I’m sure you’ve heard the hype around Asheville, North Carolina. ExploreAsheville.com describes the city as “an art colony, a healing resort and a home to notable luminaries, statesmen, and bohemians.” What’s not to love about that? It’s like a little, mini Austin, with Appalachia and the Blue Ridge Mountains as its backdrop.
HOW TO GET THERE
We flew to Charlotte on a Saturday night and shuttled back to the airport Sunday morning to get our rental car. On our way to Asheville, we detoured to Congaree National Park. I’d recommend you do the same. I wrote a whole blog post on Congaree HERE if you’re interested in National Park exploration. However, if you drove straight from Charlotte to Asheville, it’d take about two hours.
WHERE TO STAY
We used an Airbnb in Asheville. It was located on the east side, just east of Biltmore Street, and it was perfect. Another win for Airbnb! We first used it when we visited Nashville. I know there are some people out there with Airbnb horror stories, but our Asheville place was absolutely PERFECT. It’s a totally separate “bungalow” (read – very small) in the host’s backyard. However, with two people, it was exactly what we needed. I’ve linked it here, reluctantly, because I don’t want everyone visiting Don and then raising the price!
WHERE TO DRINK | There are more than 50 breweries in Asheville and the surrounding mountains. We hit a few of the highlights, but I’m sure it’d be hard for you to go wrong. I recommend using the free “Asheville Ale Trail” app. It’s a convenient map of the breweries and offers self-guided tours. If you prefer paper, the “Asheville Ale Trail Field Guide” is a nice free booklet you could find at any Asheville visitor center. With that being said, here are some of the places I visited and loved:
Wicked Weed Brewing: We visited here first and WOW did it set the bar high. With unique drinks like the French Toast Stout, Cookies and Milk Stout, and a wide variety of sours and funks, I highly recommend stopping here. They also have a tasty dinner menu. Brian and I went here more than once. If funks and sours are your things, Wicked Weed has their own Funkatorium – a side brewery that focuses on those unique type of beers.
New Belgium Brewing: This large, well-known brewery is located right on the French Broad River. The patio is massive and offers some really wonderful river views. This is the perfect place to sit and relax for a bit of day drinking. The Fat Tire Belgium White was my absolute favorite.
Hi-Wire Brewing: While walking around downtown, we popped into Hi-Wire Brewing. What’s fun about this place is you basically sit IN the brewing space. It’s all open, so you’re surrounded by the process. The circus theme is pretty great as well.
The Whale: If you’re in West Asheville, The Whale is where you have to go. Named after the “whale” of beer, that hard to find, elusive craft beer, The Whale is a “Craft Beer Collective.” They have 20 rotating taps that feature beers you might not find in other parts of Asheville. We parked ourselves here to get caught up on photos for a few hours one afternoon. It was so comfortable and inviting. We even purchased their branded glasses to remember them! The interior is unique as well, featuring a huge whale skeleton that hangs from the ceiling. The Whale is probably tied with Wicked Weed for our favorite Asheville spots to drink.
Double Ds Coffee Bus: If you’re more into coffee, Double Ds Coffee Bus is a must visit. First of all, it’s a double-decker bus! You order inside the bus, then you can head up to the second floor to sit and drink. They also have a little courtyard, so if the weather is nice, you can sit out there as well. This is an “Insta-worthy” location for sure.
WHERE TO EAT
Biscuit Head: Why yes, I do consider myself a biscuit head. In all honesty, though, I’ve eaten a lot of biscuits in my time and I think I really DO have a palate for good biscuits and these pass the test. What makes Biscuit Head so fun is their gravy flight. You can choose three gravies to go with your massive biscuits. They serve a “red-eye” gravy here, which is a thinner gravy made with the leftover coffee from the day before. Very interesting, very tasty. They also have a pretty delicious morning drink menu. I ordered an AppalaChai and MAN it was good. Part of AppalaChai’s mission is “More Spice. Less Sweet.” and I couldn’t agree more. They also have a maple bacon latte, served with a crispy bacon garnish. I just love breakfast, so places like Biscuit Head make me so happy. There can be a line out the door though, so come early and be prepared!
