You may already know Asheville as a progressive small city in the American South, with an intersection of influences and perspectives that is very much its own. Visiting this inclusive jewel of Appalachia is a chance to absorb yourself in the history and culture that set it apart, from its storied past to its evolving present. Home today to a thriving community of artists and craftspeople, the seat of Buncombe County also boasts some of the country’s most well-preserved Art Deco, Neoclassical, and Gothic architecture, among other styles. That this eclectic mix of buildings is still standing is a result of Depression-era policies that unintentionally sidestepped the bulldozers of urban renewal. Gems include the YMI Cultural Center, one of the nation’s oldest African-American cultural centers, now listed in National Register of Historic Places, and the work of African-American businessman and master mason James Vester Miller in 1892-1893.
Around the turn of the century in Asheville also saw progress like buffalo soldier and civil rights leader Edward W. Pearson Sr. who developed The Burton Street neighborhood, an historically African-American area. Much of the prosperity of that time period can be attributed to the arrival of the railway in 1880, which spawned resorts and established the locale as a center for therapeutic health treatments, eventually leading to the construction of Biltmore and the notable group of new-age practitioners who make it a wellness destination today. Add to all that an LGBTQ+ community that’s among the U.S.’s most populous and an increasingly impressive roster of globally inspired chefs, and it’s no wonder that the distinct vibe of the city today attracts visitors and transplants alike.
Get a taste of that particular Asheville feeling with this five-day itinerary through its rich heritage—from a quiet farming town on the rise to a vibrant arts city, known around the world for idyllic weather and exceptionally welcoming hospitality. Tours of the sparkling Biltmore Estate help tell the stories of the folks who worked there, and you can learn about Appalachian folklore on a visit to the new wave of galleries in the River Arts District. And of course, there’s plenty of chances to eat your way through it, with a wide variety of tantalizing plates from some of the city’s best restaurants.
Itinerary / 5 DAYSPLAN YOUR TRIP
DAY 1It all starts with the Biltmore
First up is Biltmore Estate. It’s easy to spend a full day here, touring the museum and largest privately-owned home in the U.S. and enjoying the property’s spectacular gardens and grounds. Consider taking one of the estate’s longer trails for hikes of up to six miles along the French Broad River between the house and the Biltmore Inn. (Pro tip: Go by bicycle or on horseback! Both options are available through the property.)
With the appetite you’ve worked up, Buxton Hall Barbecue makes an authentic stop for dinner. This local favorite since 2015 is a partnership between two James Beard-nominated chefs, Elliott Moss, who brings BBQ knowledge from his native Florence, South Carolina, and Meherwan Irani who originally hails from Ahmednagar, India. (Irani’s culinary cred includes a total of four James Beard nominations for his other Asheville restaurant, the Indian street food spot Chai Pani.)
DAY 2Make your way downtown
You can also choose to guide yourself this morning, taking the Asheville Urban Trail. (Or consider one of the many other tours available, from art to distilleries.) This 1.7-mile route includes 30 stations, each with illuminating information about downtown Asheville’s storied architecture and history. Don’t miss The Block and its important YMI Cultural Center, the stunning Art Deco S&W Building just up the way, and the Basilica of St. Lawrence, home to North America’s largest self-supporting elliptical dome.
For something with a story behind it to take home, consider stopping at the Noir Collective AVL, a shop and gallery in The Block featuring the creations of Black artists, artisans, and entrepreneurs such as painter Jenny Pickens. Also in The Block, the LEAF Global Arts Center’s store is a chance to take in some culture while supporting the community. In walking distance, there’s also LGBTQ-owned Asheville Bee Charmer, a local honey store with a tasting bar featuring over 50 varietals, and L.O.F.T., an eclectic, woman-owned gift shop offering a little bit of everything and then some. To explore more of the city’s small businesses, check out this directory.
This afternoon, you’ll head to the River Arts District (or R.A.D.) to experience some of the 200+ working artist studios and galleries. Check out work by Ken Vallario, Matt Wegleitner, Jen Gordon, and many others who show at John Payne’s Wedge Studios, which also houses a brewery by the same name—because no exploration of “Beer City USA” culture today would be complete without craft brews. For a little pick-me-up of coffee and snacks, check out Black-owned Grind AVL.
If you’re hungry on the early side, go for dinner at the woman-owned 12 Bones Smokehouse, a destination for baby back ribs that was a favorite of Barack Obama (and we say early because it closes at 5pm). If you’re not quite ready to eat by that time, there are plenty of other great spots in the R.A.D. like RosaBees for Polynesian cuisine and cocktails.
DAY 3Eating your way through Asheville
For lunch, take part in the very Ashevillian ritual of beer at the community-minded Hi-Wire Brewing’s Big Top, where there’s also a food truck with burgers from Black Mountain’s fantastic Foothills Butcher Bar. Another great burger spot to check out is Juicy Lucy’s Burger Bar & Grill, a family-owned and operated spot on Hendersonville Road.
For dinner tonight, make your way to the lively Limones for exceptional Mexican cuisine from Hugo Ramirez, a French-trained chef from Mexico City by way of San Francisco. Try dishes like carne asada with Cerignola olive chimichurri and seafood tom yum with lobster and sea scallops. Be sure to book ahead, because reservations often fill up fast!
DAY 4The folksy side of AVL
This evening, dine at Benne on Eagle, which in 2020 made Malcolm McMillian its second Chef de Cuisine (and the second African American chef to hold the position). Located at the Foundry Hotel, the fantastic Southern-meets-African menu includes dishes like baked Goat Lady Lindale mac and cheese and xawaash-spiced chicken wings with cilantro coconut sauce.