If you are just looking for recommendations on what to do in Asheville, skip my story and jump to Top 10 Things to Do in Asheville – otherwise, read on.
Our Trip to Asheville
Sometimes you go somewhere that you end up having a special connection with. For me, this was Asheville, NC.
This delightful city melted my heart. I think you either “get it” or you don’t – I feel lucky that I’m in the former group.
About a 2 hour drive west from the Charlotte airport, you will descend from a small mountain and get dropped into the heart of a city that has a pulse. It’s the best way I can describe it, alive. There is an energy about this town that is just, charming.
Asheville is an artist’s community/college town filled with every ethnicity, every age range, every income level, and DOGS – lots and LOTS of DOGS, EVERYWHERE. That might have been my favorite part and biggest surprise on our visit – water bowls in front of storefronts are put out to welcome man’s (and woman’s) best friend. Most of the restaurants, breweries, stores, etc., were dog-friendly and had loads of friendly dogs. Our hotel had dogs running through it too. For me, nothing is better than a wagging tail to greet you wherever you go, and Asheville seems to agree, so just for that aspect alone, I love it.
Where We Stayed
We stayed at the Crowne Plaza which was highly rated with great prices (average of $100.00/night). I was really impressed with the resort style lodging and it would have been ideal if we were bringing a family as there are all sorts of things for kids to do at the Adventure Center next door. The adventure center has ziplining (for children & adults), mountain bike courses, whitewater rafting, and more. The hotel had 3 pools, a jacuzzi, tennis courts, and a spa. We wanted to make use of these but never got around to it. You can see downtown Asheville from the hotel but it’s about a 10 minute drive to get there. The hotel offers a shuttle that will take you down there for $5.00 per person, round trip.
Our First Meal in Asheville
Starving after our flight and drive in from Charlotte we hit a restaurant called Salsa’s, which was adorable and quaint, fun and funky, and served up my husband’s boiling dinner in a LAVA bowl. Yes, you heard that right, a lava bowl. Next to the outdoor table we sat at, patrons with dogs were seated with a water bowl under the table to keep the dogs cool and happy. We sat next to someone with 2 dogs, one of them a Pomeranian-Chihuahua mix, and ended up seeing this lady and the dogs again the next day at the Biltmore Estate, how is that for a coincidence?
Our food here was delicious (save the salsa which tasted like a can of tomato sauce – ironic, considering that is the name of the place), and as we ate in this restaurant’s alley-type setting we spied a brewery tucked away in what looked like a dead-end area. I love secret little finds, this one turned out to be really cool.
We ventured in after dinner for a refreshing beverage, hubby did the brewery flight to test out the Asheville beer scene.
One World Brewery’s beers were legit; crisp, refreshing, not bitter and the secret basement location heightened the taste of the beer with its dank charm. Add it to the list of positives in this alluring city – I was captivated by Asheville and its uniqueness already. The night had been a perfect combination of sensory stimulus for us in this dewy, warm, romantic city with the scent of flowers hanging in the air.
It was on to dessert next.
Most Critical Meal: Dessert
I joined a rather long (or what I thought was long) line of people waiting for sugar in a place called The French Broad Chocolate Lounge which I thought was a cute way of saying “French Girl”, but turned out to be the name of the river that runs through Asheville. My hubby had stepped out for a work call (his work never sleeps) and I talked to the stranger behind me who was entertaining a few of his friends from out-of-town. I will say, everyone we spoke to was super friendly… this guy was no exception. He told me that I had found the best place in Asheville and that the line was typically around the block long so I was lucky it was so short tonight (only 10 people or so deep). He recommended the chocolate creme brulee – and since I’ve never met a chocolate I didn’t like, I obliged. I also ordered a cappuccino.
Both were very tasty. But my favorite thing here was the sign they had in the shop welcoming everyone. Some of the southern states can be ripe with intolerance of differences, something we should be past in this day and age. However, it was clear that this place beat to a different drum (and also has drum circles, speaking of drums).
The Biltmore Estate
The next day it was on to the Biltmore Estate. I have to admit I had hmmm’ed and haw’ed (hmm I get but does anyone actually haw anymore?) at buying the fairly pricey tickets to go here. I think they were around $60.00 each with some online discount, but it turned out to be WELL worth the money.
