Asheville getaway: 35 things to do in N.C.’s coolest mountain city

Asheville getaway: 35 things to do in N.C.’s coolest mountain city
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echopark

Our Road Trip series is proudly driven by EchoPark Automotive. Whether you’re heading on a weekend trip or to the grocery store, get where you’re going in a car you love. We tested out a 2017 GMC Acadia Denali SUV for our ride to Asheville.

  • Price: $28,509
  • Cool features: All-wheel drive, leather seats, power moonroof, heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel, power liftgate
  • EchoPark perks: Cars are all 1-4 years old, priced up to 40% less than buying new, feature the latest tech, are accident-free (verified by CarFax), and they come protected with a 30-day/1,000 mile warranty

echopark asheville

Start browsing for your own ride at EchoPark.


Effortlessly cool. Artsy. Romantic. Progressive. Scenic. All of it describes Asheville, one of the South’s hottest destinations, just two hours from Charlotte.

Asheville has just a tenth of the population of Charlotte, but you wouldn’t know it from the Blue Ridge Mountain city’s thriving culinary and arts scenes.

There’s not a bad time to visit Asheville. The city stays cooler in the spring and summer when Charlotte heats up. In the winter, the area makes a good home base for nearby skiing. Fall is the most popular time to visit Asheville, though, mostly for fall foliage sighting along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed how we travel, but a trip to Asheville is still plausible, especially with its accessibility to outdoor activities and a number of heated patios.

Here’s how to spend the perfect weekend in Asheville — from hotel recommendations to the best places to eat.


GETTING AROUND

Downtown Asheville is easy to get around by foot. There’s a lot to see beyond the compact city center, too. Just south of downtown is a brewery-heavy district called South Slope. A couple of miles further south is Biltmore Village, home to the must-visit Biltmore Estate.

Other neighborhoods worth a visit include West Asheville, River Arts District along the French Broad River, and Montford, a historic district north of downtown.

Driving is the best way to jump between neighborhoods, but if you plan to stay in downtown, you can easily park your car and leave it all weekend.


STAY

Bunkbeds or a luxury hotel room? In Asheville, you have options.

I’m a big fan the West Asheville budget hostel, Bon Paul & Sharkey’s, but for this trip I opted for the Cambria Hotel downtown. The location across from Grove Arcade made it easy to walk around, and the complimentary champagne upon arrival was a nice touch. The three-year-old hotel also has a rooftop bar and restaurant with city views.

cambria hotel rooftop bar restaurant

Hemingway’s Cuba Restaurant & Bar is on top of Cambria Hotel with a view of the mountains and the city.

Here are more options, ranked by cost:

$: Bon Paul & Sharkey’s Hostel is hard to miss in West Asheville with its colorful sunflower mural. Accommodations include bunk beds ($30-$33/person), a private room ($78/two people), a cottage ( $110/2-3 people), and backyard camping ($22/person). Free breakfast, and every time I’ve stayed, there’s been free Roots hummus.

$$: An Airbnb downtown. Try this beautiful condo in downtown for $146+ per night (sleeps two).

$$$: There are plenty of hotel options in Asheville around the $250 price point, including the AC Hotel, Hyatt Place, and Cambria Hotel. On peak weekends, these prices can easily surpass $300. On slow weekdays, prices sometimes get as low as $150.

$$$$: Head a couple of miles south near the Biltmore for the Grand Bohemian Asheville or The Inn on Biltmore Estate. Or just north of the city, there’s the famous Omni Grove Park Inn where 10 presidents have stayed.

cambria hotel champagne

Free champagne, (faux) brick wall, comfortable beds. Big fan of Cambria Hotel. #notsponsored


FOOD + DRINK

Time to feast. In many ways, Asheville was North Carolina’s leading city in the local foods movement. Now, even though it’s spread to places across the state, no city does it better.

Start your day in West Asheville for breakfast. Then grab barbecue for lunch in the South Slope neighborhood, and finish your day of dining in a fancy downtown restaurant.

Restaurants

Taco BillyBreakfast tacos are served all day at this West Asheville joint with a backyard dining set-up. Order one of the $3.50 namesake tacos — the Billie Holiday, the Billy Ocean, or the Billy Joel. (201 Haywood Rd.)

Sunny Point Cafe: Expect a wait at this popular breakfast and lunch restaurant in West Asheville. (626 Haywood Rd.)

Hole Doughnuts: Order handmade doughnuts online, then stand outside the West Asheville shop and wait for an employee to holler your name. If Laurie is working, expect a big cheer once you get your order. (168 Haywood Rd.)

hole doughnuts asheville guide

Seven assorted donuts ($15). Flavors include vanilla glazed, toasted almond, sesame cinnamon, cinnamon sugar, and chai.

Chai Pani: I once ate at Chai Pani three times in one day. The Indian street food restaurant is opening a sister concept in Optimist Hall later this year, and I. Can’t. Wait. (22 Battery Park Ave.)

[Related Agenda guide: Everything you need to know about Optimist Hall]

12 Bones Smokehouse12 Bones’ River Arts District location is closed on weekends, but its Arden location about 10 miles south of Asheville isn’t. Go with the pulled pork plate with cornbread. (5 Foundy St., Ste. 10; 2350 Hendersonville Rd., Arden)

Buxton Hall BBQ: Eastern-style Carolina barbecue in the middle of Asheville’s brewery district makes quite a lunch stop. Outdoor streetside seating is available during the pandemic. (32 Banks Ave.)

buxton bbq asheville

Eastern style BBQ above all else.

