How to Visit New Orleans During a Pandemic

What can you do when you're wearing a mask and social distancing? Plenty.

Ask most people what they conjure when they hear the words "New Orleans," and they'll come up with the usual suspects: Mardi Gras, Bourbon Street, young drunk people, costumes and beads and debauchery.

Oh, and there will probably be some great food in there, too: those weird French doughnuts covered in powdered sugar; some sort of thick dark soup called something-or-other; and "what's the difference again between jambalaya and gumbo?"

Regardless of whether people have actually made a trip down to the Big Easy or not, they'll have some preconceived notions about the city–and we residents say that's fine. It's cool. Sometime, maybe, you'll see more than the inside of a Hurricane drink cup.

But here's the thing. Not only is a visit to New Orleans in autumn the perfect time to check out America's most unique city, but it's an ideal getaway in the middle of these COVID days. The weather breaks in the Gulf South in October. While Minneapolis dips into the twenties, New Orleans luxuriates in the balmy 70s in the day, inky sweet nights in the 60s.

What can you do when you're wearing a mask and social distancing? Plenty. It will be a slower and more gentle visit than one to Bourbon Street, but if you feel absolutely compelled to walk the French Quarter, go for it. While you're nearby, visit the art galleries in the Central Business District. The gallery owners and artists would appreciate your business. And wherever you land for a place to lay your head—all hotels and local temp rentals are beyond clean and ready—you should head out for a bit of nightlife. Yes, even in these COVID times.

But a good wander away from the usual traps will give you a much better understanding of the city. And in most places, you can even take off your mask.

Ride The Streetcar

Sure, this is a bit of a touristy thing to do, but in autumn–in a pandemic, no less–it's infinitely safer and more beautiful than riding in an Uber. The streetcars are nearly always empty at the end of their lines. They have real wooden seats and open windows, and except for a short stint after Katrina, they have been in service since they were very first installed to travel the neutral grounds, the grassy medians of our boulevards.

The last stop in the Carrollton streetcar line will land you at The New Orleans Art Museum. Don't go in it–not to start, at least. Your time might well be better spent walking the adjacent sculpture garden, newly expanded, free, and with that invaluable open-air factor. To round the bend and take your first look at "Karma" is to experience something much bigger than your average landscape painting, although the Rodin sculptures put up their dukes too.

Go for Barbecue and Snowballs

You can just walk down lovely Carrollton Boulevard, traipse beneath the ancient live oak trees and past the stately old homes for a couple blocks until you arrive at Blue Oak BBQ. Your nose will guide you. Again, considering COVID restrictions, you can't get better than Blue Oak's huge outdoor dining areas, multiple shaded and tented spots with plenty of room to properly socially distance. Their staff is as friendly in their masks as it comes, and the food? The ribs are luscious, arguably the best BBQ in the city, but their Happy Hour specials make for the perfect fit after a walk-around in the sculpture garden.

Save room for dessert just across the road. Head to Pandora's Sno-balls. There's a walk-up window, and you only need to stay the requisite six feet away from the other eager patrons lined up at this iconic locale. Flavor recommendations are unnecessary, because every one is divine. Choose your own, but if you want to act like a local, try the wedding cake or pink lady. Shaved ice is a far cry away from a typical snow cone, and you might well be spoiled for life with the soft texture and New Orleans' unique flavors.

Bacchanal in the Ninth Ward

Yes, the word is out about Bacchanal. It's no longer a secret. But it's still a destination worth experiencing, in no small part because it does a much much better job of representing New Orleans than some daiquiri hut with neon green icy drinks. Bacchanal has a massive outdoor seating area, extraordinary wine selections, and incredible nibbles. They support local musicians, and you'll find live music here that will always knock your socks off. You can't visit New Orleans without hearing music, and Bacchanal is a great place to start.

