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.
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?