I have been to Asheville, North Carolina three times in my life, but up until last weekend I had never spent a considerable amount of time exploring the city – mainly because the first time I went I was young and the second time was only for a couple of hours. So when John and I bought tickets to a concert in Asheville that took place last weekend, I was beyond excited to finally get to know the city nestled in between the mountains.
Like true weekend warriors, John and I attempted to make the most of our time in Asheville by packing in as many activities as we could. By the time we were driving home we were exhausted, but it was all worth it.
I want to say a quick thank you to my dear friends Julianna and Paige for showing us around the city over the weekend and letting us stay with them on Sunday night (and for watching Game of Thrones with us). They truly made the weekend more memorable, and gave us the local’s insight into Asheville.
As soon as our plans to visit Asheville were finalized I immediately started scouring Airbnb for the perfect place to stay, and I fell in love with the Tiny Home at the Gardens. The simple green and purple house was perched on top of a hill and offered a stunning view of the mountains in the distance. Megan, the Airbnb host, is the owner of M.R. Gardens, a company that grows native plants and edible food in a passive solar greenhouse and teaches members of the community how to sustainably grow their own food.
The inside of the tiny house was what really made me fall in love with it though. Every surface was made out of light colored wood and there were huge windows on every open spot on the wall, which gave the house a bright and open atmosphere. The interior combined with the clean white furnishings, the yellow and green decor, and the vibrant green plants made the house seem much larger than it actually was.
I highly recommend staying at the Tiny House at the Gardens if you’re ever in Asheville! Megan was extremely courteous and she went above and beyond to make sure we were comfortable. Plus, staying at this tiny house gave us the opportunity to use a composting toilet, which is always fun.
Like I mentioned before, John and I were exhausted by the time we left Asheville because we tried to do as much as we possibly could. There is so much to do and see in Asheville, which makes it impossible to truly do everything in one visit – I’ve even talked to some locals who said they still discover new parts of the city.
Asheville seems huge compared to Tallahassee, so I was surprised to learn that spatially the city is much smaller than Florida’s capital. Since Asheville is so small, I highly recommend thoroughly planning out your itinerary before you go because it will save you a lot of time driving back and forth. I had made a list of places that I wanted to visit but hadn’t taken the time to look up the location of everything in advance, which meant John and I were constantly driving back and forth from one side of town to another. Luckily each section of town is only a five minute drive from the next due to Asheville’s small size, but we could have save a lot of stress trying to find parking if we had done a better job planning. I highly recommend using Roadtrippers.com to get a better understanding of where everything is in relation to each other.
Another reason I love Asheville is it’s incredibly walkable; the downtown area is extremely pedestrian friendly, and it’s easy to walk to different attractions in the same part of town. I’m not too sure about the biking scene in the city, but if I return during the summer I would love to bike around town as opposed to driving.
With that being said, here’s what we did in Asheville!
Visit a farmers market.
I used to think Tallahassee had a pretty decent farmers market, but that was before I went to one in Asheville. It seemed like everyone in the city was there purchasing fresh flowers, aged cheese, and local meat. Live music wafted through the air and mixed with the smell of deliciously fresh baked goods, and it took all I could to not buy everything in sight. Somehow I managed to walk away empty handed, but I know if I lived in Asheville that would rarely be the case.
We went to the North Asheville tailgate market, which runs every Saturday from 8:00am until 12:00pm, but there are plenty of other markets around town that are staggered throughout the week. If you truly want to immerse yourself into the local flavors of Asheville then the farmers market is the place to go.
Shop around at the local businesses.
As an independent business owner myself, I try to go out of my way to shop locally whenever I can. Luckily for me, Asheville has plenty of local stores with unique and quality wares.
My favorite store that I visited during this last trip was Second Gear, a consignment shop in West Asheville that specializes in gear and apparel for outdoor adventures. John and I were so astounded at the deals that we went three times during our trip. I mean, where else can you find a new Organic crashpad for $150 or a Patagonia wind breaker for $30?! If you’re lucky enough to find something at Second Gear be sure to snatch it up, because their items don’t stay on the shelf for long.
