Asheville skyline — Photo courtesy of ExploreAsheville.com
It may have been a multimillionaire by the name of George W. Vanderbilt who put Asheville, N.C., on the map. But today, mountain traditions, a sophisticated hipster vibe, homegrown arts, fine cuisine, the highest per capita ratio of craft breweries in the country and an overall free, bohemian spirit define the destination.
Vanderbilt built America’s largest home in the late 1800s, in elaborate contrast to the over-logged forests and humble Scottish-Irish immigrant mountain settlements. But his influence over Asheville did not end there and continues to flex its muscle to this day.
Most notably, he brought a fine agricultural ethic to the region, while his wife Edith nurtured a crafts-and-arts movement, through Biltmore Industries, to take advantage of local craftsmanship and provide a livelihood for the region’s impoverished youth.
In modern times, artisanal farm production jump-started Asheville’s early onset of farm-to-table cuisine. The weaving, woodworking and pottery that sustained Asheville in its infancy, today defines a generation of art galleries that feeds the town’s free-spirited reputation.
Downtown's Market Place restaurant — Photo courtesy of ExploreAsheville.com
Creatively conceived restaurants, hip clubs, pop-ups and spontaneous musicians on every corner lie at the heart of Asheville’s bohemian feel. For a lively nightclub scene, check out MG Road Bar & Lounge’s live music and craft cocktails.
For dining, Curate is it, recently reopened with a Spanish vermouth bar and tapas vibe. To find Asheville’s famed farm-to-table cuisine, hit Posana and The Market Place.
Lose yourself in the Asheville Drum Circle
Asheville Drum Circle — Photo courtesy of ExploreAsheville.com
For more than 20 years, dozens of impromptu drummers have set feet a-dancing under the stars at downtown’s Pritchard Park every Friday evening. From time to time. a fiddle or banjo joins in. Nearby, at Skinny Beats Drum Shop you can purchase beginner drumming lessons in preparation.
Check out Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar
Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar — Photo courtesy of ExploreAsheville.com
Ground zero for Asheville’s intellectual hipster vibe, this quirky wine and espresso shop actually occupies a library setting, where young and old sip, read, and converse (no shushing in this library!) among the stacks. Part of downtown’s historic Grove Arcade, it stocks more than 80 wines and 22,000 used books, plus has its own Espresso Dog Bar.
Enjoy the blooming River Arts District
River Arts District — Photo courtesy of ExploreAsheville.com
This burgeoning neighborhood along the banks of the French Broad River blends Asheville’s gritty, industrial character with its artful purpose. For an inside look, Asheville Art Studio Tours offers behind-the-scenes glimpses.
The New Belgium brewery injects liquid liveliness into a 1-mile-long collective of more than 220 working artists. And the Salvage Station, a restaurant and outdoor concert venue, adds a performance art component – along with Asheville Guitar Bar. Nearby, the unusual, riverside Smoky Park Supper Club is the world’s largest restaurant made of shipping containers.
Savor local eats in South Slope
Buxton Hall Barbecue — Photo courtesy of ExploreAsheville.com
A born-again working-class neighborhood near downtown, it bases its growing trendiness on a clutch of breweries (sour beer lovers shouldn’t miss the Funkatorium) and an ultra-original barbecue restaurant in an old skating rink with a James Beard multi-finalist celebrity chef.
Elliott Moss’ Buxton Hall Barbecue uses heritage hogs in their entirety. In addition, the eatery serves local craft beers and pie in crusts made from house-rendered lard.
Get lost in Grovewood
Omni Grove Park Inn — Photo courtesy of ExploreAsheville.com
Tour, have lunch or stay at the historically awesome Omni Grove Park Inn to learn about another of Asheville’s millionaire legacies.
The adjacent Grovewood Village, once home to Biltmore Industries, occupies six English cottages with an antique car museum, Biltmore Industries Homespun Museum, Grovewood Gallery, and artist studios with outdoor sculpture gardens. Onsite restaurant, The Golden Fleece, specializes in fine Greek-influenced, wood-fired cuisine.
Forage for wild food
Alan Muscat of No Taste Like Home — Photo courtesy of ExploreAsheville.com
Channel your inner Euell Gibbons and follow along on a foraging tour with No Taste Like Home. Scheduled and private tours give you the option of learning how to cook your own “catch” or sample it as part of a gourmet meal at the Omni Grove Park Inn.
Go on epic mountain adventures
Whitewater rafting on the French Broad River — Photo courtesy of ExploreAsheville.com
Of course you have your typical hiking, biking, kayaking and whitewater rafting in Asheville’s Blue Ridge Mountains. But if you’re looking for quirky Asheville extremes, these experiences might be for you: a 60-foot natural waterslide called Sliding Rock; zip line racing; a locally invented, on-your-gut, face-forward sport known as bellyaking; and a group-sized stand-up paddleboard that accommodates up to six people.
Get in a groove at many music festivals
Shindig on the Green — Photo courtesy of ExploreAsheville.com
Asheville has its own brand of homegrown music informed by Southern Appalachian influence and accompanied by instrumentation ranging from banjo to washboard, dulcimer, spoons and jaw harp.
On Saturdays, July through August, catch Shindig on the Green downtown. August’s Mountain Dance and Folk Festival is the nation’s longest-running folk festival. Other biggies: All Go West, LEAF, Barnaroo, Riverfest, and RiverMusic.
Let loose on a comedy bus tour
LaZoom Comedy Bus — Photo courtesy of ExploreAsheville.com
Historical meets hysterical on LaZoom’s city and haunted tours. There’s even one geared for kids. Ride the big purple bus to score laughs along with a city overview.