We could probably live in Asheville, North Carolina. Nature, boutique shopping, hipster eats, an Oregon-like culture tucked in the foothills of Blue Ridge Parkway without the higher cost of living.
Lodging in Asheville, NC
We rented an airbnb tree house in West Asheville for a week and were able to walk to the Bee Charmer Shop, The Hop West Ice Cream shop and a few cute boutiques. Even with the joy of a great location ( our tree house has a built in mini-zip line) we still had a list of things to do differently by weeks end, but renting a hotel was not one of them. With all the cute houses and bed and breakfasts it makes sense to take advantage of the local flavor a house rental provides.
We went for the 4th of July. This is a magical time in Asheville because the small and historical city is completely blocked off – like an old-fashioned block party-for the holiday evening events. Musicians, artists, bands and people of all kinds fill the streets.
What we liked? The bands! The street musicians! The Fireworks!
Things we did:
The Drum Circle: Apparently a staple in the Asheville evening lineup of activities, the drum circle happens every Friday night during warm weather in Pritchard Park downtown on Patton Avenue at College Street. Great fun for those who want to get involved or those who love people watching!
The North Carolina Arboretum: A great escape from all the touristy stuff, the Arboretum is free to enter, and you only have to pay for parking. There are a plethora of nature trails, a place to grab snacks and a giftshop in the main building, featured exhibits and lots of other nature escapes cover the grounds.
The Ghost Tour: We took the Grayline Ghost Tour one afternoon on the open trolley and loved it. We had a great guide that showed us all the haunts and shared the scary stories to perfection. The daytime tour was a good choice for those with children, as we heard the later ones were much spookier. The Grayline meets guests right outside Packs Tavern, so you can grab lunch before or dinner after.
Food we ate
Tupelo Honey Cafe: The biscuits and sweet potato pancakes with peach butter are a must. You can also grab their cookbook if you try those out on your before you go!
Laughing Seed Cafe: This was a vegetarian restaurant we stumbled on that proved amazing! Everything was good here. The vegetable bowl, the avocado tacos, the smoothies…everything was great. Decent prices and cool atmosphere this restaurant has a bar in the basement, called Jack of the Wood, for those so inclined.
Crepes: Twisted Crepes was one of the places we stumbled upon since we didn’t make dinner reservations, were starving and it was quite late. We were very glad we stopped! Sweet and Savory Crepes, this was a great meal to have as a late night dinner. Not too heavy but just enough food to fill you up these crepes were filled with fresh ingredients and made right in front of you- so cool to watch.
Double D’s Coffee and Desserts: No matter where we go we are always looking for sweet treats. Whether its trying out a new cupcake shop, finding a pie shop, or settling for the skillet cookie we always try and find dessert. Hidden on Biltmore Ave. in Asheville, this double decker coffee and dessert bus will satisfy your cravings. With indoor and outdoor seating its a great place to stop before browsing the city.
Places we shopped
Ten Thousand Villages Shop: A wonderful fair-trade shop with loads of cute gift items and interesting finds you may not see anywhere else.
The Asheville Bee Charmer: They have one of these in West Asheville and Asheville proper as well. This shop offers an awesome boutique honey tasting extravaganza. Delicious honey- all varieties ( cheery, pecan, wildflower etc.) and fun merchandise too.
Malaprops Bookstore & Cafe : We showed up at this bookstore during a “find waldo” hiding around the city scavenger hunt. They have coffee, packed shelves full of books and fun journals, stuffed animals, coffee cups and all things book-related
The Church Basilica of Saint Lawrence : The Basilica is a an old beautiful church right in town. It does close around dinner time so prepare to come earlier for tours to learn the history. It also has a beautiful garden behind it- so make sure to take the walk around back to see it.
We found a ton of nature in Asheville but ya have to drive a little bit to get to the good stuff. Blue Ridge Parkway is about 45 minutes away and best to reserve for a full day. Dupont boasts some awesome waterfalls and is a more rigorous trip for those interested in some exercise.
Read our reviews of both locations below.
Things we’d do differently:
- Plan more ahead of time. When it comes to crazy planners… we are those people. So this trip sort of caught us off guard when everyone was sitting around the tree house, wondering what we should do next. I definitely recommend having at least one person in your group who has a plan for each day of your trip. If you’re going to town book a place to eat so you’re not wandering around trying to figure it out on the fly. If you’re going to be with nature… figure out which nature- waterfalls and state parks surround Asheville, so there are lots of choices. Still, you definitely don’t want to spend to the morning arguing over the parks north of Asheville or South. Be sure to pick ahead of time. Even just deciding on one place a day will at least cement you to a location during your visit and help you make the most of your trip.
- Give yourself a whole day to be at Dupont Recreational Forest or on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Being 45 minutes from Asheville itself, it’s not impossible to shove it into a day when you have dinner reservations but pretty darn inconvenient. Our suggestion? Pack a picnic for lunch and grab a pizza on the way home.
- Have a car or two or a bus pass! Depending on the size of your group you may all want to do different things on any given day so having access to transportation is always a good idea. Asheville does have a bus system- which works too if you’re bringing antsy teenagers who need to get away and explore on their own.
- Know whats going on each day you’re there. Asheville has a pretty comprehensive Events Calendar. Check it before you go and plan where you want to stop.
- Determine parking ahead of time. It took us a few days to nail down the best places to park in the city. Civic Center Parking Garage, Rankin Ave Garage, and the College Street Parking Garages are your best bet for any long term time in town. Find them on the map and make it your own each time you go into town.
- Make Dinner Reservations ahead of time for all days you plan to be in town. Being from a smaller city we were quite sure we could just stroll into Asheville, ask for a table for 8 and be done with it! Even groups of 2 people had 45 minute waits to eat. This is typical summer business for Asheville- but who knew?
- Take the Tours! We can’t stress this one enough! In the moment when you’re faced with paying people to show you around the city ( any city) you usually decide that you can just do it yourself….not true. Don’t believe this lie your brain tells you. We definitely would have done more tours if we would have discovered them sooner. Not only their ghost tours but the full tour at Biltmore, the Eating Asheville tour, the Appalachian Underground tour, the Moog Music Factory tour, and any of the walking tours that allow you to learn the history of Asheville are all good choices.
If you’re looking for a great family vacation that really does cover all the things you and your family may want to do Asheville could be your ideal get away.
Take a trip and let us know what you think or if there are other must-see activities we missed. We’ll surely be returning in the next couple years.