Do people ask you which spot is your favorite? We get that question all the time! And as you know, it is hard to pick after you have been on the road for a few months as there are so many great places. With 18 months of travel under our wheels, my usual answer is Asheville, North Carolina – so far. It really has something for everyone, fairly temperate weather and beautiful scenery. It equally entertains those who like nature and those that like their attractions to be more indoors.
Here are our top reasons to add it to your list:
Reason #1: Beautiful scenery to walk, hike, or drive
Whether your idea of communing with nature is taking a beautiful drive to enjoy the scenery or hiking to a remote area for camping, you can find both near Asheville. The Blue Ridge Parkway comes right through this area and offers miles of road with scenic overlooks and signage to explain what you are seeing. Off the parkway, you can find incredible hikes from easy to difficult. And of course, the Great Smoky Mountains offers incredible hikes to waterfalls and scenic outlooks.
Asheville also is a central area to visit the many nearby small towns. All have their unique personalities and things to do. One of our favorite finds was a “secret” garden in Hickory Nut. The Lake Lure Flowering Bridge is just a few miles from the Chimney Rock State Park entrance. The volunteers who maintain it love what they are doing! They transformed the historic Rocky Broad River Bridge, built in 1925 into 15 distinct gardens, each with unique plants and personality. The fun decorations added to the blooms and there were lovely places to stop and rest. I preferred visiting it to the State Park. With so many areas to hike that were free and prettier, I would only go back to see the Bridge and have another beer!
Reason #2: Chance to find your artsy side
Asheville and the surrounding towns has more artists per capita than any city in the country (this is very unscientific but certainly seems that way to me). We were astonished at the number of artist studios and galleries and the variety of mediums, genres, and price options. You can spend days exploring all the art. If you want to do as much as possible in a short time period, go to Woolworth Walk on Haywood St. in downtown Asheville. Two floors of a former Woolworths are full of artists’ stalls with lovely art ranging from jewelry to oil paintings. The old soda fountain was retained and still serves up floats, sodas and lunch.
If you like talking to the artists who make these gorgeous pieces and don’t mind getting in a lot of steps, visit River Arts District. We had a great day there, roaming the many buildings filled with artist workshops. In one gallery, we found a lamp that we loved. The artist explained she was a former puppeteer and learned how to work with hanji, a paper made in Asia from the bark of a mulberry. Her beautiful lamps seem to dance and the entire lamp is made of paper including the base. River Arts District has a brochure and website outlining the buildings and listing the hundreds of artists by medium so, with some research, you can make sure to find what you want. Watch for the monthly event when they offer shuttles and more of the artists are in residence.
Near the historic Grove Park Inn (which you should definitely visit) is another wonderful gallery of artists housed in the old Biltmore Industries building, where Mrs. Vanderbilt started a homespun school and business to help residents. And if that isn’t enough, there is another gallery in Biltmore village filled with items from regional artists. I got a lovely dish towel and hand-carved wooden spoon there.
And if looking at art isn’t your style, music can be found throughout the city either at the performance hall or in the restaurants. For a fun evening, head to Pritchard Park on Friday night and join in the drum circle. Dancing is optional and they have drums to share.
Reason #3: A great craft beer and food scene
If you like to eat and drink, you will enjoy Asheville. More than 100 local beers and a Trail Ale brewery app keep you aware of your options! While I’m not an adventurous beer drinker, I do enjoy the patios and local musicians found at most breweries. Plus, what is better after a long day of hiking than beer!
The food scene is equally great with restaurants. For a quick healthy stop, visit Green Sage. Located on the corner in the middle of the main shopping area of downtown, it is a great stop for juices or smoothies and breakfast. And if you want to indulge in soul-satisfying southern food, Tupelo Honey is a perfect stop. If like me, you crave chocolate, head to French Broad where a line forms at night for the cafe, but the store next door offers ice cream and bars of chocolate.
My favorite place for dessert though was the unique and interesting – The Champagne Book Exchange and Bar. This bar offers great wines and bubbly as well as a bookstore with used and rare books like an early edition of Gone with the Wind.