We lucked out and got the added bonus of seeing the Chihuly exhibit while we were there, and while I originally thought “what’s the big deal about some glass?”, the glass sculptures were stunning and really enhanced the grounds, which still would have been beautiful all by themselves. This is one of those rare moments I will admit I was a little bit wrong, just don’t tell my other half. We even met a Chihuly groupie back at our hotel who follows the artist around the country, until then I didn’t realize that type of person existed (no judgement – whatever makes you happy).
Once past the initial gate on the property the drive to the estate on a windy forest road seemed to go on forever. I couldn’t help but think that we had the luxury of being in a car and it still seemed long, how interminable it must have felt back in the horse and buggy days. Apparently, this was done deliberately and the house stayed hidden from any external view on purpose, so that when people visited they would have a building feeling of mystery and wonder, then be bestowed with the most spectacular property they had ever seen.
Walking from our car through a path thick with trees you get a sense that you are almost there and then you get to the clearing where all of a sudden, boom, a 255-room mansion sits off in the distance. It’s breathtaking and for a minute or two everyone who stands on the landing just stops and takes it in, the view, the house, the mountains, the landscaping, the whole property. For me I was transported to a time when this property would have seemed like nothing short of magic, like the party scene from The Count of Monte Cristo. Even by today’s standards this building is amazing but for being built over a hundred years ago it’s incredible.
We walked through the gardens first and opted to take the long property hike which burned a good 2 hours or so walking and exploring. The Chihuly glass sculptures were mainly concentrated back by the gardens near the house. These were some of the displays from the Biltmore Gardens.
Past these, we found a bass lake, a boathouse, a bridge, a waterfall, a meadow and some stubby little tree growths that looked like a magical mushroom land. Benches and inlets were peppered on the trail to allow people to stop and sit to take in the scenery.
Next, we toured the house with mouths wide open. I was too captivated to get much footage inside the house, but the view from one of the balconies should explain the awe that came from witnessing this extravagant mansion.
Here is the full video of our tour of the gardens and house:
At the point where I literally felt like I wasn’t going to be able to walk any more we arrived at the exit of the house. I may or may not have threatened my husband with something like having to carry me if he didn’t take me to wine and food ASAP – so we journeyed back to the car.
The tickets for the Biltmore Estate come with a complimentary wine tasting at the Antler Hill Village Winery (part of the same property) but you have to take a drive for about 10 minutes to get there. The winery and shops surrounding it were equally as beautiful and peaceful as the estate was. A guitarist was playing in the courtyard and his music floated through the air, complimenting the sweet smells of the flowers and choir of birds that had found a happy home there. A spikey Chiluhy sculpture sat in the middle of the entrance next to a homemade Ice Creamery.
Antler Hill Village & Winery
As we walked to the winery I turned to my husband and said “let’s not buy any bottles of wine here since we’ll have to fly it home”. We both agreed and I knew that meant we were DEFINITELY leaving with a bottle of wine.
Now that we’re back in Denver, it’s safe in our wine fridge, for now.
The wine sampling was great and they give you around 5 or 6 sample tastings and some hard biscuits that may have been dog treats but with less flavor. Yes, I have actually tried a dog treat once, don’t judge me, just know that Meaty Bones aren’t quite as delicious as they appear to be.
After the wine tasting we ended up at one of the restaurants in the village, Cedric’s, for food, which was severely disappointing. They did make things right by taking it off the bill, but for a $38.00 pork chop you would expect it to not be raw and to not be 70% pure, inedible fat. The best part of the dining experience that we waited 1/2 hour for, was the pretzel bread and the olive butter which was purple and tangy. Cedric was the name of the dog of the man who built the Biltmore – Cedric was a large St. Bernard whose collar sits under glass at the entrance of Cedric’s.
Overall we had a great time at this incredible estate and highly recommend visiting here if you get the chance. We topped off the night with a cocktail back at our hotel’s bar and talked to some interesting characters who invited us hiking with them at Pisgah Forest – but even 5 months pregnant they looked way more capable of trekking up a mountain than I’ll ever be.
We decided the next day would be a shopping and whatevs day – meaning casual, play-it-by-ear, drifting through town, chillax time. My husband, an avid beer fan and home-brewer, was interested in checking out the beer scene in this town known as “Beer City – U.S.A.”.
