic Jackson Square in the French Quarter to see the street performers, then visit the old market and stop for a beignet and coffee at the famous Café du Monde, Lock up and head to the riverfront to watch the ships pass on the old Mississippi River before pedaling out for an afternoon ride into the Garden District, home to the best-preserved collection of opulent 1800s mansions in the southern US. For a breath of fresh air, ride up to City Park, a 1300-acre oasis in the middle of the city. Pack a picnic in your panniers and bask in the shade of 100-year-old oak trees. For a bit of local history, take St. Claude into the Lower Ninth Ward to visit the House of Dance and Feathers, a by-appointment backyard museum honoring the Mardi Gras Indians and the complex, festive history of New Orleans. Bike Easy has an up-to-date printed map of bike routes and paths, available directly from them and a number of bike shops around the city.
Where to Stay
The Old No 77 Hotel and Chandlery on Tchoupitoulas Street has a bicycle-friendly staff who can point you in the right direction for rides around town. The HH Whitney House It also provides bike storage and helps arrange rentals and tours. The Garden District’s Southern Comfort Bed and Breakfast has free bicycles for guests. For the backpacker crowd, the legendary India House Hostel at 124 South Lopez Street arranges bike tours for guests and has bike-friendly staff.
What to do
There is absolutely no shortage of things to do in New Orleans. From Halloween to Mardi Gras to Jazzfest to French Quarter Fest, there is almost always some reason for celebration in the Crescent City. But first let’s talk about food; you’re going to need energy for all that dancing. Deanie’s Seafood in the French Quarter is a classic spot for Louisiana classics like crawfish and gumbo. Elizabeth’s in Bywater fries up a mean oyster with blue cheese sauce and has decadent, boozy brunches to cure any hangover. Casamento’s has been serving oysters any way you like them since 1919, while the 100-year-old Parkway Bakery & Tavern is famous for its many delicious po’boys. Mother’s is a homestyle, southern greasy-spoon, serving up large platters of fried catfish, baked ham, collard greens, and red beans and rice in portions big enough to fuel whatever ride you’re going on. And if none of that tempts you, you may just find the best fried chicken you’ve ever tried at the local gas station!
Come evening, put a cold beer in your water bottle cage and cruise into the French Quarter to join the party. Bourbon Street is worth seeing, but the slightly less touristy Frenchmen Street is where the real party is. Lock up and stroll up and down Frenchmen, wandering in and out of the multiple venues such as The Maisonthe Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro, Cafe Negril and The Spotted Cat Music Club, Live music is integral to New Orleans’ culture, and shows are nightly, vibrant, and often by donation. If it gets too stuffy inside, simply pick up a cold beer or a hurricane at a roadside bar and ride the narrow streets of the French Quarter, taking in the action and dancing to the horns and strings of street musicians.
If all that partying tuckers you out, you can take a breather with a social bike ride. bike easy organizes group rides, such as the Stallings Gentilly Park ride every Monday evening. Or you can go with a guide via any of the great bike tour options. Flambeaux offers a Creole Odyssey and a Bayou Tour to learn about the history of the city. Confederacy of Cruisers runs a cocktail tour for the booze-inclined traveler, while Ninth Ward Rebirth Bike Tours offers visitors the opportunity to learn about the community most affected by Hurricane Katrina, and the amazing ways they’ve rebounded. Whether biking to the bar, to the park, to the parade or the party, or just cruising around the streets with new friends, there is always something incredible to see in New Orleans, and two wheels is the way to do it.
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Hilary Angus is the online editor of Momentum Mag. She writes about urbanism, and the intersection of bicycles and social equity. She’s spent the past year casually trying to convince her boss to relocate the office to New Orleans…
Julie Verlinden is a freelance photographer, specializing in lifestyle, wedding, stage, and travel photography. Born and raised in Belgium, but recently moved by love and now living in New Orleans, LA. Driven by an everlasting curiosity, she prefers not to interfere in circumstances or light, and create honest, documentary style images. Julie Verlinden Photography.
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