I’ve been to Asheville a few times now. The reasons varied.
The first was to see The Avett Brothers for Halloween, when I stood in line for eight hours with my ex-boyfriend. The second, was with Claire, where we soaked at Shoji Spa, went to Biltmore, and climbed up Chimney Rock. Third was to see Elizabeth Gilbert read from Big Magic with Annabel. Fourth, and most recent, was to visit my friends Matt and Tess with Morrie. We floated down the French Broad on a raft (it popped) and bar hopped a little.
I figured I had been there enough to give some insight on visiting.
The thing to understand about Asheville is that there’s SO much of it. If you’re looking for restaurants to spend a lot of money at, you’ll find them. If you’re looking for art and music, you’ll find that, too. The key to visiting Asheville is to pinpoint exactly what you’re looking to get from it.
For me, that’s been a relaxing, cozy weekend full of art, adventure, and reading. Based on that, here are some tips for getting the most out of a couple days in Western North Carolina.
Pick your property carefully.
I’ve had the pleasure of staying at four Airbnbs in Asheville, in addition to crashing at Matt and Tess’s house (that’s obviously not an option for you, sorry). They all varied and had a lot of great characteristics.
I’d have to say my favorite was the three bedroom home I resided in with Annabel, when we popped up last October. It didn’t have Wi-Fi, but what it lacked in technology, it made up for in sweeping mountain views, an amazing back porch to drink hot tea on, and the feeling of truly being off the beaten path.
The awesome room I stayed in with Claire was a close second. Close to downtown, clean, tidy, with amazingly friendly hosts. They even invited us to make Smores with them one night.
Airbnb has a lot of great options, but I’d imagine HomeAway and VRBO do as well. Camping is another affordable option, and my friend Elyse swears by a hostel named Sweet Peas.
Get ready to walk.
Asheville, and the surrounding area, is best done on foot or bike. There are certainly options to getting around, but I’ve experienced Asheville the best when I’ve walked around. Matt also brought me on a bike ride and that was also great.
The downtown area has a lot to discover, and I love just walking around and exploring. There’s a ton of little shops and places to grab coffee. My favorite place to wander around was definitely the River Arts District – tons of murals and galleries to discover. Bring an iced coffee, bring a camera, and dedicate a few hours to poking around.
Plan on hitting all of the bookstores.
Asheville likes to read.
Malaprop’s Bookstore is a staple. I’ve purchased surprise books (books wrapped in brown paper with clues to what they are written on the outside), postcards, and cards. They also host a lot of author events, my previously mentioned Liz Gilbert one included. I’ve visited The Captain’s Bookshelf as well, which has a larger collection of used books and if I’m not mistaken, old maps.
My greatest regret, by far, is not having a chance to get to Battery Park Book Exchange. I walked by a few times, but always when I was on my way to get to somewhere else. Basically – it’s a place to drink champagne and read. It looks dreamy and romantic, and definitely a place to burn a couple hours on a Friday night.
Matt brought me to the independent Firestorm Books & Coffee to browse magazines, but they had moved locations and he couldn’t find the new one right away. Internet says it’s in West Asheville now.
Get ready to visit all the coffee shops.
I start each day with black coffee, so I have an appreciation for coffee shops. Plus, there’s nothing better than sitting in one and getting some work done.
Asheville has so many great coffee shops to pick from and there’s something for everyone. Battlecats in West Asheville is eclectic and funny, Double D’s is touristy but entertaining, and Green Sage is vegan-friendly, and in a great location with ample seating. No matter what your coffee style, Asheville has it.
Plan on at least one boozy brunch.
In addition to books, Asheville also loves breakfast. So do I! I’ve had the pleasure of brunching in Asheville many times, and similar to the coffee shops, you’ll find whatever you’re looking for.
Mayfel’s is a well-deserved local favorite. I’ve visited their bloody mary bar (extra hot sauce) with Annabel, dined on steamy beignets with Tess and Matt, and have enjoyed various benedicts while people-watching over one of the squares downtown. But if you want to try something different, there’s Old Europe for just breakfasty pastries, Early Girl, where Claire I went, that has more of a traditional breakfast, and of course, Biscuit Head.
Biscuit Head is a place you can eat fried chicken for brunch and not be judged. Well, at least not judged by me.
Breweries and bars everywhere.
There are so many breweries and bars in Asheville, and no, I have not been to all of them. Not even close. But you don’t need to know a ton about the bars and breweries to stumble on a good one.
I’d recommend starting at Wicked Weed, or Lexington Ave for a drink or two, then just walking around the area. The bars are great, the beer is great – don’t over think it, just get out there!
Strap on your hiking boots/bathing suit and GTF outside.
If you’re in Asheville, you have to get outside. I don’t care how, but I think the city knows, and is deeply offended, if you don’t at least take a brief hike.
I talked about exploring Max Patch with Morrie, an easier hike with amazing views of the mountains, but there’s also Chimney Rock, Grandfather Mountain (closer to Boone), and various other mountains and trails that cater to anyone, not just experienced hikers. AllTrails, or Recreation.gov, are both excellent resources to find trails within your skill level.
Hiking not your thing? That’s fine – just get on the river. The French Broad River is perfect for canoeing, SUP, kayaking and tubing. I went on a tube with Tess and Matt, and as mentioned, it popped on a rock. But don’t let that deter you – there are a ton of places to rent inner tubes and other recreational things of the sort, and the river isn’t so insane that you’d be in serious trouble if you fell off.
We just waited for it to deflate then swam to shore.
But be safe, dudes – if you’re not a strong swimmer, just wear a life jacket. Or swimmies. Mainly to entertain others.
Have questions about Asheville?
Shoot me an email! If I don’t know, I’ll find out.