If you love books as much as I do then you absolutely have to stop at Malaprop’s Bookstore and Cafe. This small independent bookstore doesn’t look like much from the outside, but on the inside it’s packed with good books, surprisingly tasty coffee, and tourists. If you’re looking for a quiet spot to spend the afternoon then this isn’t necessarily the place for you, but there’s something to be said for the store’s overwhelming popularity.
If you want to read more about books, check out my post about Books Every Woman Should Read!
After we left Malaprop’s, John and I ventured into Asheville’s downtown area. Downtown was packed with people going about their day, despite the fog that permeated the air and the steady trickle of rain. There are no shortage of local shops and businesses in this part of town, so if you’re looking for a way to spend the afternoon then downtown is the place to go.
See some art.
Asheville is home to some amazing artists, and almost all of them have their work for display somewhere in town. A good friend of mine from the Tallahassee Rock Gym recommended that John and I visit the Woolworth Walk, which is located right next to Malaprop’s Bookstore. Woolworth Walk is a huge art gallery located in a historic building, and supposedly it is home to a fully-restored old fashioned soda fountain. We didn’t spend much time in Woolworth because our parking meter was running low, but it’s worth the visit.
If you want a more hands-on look at art and artists in Asheville then visit the River Arts District. This section of town is adjacent to the French Broad River, and in the 1880s large industrial buildings started popping up around the railroad tracks. Today those buildings serve as galleries and studios for artists, metalworkers, glass blowers, and potters.
There’s more than just art in this area though – there are plenty of restaurants, bike shops, cafes, and even a rock climbing gym nearby – and the best part is parking is free!
Watch a show.
There are plenty of places in Asheville to catch some live music, whether it’s on a bustling sidewalk, inside a cozy cafe, or at a majestic venue. John and I saw The Wild Reeds perform at the Mothlight, and it was such a wonderful experience. The Wild Reeds put on an amazing show – even though one of them had laryngitis – and the tiny venue paired perfectly with their intimate lyrics.
The Mothlight venue also just to happens to host The Moth story slams every Monday night, and I’m so bummed I wasn’t in town to attend. If you happen to be in Asheville on a Monday night, you should look into attending one!
Ride on the bike trails.
Since Asheville is surrounded by the Great Smokey Mountains National Park and several National Forests, it should come as no surprise that the majority of it’s residents are outdoorsy people. John and I knew that we wanted to ride our bikes on a trail when we went to Asheville, so we asked around at a local bike shop and got plenty of trail recommendations from the locals. We settled on the Ledford Branch bike trail in the Pisgah National Forest, which was only a short drive away from our Airbnb.
The trail follows a gravel path up the mountains, and while the uphill sections were brutal it was all worth it when we coasted on the downhill portions. The entire trail took less than an hour which gave us plenty of time to hop on another trail if we wanted to. Depending on where you park you might have to ride on the road to return to your vehicle, so keep that in mind if you’re uncomfortable sharing the road with cars. All in all this bike ride was one of the most enjoyable parts of our trip!
Drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway and watch the sunset.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is famous for being one of the most beautiful roads in America, and it certainly lived up to it’s reputation. As we drove along the winding mountain road it was hard to not stare at the vibrant green foliage of the surrounding trees and the gentle rise and fall of the mountains around us. Each overlook offered an amazing view of the Great Smokey Mountains in the distance.
Keep in mind that there are few restrooms along the route, and that the few that are out there are typically closed during the off season. There are also several spots to pitch up a tent if you want to turn your drive into an overnight adventure.
If you drive far enough along the Blue Ridge Parkway you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of Looking Glass Rock, a granite mound that was once the magma chamber of an ancient volcano. John and I have fond memories of Looking Glass from past climbing adventures, so seeing it was like visiting an old friend.
Just a short walk away from the Looking Glass Rock overlook lies a hidden hike to a stunning waterfall. We decided to check it out since we had plenty of time to kill before the sunset, and I’m so glad that we did. We were the only people at this secluded spot besides two other hikers who left shortly after we arrived. The air was cool and crisp near the waterfall, and the views were so worth the hike.