Gan Shan West: We really wanted some ramen while we were in Asheville, but surprisingly, there wasn’t a very large selection to choose from. We settled on Gan Shan West. It didn’t have the best Yelp reviews (considering almost every major place in Asheville has 4-5 stars), but we went with it anyway. I have to say, we were very impressed. The ramen was tasty – not over-the-top incredible, but definitely hit the spot. The place was so cutely decorated, the staff was super accommodating and very responsive, and the TEA. The hot tea selection was the highlight for me. I ordered a pot of hot turmeric mango tea and I drank the whole thing. I say forget whatever Yelp has to say – if ramen is what you’re in the mood for, hit up Gan Shan West.
Hole: We just popped in for a quick doughnut or two and were SO impressed. Hole is a made-to-order doughnut shop. They have a long bar where you can sit and watch them fry up your doughnuts right in front of you. We sat down and hung out for a while, sipping coffee, watching doughnuts being made, and devouring our vanilla glazed doughnuts.
Moose Cafe: If you’re driving out towards the south side of Asheville, you have to visit Moose Cafe. This is your typical old-time diner. I loved it. You can order all the breakfast staples while feeling like you’re sitting at grandmas house. If you’re looking for something more unique, I’ve heard the liver mush biscuit is kind of a delicacy here! This is a perfect place to stop if you’re on your way out of Asheville headed towards Charlotte.
OWL Bakery: OWL stands for Old World Levain, but they still decorate the interior of their bakery with actual owls, which I loved. We went here after dinner, so the pickings were pretty slim. I feel like if we’d come in the morning, we would have had a way better selection of things. Still, we ordered a sea salt chocolate chip cookie and rested at their cute tables for a bit. OWL Bakery is right next to Gan Shan West, so that’s pretty convenient!
French Broad Chocolate Lounge: Need I say more? The Chocolate Louge is a little cafe where you can get all kinds of chocolate goodness. From housemade ice cream, to artisan truffles and caramels, to cookies, cakes and brownies, and an entire menu of drinking chocolates, there’s something for everyone! I tried some drinking chocolate with a brownie. All the chocolate is made right in downtown Asheville at the French Broad Chocolate Factory.
White Duck Taco Shop: If you need a quick meal in downtown Asheville, White Duck Taco is a pretty good hit. It’s quick, you can order as much or as little as you need, and it’s not very expensive. We ate here one night when we had already had a late lunch, but knew we weren’t going to make it all night without another meal.
WHERE TO EXPLORE
Asheville Botanical Garden: We were there in the middle of the fall, so nothing was green, but I could still tell, this isn’t your typical, manicured botanical garden. If you’re more into your typically landscaped botanical garden, you might be happier at the North Carolina Arboretum. While it wasn’t quite what e expected, we still had a wonderful time walking around the garden’s quiet trails.
Downtown Asheville Urban Trail Walking Tour: This might have been the surprise of the weekend! We picked up our map from the visitor’s center downtown and started out following the little engraved stones in the sidewalk. The Urban Trail takes you through 5 distinct eras in Asheville’s history. If you cover all the markers, the walk takes about 2 hours. We had an absolute blast combing Asheville’s streets. By the time we were done, we felt like we had seen all downtown Asheville had to offer.
West Asheville: West Asheville is definitely the more hip and trendy side of Asheville. We actually ended up spending most of our time over here! It’s very walkable with plenty of street parking. Highlights include the outdoor adventure consignment shop “Second Gear” (way cooler than it sounds, if you like any kind of ourdoorsy gear/clothing), The Whale beer collective, some fantastic street art, and a whole lot of good food.
Blue Ridge Parkway: While the Blue Ridge Parkway extends from ___ to ___, you can easily catch it in Asheville and drive it for a bit. The views are amazing! We only drove 20 miles or so, because the weather had most of it closed, but we still saw plenty to get the Blue Ridge Parkway experience. I’d say, we drove for about an hour in total. There are lots of large turn outs where you can park, get some photos, and take in the view. Be sure to check online before you visit to see what the drivability of the parkway is. “An open parkway is a safe parkway,” so drive easy.
North Carolina Arboretum: If you enjoy the outdoors, I’d highly recommend the arboretum. It’s a 434-acre public garden that has highly manicured areas, a bonsai collection (from April through November) and tons of natural hiking/biking trails. We ended up walking for several miles on the trails! Once you get out of the main garden area, it’s just you and nature out there. We did this the morning before our flight out of Charlotte, since the arboretum is on the south side of Asheville.
There you have it! What to explore, where to eat, and most importantly, where to DRINK when you’re in Asheville, North Carolina. It’s a pretty easy three-day weekend trip from Austin, so get out there and get exploring.