People often associate North Carolina with Raleigh the capital, the culture of Charlotte or the sandy beaches of the Outer Banks. Largely overlooked, Asheville is one of the South's greatest gems, that can best be described as “a riddle, wrapped inside a mystery, wrapped inside an enigma." So how do we unlock the secrets?
Located in western North Carolina, Asheville is about two hours from Charlotte and two and a half hours from Knoxville, Tennessee. The foundation of Asheville’s identity belong to the mountains. Surrounded by the Great Smokies, the landscape is the glue that binds everyone together. A melting pot of cultures, Asheville has a pool of cultures that coexist harmoniously. There are mountain men that hail from early Appalachian settlers with strong roots in southern culture, and there is a strong artistic community. People are accepting, and even if they don’t understand the other groups, they don't judge. The culture and the people are memorable, but it's the sights, food and breweries that make the funky town a must-see. A place where creativity flourishes through all aspects of life, the atmosphere may be hard to explain, but it's just one of those places you have to experience for yourself. Here are some recommendations for things to do in Asheville.
What to Do
The North Carolina Arboretum is an awesome place for both rookie hikers and nature enthusiasts looking to experience the diverse flora and fauna that inhabits Asheville. There are beautiful gardens, a museum, several trails, and a stunning lake. There is a fee for parking, but first-timers get in for free.
The Biltmore Estate
The Biltmore Estate was the brainchild of George-Washington Vanderbilt. It is America’s largest home, and a testament to the family’s wealth. The 8,000-acre estate is one of the biggest attractions in Asheville (literally and figuratively) and there are streets, bars, restaurants, and hotels paying homage to the property by using Biltmore as their namesake. Tours are encouraged and even better in wintertime as the Christmas decorations and massive tree only add to the extravagance of the mansion.
Surrounded by the Smoky Mountains, there are plenty of hiking opportunities that range from beginner to advanced. We recommend the Gray Beard Trail in Black Mountain, just 30-minutes from Asheville. An 8-mile, intermediate route with sweeping views, you'll pass streams, waterfalls and lush vegetation.
Food for Thought
Sunny Point Café
One of the best breakfast spots this side of the Mississippi, Sunny Point Café’s food is fresh, delicious and comforting. Asheville eateries pride themselves on their locally sourced produce, and Sunny Point is no exception. Try the breakfast sandwich; a small cheesy omelet topped with maple black pepper bacon, fresh tomato, and chipotle aioli on a butter croissant.
Curate has achieved serious restaurant notoriety in recent years so it's advisable to make reservations at least a month in advance. The Spanish-style tapas plates may be small, but the flavors pack a powerful punch. Everything on the menu is delicious, but the cod and potato puree, lamb skewers and octopus are not to be missed.
'Cue is a hotly debated topic down south, but 12 Bones is without question the most famous barbecue spot in Asheville. Known for their unique flavor profiles and quirky sauces (like blueberry chipotle), the restaurant even hosted Barrack Obama while on the campaign trail.
Asheville has over 100 breweries throughout the city limits from large, domestic production facilities to small, mom-and-pop tap houses and microbreweries. Don't miss touring Sierra Nevada and the recently opened New Belgium brewery in the River Arts District. Get tickets in advance, as they are hard to come by on short notice. For the smaller guys, check out Wicked Weed, the Wedge, Thirsty Monk, Highland Brewing Co. and Green Man for authentic Asheville hops done right.