Tiger Bay Cafe/Battlecat Coffee Shop: Two concepts, one location. Order breakfast and lunch sandwiches and salads from Tiger Bay; grab coffee from Battlecat. All seating is outdoors in a secret garden-like patio. (373 Haywood Rd.)

Cúrate: Reservations can be hard to come by at chef Katie Button’s award-winning Spanish tapas restaurant in downtown. (13 Biltmore Ave.)

Asheville Proper: Centered on live fire cooking, Asheville Proper just opened this past summer. Don’t miss its cocktails, too. (1 Page Venue, Ste. 151)

asheville proper cocktails

Pink Panther ($12) with vodka, amaretto, pineapple, and cherry; and Bee’s Knees ($12) with gin, local honey, and lemon.

The Market Place: Owned by Haymaker chef William Dissen, The Market Place is a longstanding farm-to-table restaurant in downtown Asheville. (20 Wall St.)

Forestry Camp: Popular Burial Brewery’s newest restaurant has plenty of outdoor seating, which fits the mood of its menu with dishes inspired by local ingredients of Appalachia. (10 Shady Oak Dr.)

Strada Italiano: If you want to sit on the covered rooftop patio, make a reservation ahead of time. Otherwise, there’s plenty of cozy spots inside to enjoy Strada’s Italian pasta and pizza. (17 Broadway St.)

strada italiano asheville guide

Clockwise from bottom left: Arancini ($9), Buttercup cocktail with vanilla vodka ($10), Tuscan figs ($7), Tuscan formaggio soup ($6), Fig & goat cheese pizza ($17).

Bars + breweries

Note: Bars without food menus are temporarily closed under phase two restrictions.

Ben’s Tune Up: Save a visit to Ben’s for post-pandemic to experience the true atmosphere — DJs, sake, dancing. It’s a vibe. (195 Hilliard Ave.)

Wedge at Foundation: There are two Wedge Brewing locations in the River Arts District, but the Foundation spot has more space for outdoor drinking. (5 Foundy St.)

wedge brewing

Burial Beer Co.: My personal favorite brewery in Asheville, Burial’s outdoor space is often busy, but it’s worth the wait for its European-style lagers and strong IPAs. (40 Collier Ave.)

Rooftop bars: With limited nightlife options due to the pandemic, stick to rooftop patios for a nightcap. Most of the major hotels have one — The Montford atop the Hyatt, Capella on 9 at the AC Hotel, and the aforementioned Hemingway’s at Cambria.


EXPLORE

Half the fun of Asheville is getting outside the city. Just outside of downtown, go for a scenic drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway or go for a hike.

There’s plenty to do in the city that doesn’t involve eating or drinking, too. Wander art shops in the River Arts District or rent a game from Well Played Board Game Café in downtown.

Here are 9 things to do to add to your itinerary.

DIY downtown walking tour. Start at Grove Arcade, a historic building home to a handful of boutiques. Then walk along Wall Street, which prioritizes pedestrians over cars — you won’t see many tires here. Next, walk through downtown to Biltmore Avenue for coffee out of a double-decker red bus (cash only) and to browse art galleries and shops. For more, follow the Urban Trail for a two-hour self-guided tour.

grove archade asheville guide

Organize your own brewery crawl. Big beer fans will love the South Slope neighborhood with favorite spots like The Funkatorium, Burial, Hi-Wire, Asheville Brewing, Catawba, and more.

Visit one of the big name breweries. On your great beer tour of Asheville, it’s worth a stop to New Belgium and Sierra Nevada. Both are expansive facilities with lots of outdoor seating located along the French Broad River about 15 miles apart from each other.

Go shopping for a new art piece. The River Arts District or RAD has dozens of small and large shops and studios for purchasing art. Start by Wedge at Foundation and pop into the antiques and art centers within walking distance.

Hunt for a new (to you) book with champagne. Battery Park Book Exchange blends two of my favorite things together — used books and champagne. You can even sell your books for credit at the bar. Malaprop’s Bookstore is also worth a visit. The nearly 40-year-old independent bookstore has a cafe, too.

asheville champagne bar street vendors

Shop from local makers outside Battery Park Book Exchange.

See vibrant fall color along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Hop onto to Blue Ridge Parkway and take it southwest to the Pisgah Inn. It’s about 40 minutes there and back of picturesque mountain views and fall foliage. (408 Blue Ridge Pkwy.)

Find a hike nearby. If you’re at the Pisgah Inn already, drive an extra 20 minutes to the Black Balsam Knob trail, a 3-mile round-trip hike up and back with beautiful views. There’s also the Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower hike where you can climb up a few stories to get to an observation deck (at your own risk).

[Related Agenda guide: Definitive hiking guide: The 16 best hikes around Charlotte]

fryingpan tower

The Fryingpan Mountain Tower hike is beautiful, but not great if you’re scared of heights.

Explore the Biltmore EstateBuilt by George Vanderbilt in the late 1800s, the Biltmore is a must-see. Fall is a particularly colorful time to visit the estate. (1 Lodge St.)

Play games at Well Played Board Game CaféDuring the pandemic, Well Played is open for takeout board game rentals and for playing on its outdoor patio. Rentals are $5-$10 for five days, and yes they have the game Pandemic(58 Wall St.)


Next stop on our road trip series: Boone.

Looking for more things to do this fall? Check out the Agenda’s fall guide here.

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