​Find the River

New Orleans river

Of course you can find the river by walking across the street from the Cathedral in the French Quarter. You can stand and watch its roiling waters, but it's not so easy to experience the majesty of one of America's grandest rivers watching shoulder-to-shoulder with others in their masks in a pandemic. Consider a couple of other options: Go to one of two places—both of which are local secrets, so you're going to have to do a little research. Head across the industrial canal and into Holy Cross. Take a right at the first opportunity and drive straight towards the Mississippi River. Try it at sunset. Park and walk up onto the levee. You will not be disappointed. It will tell you everything about this old and wise city that words can't say.

Visit The Fly

The Fly Orleans

Across the literal way and around the bend of the big loop of river, you can find The Fly. A local favorite hangout, it's adjacent to the zoo. Don't go into the zoo either—at least not right away. Save it for another day when the pandemic has abated. Bring lemonade or a couple locally brewed beers to The Fly and make sure to clean up before you leave. Take a seat at one of many spots with a clear view. Consider what it means to see water passing that originates in a tiny creek in Minnesota. Melted snow, tributary waters, it all ends up right here. Watch passing tankers from Russia, tugboats pushing flats of one thing or another, sip your beverage, and enjoy the fresh autumn air.

The River Shack

Follow the wobbly straight line of River Road upriver. You'll probably drive past The River Shack the first time. Just double-back. The place has been around longer than most of us, its exterior old signage now preserved for its historical treat. Try their gumbo. You won't be disappointed. You can sit outside, of course, but you can also take a gander at the dozens and dozens of framed photos on the walls that bring context to the locale.

It's nothing new to say that New Orleans is steeped in history. But that's sort of the point these days, to "go back" and experience a place that's stood the test of time. We have carved out a place unique to this country. Find the unbeaten path and walk our cobbled lanes. There is wide-open breathing room in a beautiful autumn in one of America's oldest cities.

Amanda Boyden is an American author and recipient of Nerve.com's Henry Miller Award for Best Literary Sex Scene in Pretty Little Dirty. Her latest work, I Got the Dog: A Memoir of Rising was released on September 15th, 2020 and is available for purchase here or on Amazon.

More on Amanda Boyden: "Rape, infidelity and the detonation of a marriage: Novelist Amanda Boyden's tumultuous life has led to new memoir

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Know What Type of Wine To Choose

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Know How Much You're Willing To Spend

It's no secret that a penchant for wine can become an expensive hobby. If you're just getting into the idea, don't waste your time or money with the extremely pricey bottles. A good place to start looking for decent bottles of wine is somewhere between the $10 and $30 price range. This will keep you from buying something too low quality without breaking your bank in the process.

Read the Labels Closely

A good bottle of wine will often give tasting notes right on the bottle. Because everyone's palette is different, you may not get the same notes when you try the wine, but it's a good place to start. Choose something with tasting notes that you already enjoy like berries or cocoa and try to see if you get any hints of that as you drink. The labels may also tell you about the wine's acidity, or how tart it is, and the wine's body, or the way it feels in your mouth.

A beginner's guide to picking a bottle of wine can only go so far without being overwhelming. The next part of your wine journey will need to be undertaken on your own. Try various types of wine and see what tastes best to you—that's what wine is really all about.

Distillery tours went on hiatus in 2020, but there are high hopes for 2021. While bourbon leaps immediately to mind when thoughts turn to distillery tours, interest in other spirits and how they're made is increasing. Here are a few of the best tours to thrill tequila lovers.

Tequila Herradura

Ride in style on the Herradura Express, a distillery sponsored train ride that runs from Guadalajara to the town of Amatitán for a distillery tour and tastings, followed by lunch featuring live entertainment. The train then takes visitors back to Guadalajara by evening. Herradura is housed in the last tequila-producing Hacienda in the world, Hacienda San Jose del Refugio. Casa Herradura will be closed for visits and tours until Mexican health officials declare the coronavirus emergency over.

