Digging a Little Deeper Into Asheville, NC

Asheville, North Carolina is a city I’ve chosen to return to many times over the years. The only other city I can think of that I’ve chosen to return to more than a couple of times is Charleston, South Carolina. I first went to Asheville when I was in graduate school in Tennessee and I fell in love with it then. For those of you not acquainted with Asheville, it’s in the mountains of western North Carolina. By car, it’s about 2 hours from Charlotte, NC or Knoxville, TN in the other direction and about 1 hour from Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

I’ve been to the Biltmore House in Asheville many times and had a season pass at one point. Although the Biltmore is lovely all four seasons, Christmas is my favorite, with spring in a close second. The first overnight vacation I took my daughter on was to Asheville, and we toured the Biltmore when she was about two months old. I’ve also hiked all over in and around Asheville. But I’m not going to talk about the Biltmore House or hiking here. I’ve already done that and you can read my posts here: Christmas at Biltmore Estate and Exploring Asheville, North Carolina and Camping in Asheville, North Carolina.

I’m going to talk a bit about other things to do in Asheville because Asheville is so much more than just the Biltmore House and hiking/camping. Asheville is full of things to do and is a foodie town that can hold its own to other foodie towns like Charleston, SC. Too many people just get stuck in the Biltmore or hiking rut and don’t venture off to the plethora of other offerings Asheville has, myself included, until recently. So here we go digging a bit deeper.

Things to Do

Even though I’m a huge fan of botanical gardens, I only recently discovered the botanical garden in Asheville. It backs up to the University of North Carolina at Asheville campus so it’s easy to find. More importantly, it’s a quiet and peaceful place to walk around for 30 to 60 minutes, depending on whether you get in the water or not. Reed Creek flows through the gardens and provides a relaxing place to cool off in the summer or just to stop and enjoy the sounds and views. There is no admission fee and dogs are not permitted. https://ashevillebotanicalgardens.org

On a similar note but much bigger than the botanical gardens is the North Carolina Arboretum with gardens, a bonsai exhibit, hiking and biking trails, and views for miles on a clear day. There is no admission fee but there is a parking fee that some might consider a bit hefty ($16/vehicle). There are discounts offered for some affiliations and on the first Tuesday of the month so check the website for more information. https://www.ncarboretum.org

The Grove Arcade isn’t really an arcade at all but one of the most stunning indoor shopping malls I’ve ever seen. Originally opened in 1929 as America’s first indoor shopping mall, the Grove Arcade is a mix of stores and restaurants. Even if you don’t care for shopping, if you love ornate architecture, you might want to pop in to admire the building. There are even apartments for rent here and for just $2850/month you can have your own 2 bedroom apartment with 1478 square ft (yes, of course I realize that’s outrageous but I never said Asheville was cheap). Check out the website for a directory https://grovearcade.com

A friend of mine that had recently been to Asheville and knew I was planning a trip there asked if I had been to the Antique Tobacco Barn and I said I hadn’t so I thought I’d check it out. If you enjoy browsing through antiques, this is a huge place (almost 80,000 square ft) full of all kinds of antiques so big you can easily get turned around. There are something like 75 antique dealers, each with their own area within the space. Since I saw it was dog-friendly, I brought my dog and I’ve never seen her so happy when there weren’t treats involved. I guess she loved all of the smells from everything and her tail didn’t stop wagging the entire time we were there. https://www.atbarn.com

The River Arts District has working studios and galleries from many different kinds of artists and forms of medium including painting, glass, metal, jewelry, and more. If you’re lucky enough to be there on the the second Saturday of the month, there are gallery walks, workshops, wine tastings, demonstrations, and music. There’s even a trolley to help take you around the mile-long district, known as RAD. Check out more information plus the many events and classes on the website https://www.riverartsdistrict.com

For even more artistry, visit the Southern Highland Craft Guild. There are four locations where you can buy some of this fine handmade art by members of the group, with three in Asheville and one in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. The 75th Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands was in July and October of this year. To purchase tickets or for more information see the website https://www.southernhighlandguild.org/galleries/

