Travel Guide: Exploring Asheville
Autumn is a stunning time to visit Asheville, N.C., when the leaves emerge in a range of red, orange and yellow hues.
Plus, with arguably the best food scene in North Carolina and great craft beer around every corner, there are almost too many places to eat and drink considering it’s a city with just about 90,000 residents. Work off the post-meal haze hiking among the highest peaks in the eastern United States, and poking around the studios, shops and galleries downtown and in the River Arts District. North Carolina is a pottery mecca; so pick up a souvenir at East Fork Pottery to take home.
Where To Stay
$: The AC Hotel by Marriott Asheville Downtown (starting at $170 per night), opened in 2017, is an affordable 132-room property smack in the middle of downtown Asheville. The convenient location means you can walk to many of the city’s best restaurants, bars and breweries. Clean, modern design creates bright and airy spaces, and the rooftop bar is a favorite among both visitors and locals.
$$: The Grand Bohemian Hotel Asheville (starting at $180 per night) embodies the quirky, artsy spirit of Asheville with its eclectic décor and robust collection of art by North Carolina artists, much of which is for sale. The hotel is built to resemble an old Bavarian hunting lodge, with centuries-old rifles and taxidermy on display, along with ivory inlay columns from India and massive entry doors from Bali that founder Richard Kessler collected during his global travels. Service here is first-rate – the housekeeping staff will even draw you a bath upon request.
$$$ (Bucket-List Stay): If you’re looking to splurge, The Omni Grove Park Inn (starting at $259 per night) has some of the highest room rates in town, but the rustic resort just north of downtown offers a subterranean spa, championship golf course and views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
What To Do
The River Arts District is an incredibly concentrated and diverse neighborhood of contemporary artists and craftspeople. It’s a great place to shop for souvenirs and gifts from the more than 200 artists working with paint, pottery, metal, fiber, glass, wax and more in former industrial warehouses and mills. At any given time, many studios and galleries are open to visitors, but consider making an appointment if there’s somebody in particular that you’d like to see. Asheville Art Studio Tours is a great way for first-time visitors to explore the neighborhood, guided by glass artist John Almaguer. Two-hour walking tours are $39 while more experiential tours offer you a chance to make your own clay or glass art piece.
To get your blood pumping, try whitewater surfing on your belly with the Bellyak, an Asheville invention and twist on the typical kayak. Float face-first down the French Broad River with webbed gloves for paddles. You can rent one at French Broad Outfitters’ Hominy Creek location. Even if you aren’t the strongest or most coordinated person, this is a lot of fun and not too difficult to get the hang of. If you’d rather stay on land, Asheville Treetops Adventure Park is a new attraction where you can climb, swing, zipline and rappel in the forest just a few minutes from downtown Asheville.
Where To Eat
Start the day with a healthy and hearty breakfast at BimBeriBon, an all-day cafe with global influences. Everything, from turmeric scrambled egg dosas and shakshouka to Chinese jian bing crêpes, is gluten-free and made without refined sugar – including the delectable sweets in the pastry case.
Sovereign Remedies is another favorite, and it’s easy to be healthy here with intricately layered vegetable plates like spring peas with cherries, confit baby fennel and grilled daylily bulbs or pickled cucumbers with agretti, serviceberries, sunflower seeds and chamomile foam. But the chicken skin crisps with Korean chili honey and bone marrow tater tots are equally tempting.
Indulge your sweet tooth at French Broad Chocolates. The bean-to-bar chocolate maker creates all kinds of pastries, confections and even gelato, including a large selection of dairy-free options. Enjoy vegan chocolate olive oil cake and nibby brownies with hot sipping chocolate, or an iced oat milk latte, but don’t leave without a box of truffles or bars for the road.
Don’t Miss – The Bucket-List Must-Do
A century ago, doctors considered Asheville’s mineral-rich hot springs and fresh mountain air a treatment for tuberculosis, and the wellness culture in Asheville is still strong today. Book a treatment at Omni Grove Park Inn‘s spa – try the multi-sensory wellness pod – and experience the hydrotherapy circuit, including waterfall pools and eucalyptus-infused steam rooms. A foot-soak at Wake Foot Sanctuary is a more affordable option for relaxation, way better than a traditional pedicure.
Amber is a permanent gypsy, traveling the world 350+ days each year. She’s flown a plane to the Grand Canyon, spearfished in Mexico and had dinner with Francis Mallmann at his home in Uruguay, all in the name of work. She studied journalism at Northwestern University and, in addition to serving as the RUBY Travel Expert, her work also appears in Forbes, Saveur, Hemispheres, Departures, American Way, Four Seasons Magazine, Spafinder and USA Today. Follow her adventures on Instagram and Twitter.