I don’t know if it was just in the cards, but my summer is filling up with travel plans even faster than spring did. Just last week, I spent four beautiful sunny days in Asheville, North Carolina, which in case you haven’t heard, has been on the top of every “best places to live” list for the last few years.
Like Portland, Oregon last year, I was drawn to the city for the opportunities to get out in nature as well as enjoy a local scene that really encourages and supports truly local businesses. It was too good to keep to myself, so I’m sharing a brief guide here on what to do, where to eat and shop, and where to stay for those who are looking to travel “light” as I do.
Light, in this case, means focusing most on experience and less on stuff. It means enjoying the people and local flavor while being as thoughtful about your travel footprint when you’re in someone else’s community as when you’re in your own.
So here are just a few ideas for how to travel light and enjoy Asheville:
How to Get There
Flights into Asheville’s small regional airport can be limited and expensive, so we flew into Charlotte, NC. If you’re going to be hiking and exploring, having a car is unfortunately still your best mode of transit, so the two-hour drive to Asheville just made sense. Make the drive more exciting by stopping at Chimney Rock on the way to climb the 26-stories of sturdy stairs up to a beautiful lookout. (There’s also an elevator for those not up for the climb.)
Where to Stay
Asheville is obviously a city deep in transition and growing fast. Hotels are still limited to big box hotels, though a few hipper ones are starting to open up. We skipped the hotel route in favor of the low-key, friendly option of AirBnB. We stayed in a beautiful quiet room in East Asheville that had a spectacular flower-filled backyard this time. Next time, I’d look for a place in West Asheville to spend more time in what seemed like the Brooklyn of Asheville.
Where to Eat
Hole Doughnuts (West Asheville) – Delicious tea, coffee and doughnuts are the focus at Hole Doughnuts, a shabby chic little café. The staff is beyond friendly and you can watch as they make your doughnuts to order, flipping them in the oil with a pair of drumsticks. This was the first spot I noticed had a sign that they pay their employees a living wage, part of a certification program led locally by Just Economics of Western NC. Great doughnuts, great people.
Sunny Point Café (West Asheville) – Breakfast is served all day here, but we came early and were rewarded with a fantastic meal. If you’re there when there’s a wait, fill up a cup of coffee and wander through the garden in the back where they grow much of their vegetables. What they can’t grow themselves, they source from other local businesses. They earned extra points from me for the great options for loose leaf tea.
Creperie Bouchon (Downtown) – Through a lovely alleyway, you’ll find the courtyard that the restaurant spills out onto. Grab a table under an umbrella and enjoy a crepe or a Croque Monsieur along with an affordable local beer on tap. The creperie and its sister restaurant, Bouchon, like the majority in the area, source many of the ingredients from local farms.
Chai Pani (Downtown) – Despite the temptation to only eat Southern food while in Asheville, we caved to eat at this Indian street food restaurant that serves some of the best and most unique Indian dishes I’ve had. Their website also has a full list of their sustainable practices if you aren’t convinced yet.
Salsa’s (Downtown) – Thanks to the car rental representative in Asheville, we heard that the nachos here were not to be missed (even if some other things on the menu were a little strange). It was good advice. The nachos (and the margaritas) were some of the best I had ever had, and the fish tacos were only passable. Go for the nachos.
Where to Drink
Wicked Weed Brewing (Downtown) – There are too many breweries to even begin to list, but this one was a great choice. With over 20 small batch beers on tap, it was fun to sample a few. I highly recommend trying the Black Angel Cherry Sour for something totally unique.
Top of the Monk (Downtown) – Above the popular pub, The Thirsty Monk, is a speakeasy with a rooftop that is limited to only 30 people at a time. The line is short, and you’ll be treated to delicious pre-Prohibition cocktails that each come with a complimentary snack. It’s luxuriously spacious and laid back, which makes it even cooler.
Where to Shop
Horse + Hero (Downtown) – A paper goods shop stocking prints, cards and original artwork from over 30 local artists.
Nest Organics (Downtown) – A mom and daughter-owned shop featuring local and international products that all focus on healthy, sustainable living from homewares, like Coyuchi, to sweet gifts for kids.
Old North (Downtown) – A nicely curated boutique of made-to-last clothing for men and women with a staff that can tell you all about a brand and where and how the products are made. While you’re here, pick up a pair of local favorite, Raleigh Denim jeans.
Antique Tobacco Barn – A huge warehouse of antiques in what was literally a tobacco barn, where the tobacco leaves would be hung and dried. You could get lost in here, but it’s worth it. Sometimes the best souvenirs are something old.
What to Do
The surrounding Blue Ridge Parkway provides a great jumping off point for hiking. Head north on the Parkway for trails like Craggy Gardens with its epic flowering pathways, or south for waterfalls and (very cold) swimming holes like Sliding Rock.
If it’s a rainy day, pick up a book at Malaprop’s (for something new) or the Battery Park Book Exchange (for the used edition). While both have their own cafes/bars, you can also take your reading to the Dobra Tea Shop to relax on a floor cushion with a pot of tea.
Feel free to add your Asheville recommendations below or share where you’re headed this summer!