This mountain city in western North Carolina calls you, but you will absolutely need a list from the locals to find the in places. Sure, you can tour the ornate Biltmore Mansion which defined tourism in Asheville for many decades, but with the craft beer boom dropping 20 or so (who can keep up?) breweries in and around town—and a blossoming folk, country, punk and rock music scene—there is really no end to what you can do here.
Flanked by the French Broad River and Swannanoa River flowing through the city, you can take river walks through the Arts District, ride the hilarious purple theater tour bus called La Zoom or drive south a little to the poet Carl Sandburg’s house that has its own hiking mountain and goat farm, all amid the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Now, Asheville has a humorous yet healthy relationship with its tourists, even naming its minor league baseball team (with a park right in town) the Asheville Tourists. A recent poll of students at one local college here, A-B Tech, found that the list of things to do was so long that it could not possibly be completed in a long weekend.
Maybe that’s why so many people are moving here and the population is skyrocketing. There are multiple other colleges and universities like UNC-Asheville in town and Warren Wilson College east to Swannanoa. You might come for a zip line down the Blue Ridge Mountains after touring the Parkway, look at the array of colors across the skyline in autumn and think, I could live here.
For now, though, you absolutely need that big list and Act Two’s man in Asheville has compiled it after studying and living there for the last five years—interviewing countless locals for the best spots. A well-kept secret for a bit, Asheville is no longer that anymore. If you drive down Tunnel Road into town, all you will see are cranes and booms like Transformers across the Art Deco skyline, building hotels to house all the new tourists.
Here are the top 20 things you should do when visiting, many very close to one another:
Buy some books at Malaprop’s. Go down the hill to their used book sister store, Downtown Books and News. Across from there stop in at Dobra Tea House. This all counts as one thing.
See a show at Orange Peel and Grey Eagle. Try to see some jazz at the White Horse in Black Mountain.
Hit a brewery tour making sure to visit: Wedge, Highland, Green Man, Catawba, Pisgah, Wicked Weed (Biltmore Ave and their Funkatorium on Coxe), Hi-Wire, Thirsty Monk, Asheville Brewing Company (Coxe/Merrimon). It’s all local craft beer and it’s ALL good.
Have dinner at The Admiral in West Asheville.
Do a Zipline at Navitat.
Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway in autumn. You won’t believe the red, orange, yellow shocks of color with views so vast they will take your breath away.
Tour the Biltmore Mansion and Estate. This is no mere tour. The place has nearly 40 bathrooms and some John Sargent paintings hanging inside. Frederick Olmsted (who designed Central Park) created the gardens here. There’s a winery. Full day here.
Eat a BBQ lunch at Buxton Hall, Little Pigs, Moe’s and/or 12 Bones.
Have an espresso in the red double-decker bus on Biltmore Ave in town—Double D’s Coffee & Desserts. Cross the street for a film at Fine Arts Theatre if you have time. $5 Tuesdays and the best indies.
Have tapas at Cúrate or Zambra.
Take a purple LaZoom Tour bus ride and laugh so much you’ll cry. Professional theater group and winner of local comedy troupe awards. Southern characters like Augusta Wind to take you around the city with thespian amazingness.
Asheville Arts Museum. ZaPow Illustration Art Gallery. Walk around River Arts District right by the French Broad River. Glassblowing at the Asheville Glass Center.
French Broad Chocolate Factory tour.
Do the Woolworth Walk (art gallery AND soda fountain).
Get out to Paradise Falls.
A very touristy thing but really a very local thing—the downtown drum circle.
Stay at Grove Park Inn.
Beaver Lake Bird Sanctuary.
Asheville Tourists Baseball Game.
Finish with a drink at Sky Bar and take in the ravishing downtown mountain view, Land of the Sky.
Bonus Random List for the Avid Who Made It Through the First 20
(Based on a Student Poll of Locals at A-B Tech)
Sunny Point Café (brunch), Odd’s Café, Favilla’s New York Pizza, Bouchon, Mellow Mushroom Pizza, Hot Dog King, Wynn’s Diner, Food Trucks, Farmers’ Markets, White Duck Taco, Crow & Quill (Speakeasy/Scotch Bar), Table, King Daddy’s Chicken & Waffles, Jack of the Wood, Lucky Otter, Rejavanation Café, Chai Pani, Kathmandu (Indian), Kava
Graveyard Falls, Skinny Dip Falls, The Cut (hiking), Looking Glass Falls, Chimney Rock, Lake Lure, Lake James, Carrier Park, Azalea Dog Park (good for kids and dogs), Downtown Zipline, The Gorge Zipline in Saluda, North Carolina Arboretum near Bent Creek, Laurel River Trail in Madison County, Hot Springs, Reems Creek Golf Course, Riverside Cemetery, Geocaching, Buzzard Rock, Max Patch Trail, Zen Tubing
Music at Isis, Street Musicians, LaZoom Purple Bus Halloween Ghost Tour, 360 Party Bus, Carriage Ride through Downtown, Asheville Folk Art Center, Open Mics, Shindig on the Green in Summer, Goombay Festival, Brown Mountain Lights, Burnsville, Asheville Symphony, Thomas Wolfe Memorial, Brew and View Films at Asheville Brewing Company on Merrimon Ave., Chalk “Before I Die” Wall Downtown, Toy Boat Community Arts Space
By Mark Damon Puckett