1You might have heard of Asheville by now. It’s a popular tourist destination thanks to its wild beauty, friendly atmosphere, artsy culture, and Beer City status. But something you may not know is that about 100,000 of us choose to call Asheville home! Here’s why we love it:
It’s a mountain wonderland!
Most of us chose to move to Western North Carolina because of its magnificent old mountains, blanketed in a dense temperate deciduous forest, whose trees radiate a dreamy blue haze. Nothing beats living within a 30-minute drive of your favorite waterfall swimming hole, literally having backyard access to a national forest, or watching a thunderstorm roll over the lush, green hills from the comfort of your covered porch. A short, scenic drive up to the famous Blue Ridge Parkway affords opportunities to go for a hike, bike ride, or climb, take an exhilarating ride down Sliding Rock, watch the sunset from Craggy Gardens or Frying Pan Tower, enjoy dinner at the Pisgah Inn, and camp near the top of Mount Pisgah. Do it all in one day if you like!
Historic, walkable districts.
Asheville’s turn-of-the-century downtown is compact and walkable. Neoclassical, Romanesque, and Gothic Revival buildings in Western North Carolina towns like Asheville and nearby Weaverville, Waynesville, Marshall, and Canton have been beautifully restored and revitalized. Each of these city centers is tree-lined, charming, packed with local businesses, and easily traversable on foot in a matter of minutes.
While many locals work in or near downtown, plenty others pop in for a meal, a drink or a coffee, a concert, or shopping. The Orange Peel is consistently rated among the nation’s top music venues. In 2016, local food writer Stu Helm counted 137 restaurants, food trucks, and food carts in Downtown Asheville! Boutique bars like Night Bell and Sovereign Remedies specialize in artisan cocktails, 5 Walnut has wine on tap, and about half of Asheville’s 25+ breweries are located downtown. Looking for a unique gift or that conversation-piece pair of boots? You’ll definitely find it in one of downtown’s countless local shops!
Madison County: mountain tradition and colorful characters.
Madison County is a predominantly rural and breathtaking area sandwiched between Asheville’s Buncombe County and the Tennessee state line. Marshall, known locally as “the capital of Madison County,” is known for The Depot, an old train station that hosts bluegrass concerts and cake walks. Marshall High Studios is the town’s former high school, located on an island in the middle of the French Broad River, decommissioned as a school, purchased and rescued by local eccentri-preneur Rob Pulleyn, and converted to artist studios and galleries.
Hot Springs features—you guessed it—hot mineral springs. The local resort/spa has tubs you can rent by the hour, filled with 102° water pumped right out of the earth! Lots folks living in Asheville make regular pilgrimages here, as the water is thought to have healing properties. Madison County also boasts some of the area’s best white-water rafting.
While Asheville does have great public schools, there are overwhelming options for parents who prefer an alternative. Just within the city limits, there are seven Montessori Schools, two Waldorf schools, five public charter schools, and a variety of other out-of-the box models including a farmstead school, a forest school, a self-directed learning community, and church-affiliated schools. Homeschooling and unschooling families moving to Asheville will find a wealth of resources too, including co-ops and learning centers, academic enrichment courses, tutoring, and field trips.
It’s a spirited town!
Did we mention the region’s 60 breweries?! Asheville has been voted Beer City, USA four years in a row. In addition to dozens of microbreweries, large full-scale brewers like New Belgium and Sierra Nevada have made their East Coast homes here, funneling vast resources into environmental restoration and greenway projects. Beer festivals clutter the calendar—Brewgrass Festival, Asheville Beer Expo, Sour Fest, NC Small Batch Festival, Burning Can, Tour de Fat, and Thirsty Fest, to name but a few. And what do we drop on New Year’s Eve instead of a ball? A keg! Nearly every brewery has a tasting room or brew pub, many serve excellent food (or at least host a food truck almost any night of the week), and a few even double as concert venues. It’s not just beer, though! You’ll also find local crafters of wine, rum, gin, moonshine, bourbon, cider, and mead.
Music and festivals.
Music is a tremendous part of how we get down in AVL. Jam bands, bluegrass pickers, jazz cats, and indie rockers will have no trouble at all finding their brethren here. You’ll also find plenty of hip-hop, funk, rockabilly, folk, and singer-songwriters. Recent and upcoming touring acts like Michael Franti, Thievery Corporation, Rascal Flatts, Band of Horses, Alison Krauss, Hays Carll, and Lyle Lovett keep it fresh.
Festivals and recurring community events are a three-seasons occurrence in Western North Carolina. The Folk Heritage Committee organizes a free concert series downtown every Saturday night through July and August, called Shindig on the Green, showcasing regional performance art such as bluegrass and old-time music, clog dancers, and storytelling. Some other local favorite festivals and events include LEAF (Lake Eden Arts Festival), White Squirrel Festival, Dirty Dancing Festival, Downtown After Five (another free concert series), Laugh Your Asheville Off Comedy Festival, Organicfest, Goombay Festival, Blue Ridge Pride Festival, All Go West, Apple Fest, and Leftover Salmon’s Blue Ridge Jam.
