New Orleans Interactive Guide

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New Orleans Interctive City Guide

There is absolutely nothing finer than vacationing where your mind, body and soul are at peace.  For us, the place to “pass a good time” has always been New Orleans, Louisiana.  Call it the "City That Care Forgot," or the Crescent City.  Either way, it’s a wonderfully eclectic and steamy gumbo mixture of food, music, people, fun things to do, and interesting things to see.  But wait, you’ll never have time to fully undertake this casual and friendly place all on your own.  Trust us, we’ve been to N’awlins so many times that we still haven’t experienced all the culture and history that continually beckons us to visit time and time again.

Laid Back HQ.

Never fear, for Laid Back Tours, LLC is here.  With the expert guidance of the husband and wife owners and operators, Mousa and Veda, you too can tour New Orleans at a relaxed and easy pace.  Take your pick from their many individually guided tour options as there’s always a lagniappe, or a little something extra, when you’re on a Laid Back Tour.  Whether it’s a shorter kayak tour through the city’s only bayou — St. John, or a full day kayak trip through bayous, swamps, and wetlands, you will experience many of the gifts that this magnificent area has to offer.  With this top notch adventure tour company, you will enjoy a unique view of New Orleans, the land of decadent pleasures, up front and personal while among an intimate group.  Nope, no air conditioned mega buses full of touristy geezers here.  That’s not the style of Laid Back Tours, sorry.

Laid Back and ripping through N'awlin's.

For us, we chose to try the road less traveled and experience New Orleans’ unsurpassed architecture and ambiance by bicycle while on a full day guided tour.  Like baby ducks following their mommy, our eclectic and small sized group of six people set off behind our very friendly and knowledgeable leader, Veda, on our full day of biking.  As we covered nearly 23 miles throughout the entire day, we kept pumped up by the positive words and attention we received everywhere we went — just by riding bikes.  What?  Not in shape you say.  No worries, as they have three wheeled recumbent trikes that help you ease into the groove and make you feel just like Lance Armstrong.  No matter what age or athletic ability you are, everyone looks sexy on one of these bikes and trikes because they’re cool to look at, and they’re very easy to ride, too. 

Blooming magnolias scent the route.

Cruising the French Quarter.

Biking the Garden District.

On our pedal powered excursion, we were soon to experience everything the varied city of New Orleans had to offer up close and personal.  We saw historic Creole plantations and heard their history.  While under majestic oak trees, we learned what shotgun shacks are and why.  Everywhere we rode, it seemed that the sweet scent of the many blooming magnolia trees followed us.  Veda led us on a personal tour through and explained the mysteries of the St. Louis Cemetery. 

We meandered like the Mississippi River through the outdoor hub of the city, the massive City Park, and learned of its many treasures.  Of course, we cruised through the crowded French Quarter, as we were bound for two separate ferry rides across the mighty and murky Mississippi River.  To end a gorgeous day, we rode down side streets and the neutral ground in the grandiose Garden District and took note of the numerous porches and patios for outdoor relaxing and entertaining.  Foodies need not worry, as we also had an outstanding lunch fit for a Mardi Gras king. 

Of course, when in N’awlins, it is almost mandatory that you eat, and eat, and then eat some more.  With this in mind, for this adventurous biking trip we were taking a pre-emptive strike at burning off calories that we were bound to eat or drink at some time during our week long visit to this charming Creole city that one of our lifestyle mentors, Jimmy Buffett, affectionately calls, “the northernmost city in the Caribbean.”

New Orleans is architecturally diverse.

A "Shotgun" House.

To start the day off, we chose which style of bikes were a perfect fit for us, donned our helmets and had our initial training sessions on how to properly ride the recumbent trikes we chose for our panoramic trip.  For the newly informed, recumbent trikes are essentially comfy lounge chairs with three wheels, a horn, and a water bottle holder.  We all listened attentively as Veda, a natural presenter as a former teacher, led us through our thorough briefing session on the city, its history, and its people.  Then, we all rode off into the glorious morning sunshine to see a few of the 4,190 square miles of this city that is located approximately 90 miles down from the mouth of the black, muddy Mississippi River. 

While pedaling at a mellow pace, Veda allowed us biking novices many rest stops as she lovingly told us the history of what we were experiencing.

Architecturally, we saw the very first, and one of a handful of still remaining, plantations that have been passed down in a family for seven generations.  The many home styles are a mixed renaissance blend of everything, because obviously, in New Orleans, everything goes.  Creole mansions are right next door to smaller West Indies - styled single and double shotgun homes.  They are named as such because of their center hall that runs from the front door straight on through to the back door.  You could, literally, shoot a shotgun through the front door, and hit the alligator knocking at your back door.  Then, we stopped to see and hear about the Pitot House, named after James Pitot, the first mayor of New Orleans, who built this home in 1799.

Mandatory rest time allowed repeated chances to stop and smell the flowers.  Whether it was the huge blooming Magnolia blossoms or the sweet flowering Jasmine, each was a treat for our noses as we rode down shade covered street after street, thanks to these massive trees.  It was easily noticeable that the temperature was a good ten degrees cooler as we cruised under tree after tree in what is a very old city. 

