If you like beer, art, nature, or any combination of then Asheville, North Carolina is THE place for you.
It was a sentence similar to the one above which first caught my attention, because those happen to be three of my favorite things. Turns out, Asheville is indeed my spirit place. The people, the food, the style, the overall ~vibe~ is just pretty awesome. Coming from Charlotte, Asheville has a lot going on, but it’s on a slightly different tract. There is a bigger community feel and the entire city is saturated in culture.
Because of this, I truly wanted to see and do everything and eat and drink everywhere. I found it very difficult to choose because everything was local, hip, and awesome. Unfortunately it is impossible to do and try everything, so we did have to make some decisions. Below is a recap of what we did for our weekend in Asheville.
The first thing we did Friday evening when we arrived was head straight into town to Asheville Pizza and Brewing. There are three locations throughout the city and we visited the North Asheville spot. Open since 1998, this is the third brewery to hit the streets of Asheville, and offers craft beer, craft pizza, and movie screenings in a bright and fun environment. We enjoyed patio seating and exterior wall murals surrounding the building. After filling up on spinach-artichoke dip quesadillas, wings, and beer, we headed to our home for the weekend.
We planned our trip to Asheville approximately six days before we were to embark. Because of this, we struggled a bit to find a good place to stay. It took a bit of work- I spent some very intense hours researching cool places that were both 1) affordable and 2) available. We didn’t want to stay in a standard hotel because we wanted more of an experience, so we first looked into renting an AirBnB. While this gave us a lot of great options, we magically found a website entitled Asheville Glamping. Probably because I googled ‘glamping in Asheville’…
Asheville Glamping has a handful of retro trailers and RVs, canvas tents and yurts, and a seriously awesome dome. The dome was booked through until next year, so we selected the Bell Tent, a spacious canvas tent situated on top of a wooden deck and overlooking the rest of the valley. We arrived late at night, so we struggled a bit finding it as it was removed from the other camping sites, but once we found it, it was perfect. It was surrounded by wildflowers, had a nice little deck with outdoor seating, and an adorable interior. It was the perfect place to come back, disconnect, and unwind, after a long, long day walking around Asheville.
The campsite was about a 20-minute drive from downtown Asheville, making it the perfect distance to experience the city, but also go on a bit of a retreat as well. There is no WiFi and the tent was solar-powered. We had our own bathroom but shared a shower with another campsite. It is glamping, but don’t go expecting all the amenities of staying in a proper hotel. Our site also had a fire pit, with free firewood provided (we did not get to use this because it rained both nights and the wood was too wet) and a gas grill for our own use.
The first thing on our to-do list Saturday morning was find a place to grab some coffee. We first went to World Coffee Cafe in Downtown Asheville, after having read about it on a blog highlighting the best coffee shops in Asheville. While the interior was very cool, with tons of seating, we couldn’t find any outlets without winding through to the back of the building, and we wanted something a bit more substantial to eat than pastries. There was nothing wrong with the cafe, it just wasn’t what we were looking for at the moment. We passed a few more, but at 9:30am on Saturday morning, many were not yet open. Apparently people in Asheville don’t get up until 11:00, which is something I could totally get behind.
We stopped in Trade and Lore Coffee, a dimly lit, open space that featured good Indie music and a feeling of solitude. A stage at one end of the room was ready for Magic Night and the brick walls were scattered with small hanging plants. We fueled up on coffee and bagels, charged our devices, and hit the streets with a plan.
Our first stop was the Basilica of St. Lawrence. Built in 1905, this is the only basilica in western North Carolina and was elevated to the status of minor basilica in 1993 by Pope St. John Paul II. Its dome (58×82 ft) is said to be the largest freestanding elliptical dome in North America. We could not go in the basilica as a funeral was taking place, but we were able to appreciate its presence, as you tend not to see many churches in this style around here.
River Arts District
We then walked from downtown to the River Arts District, about a mile trek downhill through a residential area. The RAD is known for its multitude of artist studios. Over 180 working studios line the streets, featuring paint, pottery, metal, glass, and more. Most of the studios offer open times where you can walk in, browse their creations, and watch them work. Many of the studios are located in old renovated buildings and feature street art on the exteriors.
We stopped for a bite to eat at the White Duck Taco Shop. I love tacos okay. Who doesn’t? Well my traveling partner apparently. He got chips and queso and that just meant more tacos for me. While the entire menu sounded amazing, I went with the pork belly with green chile aoili and pickled watermelon rind. You may be thinking that sounds yucky. I sort of did but I think the word “pickled” just threw me off because I also thought it sounded amazing, which IT WAS. It is very easily the best taco I ever had and I wish I had gotten a lot more. The sauce was incredible, the pork was crispy but also tender and the watermelon added great soft flavor. I was seriously wowed by that taco and am now wishing I didn’t live two hours away from its source.
Walking on (and still dreaming of more tacos) we went into the first of several studios. There are too many to visit all of in an afternoon (especially on foot), but we stopped in a handful throughout our visit. We saw paintings, photography, clay works, textiles, and more. Being able not only to shop for local products, but interact with the creator behind them is pretty special.