If you have children or just love animals, there’s the Western North Carolina Nature Center, essentially a zoo, full of animals that live or have lived in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Or so they say, but there are red pandas that currently only live in Central Asia (WNC Nature Center says that the climate where red pandas live is nearly identical to that of Asheville). But I digress. It’s a pretty typical zoo, in my opinion, with extras like behind the scenes tours, nature play areas, but with an additional area you don’t normally see at zoos- a gem and fossil mining area. My daughter loved doing this when she was younger. For an additional fee, you buy a bag of stones that they call mining roughage and put it through the sluice to see what you find. https://wildwnc.org/plan-your-visit/

One place I’ve never visited but I know is popular is the Asheville Pinball Museum. For $15 you can play 35 pinball machines and 35 classic video games for “as long as you like.” I wonder if that last part has ever been tested by someone who is really good at pinball or video games and they’ve had to kick them out after playing for hours. https://ashevillepinball.com

Another place I’ve never been that is surprising even to me because I normally love places like this is the Asheville Museum of Science. Originally opened in 1960 in another location with the name Burnham S. Colburn Memorial Museum, the museum was moved and renamed a couple more times before its current location and name in 2016. They seem to have many hands-on exhibits that delve into astronomy, geology, weather, climate, ecology, and paleontology. Admission is a simple $10 for everyone over 3. https://ashevillescience.org

If you enjoy live music, there are many options in Asheville. One of the best sources is this calendar https://livemusicasheville.com/calendar-live-music-in-asheville/ or this one that has more than just live music (like links for food and drink, things to do, etc.) https://www.exploreasheville.com/iconic-asheville/music/live-music-events-calendar/

Food and Drink

Like I mentioned in the beginning, Asheville is a foodie city and has been for quite some time. Over the years, the food scene has just exploded as has the number of breweries. Depending on the source, I’ve seen estimates anywhere from 20 to 30 breweries in Asheville. Considering there are currently around 96,000 people living in Asheville, that’s a ton of breweries for a town of this size. Some of the more popular breweries include Highland Brewing, Burial Beer Co, Bhramari Brewing Co, Archetype Brewing, Hi-Wire, New Belgium Brewing Co, and Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. I recently discovered White Labs Brewing Co and loved not only the beer but the pizza that was made with fermented dough, essentially sourdough. Sierra Nevada has some of the best food I’ve ever had at a brewery.

Some breweries including Sierra Nevada give tours as well

I don’t know how restaurants in Asheville stay in business given the stiff competition. You can find anything from food trucks to fancy dine-in restaurants and everything in between at all price points. It may seem surprising that a Caribbean restaurant, Nine Mile, is one of the highest rated restaurants given the location but probably not so surprising that there are a multitude of places specializing in pizza (pizza goes so well with beer). Some other highly rated restaurants include Cúrate, French Broad Chocolate Lounge, White Duck Taco, Tupelo Honey, Jargon, Rhubarb, All Souls Pizza, Buxton Hall, and Biscuit Head. I’ve been to many of these restaurants and will say the hype is real. I also discovered and really liked Gypsy Queen Market and Deli, a Lebanese restaurant when I was there last time.

Asheville is also a big coffee city with many local coffee shops including the touristy but still good Double D’s Coffee and Desserts where they sell coffee, tea, and desserts out of a bright red double-decker bus surrounded by a patio. You can find a whole list of some of the best coffee shops in Asheville here: https://www.exploreasheville.com/blog/post/fan-faves-ashevilles-best-coffee-shops/

Dog City USA

Asheville promotes itself as Dog City USA and tries hard to support that title. It’s one of the most dog-friendly places I’ve been and dogs are welcome at many breweries, restaurants (with outdoor seating) and stores. One restaurant, Twisted Laurel even has a doggie menu with protein, veggie, and dessert options. The Aloft Hotel in Downtown Asheville is so dog-friendly there’s no extra charge for dogs and there are usually rescue dogs available to adopt. Plus, there are many other pet-friendly hotels in Asheville at all price ranges.

