Downtown Asheville | Explore Asheville
Downtown Asheville | Explore Asheville
We, as humans, often romanticize the idea of living remotely in the mountains, but the reality is we’d likely miss social interaction… and restaurants… and bars… and in-person shopping… and diversity… and, frankly, all the luxuries we take for granted on a daily basis.
Asheville, North Carolina, set in the Blue Ridge Mountains, is proof that you can actually have your space and culture, too, with a world-renowned food and drink scene, stores, and museums, but surrounded by acres and acres of nature’s untouched beauty which, unsurprisingly, shows off most during cooler fall months.
We took a trip to the Land of the Sky for a long weekend to explore everything the city had to offer and, well, the sky really was the limit in terms of things to see, beverages to sip, and dishes to consume in some of the most shocking displays of gluttony we’ve ever witnessed (#noregrets—our meals were that good). Check out the highlights below.
Enjoy a whole lot of Southern comfort at Asheville hotels
Whether you prefer old-fashioned charm or modern luxury, there is an abundance of places to rest your head after a long day of autumn activities like hiking, jumping into leaf piles, and imbibing pumpkin-infused beers.
The Grand Bohemian pays homage to the scenic artwork that adorns its carved wooden walls. Even the rooms themselves are covered, floor to ceiling, with paintings and statues, many of which glow under installed picture and studio track lights. A stay feels more like an extended trip to an exclusive, high-end gallery, with treasures in every nook and cranny, and anchored by a hunting lodge-inspired lounge that boasts a cozy 360-degree fireplace. It’s classic opulence at its finest, though definitely designed for the traveler who appreciates attention to detail.
If you’re looking for more of a contemporary vibe, steel factory-turned-hotel The Foundry is an ideal option with a spacious and plush first-level workspace that won’t make you feel bad about answering emails on vacation. The red brick building, which boasts a sprawling lawn with Adirondack chairs and cornhole, is also located off a side road from downtown. This allows weary visitors to escape the hustle of city life (Asheville is, in fact, a small city) while still maintaining a walking distance to most of the area’s top attractions.
Asheville restaurants run the gamut of awards and cuisines
You don’t need to count James Beard Awards (though the locale touts many) to quickly realize that Asheville has become a mecca of uber-talented chefs who don’t want to deal with the price, competition, and burnout found in major cities’ dining scenes.
For breakfast, the spicy fried chicken and macaroni and cheese waffles from Tupelo Honey is the carb binge you never knew you needed in your life, topped with garlic buttermilk ranch and dill pickles to offset the dish’s heaviness. But the most decadent, gluten-based indulgence of all comes from regional chain Biscuit Head, with Instagrammable offerings like The Filthy Animal, an oversized buttermilk biscuit topped with fried chicken, pimento cheese, slab bacon, scrambled eggs, and rich gravy. Round out your am cravings with a warm and flaky powdered sugar doughnut from Hole Doughnuts, which is as sweet as the co-owner who hand-delivers it to you outside.
Mid-day sustenance should come in the form of a Biltmore Village Reuben from Corner Kitchen, which also spotlights a benedict of the day teeming with locally-foraged ingredients that dictate literally every menu in the region. (You’ll soon learn that if a fruit or vegetable isn’t in season and/or can’t be sourced from nearby farmers and gardens, it’s not going on your plate.) Vivian, in Asheville’s bright, colorful, and graffiti-lined River Arts District, is also a gem with a signature Nordic deviled egg appetizer mixed with smoked fish, potato, and cornichon, then topped with caviar, while White Duck Taco Shop is perfect for the guy or gal-on-the-go with an almost intimidating list of the Mexican lunch staple. (Korean Beef Bulgogi was our favorite from the bunch.)