Shortly into our walk we were met with a small thunder storm. We ducked inside an open studio, toured around, talked to the artists who were available, and lounged on the couch until it had passed over. We continued down Lyman street past the studios to an area known as the Foundation Walls. This area in West Asheville features a series of buildings, whether shops, restaurants, or no longer in use, that have been painted by street artists. The artists have to request a permit and can only paint in certain designated areas. A lot of the different artists have collaborated and merged their work together so that every surface is covered in bright, eye-catching murals. We had a blast determining our favorite artists and then hunting for their work, even in other parts of the city. There was so much to see and take in that you could look at the same wall several times and see something new each time.
After meandering through what felt almost like a circus fun-house due to all the shapes, colors, and images, I was starting to crash. We headed back towards the studios and visited one last shop before the rain started again, this time even harder. We called and Uber and shuttled back to downtown to grab a bite to eat and have a cold beer.
We first stopped in One World Brewing- the entrance was located at the back of an alley and took us down a long flight of stairs to a dark concrete room with a bar and some tables. We sat down and looked at the menu, but after realizing that they only served popcorn and pretzels to eat, we left to find a place with more options. We went right next door to Farm Burger, a burger joint (surprise!) that features ethically, locally sourced foods and a collection of beers from the local breweries. We felt relaxed and refreshed after our early dinner and were ready to go back out again to explore.
Staying in the downtown area, we walked the streets and stopped in as many of the thousands of cute boutiques, book stores, and gift shops as we could, and of course stopped to photograph every mural we spotted. This was a fun way to unwind at the end of a long day of walking and soak in the culture and atmosphere of the city. We didn’t hit all the major tourist spots or visit the popular museums, but just explored the city and got a sense for what it’s like to live and be there. We stopped in one shop that was just about to close and ended up talking to the owner for 30 minutes about her business, life in Asheville, and about potentially working together (she has an upscale boutique and my boyfriend introduced some of the leather products he makes to her).
Finally feeling ready to head back to our campsite and relax, we stopped and bought some goodies and made our way back to our tent. We sat out on our deck overlooking the tiny valley, eating ice cream and sipping on a brown ale from Hi-Wire Brewing, another local spot. It was the perfect way to end the evening we sat there feeling like we could stay forever. It was a perfect seven minutes I’ll never forget. Any longer and we would have been eaten alive by the relentless mosquitoes. We finally gave in and dashed into the tent, zipping it up tight!
Our plan for the day was relaxed. I had researched some places to eat brunch, because just like I love tacos, I also have a mad love for breakfast food. We decided to head back to West Asheville, even further west this time, to the #1 rated restaurant in Asheville on Trip Advisor- the Sunny Point Cafe. Remembering our experience from Saturday, I thought getting there at 9:30 wouldn’t be a problem since people didn’t seem to get moving until much later. I was wrong. It was packed. We walked up to the outdoor hostess table and were told it would be 45 minutes to an hour. My immediate reaction is to run. However we said it was no problem and submitted a name and number to be called when the time arose.
The cafe has an outdoor patio where a band set up and started to play live music for us while we waited. There was also a coffee stand, so we were able to grab a cup of coffee to sit on while enjoying the music and beautiful weather while we waited for a table. The atmosphere was fun and cheerful, and the people were awesome. It was such an eclectic group with people dressed up for Sunday brunch or casual for a bite with friends. I even had a deep conversation with two women (one of whom was wearing a UVA shirt..sigh…) about travel and careers and it was wonderful. By the time we were ready to be seated, I was running high on coffee and contentment.
BTW, it was worth the wait. We walked inside and the restaurant smelled AMAZING. Absolutely everything on the menu sounded incredible and it was hard to choose. I ended up ordering the most popular item on the menu- the huevos rancheros- because like I said, I love tacos (read: Mexican food) and breakfast food, so why not put them together eh?
I was so deliciously full that I felt an emotional connection to the entire experience, making it hard to leave. Before heading out of town, we walked along the streets, snapping photos of the last few murals we spotted.
We jumped in the car and headed southwest to Looking Glass Falls, located in the Pisgah National Forest near Brevard. We choose this specific location because we knew we wanted to visit a water feature, but we also knew we were very tired and sore from walking a half-marathon all over the city the day before. Looking Glass Falls is actually visible from the road, and features a staircase down to a rocky area where you can wade into and swim in the water if you desire. Entrance to the Forest is free and there is a long stretch along the roadside for parking, and let me tell you, it was needed. Apparently this is THE thing to do in the greater Asheville area around 12:30pm on a Sunday afternoon. It was absolutely packed, making it difficult to traverse the rocks and boulders while simultaneously juggling your camera in the hopes of finding the getting to the spot with the best view of the falls and minimal amount of people in the background. Despite the obstacles, this was a very good place to stop to soak in a bit of nature without having a lot of time to commit.
I hope you enjoyed reading about our time in Asheville! It’s an awesome city with a laid back vibe and eclectic environment. Tons of local craft breweries, walls upon walls of beautiful street art, and proximity to amazing outdoor recreation options, Asheville has a little bit of everything, ensuring that everyone will find something they love! Be sure to check back in soon for more on all of the lovely street art we encountered during our walk!