A Local Guide to a Family-Friendly Trip in Asheville

Bring the kids and explore art galleries, vintage shops, and the city’s literary side through the eyes of author and illustrator Hope Larson.

A mother and child exploring a path in the Asheville Botanical Gardens in Asheville, North Carolina

The Asheville Botanical Gardens is free to the public and open from sunrise to sunset daily.

Photo by Tim Robison

Hope Larson’s latest book, Be That Way, takes inspiration directly from Asheville, North Carolina, where the author grew up and is now raising her four-year-old daughter. The Blue Ridge Mountains drew Larson back after several years away and she shared these tips for a kid-friendly trip to the city. “I lived in the Grove Park neighborhood from the time I was a baby until my mid-teens and my protagonist lives there, too, so I wanted to pay tribute to gone-but-not-forgotten local businesses like downtown coffee shop Beanstreets (now the home of Green Sage Café) and VideoLife (now Owl Bakery North).”

Larson notes that many of the Asheville locations highlighted in her book still exist. “One can still get a decadent slice of cake at Old Europe Bakery—or park in the Civic Center [now Harrah’s Cherokee Center] Garage at 68 Rankin Avenue, where the book’s climax unfolds and where indie bookstore Malaprop’s has been the beating heart of Asheville’s literary scene since 1982,” she says. “Asheville’s changed a lot in the last few decades…it’s a much bigger city. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”

For those traveling with little ones, the whole family will appreciate Asheville’s fun vibe, artistic energy, and opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors, including plenty of spots for all-ages picnics in nature. In this three-day family itinerary, you can stroll through Larson’s favorite neighborhoods and learn all about Asheville’s creative side.

Two visitors looking at paintings in The Asheville Art Museum in Asheville, North Carolina

Trip Highlight

The Asheville Art Museum

Explore the rich artistic heritage of Appalachian art in this community-based institution’s beautiful glass building in the heart of downtown. Kids will enjoy age-appropriate activities, games, and the rooftop, sculpture-filled terrace.
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Trip Designer

Explore Asheville

With so much to see and do in this eclectic city and the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains, Explore Asheville has you covered with in-depth information for every interest and angle. Whether you’re drawn to the city’s architecture, thriving restaurant scene, lively art galleries, or serene natural beauty, this welcoming destination offers all the elements of a rewarding getaway.
A visitor admiring an irregularly shaped artwork on the wall at Blue Spiral gallery in Asheville, North Carolina

Blue Spiral is one of many art galleries in Asheville.

Photo by Reggie Tidwell

Day 1:Discover Downtown Asheville’s Artistic Side

Head downtown to check into the Kimpton Hotel Arras, steps from art galleries, shops, restaurants, and more, and housed in the former BB&T Bank building. Built in 1965, it remains Asheville’s tallest building at 19 stories high—and the hotel’s floor-to-ceiling windows provide epic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Once settled, stop by Vortex Doughnuts for a sweet treat. “The apple fritters are my favorite, and they have a huge wall of cool, affordable local artwork,” says Larson. Adults will appreciate flavors like lavender Earl Grey and juniper honey and tots will satisfy their sweet tooth with classics like chocolate and raspberry.

Then hit the galleries. Larson recommends starting with the Asheville Art Museum. “It’s home to a fabulous collection of prints from the ‘30s and ‘40s, and of work from artists who studied at Black Mountain College,” she says. It’s also a perfect place to bring the whole gang—weekends typically feature activities for kids, such as making their own culinary masterpieces at the Popcorn Creation Bar in the Perspective Café. You’ll also find live music and board games, not to mention the stellar views of the surrounding mountains from the outdoor Sculpture Terrace on the roof.

“Next, I’ll head down the street to Blue Spiral 1, an art gallery I’ve been visiting since my teens,” says Larson. Exhibits such as Clay 24 (May 3–June 26, 2024), featuring the works of 24 contemporary ceramic artists, will thrill the young and young at heart alike.

Round out the day with shopping, starting with one of Larson’s favorite boutiques. “Tops For Shoes is a must-see—they have everything, and they’ve been around since the ‘50s,” says Larson, who grew up buying shoes here and now shares her shoe-shopping outings with her daughter. In addition to Malaprop’s, check out Downtown Books and News, which sells a wide array of used books. When it’s time for a little pick-me-up or a light lunch, Larson recommends Izzy’s Coffee Den on Lexington. “I get compliments every time I wear their opossum shirt,” she says.