La Rojeña

Producer of Jose Cuervo, La Rojeña has a train of its own called the Jose Cuervo Express (currently on hiatus due to COVID-19) to bring visitors to the oldest distillery in the town of Tequila. Jose Cuervo offers distillery tours, tastings, and tours of the agave fields. Mundo Cuervo (Cuervo world) also has its own hotel, Solar de las Animas. Check for COVID-19 hours and restrictions before booking.

Casa Sauza

Founded in 1873, Casa Sauza offers four levels of tours including a visit to the La Perseverancia distillery, a visit to the Quinta Sauza estate, and for those willing to spend more, barrel tastings and a barbeque or a three-course meal. Casa Sauza is on hiatus until COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, but should go on the distillery tour bucket list.

La Cofradia

The only tequila distillery with a hotel inside, La Cofradia offers many experiences in addition to distillery tours. Choose a hike through natural trails, biking, or horseback riding through the agave fields. Rooms made of giant tequila barrels sit among the agave plants for a unique stay. Visiting La Cofradia is sure to be a tour that thrills tequila lovers. Contact the hotel directly for information about lockdown closures.

A distillery tour offers education about tequila's history and manufacture. Bone up on your tequila terms and tips for choosing quality tequila before you go, so you'll understand what you're tasting.

We don't know how to feel about winter this year. Sure, nobody likes the cold and dreary months, but there's something special about the Holiday season that just seems to be missing. Maybe the thought of staying inside and cozying up to a nice book isn't very enticing given the last few months. The joyful winter wonderland that we usually associate with winter seems to be missing.

That's why our editors decided to take it upon themselves and spread some delight with seasonal meals, courtesy of HelloFresh. For those who don't know what HelloFresh is, it's a meal-kit delivery service with dozens of easy-to-prepare recipes to choose from. Simply select which meals you want as well as how many servings and a neatly organized cardboard box will arrive at your doorstep within the week. Nobody wants to go out in the Winter anyway, and with HelloFresh, you don't have to!

To celebrate the arrival of the coldest season, we decided to highlight some of our favorite (and heartiest) recipes from HelloFresh that are perfect for the Holiday season. Here are five wholesome and balanced meals that will warm you up in no time.

Veggie Loaded Kale & Risoni Soup

A hearty and warm soup is a Winter staple and this veggie loaded kale and risoni soup from HelloFresh absolutely hits it out of the park. All anybody wants during the colder months is to feel cozy and nurtured--just like the flavorful bowl of nutrients. Warm and creamy risoni compliments the seasonal veggies perfectly and the side of garlic bread is a sure-fire cure for any winter blues. With 22 meals to pick from each week, this one is sure to be a household favorite.

Cheesy Red Pesto Chicken Melts

Everyone is familiar with classic green pesto, but have you ever tried red pesto? Red pesto offers way more complexity and oomph than its green counterpart. It is incredibly bright with rich notes of umami, roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, and fresh basil and garlic. This rendition also features hits of chargrilled capsicum for a little extra zest. You get the exact amount of each ingredient and seasoning, as well as super detailed recipe cards, that make meal prep a breeze. Spread it over a glistening chicken bread and sprinkle with cheese for delectable chicken melts.

Winter Risotto

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Cheat's Italian Pork & Veggie Bolognese

A bolognese that only takes 30 minutes to make? Sign us up! This one is chock full of all the rich flavors of a classic Italian sauce. In fact, we're getting some serious Italian grandmother vibes with this recipe. Silky baby Spanish and grated carrots melt into a hearty meat sauce, offering a mouth-watering meal for anyone looking for a little zest. It's delivery quality, but much more affordable, plus you get to cook it yourself!

Smokey Mild Chorizo & Bean Chilli

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Gone are the days of trekking through the frigid cold just for a few groceries. Sign-up for HelloFresh today and get your ingredients delivered right to your doorstep. Time to start cozying up the right way, with a delicious meal and a nice cup of hot cocoa.

Update: Our friends at HelloFresh are extending a special Black Friday offer to our readers. Follow this link to get $90 off across 4 boxes including free shipping!