The first official dog welcome center in the US is inside The Dog Door Behavior Center and Outfitter in Downtown Asheville across from the Grove Arcade. They have indoor and outdoor seating, a doggy potty area, water fountains, free goody bags, doggie ice cream, and info on their top 100 dog-friendly attractions, restaurants, and things to do. You can also buy treats, bandanas, toys, and other goodies for your dog in the store.

Best Time of Year To Go

Asheville definitely has all four seasons, with snow in the winter, spring flowers in the spring, hot but not excessively so summers, and autumn leaves in the fall. Summers are the busiest time of year and most packed with families. Spring and fall are probably the best overall in terms of weather and crowds but the spring can be fairly rainy and chilly, especially in March. January is the coldest month and can get quite chilly by North Carolina standards, although the lows don’t typically dip below the 20’s.

The best time of year to visit really depends on what you plan to do. If you want to go hiking, you can do that year-round but bring weather-appropriate clothes and good sturdy hiking shoes or boots. There are bears so be aware of that and make sure you make noise periodically when you’re hiking so that you don’t startle a bear. Spring is when bears have their cubs so that’s the time of year to be especially cautious. I would recommend spending three full days in Asheville or four if you plan on driving to other cities like Boone or Blowing Rock (which I recommend) or going to Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi.

Have you been to Asheville before? If so, what did you do? Are there any places you really enjoyed and recommend?

Happy travels!

Donna

Christmas at Biltmore Estate and Exploring Asheville, North Carolina

George Vanderbilt, whose family made its fortune in the railroad industry, chose Asheville, North Carolina for his “little mountain escape” summer home that lies along the French Broad River and called it Biltmore Estate. Built in the late 1800’s, it is the largest privately owned house in the United States, although in 1956 it ceased to be a family residence and continued to be operated as a historic house museum. The estate has 178,926 square feet (16,622.8 m2of floor space and 135,280 square feet (12,568 m2) of living area. The home was opened to the public in March 1930 at the request of the City of Asheville, and today brings in an estimated 1.4 million visitors per year.

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The library, one of my favorite rooms in the Biltmore Estate

You can tour the Biltmore Estate’s four floors and basement which includes 250 rooms (though not all are open to the public) including 35 bedrooms for family and guests, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, three kitchens and 19th-century novelties such as electric elevators, forced-air heating, centrally controlled clocks, fire alarms, and a call-bell system. There is even a swimming pool, gymnasium filled with what was then state-of-the-art fitness equipment, and a bowling alley in the basement.

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Winter Garden, another of my favorites

The grounds are definitely worth touring and include many different gardens, fountains and statues, a bowling green, an outdoor tea room, a terrace, conservatory, Bass Pond, restaurants, gift shops, and Antler Hill Village and Winery. There are many options for tours whether of the house or on the grounds from self-guided tours to rooftop tours to private tours and many others in-between. There are even winery tours and a motor coach tour where you learn about the history of the land, structures, and former residents while you tour areas not open to the general public.

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The Conservatory, which apparently is a fancy name for a greenhouse

I’ve been to the Biltmore Estate several times over the years, and have seen the house during all four seasons. I have to say Christmas at the Biltmore Estate is my favorite of any other time of year, although spring is a close second. I’m a big fan of Christmas decorations and the ones at the Biltmore Estate are every much as beautiful as you might imagine. Every room has at least one tree elaborately decorated and the lower parts of the house smell of gingerbread because of the enormous gingerbread house on display in one of the kitchens in the basement.

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Yes, it does get crowded at the estate during the weeks around Christmas and New Year’s, so be sure to get reservations for entry far in advance. The house doesn’t feel too crowded for the most part (there are a couple of places where people tend to bottleneck) thanks to the timed entries during the holidays. Don’t worry if the Candlelight Evening tickets are sold out and you’re left with tickets during the day because you’ll still enjoy the lights inside the house even if it’s daylight out. If you plan on eating at one of the restaurants on-site, you’ll want to get reservations in advance as well.