Hip West Asheville.
Just a five-minute drive from downtown, and once a separate city (annexed in 1917), West Asheville maintains its own orbit. Its main thoroughfare, Haywood Road, is lined with restaurants, breweries, coffee shops, ice cream parlors, small concert venues, vintage clothing stores, bakeries, an anarchist book store, a wedding chapel that’s also a bar and vintage shop, an independent grocery, an independent record store, and a tea house. You’ll also find the usual schools, churches, insurance agencies, and drug stores, but you get the idea—it’s a fun, colorful, bustling part of town. Plenty of homes are for sale and rent around here at any given time, and it is indeed a coveted place to own and live. An engaged and active community of both families and single folks living in West Asheville makes it fun, social, and maybe even a little bit intentional!
Pamper your body, mind, and spirit.
Asheville has a long history, going back at least to the early part of the 20th century, as a destination to relax, rejuvenate, and pamper. Check out Still Point Wellness for salt water floatation/sensory deprivation, Shoji for a mountain-getaway spa day close to town, or one of two salt-cave spas for your negative-ion fix. If you’re after bodywork, there are a staggering number of massage therapists, acupuncturists, rolfers, and cranio sacral practioners to choose from. Energy work? Take your pick from shamanic healers, reiki masters, tantrikas, sacred stone medicine practitioners, and more. Asheville is a hotbed for holistic healing schools too—offering programs in herbal medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic healing, acupuncture, massage, and aromatherapy.
Fit and fun.
We do have great resources for being supported in healing, but as they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Fitness is by no means a requirement, but it does have a high status in Asheville’s culture. Plenty of big-box gyms offer inexpensive access to high-quality facilities. Or, residents can explore less conventional modes like CrossFit, TRX, pilates, or yoga. And, naturally, lots of outdoor options exist too—hiking, biking, trail running, climbing, stand-up paddle boarding, disc golf, and kayaking, to name a few.
Asheville is possibly most famous for the Biltmore Estate, George Washington Vanderbilt’s extravagant palace-style home and the surrounding 7000 acres of gardens, farms, greenhouses, rivers, waterfalls, forest, parks, and businesses. Naturally, the estate draws tourists by the thousands, but a remarkably affordable annual membership grants year-round access for locals. It’s a great place to walk, picnic, and dine; and special events include concerts, tours, and exhibits.
Another cornerstone of Asheville is the Arts-and-Crafts-style, stone-cottage Grove Park Inn. Like the Biltmore Estate, many out-of-towners enjoy this founding establishment, but there is plenty for locals too. Not merely a convenience of staying in the hotel, its restaurants are worth the trip for Asheville residents. A world-class golf course, museums, and special events like the annual gingerbread house competition round out the Grove Park to make it a fun way to spend a day with the family.
The North Carolina Arboretum in Bent Creek Experimental Forest is a pristine, beautifully cultivated 434-acre public garden with hiking and biking trails. Education programs, a museum, a bonsai collection, plus special events and exhibits appeal to a membership of 17,000+.
Farm-to-table, real food.
Asheville’s restaurant scene is diverse—Gan Shan Station, Red Ginger, and Ben’s Tune Up peddle delicious and nourishing Asian fusion; Chai Pani and Mela serve up authentic Indian dishes; Taquerias Zia, Muñoz, and Jalisco make scrumptious Latin American food, and TacoBilly brings Austin-style Mexican to the scene. You’ll also find tapas, Israeli, Himalayan, Salvadoran, Korean, Ethiopian, and Jamaican cuisines.
Still, the prevailing theme of Southern American is what Asheville restaurants come by most honestly. Tupelo Honey’s house-made buttermilk biscuits are delivered to the table as an appetizer, accompanied with local Imladris Farms blueberry compote. Biscuit Head, whose line stretches out the door and around the corner on Sunday afternoons, has impossibly tender and flavorful fried chicken brined in mimosa! King Daddy’s Chicken and Waffles’ impressively vast menu includes some very down-home favorites, such as their tender, savory fried chicken livers. Homegrown’s redneck pot pie with BBQ chicken and grits knocks it out of the park. And, the icing on the red velvet cake is that the majority of Asheville’s restaurants use meat, dairy, produce, and grains from local farms whenever possible.
If you care to get closer to the source, scores of local farms are open to the public, and each offers something unique. Sample cheeses at Looking Glass Creamery; visit animals, pick berries or attend a barn dance at Hickory Nut Gap Farm; do yoga with goats or go glamping at Franny’s Farm; or participate in Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project’s annual farm tour to visit all the member farms in one weekend. Or, if you like a more active approach, try out a Cycle to Farm tour and ride your bicycle from farm to farm, nibbling samples and picking up goodies along the way (which a sag wagon will carry back for you).
Asheville’s trademark culture is probably best summed up as a colorful life well-lived, among mountains, forests, and friendly folks.