By the time we got back to the car the sun started to dip beneath the mountains, so we drove to an overlook that offered a view of the sunset. The sky turned a rich orange and deep blue, and the trees glowed as the last few rays of light struck them. We didn’t stay for the entire sunset, so we were able to watch the sky change colors as we drove back home. It was the perfect end to a day full of adventures.
Go for a hike.
On our last day in Asheville we woke up bright and early so we could explore one last trail before driving home. The hike that we settled on was the Rainbow Falls hike in Gorges State Park, located 30 minutes outside of the town of Brevard. Admission into North Carolina’s state parks is free, which was a huge bonus for us since by this point in the trip we were tired of spending money.
The Rainbow Falls hike starts at the Grassy Ridge trailhead and is 3.9 miles roundtrip. It predominately follows the Horsepasture River, and the sound of water rushing along minor waterfalls can be heard throughout the duration of the hike. There are several spots along the hike where you can stop and admire small waterfalls, especially after a heavy rain, as well as two river crossings that require you to navigate a path across using stones and logs.
As John and I walked up the last hill before Rainbow Falls we could hear the roar of the water and feel the mist from the falls before we could even see them. I was completely blown away by the immense size of the waterfall and the stunning rainbow that had formed at the bottom.
We followed the trail to a viewing platform right at the bottom of the falls, and we were coated in a fine layer of mist by the time we reached the deck. I was grinning from ear to ear at the sight of such a magnificent force of nature.
The hike to Rainbow Falls was fairly moderate and extremely rewarding, but keep in mind that sections of the trail are slippery due to the river and the mist from the falls. Walk carefully, and always stay on the marked trail.
While the sights and attractions in Asheville were worthwhile, it was the food that truly blew me away. Every restaurant that we went to served top quality food with amazing service. If you’re vegan or vegetarian you can expect to find something delicious at almost any restaurant since Asheville is such an environmentally conscious city.
Here are all the places we ate and drank at during our trip!
Forage is a small coffee shop inside a local florist called Flora. I was beyond excited to go to a place where two of my favorite things come together: coffee and plants. The inside is absolutely adorable and plants cover ever surface of the cafe, and the cafe sells single origins and seasonal special lattes.
If I could eat nothing but Hole Doughnuts for the rest of my life I would be perfectly content. When we pulled up to the rustic building with a bright blue doughnut truck parked outside there was a line out the door, but luckily it quickly subsided. As we waited for our order we could watch the employees make the lumpy doughnuts from hand, and as soon as I took a bite I was in heaven. This small spot is an essential when visiting Asheville, and I know I’ll stop by each time I visit.
Ultra Coffeebar is a cafe serving coffee and sandwiches that is nestled between art studios in the River Arts District. John and I popped into Ultra while we were waiting to meet up with our friends and ended up eating lunch there. We split what was possibly the most delicious vegan bagel sandwich and a lemon poppyseed muffin, and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food. I can’t speak for the coffee since I didn’t get any while I was there, but if it’s anywhere near as good as the food then you won’t be disappointed.
Wicked Weed’s Funkatorium
Wicked Weed Brewing has two locations, and their Funkatorium is to this day the best brewery I’ve ever been to because it specializes in my favorite type of beer: sours! John and I split a flight with four of their most popular sour beers, and it did not disappoint. If tart beverages aren’t your thing don’t fret, the Funkatorium also serves IPAs and other beers.
The outdoor patio of the Funkatorium is pet friendly and is the perfect place to hide away from the rain, so if you’re looking for a fun place to spend an afternoon then look no further. We didn’t have enough time to visit Wicked Weed’s second location, but I’m sure it’s just as great as this one.
I knew Zia Taqueria served good food because when we first walked in there was a line all the way to the door. Luckily we quickly made it up to the register and were able to snack on free chips and salsa while we waited for our tacos to arrive. Zia Taqueria has plenty of vegan and vegetarian taco options, and two tacos were enough to fill me up.
