Art in Asheville is not limited to galleries: a plethora of street musicians add to the ambiance — Photo courtesy of Gina Birch
Asheville is one of the top 20 fastest growing cities in the U.S. The growth easily translates into more dining, shopping and entertainment in this eclectic city full of hippies, artists, retirees and young families.
While you’ll find a concentration of shopping and dining on and around Biltmore Avenue, there are many more nooks and crannies that may take an effort to locate, but they're truly worth the find.
Make sure you have on good walking shoes to get to Vortex Doughnuts, located in an industrial-looking section along downtown's southern edge.
The doughnuts are made from scratch daily with delights like rosemary and juniper with citrus sugar. Local ingredients and culture inspire other unique flavors like beer caramel.
Vortex makes cake and yeast doughnuts from scratch daily — Photo courtesy of Gina Birch
After ordering, ask about the shortcut to French Broad Chocolates. It's like walking through someone’s backyard. Most visitors go to this famous chocolate shop’s new salon in the heart of downtown; at times, the line goes around the block.
You won't get the same fancy desserts at this no-nonsense bean-to-bar factory on Buxton Avenue – just the delicious chocolate bars and bonbons that made French Broad famous (and lots of samples).
Asheville is bursting at the seams with breweries, one of the newest and hippest being Burial Beer Company. This 10-barrel brew house, on yet another small side street, looks like a construction site.
Its industrial interior is welcoming and the beer is stellar, with small-batch offerings that change often. Try the Skillet Donut Stout or the Spoon Oatmeal Pale Ale.
As for the burgeoning art scene, check out Lexington Glassworks, a new spacious downtown studio where you can watch artists create stunning pieces of hand-blown glass.
If the garage doors are open, then the fires are going.
Talk to the artists while they blow beautiful glass pieces for you to take home — Photo courtesy of Gina Birch
Artist enclaves and co-ops fill so many downtown buildings, it can be overwhelming. But some of the funkiest finds are in the working studios of the River Arts District, an urban setting with limited parking. Studios fill warehouses and old industrial buildings.
Sitting next to the railroad tracks you’ll find Curve Studios & Garden and designer Pattiy Torno. Watch her cut from bolts of fabric and make beautiful apparel, the likes of which you wont find anywhere else in or outside of Asheville.
About a half a mile further is Riverview Station, a challenging walk without sidewalks. The early-1900s-era building houses the new expansion studio for artist Jonas Gerard. His massive paintings and the high ceilings are quite impressive.
Many visitors leave without realizing there's another world of artist spaces above and surrounding Gerard’s – a great find.
Famous dining in this area includes White Duck Taco and 12 Bones BBQ, but for a good meal without the fame, try Clingman Cafe (next to Gerard's original studio). The balsamic dressing is so good you’ll want to drink it.
Early Girl Benny: eggs with spinach, country ham and tomatoes – all on a grit cake — Photo courtesy of Gina Birch
Downtown dining is exciting, with chefs from around the globe serving award-winning cuisine.
If you simply want a fast and filling lunch, go to Woolworth Walk. The historic Woolworth building is another artist space, but with a nostalgic, 1950s-style soda fountain; it's famous not only for its malts and shakes but also for its BLTs and big plates.
Wall Street is another odd, narrow stretch of road where you’ll discover Early Girl Eatery, a mouthwatering breakfast spot where the morning fare is served all day. Superb.
Asheville is a city full of outsiders who’ve built a community committed to keeping things local, and they're happy to share those things with all who take the time to visit.