If you’d like to stay at one of the hotels on the grounds, you have three options:  The Village Hotel, The Inn, and The Cottage, with each place going up in amenities and price. There are also plenty of nearby hotels and houses through Airbnb. If you follow this link, you’ll get a discount through Airbnb:  Airbnb discount link.

Asheville Regional Airport has daily flights to Atlanta, Charlotte, Washington, D.C., and Chicago and seasonal service to many other cities including New York, Denver, and some cities in Florida. If you fly into Asheville, you can either rent a car or take an uber, although if you plan on going to the Blue Ridge Parkway or other areas to hike, you’ll want a rental car.

Asheville has plenty of other things to see and do besides the Biltmore Estate, especially if you like outdoor activities. As I mentioned above, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a short drive away, as is a plethora of hiking and camping options. There are so many options it would be crazy to list them all, but I’ll throw out a few I’ve personally been to, all of which are an hour or less from Asheville:  Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Pigsah National Forest, Black Mountain, Chimney Rock State Park, Dupont State Forest, and if you venture a bit further (about 2 hours from Asheville) there’s a cluster of great places to check out that includes Linville Falls, Blowing Rock, Grandfather Mountain, and Boone.

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Hiking with Libby and Chile near Asheville

If you’re a foodie, Asheville won’t disappoint you on that end either. Again, the options are endless for great places to eat, with places for every budget. For a splurge, try one of the restaurants at the Biltmore Estate like Deerpark Restaurant or Biltmore Estate Dining Room. Curate is a popular spot for tapas and Biscuit Head came highly recommended to us by someone who lives in Asheville but the line was crazy long out the door and we weren’t willing to brave the cold weather for it. We loved White Duck Taco Shop for their huge selection of tacos and Early Girl Eatery for great breakfast offerings.

My favorite restaurant of all has to be Sierra Nevada Taproom, which is near the Asheville Airport and yes this place deserves a paragraph entirely to itself. All I have to say is this place is like no other brewery I’ve ever been to (and I love breweries). The food at breweries is usually pretty good, but the food at Sierra Nevada is so crazy over-the-top good it makes me hungry just thinking about it. It gets super-crowded, so get here early for lunch (or dinner but they seem to be less crowded for lunch) and if you’re lucky you won’t have to wait for a table. They also have tours but we didn’t take a tour because of the timing of things, but I’d love to go back and take a tour. They also have a great outdoors area with games and fire pits, plus they have special events like dinners and concerts. Make this a must-do place if you’re ever in Asheville and like breweries and/or incredible food. Just know it isn’t cheap, but it’s so worth it.

Finally, here are a few other options for spending some time in Asheville. The River Arts District is great if you like art (Asheville is filled with fantastic artists), WNC Farmers Market is open daily year-round, Grove Arcade is a beautifully designed place to do some shopping and dining, and if you’re into antiques, check out the Antique Tobacco Barn.

I also have a post on Asheville when I went camping there one summer, which you can read here. This post is focused more on outdoor pursuits such as hiking, camping, and waterfalls in the area.

Final tips: Purchase your tickets for Biltmore Estate at least seven days in advance to save up to $10 on each daytime admission. If you’re going during the holiday season, purchase your ticket at least a couple of weeks in advance, and even longer out would be better if you have a specific day and time in mind. Christmas at Biltmore runs from early November through the first week of January, with the house being open 365 days a year. Reservations are required during high volume days, which you can find on their website.

Biltmore website

Have any of you been to the Biltmore Estate and/or Asheville? Is it on your list of places you’d like to go to?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

Camping in Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville, North Carolina is perhaps best known for Biltmore Estate, the mansion built by George Vanderbilt between 1889 and 1895.  It is currently the largest privately owned house in the United States.  In 1956, portions of the house were opened to the public for tours and since then more rooms have been restored and opened for viewing.  I have toured the Biltmore several times, during different seasons of the year.  However, on my most recent visit to Asheville, the Biltmore Estate was nowhere on my agenda.  If anything, we would be doing the exact opposite of touring a huge mansion.  We would be camping in a tent and hiking for the weekend.