We parked at the visitor center which was quite impressive for a visitor center, they offer free parking and you can walk the city from there. A whole room full of flyers of what to do and numerous staff members were there to answer any questions you may have about the city.
We took a brewery guide, city map, and headed out on the streets after receiving the recommendation to check out the Grove Arcade Mall and Woolworth’s. We used to have a Woolworth’s in my home city of Santa Monica when I was growing up, so the name alone brought back memories for me (I used to buy embroidery thread there to make friendship bracelets). This version has been converted into an artist’s mall with various artwork and a soda fountain that was restored from the original 50’s version – cool stuff.
I regret not purchasing some of the cute things we saw in some of the stores, but by the time we came back that way it was after 9:30pm and everything was closed.
The beer scene was on-point. Sadly, we only made it to 7 breweries total out of what I’m sure is MANY more than that (some we even passed up on our way back to the car). But that’s okay, it just means we will have to go back. If you want a virtual tour of the ones we went to – check out the video montage.
If you just want to hit one area for beer, see the map below for the area with the highest concentration of Asheville Breweries.
Listed below are the breweries we walked to, in walking order:
- 1. LAB – Lexington Avenue Brewery
- 2. One World Brewery
- 3. Wicked Weed Brewing Pub
- 4. Bhramari Brewing Co
- 5. Green Man Brewery
- 6. Burial Beer Co
- 7. Twin Leaf Brewery – The Oatmeal Raisin Stout was like drinking a cookie
An Inn with a View & History
Before leaving town to head back to Charlotte, we stopped at the Omni Park Grove Inn for their artisan buffet breakfast. The hotel and views from it will leave you speechless. Even if you don’t want to shell out the $25.00 for breakfast, it is worth the trip up to check out the premises.
Many presidents have stayed here and there are historical items around the hotel (it’s almost like a museum in and of itself). Some of the most ingenious inventors of our day formed a sort of gang, known as “The Vagabonds”, consisting of Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, and Henry Ford, all of whom shared a love of camping and the great outdoors. They began a summer tradition of stopping at The Grove Park Inn on their way to car camp in the Smoky Mountains and some of their memorabilia is on display here at the Inn.
The following list is our recommendation for the top activities to do – we didn’t get through all of them but when we go back we will definitely hit the ones we missed this time around.
Hint: If you’re just there for the day and don’t want to walk the entire city, the best place to park is around Patton Street between Coxe and Broadway/Biltmore where there are tons of restaurants and shops you can walk to in any direction from there.
Top 10 Things to Do in Asheville:
- 1. The Biltmore Estate and Winery
- 2. Brewery Tour(s) – Go on a paid tour or grab a brewery guide at the visitor center and walk
- 3. Omni Park Grove Inn – Walk the grounds or feast at the artisan breakfast buffet
- 4. Shopping – The Grove Arcade and surrounding area
- 5. The Blue Ridge Parkway – hiking Pisgah Forest optional
- 6. River Arts District – Watch the local artists at work
- 7. Whitewater rafting
- 8. Center for Crafts – Learn about Asheville’s art community
- 9. Visit Farmer’s Markets or Local Street Fairs
- 10. Town Murals – Find all 12 Asheville Murals
Chicken Alley Mural
During our trek through town, we located Chicken Alley, a mural of colorful chickens painted by Molly Must which is also said to be a haunted spot in town (we didn’t notice any ghost chickens). One of the coolest pieces of this mural is the poem and story behind the owners for whom it was painted as a tribute.
The owners of this house sold chickens and honey. Farm to table is a big thing in Asheville, a lot of the restaurants in town highlight this aspect of their food. The farmer’s market and home-grown nature of the town produce is an obvious source of pride for the locals. The last part of the poem, written by Molly Must in collaboration with the last surviving owner related to the family, goes like this:
“Economy you can see and touch
That’s what I grew up knowing
And still today I like to think
Of honey bees and sowing”
This poem perfectly epitomizes Asheville.
Hard to define in words, but to me the city and its residents feel – deliberate. As in, they are enjoying life and living it, and doing so with a purpose that is real and tangible.
Asheville spoke to me in ways I can’t describe. Birds seemed to sing louder, the water noises were soft and soothing, the breeze was just right. I don’t know what I loved the most here, but what I do know is, I’m in.