Marvelous City Guide: Asheville

16 October 2018

At first glance, it might seem odd that Asheville has a big piece of my heart — and that’s because Asheville is, without a doubt, unabashedly, unapologetically… odd. Quirky. Weird. Yes, it has an elegant and refined side, too, but as a more straight arrow myself, it’s not the first place you’d picture our family returning year after year. But we have (clocking our twelfth or so visit a few weeks ago!), and its magic has never waned. I’m excited to share our guide with you, just in time for a fall visit!

Blue Ridge Parkway

WHEN TO GO

We road trip to Asheville every year in the fall, and it is an absolutely lovely time to visit. If you’re hoping to see colorful foliage, schedule your visit at the end of October or beginning of November. (If you’re a little earlier in the fall, be sure to head to the Blue Ridge Parkway – with the higher elevation, the leaf switchover happens sooner!) A summer trip is also a great way to beat the Southern heat.

WHERE TO EAT

We often joke that our biggest puzzle when planning an Asheville trip is coming up with activities to slot between the zillions of meals we want to eat – ha! With an unusually large number of distinguished chefs for such a small town — being nominated for a James Beard award seems more like permission to play than a differentiator here! — readers who love to eat will not be disappointed. Whichever spot you decide on, you’re almost certainly guaranteed happy animals, locally-grown vegetables, and fair wage workers — that’s the Asheville way.

Buxton Hall

For a classic Southern meal, head to Tupelo Honey Cafe or Early Girl Eatery. As with most AVL restaurants, both often have a long wait, but that just gives you time to pop into a few of downtown’s charming shops — see below! I love the burger on Early Girl’s menu and the chopped egg and avocado sandwich on Tupelo’s — plus, the latter’s complimentary biscuits and jam are heavenly.

For barbecue, try Buxton Hall (in an old roller skating rink!) for Eastern style or 12 Bones (only open on weekdays).

Asheville has a robust roster of ethnic eateries, all with cheeky twists. Chai Pani dishes up Indian street food – my favorite is the chicken tikka roll, and we love getting the bhel puri to start. Bouchon has decadent French food and a delightful little patio to eat it on, and All Souls slings creative pizza in a humble, string-light-lit yard.

Last but in no ways least is White Duck Taco, without which a visit to Asheville is NOT NOT NOT complete. Our favorites include the buffalo chicken and lamb gyro, and their queso is never to be missed. Amen. (They have two Asheville locations; we prefer the River Arts District one because the location by the river is beautiful!)

For all its funk, Asheville of course has options for elegant meals. Katie Button is the queen of class in town, helming two standout tapas options: Nightbell (tapas Appalachian style – we loved the sumac roasted carrots and the smoked duck breast) and Curate (Spanish tapas). We also had a delicious meal around the refined and rugged table of chef John Fleer (formerly of Blackberry Farm) at Rhubarb. Both are perfect for special occasions.

If you’re still hungry after a meal at any of the above (and weren’t enticed by their respective dessert menus!), there are plenty of stand-alone sweet spots. Like any good destination, Asheville has a Kilwins, or there’s the pretty French Broad Chocolate Lounge (don’t miss their menu of drinking chocolates).

Finally, Asheville might shine most brightly in the morning, as evidenced by brunch menus all around town. Our favorites include Biscuit Head (where you can get a gravy flight with your biscuit!), Sunny Point Cafe (with an amazing garden to explore while you wait), and Hole Doughnuts (the cutest little shop that makes crunchy-on-the-outside, airy-on-the-inside donuts to order, an arm’s length in front of you). Warning: expect a wait at all of these spots – but it will be worth it!

WHAT TO DO

Downtown has a number of adorable shops to browse, which comes in handy when you’re waiting for a table. Our favorites include Curio (packed with charm for the littles!) and Asheville Bee Charmer (with a honey tasting bar!). Flora, a coffee/flower shop combo, and Well Played, a board game cafe (!), are on our visit list. I also enjoy poking around in the cavernous stalls of the Antique Tobacco Barn.

I’m probably the last person you should ask for brewery recommendations, but Asheville is well-known as a beer destination and so I’ll give it a shot! :) We loved our visit to New Belgium, which has a beautiful walking trail along the river. Sierra Nevada is supposed to have a great tour, and my sweet tooth would like to visit Urban Orchard, a hard cider tasting room.

The Grove Park Inn is an Asheville institution — the choice of visiting presidents! Even if you’re not staying the night, come to pull up a rocking chair next to the massive fireplaces in the lobby; sip a cocktail and watch the sun set over the mountains from the stone patio; or snag a day pass to the underground, rock-walled spa (only during the week if you’re not a guest!).

Speaking of Asheville institutions… there’s the Biltmore. The basic tour, while not inexpensive, is SO interesting and well done, and the gardens are not to be missed.

We’ve rafted twice with French Broad Adventures and would happily do it again – SUCH a fun activity for a group! The guide banter on the bus ride back is one of my favorite parts :)

Alright – that leaves us with the Blue Ridge Parkway, the spectacular marvel of public works industry and possibly our favorite attraction in Western NC. We’ve traveled it in all sorts of weather, and the view is never less than breathtaking. I hope to write an entire separate guide just for our favorite stops along the Parkway, but here are a few in the meantime: Sliding Rock (a natural water slide!), Craggy Pinnacle (an easy hike through a rhododendron tunnel with a great view at the end), Graveyard Fields, and Linville Falls.

