It’s a special thing to find a small city that packs such a big punch. A population of around 91,000 nestled in the lush, northwest mountains of North Carolina, Asheville’s been known as a beer mecca for some time, but there’s much more to explore here. From beautiful nature to excellent regional cuisine and a spunky, artsy vibe, Asheville will appeal to people nostalgic for pre-tech hub Austin, or pre-bachelorette haven Nashville. It will appeal to nature-lovers and foodies alike. “Keep Asheville Weird” is the mantra, and there is a strong reverence for (and abundance of) high-quality, locally-owned businesses. See below for the best of Asheville—from where to stay, what to eat, drink, do, and see.
Where to Stay
Though managed by the Hilton Curio Colleciton, this locally-owned boutique hotel is the first of its kind in Asheville—that is, a hotel designed to be in and of its city. Inhabiting a handsomely refurbished steel mill that built much of the downtown area and the Biltmore Estate, The Foundry adds excellent hospitality to the Asheville experience. Though the hotel is very centrally located, you can use their Tesla drop-off service to get just about anywhere you like in the area. Be sure to check on their star Appalachian soul food restaurant headed up by John Fleer, a pioneer of Appalachian cuisine (you’ll also want to check out his other downtown restaurant, Rhubarb). The lobby’s Workshop Lounge, which was the original woodworking shop of old steel mill has live music Thursday and Friday nights, complete with signature beers, craft cocktails, and barrel whisky.
Read more about why The Foundry Hotel is worth traveling for.
Where to Eat
Located on Asheville’s main thoroughfare, Biltmore Avenue, Chestnut is a perfect casual spot for locally-sourced Appalachian inspired cuisine, from corn-fried catfish to green tomato BLT with pimento cheese. Their cheese and charcuterie board of house-cured meats, homemade jams, and pickled goods is not to be missed.
Ask any local for Asheville’s best barbecue and you’re sure to hear the name 12 Bones roll off the tongue without hesitation. With two locations, the family-run restaurant makes everything from scratch and slow-roasts the meat over hardwood. In quintessential Asheville style, they also brew their own beer. Open for lunch only.
Eat a late breakfast at Biscuit Head and you just might be able to skip lunch. While the gravy-covered biscuits here aren’t quite head-sized, they are the size of a very full-stomach—and worth every bite.
This all-day cafe in North Asheville is great for breakfast and coffee, snacks, or early evening cocktails—it was founded by the organizer of Asheville Cocktail Week. It’s also a great place to post up and answer some emails with a glass of wine, if you must.
The team behind Posana put Asheville on the map as America’s first “Greenest Dining Destination.” Pioneering the restaurant scene’s locally-sourced ethos, the sustainably run restaurant is also gluten free and offers plenty of vegetarian options.
Vegan, meet hearty Appalachian cuisine. Any kind of eater will enjoy a meal from the ever-changing menu at this seasonal and internationally-inspired vegan restaurant.
In the heart of the South Slope Brewery District, Burial offers a fantastic indoor-outdoor venue with experimental and small-batch brews. You’ll want to hang out here all day and enjoy the Appalachia-inspired pub grub on a wooden bench surrounded by trees and friendly locals.
With sour brews from Wicked Weed Brewing Co., this expansive South Slope venue turns into a live music haven at night. Ask the bartender for a flight of sours according to your level of sour experience and/or sense of adventure.
Nestled about 20 minutes southeast of Downtown Asheville, the city’s first brewery holds an important place in the history of Asheville’s beer scene. Highland truly is a destination in and of itself—be sure to check their events calendar for what’s happening in the vast, tree-lined meadow—and don’t miss out on their barbecue and visiting food trucks.
For more in-depth coverage of the Asheville beer scene, click here.
Cocktails and Other Nightlife**
If you need a break from beer, Asheville has a small but thriving craft cocktail scene, and Sovereign Remedies is a noteworthy member of it. Bustling with locals on downtown’s Market Street, the rustic vibe is welcoming and complemented by an excellent late-night food menu.
You might miss the front door if you don’t look carefully, which enhances the speakeasy vibe of this cozy cocktail bar. A jazz band plays on the weekends and there’s room for partner dancing.
Right next door to Crow & Quill, this bar/record store has a small live music venue in the back for indie shows. Cheap drinks (mostly local craft beer) and good vibes—it’s unclear how they don’t prevent shoplifting when the late-night crowd fills the space, but that’s just part of its charm.
A less conspicuous “speakeasy” next door to the Funkatorium, this newly-minted drinking hole spans an entire refurbished Victorian-style home and offers good gin and tonics with plenty of outdoor space (and fireplaces for chillier nights).
**Note that North Carolina law requires any venue that serves liquor without food to be a members-only “club”—most of these venues require a nominal fee and that you register your name and number at the front door for admittance.
What to Do
We’re usually skeptical of hokey-sounding comedy tours, but Ashevillians swear by this locally-run, mobile performance venue that offers an entertaining deep dive on Asheville’s history. We heard Zoom Tours described many times as “so Asheville,” just beware that the hosts are encouraged to poke fun at any and all out-of-towners.
This is Asheville’s “Main Street” in its very walkable downtown area. With local shops and an eclectic mix of dining, from casual places like Double D’s Coffee & Desserts to the fancier vibes at Posana and Rhubarb. On-strip beer spots worth noting are Wicked Weed and Barley’s Pizzeria & Taproom.
This shop is more than just a market for handmade glassworks. Watch local glass blowers make their magic on site as you peruse the expertly crafted wares. They also have a craft beer and wine bar open in the afternoons Friday through Sunday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. to lubricate any shopper’s inhibitions.
Friday nights in downtown Asheville are a lively time—a long-running drum circle attracts a large crowd (rumor has it that actor Woody Harrelson joined the mix while he was in town for the filming of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri). Definitely worth a stop on your way to dinner downtown.
Working studios comprise the heart of this riverside neighborhood, but its central location has also attracted local breweries and eateries, like Wedge at Foundation and 12 Bones Smokehouse. There are open studios every second Saturday of the month, when a free trolly will take you from one end of the neighborhood to the other.
The bank account that built Asheville at the turn of the industrial revolution belonged to none other than a Vanderbilt, and his expansive property in Asheville is ripe for adventure. It’s still a privately-owned property—the largest in the U.S.—but the estate is more than just a Gilded Age house tour. The 4,000+ acres offer everything from a winery to off-road Land Rover experiences. Check out the wide range of activities available on their website.
A full-service river activity rental—from tubes to canoes and paddle boards—that allows you to float up (that’s right, the French Broad River flows northwest as a tributary to the Tennessee River) the river with ease. The best part is that you can float right up to some of Asheville’s best breweries, like New Belgium or Wedge Brewing Co. A little further up is The Bywater for a good cookout—don’t forget your sunscreen.
As you’ll be surrounded by the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains the entire time you’re in Asheville, it would be difficult to pass up an opportunity to see them up close. If you want to hike the Blue Ridge Mountains, let the experts at NCLine be your guide. This locally-owned hiking tour company has experts that have hiked some of the world’s most well-known elevations bringing their expertise and sense of adventure to Northwest North Carolina.