BimBeriBon (or BiBiB for short) is located right next to the Mothlight, so we ate there on the night of the concert. To be completely honest, the food was pretty good but a little underwhelming – I personally felt like my noodle stir fry was lacking in the spice and sauce departments. That being said it was a cute spot with a wide variety of vegan options, and I walked away with a full stomach.
The Hop Ice Cream Cafe is also adjacent to the Mothlight, so of course we had to get some ice cream before we saw The Wild Reeds. The Hop has dairy and dairy-free ice creams, as well as alternative milks. I got a mint Oreo milkshake made with almond milk, and it was divine.
Summit Coffee Co
Summit Coffee Co is located in the River Arts District, and the old warehouse turned coffeeshop perfectly encapsulates the aesthetic of the entire area. The exposed metal beams and rugged brick walls created the perfect backdrop for the modern coffee supplies and green plants. Summit has plenty of seating inside and outside on the patio, as well as an upstairs area. We had originally planned on just running into Summit for a quick cup of coffee, but we enjoyed it so much that we stayed for at least an hour.
John and I were lucky enough to go on a day where they had live music, and the woman who was singing and playing guitar was insanely talented. Part of the reason we stayed for as long as we did was it was hard to tear ourselves away from her beautiful voice.
I ordered a matcha latte since we don’t sell them at the coffeeshop where I work in Tallahassee, and they made me one for free since the original wasn’t made with oat milk. I also took home a bag of Tega & Tula coffee for my friend Jasmine.
Double Crown Bar
We went to the Double Crown Bar after eating at Zia Taqueria on our first night in Asheville because we wanted a cozy place to catch up with your friends, and the dimly lit dive bar with Christmas lights hanging on every wall and couches so soft you sink right into them was just what we were looking for.
I learned that North Carolina has a strange law in place that doesn’t allow bars to exist unless they also serve food. Businesses that serve liquor but not food have to be “members-only clubs,” so in order to get around that bizarre requirement most places only charge $1 for a lifetime membership. At first I thought this was completely insane and unnecessary, but since Asheville is such a popular tourist destination, businesses that want to preserve a “locals” vibe rely on the membership fee to drive away large crowds. So don’t be surprised if you have to become a member in order to get a drink in Asheville, and travel with a friend who is already a member if you don’t want to become one yourself.
I wasn’t originally interested in eating at Farm Burger because my friend got sick after eating there in Atlanta, but once I found out they had vegan burgers I decided it was worth a try. The waitress was kind enough to let John and me order the lunch special even though we arrived 30 minutes after it ended, so we chowed down on an impossible burger with soda and some fries. I was beyond starving when we got there because it was nearly 3:00 in the afternoon and I hadn’t eaten all day, but I couldn’t even finish all of my food!
When I look back on my time in Asheville I feel completely exhausted, and yet satisfied with all that we were able to do. There were plenty of things on my list that didn’t make the cut for the weekend though, so I am eager to return and see more of the beautiful city.
I had posted on my Facebook before we left asking for recommendations on things to do in Asheville, and I couldn’t believe the responses I got! Even though I wasn’t able to visit the following places I still want to share them with you so you can have the best trip possible. I know for a fact that when I revisit Asheville these places will be the first I go to!
I want to give a special shoutout to my dear friend Jasmine for sharing a wealth of information with me about where to go in Asheville; it was so helpful and informative!
Things to do:
- New Belgium Brewing tour. So many people told us that we needed to go to New Belgium Brewing while we were in Asheville, but since the headquarters in Fort Collins will only be a few hours away when we move to Wyoming we figured it would be a better use of our time to experience the more niche breweries like the Funkatorium. That being said, I would love to eventually tour the facility either in Asheville or Fort Collins. Keep in mind that in order to go on a brewery tour you’ll have to book it in advance.
- The Retrocade and the Asheville Pinball Museum. These two spots are great if you love games and want to hide out from bad weather. The Retrocade has over 5,000 video games, pinball, skeeball, and so much more – and it’s only $10 for all you can play! The Asheville Pinball Museum is a little pricier at $15 for all-you-can-play, but they have a plethora of pinball games and classic video games.
