by Kristen Bagwell
When was the last time you visited Asheville, NC? In the past 10 years, Asheville has been named the Happiest City in America (Self Magazine), Best Mountain Destination (Southern Living), and Best Southern Town (Outside Magazine). It was also noted among the Most Beautiful Places in America by Good Morning America. The Hunger Games were filmed near Asheville, and both President Obama and Anthony Bourdain are occasional visitors here, sampling the local restaurants. And it's just a few hours from the Triangle!
In town, Asheville is noted by compass points: north, south, east and west. North Asheville is one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, and is the home of the University of North Carolina at Asheville. Beaver Lake is nearby and is gorgeous! There are some super local restaurants in this area. South Asheville is more residential and a bit more modern. East Asheville is probably the most family-friendly area from a neighborhood standpoint, and is also the front door to the artistic and creative communities of Black Mountain and Swannanoa. West Asheville is more eclectic, filled with River District artists and creative entrepreneurs.
Finally, there's Downtown Asheville, which is where I'll focus today. Asheville Independent Retaurants summarizes it perfectly: "Downtown Asheville is a vibrant, happening city center filled with shops, galleries, performance spaces, live music, and terrific people-watching." (And, of course, fabulous restaurants.) Downtown is nestled at the meeting of two rivers, and features 50+ restaurants and 9 brewing companies. In fact, for those who are interested, Asheville was named Beer City for 3 years in a row, with eleven craft breweries in the area. We'll save this topic, plus the Brews Cruise , for our grown-up getaways post down the road.
Back to Downtown: there are always tons of events near Pack Square Park, including local music and craft fairs. October is a fantastic month for festivals, but it's tricky to get a room because of the visitors viewing the fall leaves, so book early. (If you plan to visit in fall, take advantage of the Asheville Concierge, currently Elaine Rich, who can help you find and book rooms, cottages, bed/breakfast, and even resort reservations.) The Four Points Sheraton is a family friendly location near downtown, and there is a new, ultra-modern hotel called Aloft that will open to guests starting September 6. If you want to do a unique boutique, Hotel Indigo is the perfect choice. For stays longer than a day or two, there are many cabins and cottages available to rent in the area. Explore Asheville.com has a comprehensive list of lodging options here.
Even without festivals and special events, Downtown hosts many local galleries and unique shops. This is a perfect place to get up in the morning, hit one of the many local coffee houses, and sip while the kids play in the park. City Bakery is the perfect stop for beverages, plus breakfast breads or a home-baked pastry. Once you're done snacking, take a walk along the downtown Urban Trail, which features 1.7 miles of historic architecture and local heritage. This trail has been called Asheville's museum without walls, and you can download a trail map here to guide you along the way. Remember to pack for the season and dress in layers - it is generally much cooler in Asheville than the Triangle, but if you're out and about in the morning, you'll want light layers that you can remove as the day gets warmer.
After your walking tour, the shops and galleries will be open, and before long you'll be ready for lunch! There are many casual dining spots around, but we love the outdoor terrace at Creperie Bouchon. You may also want to check out Mamacitas on Biltmore Ave - they focus on local and sustainable ingredients, and the menu is an interesting mix of mexican and southern US styles. Other notables: Tupelo Honey Cafe (southern influenced cuisine) and Strada (italian). If you've spent the morning outdoors, perhaps hiking one of the many area trails or exploring Chimney Rock State Park, you will enjoy a pick me up at the French Broad Chocolate lounge. Do not miss a liquid truffle hot sipping chocolate...I can't even explain it. Go. Now.
I could go on and on, but I'd rather just go. You should too! There are so many great online resources to help you plan the perfect trip, whether you're an outdoor enthusiast, a festival seeker, or just a prowl-arounder. The official city website is www.Asheville.com, and www.ExploreAsheville.com is another wonderful resource. You can even just google "visit asheville nc" and have a wealth of information right at your fingertips.
Enjoy your trip!