Next, stop by Lexington Park Antiques. “It’s been around a long time, and whenever I have time to kill, I’ll wander through the booths and see if anything catches my eye,” says Larson. Then pop by Grove Arcade, constructed in 1928 to be the country’s first indoor mall. “It’s such a cool historical building—it was closed to the public when I was growing up and I was always curious what it was like inside,” says Larson. She particularly loves Serenity + Scott for cruelty-free skincare and fragrances and Baba Nahm for grabbing a pita.

For a fun family dinner, she suggests Well Played Board Game Café. “With hundreds of games available, it is great for a relaxed evening,” she says. For grown-ups who want a nightcap, Larson has just the spot. “I’m not a beer drinker—sad, I know, in a town known for beer—but I enjoy a cocktail. Top of the Monk is my favorite cocktail bar downtown. It features speakeasy vibes and a dreamy rooftop patio.”
A bar with several dishes of food at Leo’s House of Thirst in Asheville, North Carolina

Leo’s House of Thirst

Photo by Reggie Tidwell

Day 2:Tour West Asheville and the River Arts District

Asheville is renowned for its creative spirit and today you’ll tap into your own in West Asheville. If I’m in the mood to get out of my comfort zone and make art, I love taking classes at Torched AVL on Haywood Road,” says Larson. “This is one of my favorite businesses in town and the owners, Meredith Tibjash and Nora McMullen, are making all kinds of artistic mediums like metalworking accessible to anyone who wants to learn.” Kids 16 and over can join adult classes and the Junior Sparks program also offers metalsmithing courses for ages 9–15.

Plenty of charming boutiques await in this neighborhood, too. “I’ve been shopping at Garden Party since they opened. It’s my ‘treat yo’ self’ store and I have the collection of Boy Smells candles and Le Bon Shoppe socks to prove it,” Larson says. “Morgan’s Comics is a cozy, welcoming space for comics fans of all ages,” she says. When feeling nostalgic, she visits Orbit DVD to browse the real-life video store that plays a role in Be That Way.

For more art, make the five-minute drive to the River Arts District. “Foundation Studios is a great place to wander around and get steps in to check out a variety of work by local artists,” says Larson. Foundy Street is a three-minute walk and where Larson loves to take in the graffiti murals on the buildings. When hunger strikes, there’s a carb for that. “For baked goods, the babka at Mother is unbeatable, and my four-year-old adores their big, salty pretzels.”

For dinner, Larson is a fan of Leo’s House of Thirst, where you’ll find firepits and an excellent natural wine list. “It’s where I can linger and people-watch as long as I want over an exciting bottle of wine, a few oysters, and my personal favorite, the chicken liver mousse,” she says. The menu also has an elevated grilled cheese for kiddos.
People standing on an arched pedestrian bridge over a stream in a forest inside Asheville Botanical Gardens, Asheville, North Carolina

The Asheville Botanical Gardens

Photo by Tim Robison

Day 3:Get Outdoors and Visit the North Side

Today, head to the Asheville Botanical Gardens to bask in the fresh air. “It’s a great place to spread out a blanket and picnic or read a book under the trees,” Larson says. And if you want to get active, “the trail that encircles Beaver Lake is a wonderful spot for an urban hike or a jog.”

Afterward, take the gang for a sweet treat. “In North Asheville, I have many fond memories of getting ice cream at The Hop, which shares space with my current obsession, Pop Bubble Tea,” she says. The kids will love both.

Larson grew up in the Grove Park Historic District, where walking around to view the colonial and Tudor revival homes and the bungalow-style architecture is a favorite pastime. Situated within the neighborhood is the Omni Grove Park Inn, an inspirational getaway for literary geniuses (F. Scott Fitzgerald was a guest) and those looking for an escape. Built in 1913, the property’s restaurants, bars, and other amenities are worth visiting on any trip to Asheville. If you’re here during the holiday season, the whole family will love the National Gingerbread Competition. Come on any Thursday and take a foraging tour in partnership with No Taste Like Home to seek out whatever edible treasures are currently in season.

The Inn sits on the western-facing slope of Sunset Mountain within the Blue Ridge Mountains and is one of the best places to catch a sunset over dinner at the Sunset Terrace. “I absolutely love watching the sunset on the gorgeous stone patio at the Grove Park Inn—or sipping a hot toddy in a rocking chair by one of their enormous fireplaces,” says Larson.

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