After about two weeks in one place, my brain starts to get itchy. We moved every two years when I was a kid, so maybe this is related, but maybe I’m just restless. My need to get out of town is primal; I’ll drive to Cincinnati just to go to the Target up there because what if their Target is different and they still have this or this or this?
Anyway, this wanderlust (pun definitely, wholly intended) means that I’ve been to every town in a six hour range of anywhere I’ve ever lived. I also don’t have a ton of cash (I just finished humanities grad school, so I think we all know what that means), so I’m not doing anything that fancy. Enter Asheville.
For the uninitiated, Asheville is in the western part of North Carolina, and it is not close to anything you think it is close to. The drive took us about 5 hours all told (I am morally opposed to stopping. Ever. At any time. Unless it’s at the Lodge Cookware Outlet.). Raleigh is a couple hours away, but it is also, somehow, not close to Chattanooga or Charlotte, really. No matter! You’ll get out there, and it’ll be pretty, and you won’t care that it took several hours longer to get there than you/Google Maps had estimated. It’s a weird place, to be sure– it’s a college town, but also a resort town, but also a place where hippies and buskers like to congregate and have drum circles. Needless to say, I think it is the greatest place on earth.
If you go, and you definitely should, here are some things I think you should try out.
I’m one of those terrible people who does a ton of research and asks everyone where to go and what to do before I go anywhere, so this is a lot of stuff to do in one weekend. That said, a progressive dinner, early rising, and planning carefully meant I got to do every single thing I wanted to! I’m also a big believer in Air B n B and Couchsurfing, so I don’t have great hotel recommendations, but I would be delighted to put you in touch with my host (hi Chad!) if you’re interested.
Asheville is great because it has stuff everyone likes, which is not something you can say for a lot of places. You’ve got the outdoorsy stuff, the indoorsy stuff, the yuppie stuff, the patchouli-and-Birkenstocks stuff, the foodie stuff…but I digress. Below are a couple of the things I recommend you see and do while you’re in town:
- The Asheville Skyline. If you go upstairs from World Coffee OR Skybar (neither is super exciting, but if you’re going to use their pretty porch and cool elevator, you need to buy something), you can look out at all the amazing art deco architecture Asheville has to offer. We went at sunset (none of the photos turned out, but that’s just fine), which I recommend.
- The George Washington Carver Edible Public Garden. The city has a public park where all the flora is edible– think nut trees, berry bushes, fruit trees, herbs, and the like. You are permitted to just…grab whatever of a branch and nom on it. Officially, this place doesn’t exist, so it’s hard to give directions to it. It’s beyond Pack Square Park, so get someone to help you get to there. FROM THERE, take the outdoor stairway behind Pack’s Tavern (it has an old-timey car outside), go left on Marjorie Street (which is really more like an alley) and cross the pedestrian bridge by the corner of Marjorie and Davidson. Once you do that, it’s not too far beyond. If you get to the public basketball courts, you’re too far. Godspeed, traveler.
- Hiking in the Blue Ridge. On the advice of the baristas at this awesome coffee shop, we went on two hikes in the mountains. I’d never been hiking before, so this was a new thing for me. It was really relaxing, and the trails are well-kept and well-marked. No matter your ability, they have a trail that will be a good choice for you.
- The Biltmore. I know, I know. It’s kind of cliche. We didn’t go on this trip, but I went a few times as a kid. It’s as overwhelming, as pretty, and as awe-inspiring as I remember. It’s a bit on the pricey side, and it’s an all-day affair, but something great to see if you have afforded yourself the luxury of time.
- The River Arts District Art Walk. We just happened upon all the cool stuff that was happening in this area that weekend,but the gallery owners told me that they do this about seasonally. I saw some really beautiful things, and it’s all very convenient to each other.
I didn’t do a ton of shopping on this trip, and I’m not sad about that at all. Much of the downtown shops were either a little too hippie or a little too expensive for me, but if you’re in the market for a very fancy scarf or a water pipe FOR TOBACCO USE ONLY!!!, Asheville is your spot. Almost all my favorite shops in Asheville are bookstore/____ or cafe/______, so there isn’t much to report.
- Mast General Store. It’s like a non-corny Cracker Barrel (not that I’m mad at CB’s fried okra. I’m not. At all.), and they have lots of good hiking gear and good prices. I know they have a couple locations in NC and SC, so maybe you have one in your town, but I really liked it and spent an embarrassingly long time there.
- Malaprops Bookstore. Everywhere I go, I MUST visit the bookstore. Though this isn’t my favorite bookstore in Ashe Vegas (see below for that title), it’s a great place. If you’re looking for something regional, they have a great selection of North Carolina-centric offerings.