Where to camp?

Set in the western end of North Carolina very close to South Carolina, Asheville lies between Pigsah National Forest and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Dupont State Forest is a short drive away.  Hiking, biking, camping, and rock climbing are all extremely popular in this area.  We chose to camp at Lake Powhatan Recreation Area Campground based on a recommendation from someone who lives in Asheville.  Lake Powhatan is deep in the Appalachian Mountains with an elevation of 2,200 feet.  The campground has tent as well as RV sites, a bathhouse, and a lake that is suitable for swimming (in the roped-off section) or fishing.  That being said, my daughter and her friend swam in the lake for a while but pretty quickly were done, saying the water was “gross.”  I did not get in the water but it didn’t look very clean.  That didn’t stop several other people who were in the water while we were there.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a short drive from Lake Powhatan Campground, as is an arboretum, the Biltmore Estate, countless trails for hiking or biking, the French Broad River, and if you forget something there are several stores within a short drive.  We arrived late on a Friday and immediately set up our tent and got settled for the night.  The next day we drove to the Blue Ridge Parkway and found Mt. Pigsah Trail and a few other shorter trails nearby.

Hiking Trails

Mt. Pigsah Trail is at milepost 407.6 from the Blue Ridge Parkway and is in Pigsah National Forest.  At the parking lot for the trail, the elevation is just under 5,000 feet.  You’ll reach the summit at 5,721 feet after a 1.5 mile hike and be rewarded with panoramic views of the Great Smoky Mountains to the west and Asheville and Mount Mitchell to the north.  Other trails off the Blue Ridge Parkway include Skinny Dip Falls, Graveyard Fields, and Devil’s Courthouse. After hiking a few trails, we went back to our campsite and went to the lake for a while, then relaxed by a crackling fire until it was time to turn in for the night.

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Waterfalls

The next day, we decided to check out some of the waterfalls in the Brevard, NC area.  For our first stop, we drove to Looking Glass Falls on the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway in Pigsah National Forest.  There is easy access to this waterfall with only a short walk from the parking area, then stairs to get a closer look.  You can even get in the water and swim up to the waterfall to feel the power of the water pounding on your shoulders.  The water was quite cold in June but maybe it warms up later in the summer.  The waterfall is 60 feet tall and is beautiful.

Just a short drive from Looking Glass Falls is Sliding Rock.  There is a nominal fee to enter this area, but it was the only fee other than at the campground that we had to pay the entire weekend.  Sliding Rock is actually a waterfall along a large rock that is relatively smooth so you can slide 60 feet down the rock into the 6 foot deep plunge pool at the bottom.  The water was quite bracing when we were there, so when you hit the water, you’re breathless for a second.  On a hot day I’m sure this would feel refreshing but it was cooler and overcast when we were there so we only went down a few times before we were ready to dry off and get into some dry clothes.  Lifeguards are on duty here during the summer months, if you’re concerned about safety and there did seem to be lifejackets available.

Next on our agenda was Moore Cove Falls.  The parking area for Moore Cove Falls is one mile from Looking Glass Falls so we back-tracked a bit and parked here.  The trail is a short 0.7 miles and is listed as moderate.  It was a nice way to end our hiking in Asheville.

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Refuel for the Drive Home

For lunch we stopped at The Hub and Pigsah Tavern, a bicycle shop and tavern in Pigsah Forest, NC.  The Tavern only serves beer but has a nice selection of beers on tap, bottles, and cans.  Asheville is also known for its abundance of breweries and has been called “The Napa Valley of Beer” by NPR.  While we were at the Tavern, two food trucks were also there, Aloha Hot Dog Co. and Blue Smoke BBQ.  I got the Pulled Pork Sandwich on a bun and my husband got the BBQ plate from Blue Smoke BBQ.  We both agreed that was the best BBQ we had eaten in a long time.  We were pleasantly full and ready for the drive back home after a fun weekend in Asheville.

 

 

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