Of all the small towns I’ve been to, Asheville, North Carolina is easily in my top 3 favorites. They have it all: quaint small businesses, amazing food, an accepting/inviting culture, and it’s surrounded by the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Visiting Asheville was such an amazing experience the first time we went in 2019, so we decided to go back this year. I’m happy to report that it was just as wonderful (maybe even more) as the first time we swung through. Here are some things you should do and see if you’re ever visiting Asheville, North Carolina.
On the Road
Both times I’ve been to Asheville, I drove from Pennsylvania. The drive was about 7 hours from where I’m from, and we stopped at the perfect halfway point in Virginia called Natural Bridge State Park. It did cost a little bit to get in, but the bridge was so gorgeous, and there’s a decent-sized trail that comes after the bridge. We only stayed here for an hour or so, but it’s a great place to stop and have lunch. You can learn about the area and the Native American Tribes that still live there. They have seating and a small indoor shop that sells hot food, ice cream, and souvenirs. If you’re coming from up north, it’s definitely a good place to stop.
Where to Stay
If you know me, you know I’m always trying to find the absolute cheapest place to stay. I like to spend my money on experiences, not sleep, but I know everyone isn’t that way. Here’s a variety of options, from hostels to chains, to the hotels you stay in when you go on a cool work trip and they pay for it.
- Sweet Peas Hostel – If you’re gonna go the hostel route, Sweet Peas is a good choice. It’s centrally located, and is inside of an awesome warehouse looking building filled with high ceilings, papasan chairs, and a boho vibe. I travel as a pair, and we found a hotel that was cheaper than each of us paying to stay at Sweet Peas, but if I was ever coming here alone I’d stay there.
- Extended Stay America – This is where we stayed both times. It’s on Tunnel Road, just a 5 minute drive from downtown Asheville. It’s tucked away off the main road, cheap ($68 a night) but not gross or scary or sketchy. It’s actually really nice, and the staff is SO SWEET! We loved the receptionist John, who was there both times we visited, but really everyone we spoke to there was beyond nice.
- The Omni Grove Park Inn – A couple big steps up from our humble accommodations would be the Omni Grove. It’s a few more minutes outside of downtown (maybe like 15) and definitely gives off resort vibes. Looks likes a castle from the outside. Has an indoor pool that looks like a cave. The whole shabang!
Downtown Asheville has a ton of great shopping. Many stores boast goods from local artists and craftsman, but they throw in some standard stores for good measure. I found that the best shopping is on Lexington Ave. , but every alleyway and side street had something to offer as well.
Clothing & Gifts
A lot of the stores here have a hippie vibe. Lots of import stores, spiritual stores, and stuff like that. It’s part of the reason I love the town so much.
- Cosmic Vision – For cool imports from Thailand and India. I got a lot of really nice head scarfs and jewelry from here both times I visited, and it was all reasonably priced!
- Honeypot – vintage finds
- Earth Magick – For all your new age needs. Lots of crystals, yoni eggs, tarot cards, and even a wand that looks like the one from Hocus Pocus.
- Spiritex – organic t-shirts & clothing
- The Grove Arcade – The Grove Arcade is a cute space that has shopping and art in downtown Asheville. On the weekends they have artists at stands outside as well. Some of the things inside include a fudge shop, crystal shop, and a really cool bookstore that plays live jazz music in the middle of the day called Battery Park Book Exchange.
- Malapropos – This is a classic indie bookstore that supports indie authors and has a ton of cool events every month. There’s a cafe in there too!
- Downtown Books and News – An indie bookstore with a hipster feel. They sell a large variety of books and magazines, and they decorate with cool old school desks and movie theater seats, a fridge, and vintage photographs.
- Battery Park Book Exchange – Located inside of the Grove Arcade, this used bookstore is also a champagne bar that has live jazz music every weekend. It’s a classy joint.
- River Arts District – Over 200 artists work in the River Arts District, and many have their studios open to the public. You can walk through their workspace, hear about their process, and check out what they create. Take in the local art here, and you’ll be sure to find something you love. My favorite artist was Daniel McClendon, plus his studio space is AMAZING!
- Biltmore Estate – One of the most popular places to visit in Asheville is the Biltmore Estate. This amazing home, the largest in America, sits on 8,000 acres and boasts some really amazing sights. They have a winery, a mansion, beautiful gardens and miles of paths to explore. Full disclosure, the admission price is steep. Ranging from between $69 – $89 just to get in, the Biltmore Estate was a little too pricey for us, but we plan on catching it the next time we go because people keep raving about it. But know that there are plenty of other cheap/free things to do when visiting Asheville, North Carolina.
- BlueRidge Parkway – You can jump onto this All-America Road right from Asheville, and be quickly transported to the top of the most beautiful mountains. Pack a lunch and park somewhere along the road to take in the views. You can also stop by Blue Ridge National Heritage Center or the Folk Art Center, which are both located on this historic road.
Food & Drink
When I go on trips, I try to eat and drink healthy. It usually ends up being a mix. I found a couple cute juice cafes and some really delicious junk food too! If you end up visiting Asheville, North Carolina you have to stop at at least one of these spots.
White Duck Taco – Yum. Just, yum. White Duck Taco is freaking delicious. Tons of options. Amazing queso. It’s AFFORDABLE enough that you can get a ton of tacos, plus they have two locations in Asheville so you can stop in whichever one is closest to you. Go there please.
Mellow Mushroom – We try hard not to eat at chains when we go to new places, but Mellow Mushrooms looks too awesome outside to not go in. They’re known for their pizza, but i got a tasty mushroom sandwich.
Wicked Weed Brewing – We went here on our first trip and it was so awesome. Super busy when the weather is nice, as they have outdoor seating, and it’s right next to a concert venue. Good beer, good vibes, and they have a full menu.
Manicomio Pizza – A great quick bite, and really delicious pizza. Their company car is a hearse that’s parked out front. It’s pretty cool. But more importantly their pizza tastes good, and it’s $3 a slice.
Double D’s Coffee – This coffee shop usually draws a crowd. That’s because it’s actually a double decker bus. It’s bright red and on Biltmore Ave, so you can’t miss it. You can sit inside of it (which most people choose to do), but they have outdoor seating as well.
- Grail Movie House – For all your independent movie needs. They have couches to sit on in the theater and local foods to snack on.
- The Orange Peel – Larger scale concerts. When we were around, they were having some kind of reggae artist and the crowd was awesome!
- 5 Walnut Wine Bar – Tiny place on a side street. Basically had the best night of our lives here, and not because of the wine. The wine was a bonus. The live music here made us walk in from off the street and stay for hours.
Both of my trips to Asheville were blissful. Seriously. We loved it there and would go back today if we weren’t currently in lockdown for COVID-19. Stay safe out there everyone, and consider visiting Asheville, North Carolina when this is all over.
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