Asheville: A Weekend in the Land of the Sky
Foodie? Beer Geek? Art Lover? Yogi? Whatever your travel style, we’ve planned an Asheville itinerary to suit for your next long weekend.
Peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains break the horizon about 60 miles out from Asheville on I-26. They rise on the approach, drawing you toward a city that keeps growing and changing with each passing decade.
It is, of course, the craft beer capital of the eastern U.S. — some 60 breweries of all sizes and persuasions dot the region, with the South Slope as its epicenter. This beer tourism is the latest culmination in a long trend — an evolution of Asheville tourism dating back nearly a century.
Once the railroad was completed, Asheville became a viable tourist destination for a wealthy clientele — who could afford to visit the Grove Park Inn and enjoy the cool mountain air. Then the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of FDR’s many Depression-era workers projects, created a way for the average American to travel to Asheville.
However, the genesis of Asheville tourism can be found among the fantasy setting of the Biltmore. Having long been the grand palatial home for one of the country’s most established families, the Biltmore solidified Asheville as a location of status and beauty.
Asheville managed to keep much of its original art deco architecture, generating interest for the city and its unique aesthetic.
Now the craft breweries and art galleries are here to stay, the product of a long journey in Asheville’s history. So greet the city with your windows down, the music up, and the scent of sun-warmed pine perfuming your car — and create the perfect itinerary from this curated list of the best places to eat, stay and play in Asheville.
In creating my own, I met up with my friend, local artist and realtor Matt Tyner, to get an insider’s perspective of Asheville’s hidden, back-alley bars and under-the-radar breweries. The quotes are his.
Lay Your Head…
Like a baron of industry
The Grove Park Inn sits atop Sunset Mountain, a hulking stone behemoth that once housed the likes of Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone and Thomas Edison. Book a room and fancy yourself a Jazz-Age tycoon for a few days. omnihotels.com/hotels/asheville-grove-park
“This is one of my favorite places to bring people visiting Asheville. Everyone’s heard of the Biltmore, but no one knows about this place.”
Like this writer
Homewood Suites by Hilton Asheville on Tunnel Road was a great home base for my trip. Just east of the city through the Beaucatcher tunnel, the hotel is within walking distance of downtown, and they offer shuttle transport anywhere within the city. asheville.homewoodsuites.com
Like a dyed-in-the-flannel hipster
Exposed brick and industrial accents make The Foundry Hotel Ashville a hipster haven in the heart of the ultimate Appalachian hipster city. foundryasheville.com
Like a modern traveler
The AC Hotel Asheville Downtown is Marriott's take on a European boutique hotel experience. Enjoy mountain views with a side of Spanish tapas at one of the best rooftop lounges in the city.
Treat Your Taste Buds…
To tomato bread and cured meats
Restaurateur and beverage director Felix Meana met Chef Katie Button when they were working as apprentices under Ferran and Albert Adria at the famed El Bulli in Catalonia, Spain; and they bring that pedigree and those flavors to Cúrate. Stop by the bar for La Hora del Vermut and order the Tomato Bread with a selection of cured meats for a true Catalonian experience in the Appalachians. katiebuttonrestaurants.com/curate
“Get the octopus. And they have these awesome Moroccan lamb skewers.”
To something new and local
Palm Beach vibes abound in Noble Cider’s brand-new downtown spot, Noble – The Greenhouse (we caught opening weekend for this article!). The Native 25 dish features a rotating cast of ingredients from within 25 miles of the city. noblecider.com/greenhouse
To rose, cardamom and pistachio liquid truffle
With a dusting of rose petals and crushed pistachios, this cup of pure decadence from French Broad Chocolate Lounge is almost too beautiful to drink. Owners Jael and Dan Rattigan got a crash course in chocolate after buying a cacao plantation in Costa Rica before relocating to Asheville and opening French Broad. frenchbroadchocolates.com
Hang Out with Artists
River Arts District
Street art and public sculpture let you know exactly where you are when you enter the River Arts District along Lyman Street and Depot Street on the banks of the French Broad River. Home to more than 200 working artists, this part of town could play host to a full day of exploring. riverartsdistrict.com
“Investors bought these dilapidated, industrial properties along the French Broad River and selectively sold and rented them to artists. It could have been a Best Buy here instead of artist studios.”
Asheville Art Museum
The museum is undergoing a massive renovation and building project set to be unveiled later in 2019. A sparkling glass atrium and 70 percent more gallery space mean this cultural center will make Asheville even more of an arts destination. ashevilleart.org
Quench Your Thirst
Don’t let the cinder block walls and lack of signage mislead you. Or do. This is a true “bar” bar, complete with neon lights, leather stools and hot dogs. But not just any hot dogs. Chef Rachel Kalin has created a menu of creative, gourmet dogs with ingredients like chaat-cucumber raita and banana ketchup. And Chef Elliott Moss of Buxton Hall Barbecue fame adds a rotating special dog each week. Keep in mind: all bars that have less than 30 percent of sales from food technically operate as private clubs due to an arcane piece of legislation. Memberships are usually easily obtained at the door, but calling ahead to check is advised.
“This is the newest bar in Asheville. It’s mostly locals because it’s a bit hard to find and the memberships keep most of the bachelor parties and tourists away.”
Wicked Weed Funkatorium
The Funkatorium elevates beer culture — think stem glasses instead of pints and draught instead of draft. It is separated from Wicked Weed’s main location to avoid contaminating the other brews with the special blends of yeasts that create the sour-style beers served here. wickedweedbrewing.com/locations/funkatorium
Bhramari Brewing Company
Inspired ingredients like fleur de sel and makrut lime leaves set Bharmari Brewing Company apart in a beer-filled city. This South Slope spot is known for its off-the-wall, experimental styles. bhramaribrewing.com
plēb urban winery
Wine culture is growing in Asheville, following in beer’s footsteps. A number of wine bars have opened in recent years to fill a niche for oenophiles. This River Arts District press and tasting room has a brewery feel with a wine focus. pleburbanwinery.com
“I would be remiss if I didn’t mention The Wedge Brewery. It grew out of Wedge Studios and became a community gathering spot for artists in the River Arts District.” wedgebrewing.com
Recharge Your Batteries
High Five Coffee
Sip on a craft brew of a different variety (one that won’t leave you wanting a nap) at High Five Coffee on Rankin Avenue before a day exploring the city. (highfivecoffee.com)
With more than three times the square footage of the White House, Biltmore is easily the largest privately-owned home in the United States. Built in 1889 by George Washington Vanderbilt — the son of the famous industrialist and railroad-tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt — the house itself numbers around 180,000 square feet, while the original grounds of the estate were as large as 125,000 acres. Biltmore was modeled after the grand, self-sustaining chateaus of Europe — often surrounded by entire villages producing various agricultural crops and products. Reduced to a more modest 8,000 acres of estate land today, a large portion of the grounds was sold to the federal government to create the Pisgah National Forest.
Nowadays Biltmore is also known for its winery, but they still farm crops and raise livestock on the grounds — primarily for their on-site hotels and restaurants. To this day, Biltmore is owned and operated by the direct descendants of Cornelius Vanderbilt — the great-grandson and great-granddaughter, to be exact — and continues to be a family-run estate. They operate two hotels and a wide variety of dining locations. In addition, the owners of Biltmore are active and heavily involved in the Asheville community.