Suppertime, no matter where you end up, feels less like a casual night out and more like a special occasion, at least when it comes to your taste buds. Can’t-miss dishes include a crunchy tomato bread with, garlic, Spanish olive oil, and manchego cheese at tapas-centric Cúrate, any of chef Ryan Kline’s creative, farm-to-table takes on American classics at Jargon (though you’d be remiss to not try one of his innovative pastas), as well as the most memorable Indian food experienced in recent memory at Chai Pani. The butter chicken, a harmonious balance of signature curry spice and subtle sweetness, pairs effortlessly with the tang and acidity of bel puri, a puffed rice salad with cilantro, tamarind, and garlic chutneys.
But, perhaps, the most exciting restaurant of all is Neng Jr’s—a 17-seat Filipinx eatery with chef Silver Iocovizzi at the helm. The unanimous star was the beef tartare, a reimagined, spicy and bold interpretation of the traditionally French dish with chopped raw meat tossed delicately with romaine lettuce and a spicy vinaigrette. Do not even think about skipping dessert—the cheddar cheese ice cream, which may sound off-putting on paper, is the best thing we ate the entire trip with a deep umami flavor and sinfully velvety texture.
Sip your way through the best coffee shops in Asheville
Rise and shine with a brew from one of Ashevile’s many coffee shops. If the siren song of ice cubes against plastic lures you from bed, PennyCup Coffee Co. offers a fantastic array of iced latte options, but head to Rowan Coffee for the most no-frills, high-quality beans of the bunch. Pollen is the it-spot for ambiance—the experience is like drinking in a flower nursery, which is our new favorite way to start the day.
Drink at world-class Asheville breweries and bars
If day-drinking is on your agenda (and frankly, why wouldn’t it be?), you’ll obviously want to take advantage of the region’s 30 local breweries. Highlights include Wicked Weed Brewing’s Funkatorium for sours (complemented by bar bites like a soft pretzel which led us to discovering sinus-clearing but masochistically addictive Lusty Monk mustard), New Belgium Brewing for views and an extensive pour and flight menu, and newly-opened Sierra Nevada that perches above an outside garden—the best place to kill time before a flight since it’s adjacent to the airport.
Once the sun sets, hop over to Benne on Eagle for booze and bites, with the whiskey, banane du basil, and cardamom syrup-based Okurrt cocktail deserving of all the fanfare. And then chase it with a lighter, more sour libation at Capella on 9 with the Pump Up the Jam, a mix of vodka, raspberry jam syrup, rose water, and sparkling rosé. The venue also enjoys some of the best views in Asheville, which you can take in comfortably among rows of outdoor fireplaces.
Shop, see the sights, and explore all the fun things to do in Asheville
One wouldn’t immediately guess that the best way to explore Asheville’s downtown district and hear about its history would be on a comedy tour bus, but La Zoom is the most informative (and hilarious, obviously) option, chock-full of improv actors who had us laughing as soon as we cracked open local beers and took our seats. Once the trek is complete, head over to the grounds of Asheville’s most famous landmark, the Biltmore Estate, which is America’s largest home built by George Vanderbilt. It will put everything you just learned into perspective.
Shopping is also a must with downtown stores lining blocks with antique and modern home decor, specialty grocery items, and vintage clothing, but be sure to pop into Noir Collective. Its mission is to highlight black business owners in the region, especially those who have suffered from years of gentrification.
‘Gram the fantastic fall foliage
Of course, the surrounding beauty of Blue Ridge Mountains is Asheville’s biggest draw with fall foliage that puts actual fire flames to shame. Zip through the famous Blue Ridge Parkway (otherwise known as “America’s Favorite Drive”) with the windows down to just take in the fresh air and then park to hike trails like Craggy Pinnacle where you’ll meet a local guide to point out landmarks from the most dramatic of vantage points. Check out this interactive map for more details on foliage.
You can spend an entire day meandering through trees, stumbling across waterfalls, or simply driving aimlessly before getting cell phone reception again, but no matter where the journey takes you, every path will be worth it.
The weather in Asheville this time of year still peak Autumn
Perfect for fall vibes. Temps span from the high 30’s to high 50’s in November and there is always the chance for a slight sprinkling of snow this time of year. But the tourists are (mostly) gone and peak foliage drops down the the city and lower valleys, offering a great opportunity to up your Autumn aesthetic content game.
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