Reason #4: The Biltmore Estate
I admit that I really didn’t expect this place to live up to the hype or high cost, but I am so glad we went. It took us the full day to tour the house, enjoy the gardens and explore the village shops on the estate. While it is hard to believe that anyone ever lived in such a grand house and manner, it is surprisingly comfortable inside. After touring the house and gardens, you feel transported in time and wistful to stay overnight. You can bring a picnic or have lunch on one of their restaurants. We ate lunch at Stable Cafe, but I preferred the Bistro across from the winery. Speaking of which, your entry to the house includes a free wine tasting at what is said to be the most visited winery in US. Definitely do it! They do a good job making it a nice experience and the wine is very tasty. I bought several bottles to enjoy on the road.
Reason #5: You have the chance to live history
Besides enjoying history walking in the steps of the Vanderbilts at Biltmore, many other luminaries visited or lived in Asheville. Go see Grove Park Inn where the stars have stayed and make sure to see the gingerbread display. Further south is Cherokee Nation where you can learn more and the area has many ties to the Civil War. Within Asheville, it is clear by how well they conserve the city that they respect their history. The Urban Walk with its various plagues draw attention to the various aspects of its history, including its literary connections to F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe, who set his book Look Homeward, Angel here in his boyhood hometown.
Reason #6: Shopping and More Shopping
This corner of North Carolina has a lot of options for shoppers whether you enjoy clothes, jewelry, or local souvenirs. Downtown is easily navigated, though it is a bit hilly. In one section, you will find a store that has everything you need and some you didn’t know you needed – Mast General Store. This also the area with French Broad Chocolate so you are going to be nearby anyway!
If you like bookstores, Asheville has three in downtown including Malaprops, one of the nation’s finest independents. Authors frequently stop by on tours and the selection is great. If you have a question about your next good read, ask a staff member. I have a great time at Asheville Bee Charmer which features a honey tasting bar with a wide selection of honeys, including one that has a nice kick to it!
And for a unique shopping experience, stop by the West North Carolina Farmers’ Market, the largest I have ever visited. It has multiple sheds, a gardening center and restaurant. It is a alternative to your normal weekly grocery store run.
Reason #7: Incredible Architecture
It is clear when you see the buildings in Asheville that they care about their history. It is so easy to imagine this town at the turn of the century as they have preserved the many art deco and amazing architectural structures. Groves Arcade, created by same family as Grove Park Inn, is a wonderful arcade with offices and a few shops.
At the other end of town is the Basilica of St. Lawrence, designed and constructed by Spanish architect Rafael Guastavino. In town to work on the Biltmore Estate, he decided Asheville needed a Catholic Church so designed one then kilned all the tiles in his local factory. Guastavino had patented a method of layering thin tile and mortar to build structures that needed no wood supports. His vaulted ceiling was so strong that workers were able to lay on top of it to work towards the center. Even the stairs have no wood and are just the tiles. The altar is from Italy and the artist is in a crypt just off the side altar, an uncommon tribute in Catholic churches.
As you can see, we truly enjoyed our time in Asheville. We think no matter your interests, you will find something to enjoy too. Have you been to this area? What did I miss and do you agree with me? Let us know in the comments.
- The Asheville website is a one of the best I have found and a great resource to plan a trip with options for every itinerary as well as to find local events.
- A trip to the Asheville Visitor Center is also a great way to start your trip with plenty of brochures to find your niche as well as super helpful volunteers with ideas to make your trip better.
- We stayed at the Rutledge Lake RV Park which was convenient to Asheville and the many small towns nearby.
- For those of you traveling with children, I suggest Crazy Family Adventure for ideas on Asheville and other great vacation spots.
Photography copyrighted by BentonDowns
Bilk Rogge says
Debra…this is a great write up. I’ve wanted to go there for a while now and after reading this, were gonna make it happen. Hope all is well.
Debra Benton says
Thanks. We highly recommend!! We are good and hope you are as well.