St. Louis Cemetary is the home
of famous former citizens.

For us groovie ghoulies, Saint Louis Cemetery was a real treat along this tour.  Dating back to 1854, it is comprised of family and society tombs, all above ground in the style reminiscent of those in Spain.  These rows and rows of now whitewashed tombs, most still maintained very well, house the remains of entire families or organizations, like orphans, fire departments, or unions.  While sipping our water bottles, Veda told us the meaning of “shafting the body”, which I’ll leave for you to learn when you take this tour.  Let’s just say that it helps to keep each tomb quite an efficient burial system.  In the early days, the then brightly colored tombs matched the paint scheme of the family home, with fuscia, teal, and floral colors galore.

A short ride away was the City Park, which is a 1,500 acre park given to the city prior to the Civil War.  Did I mention that New Orleans has some history?  This lushly green expanse is justly called Louisiana’s "Family Playground," as it houses the New Orleans Museum of Art, a beautiful Botanical Garden, a few 18-hole golf courses, a brand new modern sculpture garden, three tennis courts, and the City Park Stadium, where some band called the Beatles played for a measly $5.00 a ticket in 1965.  Throughout City Park, gigantic eerie Spanish Moss covered Live Oaks abound with their ancient spreading branches providing a cool place for children to play. 

The bikers' red flags get
noticed on the Riverwalk.

Next, we cruised on our bikes with our orange flags waving proudly in the air as we rode to the adults’ playground, the Vieux Carre.

Wrought iron balconies, some adorned with mardi gras beads from a recent parade, graced the exterior of many French Quarter buildings.  The smells of tempting Italian, Cajun, and other foods came wafting through the doors and windows of the many restaurants, as we pedaled by with our mouths watering as we caught an air sandwich.  Freaks, punkers, musicians of all types, tourists from everywhere, and street performers mixed together in the small, square French Quarter and created an excitement in the air.  Here’s where we attracted the most attention and advertising for Laid Back Tours as we headed along the Riverwalk to catch our ferry across the river to Algiers.

The Natchez paddles past Jackson Square.

While crossing the muddy Mississippi River, seagulls darted to and fro, squawking as tugboats and barges loaded with goods headed to their ultimate destinations.  Meanwhile, authentic paddle-wheeled riverboats cruised up and down the river loaded with tourists.  During the free seven minute ferry ride, we had a chance to rest, review our maps, and catch a cool breeze as we snapped a few pictures of the city while we crossed over to historic Algiers Point.

Blaine Kerne's Mardi Gras World.

Try Guttuso's Po' Boys.

Off we went to tour more beautiful and uncrowded roads, past numerous Shotgun homes, on our way to Blaine Kerne’s Mardi Gras World.  This is the largest Mardi Gras float builder in the world, encompassing many, many warehouses of artisans, with floats either under construction, revamping, or in storage.  Some of these huge floats easily cost over a million dollars and clearly prove that there’s a thriving industry built around Mardi Gras.  Just come down in February and you’ll be screaming, “Throw me something, mister” as one of these floats passes by and you earn a few tossed beads, cups or doubloons. 

We ended up at Gattuso’s Restaurant for lunch in historic Gretna, Louisiana.  With an extensive menu, Kim and I each chose the grilled shrimp po-boy with grilled onions and melted provolone cheese.  It was, indeed, mouth watering.  Cajun fries and a diet drink, which somehow seemed out of place in the home of the calorie, rounded out an outstanding lunch.  While eating outside, we all shared stories of home, whether it be in New Orleans, Miami, or San Francisco, and thoroughly enjoyed each other’s conversation.  Then, it was time to catch one of the ferries that leave every 15 minutes, this time, off to tour the Garden District.

Stately mansions and manors set back from the street were graced with more blooming jasmine bushes and tall oak trees.  Like in days of old, the Garden District was for the wealthy who snobbily tried to outdo their neighbors with a larger, more elaborate home and showy exterior gardens.  The wealthy shippers and plantation owners didn’t like the hidden gardens of the Creole French Quarter, and now wanted them for all to see and enjoy.  We cruised up and down a few impressive streets past the former home of Anne Rice, as we headed back to the Laid Back Tours Headquarters.

Don’t worry about hills on this tour of New Orleans.  Your only hill is a bridge over a meandering river, and that wasn’t too bad for us rookie bikers.  By the end of the 23 miles, sure, we were tired, but still really pumped up to head back to visit some of these places during the rest of our stay in New Orleans.  Thanks again to Mousa and Veda at Laid Back Tours for their very kind hospitality and for quite a memorable experience.  Again, by experiencing these sights, sounds, and smells firsthand, it made the bike tour even more impressive.  What are you waiting for?  There’s a whole world out there where your mind, body and soul can be one in N’awlins, so strap on a helmet, choose your bike, and pedal your way through.

— Photos and feature by Donald and Kimberly Tatera, Southern California Jetsetters Magazine Correspondents.

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