- Botanical gardens. I am a total sucker for botanical gardens. If you’re like me and you love being surrounded by beautiful plants and flowers then check out the Botanical Gardens at Asheville. Admission and parking are free, and there is plenty to enjoy.
- Pritchard park drum circle on Friday nights. Need I say more? On Friday nights there is a drum circle in Pritchard Park that anyone can participate in.
- Battery park book exchange. This trendy spot is more than just a bookstore; dogs are allowed inside, there is live music every Saturday, and there is even a full champagne bar!
- Outdoor rock climbing. Asheville has no shortage of outdoor climbing spots. You can boulder and trad climb at Rumbling Bald, sport and trad climb at Linville Gorge, multipitch climb at Looking Glass Rock, or boulder at Corner Rock.
- Bike trails: the North Carolina Arboretum has bike trails ranging from moderate gravel rides to intense mountain bike trails. The only catch is you have to pay $14 per vehicle to park. If you aren’t afraid of sharing the road then consider biking along the Blue Ridge Parkway and soaking in the views.
- Hikes: there are a lot of hikes that John and I were considering going on before we discovered Rainbow Falls. Our friends (and guides!) Julianna and Paige told us about Max Patch: a bald mountain about an hour and a half from Asheville that offers a 360-degree view of the mountains from the top. We also considered Catawba Falls, Lookout Mountain, and Lake Junaluska. There are also plenty of fire lookout towers that you can hike to and explore, which would be quite the adventure!
Places to eat:
- Rosetta’s Kitchen serves vegan and vegetarian soul food at a reasonable price.
- Asheville Pizza and Brewing Co has pizza with vegan cheese and plays free movies after 7:00pm. I’ve been told by numerous people that this is a causal spot to hang out for extended periods of time.
- French Broad Chocolate is an insanely popular chocolate shop that consistently has a line out the door, but supposedly it’s so worth the wait.
- Elements Real Food is a juice bar and cafe in North Asheville.
- Biscuit Head is the breakfast and lunch spot that everyone I know insisted we had to visit. Apparently the biscuits and gravy flight is out of this world.
- Sunny Point Cafe has a garden attached to the restaurant where they grow their own produce as well as a coffee cart that serves drinks while you wait in line.
- Luella’s BBQ serves good ‘ole Southern food, and even has a vegan tempeh BBQ plate!
- The White Duck Taco Shop has several locations throughout Asheville that all serve unique tacos.
- The One Stop at the Asheville Music Hall is another taco shop, but this one is open surprisingly late and often has live music.
Coffeeshops and bars:
- Burial Beer Co was recommended to me by my friend Paul. He says that the beer is good and the food is good too, and at the end of the day what more can you ask for!
- The Counter Culture Training Facility in downtown Asheville has a free coffee tasting every Friday at 10:00am, as well as events and classes throughout the week.
- The Crow and Quill is a cozy bar that is difficult to find, but supposedly it’s quite the gem if you can track it down. There are board games, literary references, a secret back patio that sometimes has BBQ, and occasionally a live strings and steel guitar performance by the Carolina Catfish.
- Dobra Tea is, according to Jasmine, “the best place to get the best tea in town, it’s very cute and you definitely have to go.”
- Wedge Brewing Company is located in the River Arts District near Summit Coffee, and the building is covered in murals. Different food trucks park outside each day of the week, so be sure to check out their schedule so you know which one to expect.
- Double D’s Coffee and Desserts is a coffee shop inside a red double decker bus in downtown Asheville. This cafe only accepts cash!
- Ginger’s Revenge is a brewery that specializes in alcoholic gluten-free ginger beer. I was hoping to run in and snag a six pack before we left Asheville, but unfortunately the timing was never right.
There ya have it, my complete guide to Asheville, North Carolina. While I haven’t spent a whole lot of time in Asheville I feel like I truly connected with the city and the people in it. This place will always hold a special spot in my heart, and I can’t wait to return and explore it more!
I hope this is informative and helps you make the most of your time in the city. If you have any recommendations of your own feel free to mention them in the comments!
Was this helpful? Have feedback for me? Let me know in the comments, or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. All photos in this post were taken by me unless otherwise specified in the caption. Header photo by John Miller.