Off the Parkway, we’ve loved visiting Justus Orchard (cider donuts and pick-your-own apples), Catawba Falls (a BEAUTIFUL hike to a lovely waterfall), Black Balsam Knob, Chimney Rock, and the botanical gardens.

WHERE TO STAY

We’ve stayed almost exclusively at Airbnbs on our trips and have been happy with all of them (including this one and this one). A friend has stayed at and loved the Inn on Westwood, and we’ve also stayed at the Aloft once downtown. No matter what you choose, it’s super important to book early for the best selection – we booked our October visit this year in March.

I know this guide only scratches the surface of all that this vibrant, ever-changing city has to offer, so please, if you’re an Asheville fan, leave your favorites in the comments! I’m going to add a few honorable mentions to kick us off. I’d love for the comment section to be a resource for readers just as much as my post! xo!

Previous Asheville posts:
Hiking in Asheville
Antiquing in Asheville
Eating in Asheville
The Blue Ridge Parkway

White Duck Taco photo by Map & Menu. Buxton Hall, Chai Pani, Hole Donuts, and Grove Park Inn photos from respective sources. All other photos personal!

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Nichole Winkel
October 16, 2018 8:46 am

Perfect timing on this post since we just booked our AirBnB outside of Asheville for a weekend babymoon! We’ve only been once and are looking forward to exploring it a little more this time! Thanks for all the tips!

October 16, 2018 9:19 am

Two days too late for our trip, nooo! Though I’m happy we coincidentally hit a few things y’all like (12 Bones, Justus Orchard, a portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway). I will also throw in a rave review for Sierra Nevada–we didn’t do a tour, but it was beautiful (fire pits, string lights, mountain views!), and had a perfect little outdoor play area for kids, as well as delicious snacks alongside the beer offerings :)

Kelly Strawberry
October 16, 2018 9:41 am

Love Asheville and we chose it as our spot to get married on November 3, 2012! Perfect time of year, and even though I was worried it would be too late for the leaves, it was actually the peak weekend for fall foliage that year. There has been a lot added since we were there (the breweries mainly) which I know we would love to visit!

One thing that will be on our trip to-do list for next year is the Falconry Experience with Curtis Wright Outfitters. I have not done it, but it has really great reviews and looks so neat. :)

Sarah
October 16, 2018 11:37 am

Thank you for this helpful guide to Asheville! It was quite the pleasant surprise – I am in the process of planning a trip to Asheville in the spring!

October 16, 2018 2:15 pm

As Dillon and I plan our trip to NC next month, we’ve considered taking a day trip to Asheville from Raleigh! If we do, a hike at Craggy Pinnacle was on my list. Biltmore is surely on my travel bucket list, too!

Similarly to you, we are trying to come up with plenty of activities to do between all the meals we have planned for our time in NC! :)

Tamara
October 17, 2018 1:22 am

I went to college in Asheville and fell in love with Doc Chey’s. Unfortunately, they closed about a year ago. If broke my heart!

Wendy
October 17, 2018 3:05 pm

Thanks for all the great ideas for Asheville! We love it too and go at least once a year. We went this year and enjoyed the Chihuly exhibit at the Biltmore. It was wonderful! We also enjoyed Buxton Hall for the first time. We will definitely be adding it to our list. Unfortunately Doc Chey’s is permanently closed. We loved that place! We also love Zambra for small plates. My ideal day includes hiking on the parkway then going to the Grove Park Inn Spa for some R & R and finally heading to the French Broad Chocolate Lounge…always something new and delicious!

Tom
October 19, 2018 9:03 am

Great picture with the family!

October 19, 2018 2:42 pm

My soon-to-be in-laws used to live in Asheville! (SO sad they moved!) Their favorite place for ice cream was The Hop, and they also loved West Asheville Lounge & Kitchen. I love Malaprops (a cute indie bookstore) and Early Girl Eatery. We also did a Sierra Nevada tour with them, and even as a fellow non-brewery person, I found it really interesting! Also, the Grove Park Inn does a fun gingerbread house contest every year around Christmas. I bet June (and Shep, soon!) would love it!

October 29, 2018 9:56 am

I HIGHLY recommend the asheville walking food tour! You get to have a small snack/drink (most made yummy mocktails for me because we did this on our babymoon) at many of the restuarants mentioned, plus some new ones! We did it the moment we got into town on a Friday and it was fun to pick a favorite or two to return to for a meal. Rhubarb has an amazing brunch, too. Table is also delicious and seemed pretentious with a menu we couldn’t understand, but it really wasn’t at all. You can’t go wrong. Our alltime fave comfort farm to table spot is Corner Kitchen in Biltmore Village and it’s hard to not work it into any trip that way. The bar at the Bohemian is not to be missed, either! It’s beautiful! One of my favorite things is the gingerbread competition displayed at the Grove Park Inn. We can’t wait to take LS to Tweetsie Railroad at some point and eventually the Polar Express (which is a little outside of AVL, but close enough). We are spoiled with WDT in Columbia!! Maybe yall should venture here for your next craving!! :)