- Va Va Voom. Super-pretty lingerie with non-corny adult gifts. Please trust me; I know their website is really, really pink, but they had some lovely, unexpected things!
If I could live out my days and just eat things in Asheville, I would die a happy lady with high blood pressure and a completely obliterated pancreas. My suggestions for getting to that place are as follows:
- Early Girl Eatery. We loved this so much we ate here…three…times. We waited in line (with free coffee!) for over an hour at 8 am on Saturday, and I wasn’t upset at all. I’m almost embarrassed to admit how much I loved it. The Early Girl Bennie and the quick breads? SHUT. UP. If you go, please bring me back some biscuits. Below is a photo of me, waiting on their bench outside, happily sipping my coffee and munching on some bread and butter from the nice street vendor who camps out there.
- Sunny Pointe. This is West Asheville’s breakfast joint– also a long wait. People in Asheville love brunch, I guess. The huevos rancheros were out of this world. Really vegan-friendly, too, which is nice. Inclusivity is nice, you know?
- The Admiral. Hands down the best dark and stormy I’ve ever had AND hands down the best steak tartare ever in the world for all time. I’m serious. Don’t even think about showing up without a reservation (maybe there will be a seat at the bar, maybe there won’t). Do not miss this. I will never forgive you. The low ceilings and lighting make this feel like a hole in the wall, but it for sure is not.
- White Duck Taco Shop. Fancy tacos for fancy people at unfancy prices. Quick and cool, and definitely a place to check out when you’re in the River Arts District. My cab driver had a funny story about the provenance of the name– apparently the owner is a white lady who speaks rapid, noisy Spanish in the kitchen, and some of her Latino coworkers nicknamed her the white duck as a joke about how she sounded when she spoke Spanish. Glad to know she doesn’t take herself too seriously.
- The Thirsty Monk. This is seemingly the only place in Asheville NOT brewing their own beer, but they do amazing beer flights and have a cool vibe. If you don’t have tons of time and want to try lots of local beers, this is the place for sure.
- Curate. An excellent tapas/Spanish place. I used to live in Spain and am really picky about my Spanish snacks, and I was impressed. It’s another very, very busy place (sense a theme?), so get a reservation. The chef worked at El Bulli, so she’s no joke. It’s not a relaxing dining experience due to how busy it is, but it is a fun place to go and snack.
- French Broad Chocolate Lounge. This place is so great I special order chocolate from them at home. If you have interest in chocolate at any level, this is the place for you. We got a box to take home, a pot de creme, and this bitter, gritty drinking chocolate that was so rich I could only bear one or two sips.
- The Wedge Brewery. Part circus, part brewery, part backyard, all fun. Located in a former warehouse, the Wedge is my fever dream of the ideal hang out. They host food trucks to cover your hungers and boast an IPA so popular and good that it has its own line. You can bring your dog, play cornhole, and drink beers with your friends at long picnic tables. It felt like this was the place to be every night of the week.
- Chai Pani. Grab midday snacks at here! It’s in the Grove Arcade and keeps pretty great hours. The whole restaurant is based on Indian street food, so they have tons of smaller portions and fried deliciousness. Their chai, as the name might suggest, is really good.
- Green Man Brewing. Green Man is a little out of the way (or maybe it isn’t. This was pretty far into our beer tour of the city. It’s totally possible it’s right next to everything else and I don’t know it.). Their beers are allegedly the best in town (again, far into the tour), and they give you free pretzels with Lusty Monk Mustard (hi Kelly!), which is the world’s best mustard. I seem to recall darts and other fun things to do at the brewery, which is cavernous and a little industrial. The bartendress was super-nice and gave great advice on where to go and do and be and drink. We took all her suggestions.
- Asheville Pizza and Brewing. Low on ambiance and creative food to be sure, but a great black IPA, and free movies at the location by the college. I may or may not have gotten lost on the way and missed Moonrise Kingdom.
- Bouchon. I go here every time I come to Asheville. It’s a tight squeeze, but they have a great wine list, excellent steak frites, and bottomless mussels on some weeknights. That’s correct: bottomless mussels. This was possibly the greatest news I have ever received in my life, including finding out I was going to have a baby sister, getting in to college, and that I never had to take P.E. again.
- Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar. I saved this for last because it is my favorite thing in Asheville and maybe the world. I tried to move in here twice, but they said it was a health code violation. Battery Park sells wine and used books and desserts and that is IT. It has lots of couches for you to hang out/make out/pass out on, and every book you could possibly desire. I picked up a great Thomas Jefferson coffee table book and also a pretty great buzz. In my dream life, I own this place and everyone is as enamored of it as I.
Okay, that’s it. That’s all I have. What do you love in Asheville? Planning a trip soon? I’m going back in the spring for more hiking/fun times.