Asheville is a popular little city in western North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Full of quirky charm and character, historic architecture, and a vibrant arts scene, many people call downtown Asheville “the Portland of the South.”
Asheville appears on many travelers’ lists, and there are some unique reasons to visit.
Why Asheville Tops So Many Lists
The Biltmore Estate. Built by George Washington Vanderbilt II in the 1890s as the family’s country house, the Biltmore Estate remains the largest privately-owned residence in the U.S.
“Beer City, USA”. With more than 25 craft breweries in Asheville and dozens more nearby, it is frequently named one of the top craft beer cities in the country.
Character. Music and art have always played a large role in Asheville’s identity, and the city fully embraces its own eccentric, artsy vibe. In fact, there’s a Friday night public drum circle in downtown’s Prichard Park to prove it.
Location. As mentioned, Asheville is in the Blue Ridge Mountains at the confluence of the French Broad and Swannanoa rivers. It’s not far from the Blue Ridge Parkway, which runs all the way from Virginia to Cherokee, North Carolina and is famous for its scenic beauty.
What To Do In Asheville
Now that we’ve given some context to the draws of Asheville as a whole, we’d like to point out that downtown Asheville is relatively small, very walkable, and you’ll be able to see the highlights within just one day.
Here’s how we spent our perfect day in downtown Asheville:
Getting Caffeinated At High Five Coffee
We love coffee. Like, a lot. We also love supporting local businesses when we travel. The more mom-and-pop, the better. High Five Coffee’s three locations in Asheville serve up Counter Culture Coffee, which is roasted in Durham, NC. We swung by the Rankin Avenue location to kick off our day of exploring downtown.
Asheville Walking Tour: The Urban Trail (Part 1)
One of our favorite ways to get to know any city is on foot, and Asheville has a self-guided walking tour called the Urban Trail. You can use this interactive map to find all thirty stops throughout downtown. Some are at buildings but most are art installations, all comemmorating people, places, and events in Asheville’s history. Some can be easy to miss if you’re not paying attention, which makes it all the more fun!
Lunch At Mellow Mushroom
Halfway through the trail, we stopped for a lunch break. We west-coasters had never heard of Mellow Mushroom, and by the funky looks of it we’d assumed it was a local mom-and-pop shop. Turns out it’s a chain with over 150 locations! Its hippy vibe carries over to the menu, with names like Holy Shittake, Veg Out, and the one we got – Kosmic Karma. BTW, the pesto swirl was a fantastic touch!
Side note: Since we were visiting in early 2021, this was our first time eating in a covid bubble!
Asheville Walking Tour: The Urban Trail (Part 2)
We used the Urban Trail as our guide through Asheville, scoping out not just the historical stops and art installations along the way, but also the many cute shops, restaurants, and even street buskers in the city. The trail is urban after all, so why not take your time to embrace all it has to offer? Speaking of the trail, does anyone know where the heck stop #28 is??? According to the map it should be somewhere alongside the fire station and is a plaque set in brick. We even stopped a couple of firefighters to ask where it was, and they had no idea. Oh well. Moving on.
Sipping Chocolate at French Broad Chocolate Lounge
No day of exploration and food would be complete for us without some chocolate to cap it all off. Even more decadent, some sipping chocolate at downtown Asheville’s French Broad Chocolate Lounge! The company was started by a couple who moved to Costa Rica and bought an abandoned cacao plantation.
They opened the first cafe there and became self-ordained “chocolate missionaries.” After they sold that business they came to the U.S. and opened this one. They make everything right in Asheville, at the French Broad Chocolate Factory. Do yourself a favor and pay them a visit. We promise, your mind will be blown.
A Perfect Day in Downtown Asheville
We had a wonderful day exploring Asheville and indulging in our three favorite things: coffee, pizza, and chocolate. (If we had just stayed for dinner and sushi, it would have been the perfect day!)
As an aside, since our visit was during “Covid times” in February of 2021, there were some things we weren’t able to check out this time around. The River Arts District, the Asheville Art Museum (at Pack Square, where the Urban Trail begins), and both the Community Theatre and Fine Arts Theater are all on our list for when it’s safer to visit indoor establishments.
For more things to do in Western North Carolina, click these links:
And for an easy road trip just a bit more west, there are plenty of things to do in Chattanooga!