Art, music, great food, a young, fun-living culture: what’s not to love?
Our first, and until now, only visit to Asheville was almost accidental, as a stop at the end of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. We certainly "covered the necessities", such as walking the city, exploring the galleries and touring Biltmore. Still, we left wanting to spend more time in the artsy, historic, architecturally significant, laid-back culture that has attracted scions (especially George V. Vanderbilt) and inspired authors (Thomas Wolfe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, O Henry, etc.). This was the first time we made it back.
This trip, we skipped Biltmore in favor of more time exploring the city, hiking one of the scenic trails, visiting some of the many galleries, appreciating the many street performers, and of course, checking out a few of the inspired restaurants in this this remote Appalachian town–one of the last places one would expect to find a foodie haven.
Exploring the City
Historic buildings and art districts are among the most interesting of the city’s sites. Among the most interesting buildings are:
- Jackson Building, the 193’s-era neo-Gothic tower;
- City Hall, with its octagonal top;
- S&W Cafeteria with its elaborate Art Deco facade;
- Grove Arcade, a Gothic-inspired indoor shopping mall;
- Omni Grove Park Inn, the elegant, century-old resort hotel build from hand-cut boulders; and
- The Victorian homes in the Montford Historic District.
And when strolling through ton, don’t forget to check out the public art.
Asheville By Day
We explored these buildings and a number of the many public sculptures that adorn the city streets.
We also spend more than our fair of time in the city’s many art districts. Galleries are well represented in downtown and the neighboring Biltmore Village (a reproduction English community built by George Vanderbilt). The premier art spot, however, is Riverside, a former industrial area whose buildings now house hundreds of artist studios and galleries. A great place to spend a few hours–more if you extend your visit to wait in the perpetual line for, and partake in the barbecue at 12 Ribs Smokehouse (see our July 7 Asheville Restaurant post).
Have some extra time? You can learn about the city by taking any of a number of walking, bus or self-peddling booze tours of the city. Our, since the city is in the foothills of the Appalachians and on the doorstep of the Blue Ridge Parkway, you have a choice of all sorts of outdoor activities. These can include biking, horseback riding, ziplining, golfing, hiking (see below) or just driving the Parkway to enjoy sweeping views of majestic, tree-lined mountains, ridges and valleys.
We drove the incredibly scenic Blue Ridge Parkway (it ain’t by accident that it’s called “Blue Ridge”) several miles in each direction, heading south to Mt. Pisgah (see below) and north to the Folk Art Center (tracing the evolution of local crafts through years and in the use of different materials) and north to Mount Mitchell and beyond.
We, unfortunately, had time for only one trail. After a roughly 30 minute drive through the mountains, we arrived at the trailhead for the 5,722 foot Mt. Pisgah. While the 1.5 mile (each way) trail starts out relatively level, it steeply climbs more than 700 feet to a summit which is crowned with an observation deck offering 360-degree views and a tall, metal radio tower. While the view from the summit is splendid, the trail itself is so pocked with rocks and roots as to require constant monitoring. Even when you do get a chance to glance up, the views are highly filtered–until you reach the summit.
Evenings, meanwhile, are for:
- Dining in some of the city’s many surprisingly good restaurants (where, as you will see in our July 7 post, we partook of four);
- Strolling the streets to watch and listen to all types of street musicians (jazz, country, rock, a cappella, and bluegrass). And be sure to catch the small local string group accompanied by a woman spoon virtuoso;
- Sitting in on a set or two in one of the city’s many, many music clubs. We frequented a few, including one where we sampled a number of bourbons while listening to the incredible Jacobs Ferry Stragglers, a bluegrass string band (bass, guitar, fiddle and banjo) that played a few sets of the most engaging, toe-tapping bluegrass tunes we had ever heard; or
- If you are lucky enough to be in town on a Friday evening, be sure to head to Pritchard Park for the weekly "Drum Circle" where dozens of drummers gather for four hours of impromptu drumming, creating long rhythmic sets to which dozens of others gather to dance to and hundreds crowd around just to partake in the celebration.