In the past few years, Asheville, North Carolina has earned the titles of Beer City USA, Top 10 Best Cities in the US, Top 10 Best Outdoor Towns in America, and Top 15 Best Foodie Destinations in the USA. If you haven’t been yet, what are you waiting for?
Considering the entire community is only about 45 square miles and its population hovers around 88,000 people, the city has a whole lot to offer. As demonstrated by its national recognition, the town that prides itself in staying weird has a booming beer industry, a thriving culinary community, a vibrant art and music scene, and a vast, beckoning backyard of mountains.
Asheville is under two hours by plane or seven hours by car from D.C., making it the perfect escape for Washingtonians. Here’s what to drink, eat, and do in Asheville.
WHAT TO DRINK
When wandering around the heart of downtown Asheville, you’ll never find yourself more than a short walk away from a brewery. Or three. This tiny city somehow boasts more than 20 breweries, at last count by the Asheville Citizen-Times, and new ones crop up regularly.
The long and illustrious list includes household names like Wicked Weed and Asheville Brewing Company, hipster havens like Wedge, and local watering holes like Burial. Whatever you do, don’t miss these two standouts:
Wicked Weed has been pouring wicked brews at their brewpub since 2012, but two years ago, they decided to move into the realm of tart and funky with their Funkatorium, the first taproom on the East Coast dedicated to sour beer. For sour savants, this is the motherland. For the uninitiated, it’s a great way to prime your palette and get an education in these delightfully weird ales. Start with the Bombadile, a farmhouse ale fermented with strawberries, and finish with the Silencio, a black ale aged in bourbon barrels with vanilla and local coffee.
Green Man Brewery is one of Asheville’s original breweries, and though they’ve expanded, their loyalty to traditional English styles has never wavered. Visit their founding tasting room, Dirty Jack’s, to get up close and personal with the brewing process in the no-frills bar that captures the spirit of a gritty London pub. Just down the street, the massive Greenmansion offers a more bougie experience: shiny merchandise, beer to go, and a third-floor balcony with views of the Blue Ridge. Indulge in a pint of their signature ESB to or sip the oh-so-sessional Sunseeker Pils.
WHAT TO EAT
Hopheads flock to Asheville for the beer, but the food scene is impressive enough to draw crowds of its own. Of course, the city has more barbecue and Southern comfort food than you’d know what to do with, but don’t be surprised when you find authentic Spanish tapas, curry that packs a punch, or epicurean gems.
In the category of “the South,” there are a few spots that distinguish themselves from the rest:
Rise and shine (and then go into an afternoon carb coma) with breakfast at Biscuit Head. Their cat head biscuits are named because they are literally the size of a cat’s head. Don’t ask questions, just order the flight of gravy (your choice of three) and be thankful you have such a huge biscuit to sop it all up with.
12 Bones Smokehouse is President Obama’s establishment of choice when visiting the region so that one’s a no-brainer. You may have to wait in line (no reservations at this very casual joint), but your sweet, sweet reward is a succulent rack of ribs, jalapeño cheese grits, and a slab of cornbread. Buxton Hall Barbecue has a slightly more refined take on ‘cue. It was recently named one of the top 10 best new restaurants in the country by Bon Appétit magazine, so you’ll probably have to fight crowds to get a table in the no-reservations dining room. There are no wrong choices, but you’ll be extra pleased with hush puppies, fried chicken, or Eastern NC-style pulled pork from happy hogs.
Still hungry? Venture beyond Southern fare.
Hit up Curaté Tapas Bar for on-point Spanish small plates prepared by a James Beard-recognized chef. Step off the beaten path to check out The Admiral and find a celebration of gastronomic creativity. Feel great about not leaving a tip at Blue Dream Curry House, a no-tipping establishment that dishes up tasty curries inspired by cuisines around the world.
Don’t skip dessert – visit French Broad Chocolates’ Chocolate Lounge for bean-to-bar treats like artisan truffles and house-made ice cream.
WHAT TO DO
Take a hike
After all those calories, you’re probably going to need a little extra exercise, so head to the wilderness surrounding Asheville. The majestic purple mountains of the Blue Ridge Parkway are rivaled only by those in Skyline Drive in Shenandoah (and yes, I’m a little biased). If you’re looking for an intense and rugged multi-day backpacking trip, check out the 21-mile Linville Gorge Loop. With stunning vistas of the Linville River Gorge, it’s not hard to see why this area is dubbed the Grand Canyon of the East. For something a little more leisurely, drive along the Parkway and stop at Craggy Gardens or Mount Mitchell. From Mount Mitchell’s visitor center, it’s just a short stroll to summit the highest point east of the Mississippi.
Check out the local art and music scene
Asheville’s River Arts District is just a one-mile stretch of town, but there are over 200 artists making everything from pottery, baskets, and glasswork to jewelry, paintings, and home décor. These studios are open to the public, so plan to spend a few hours wandering the workshops to admire or purchase a new piece of art.
You don’t have to try hard to find live music on virtually any day of the week in Asheville. Pick up a copy of Mountain Xpress and peruse their calendar to see who’s playing where. Or, head to a bona fide music hall like The Orange Peel or The Grey Eagle.
Live like a Vanderbilt for the day
George Vanderbilt’s country retreat is just a short drive out of town. The Biltmore Estate is America’s largest home, and the 8,000-acre property includes perfectly manicured gardens, 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, and an indoor swimming pool. Tickets are a little pricey, but there’s plenty to see and learn at the estate. Inside the house, find original art by Renoir, a chess set owned by Napoleon, and 16th-century tapestries. Admission includes a self-guided tour, a tasting at the Biltmore Winery, and full access to the grounds. Pro tip: picnicking is allowed on the upper lawn overlooking the house, so pack a basket and head up the hill for lunch with a view.