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

Ben's Tune Up in the South Slope neighborhood of Asheville. All photos: Emma Way/Axios

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

The big picture: 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. And now, in this somewhat-post-pandemic world, the party is back.

  • A new food hall called S&W Market opened in a stunning art deco building with six concepts ranging from bao buns to hot dogs.
  • The new outdoor venue Rabbit Rabbit is booming most nights, filling South Slope with the sounds of big acts like Modest Mouse and free movie nights.
  • And the parkway is busy once again with leaf peepers from all over.

When to visit: 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.

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 the brewery-heavy district of South Slope. A couple of miles farther south is Biltmore Village, home to the must-visit Biltmore Estate, regularly chosen as one of the country’s top travel destinations.

  • 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.

$: 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 $173+ 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.

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.)

Liberty House CoffeeA local favorite off of Merrimon Avenue. Order the grits bowl and dolled up latte for breakfast. (221 S. Liberty St.)

asheville breakfast

Quiche, grits bowl and a latte for breakfast from Liberty House.

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, which was named one of the New York Times 50 stand-out restaurants this year, also opened a sister concept in Optimist Hall called Botiwalla. (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.)

Benne on EagleThis Appalachian soul food restaurant is an Asheville staple. I loved the moqueca octopus and shrimp ($32) and whipped sweet potatoes ($9). (35 Eagle St.)

(NEW!) S&W MarketLocated in the historic art deco S&W building in downtown, try a few bites from different vendors. My favorite was Bun Intended’s pork belly bao. (56 Patton Ave.)

S&W Market in downtown Asheville.

Still dreaming of the pork belly bao bun on the left of this tray.

Bars + breweries

Asheville has about 30 breweries, and we can’t list them all. But trust that if you don’t like the draft at one place, you can take a few steps and be at the next place.

Ben’s Tune Up: 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. Stay tuned for Burial’s Charlotte location opening soon. (40 Collier Ave.)

The Crow & QuillFinding this dimly lit bar is half the fun. The other half is watching the bartenders at work. Order the fall fashion cocktail for a smoke show — or one of the bar’s 600 (!) whiskeys. Note: Proof of COVID vaccination required. (106 N. Lexington Ave.)

Rooftop bars: Most of the major hotels have a rooftop bar these days — 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 see a show at the newly-opened Rabbit Rabbit outdoor venue.

Here are 10 things to add to your itinerary.

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.)

Just outside Asheville in mid-October.

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.

Or 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.

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

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.)

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.

Go shopping for a new art piece. The River Arts District 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.

(NEW!) Catch a flick at ultra-indie Grail MoviehouseThis single-screen theater recently relocated to the River Arts District so once you’re worn out from shopping, pick a well-loved couch of your liking and get cozy for a movie. (17 Foundry St.)

grail movie theater

Sip natural and local wines at Plēb Urban WineryThe space gives off industrial brewery vibes, but the wine is refined and refreshing. Try the “funky” flight for three out-of-the-box wines. (289 Lyman St.)

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.


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

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"It's good. I promise." - Emma   Emma Way