Exploring Downtown Asheville, North Carolina

asheville north carolina

Asheville, North Carolina, is a town of many titles. Self Magazine considers it the Happiest City for Women, while to Rolling Stone, it’s America’s New Freak Capitol. Outside Magazine calls it one of America’s Best Outside Towns, while AmericanStyle names it among the country’s Top Arts Destinations.

Indeed, Asheville offers a little something for everyone. Many visitors are drawn by the city’s proximity to the historic Biltmore Estate, scenic Blue Ridge Parkway and famed Great Smoky Mountains. But Asheville’s charming downtown district is a treasure all of its own, with its array of Art Deco buildings, art galleries, socially conscious boutiques and gourmet restaurants. The “Buy Local” movement is strong in Asheville, with many store windows sporting signs that read “Love Asheville, Choose Independent” and “Local Is The New Black.” You won’t find any McDonald’s or fast fashion chain stores, but you will find an eclectic mix of places to eat, shop and see. Here are some highlights from a recent trip.

%Gallery-169243%Eat

Asheville’s array of artisan and ethnic food shops make it a perfect town for sampling. Start at the Laughing Seed Café, where you’ll find fresh, organic, farm-to-table vegetarian food. If the famed house veggie burger leaves you hungry, try a kathi roll at Chai Pani, a funky Indian street food joint. Then, unwind with a cup of Hotcha green tea and a book on Eastern philosophy in the pillowed recesses of Dobra Tea; their smoothies are also incredible. Cap off your eating adventure with sweet tea truffles at The Chocolate Fetish.

If you decide to go beyond downtown Asheville, don’t miss the inventive Mexican fare at White Duck Taco Shop, like the Banh Mi Tofu taco or the delectable Chips and Queso. Down at the Biltmore Village, you’ll find the Corner Kitchen, which offers gourmet but unpretentious cuisine that is sourced from area farmers and producers. The Obamas are said to be fans.

Shop

If you’re in the market for handblown glass terrariums, hemp tunics and natural oatmeal soaps, you’ve come to the right place. The historic Grove Arcade and Woolworth Walk are Asheville’s shopping epicenters, playing host to a variety of local artists, crafters and small business owners. The Mountain Made gallery at Grove Arcade is a highlight, with artisan products from across western North Carolina. Book lovers will get lost at the Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar, a cozy spot that combines two of life’s greatest pleasures: books and bubbly.

For clothes shopping, head to Spiritex, an eco-fashion boutique that sells organic cotton clothing produced within a 120-mile radius. Both Frock and Minx offer expertly curated selections of women’s apparel, much of which is also made in America.

See

At the turn of the century, Asheville was a popular mountain resort for luminaries like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Today, the city is home to an impressive array of Art Deco architecture, second only to Miami in the Southeast. The most famous example is George W. Vanderbilt’s famed Biltmore Estate, located just out of town. But downtown Asheville has a fair share of highlights too. The best way to tour the city’s architectural wonders is the free self-guided Urban Trail Walking Tour, which consists of 30 educational stops around the city. After winding up the two-hour tour, it will be clear why Asheville is regularly named one of the Most Beautiful Places in America.

[Photo Credit: Jessica Marati]

Iconic Road Trips: Blue Ridge Parkway Paradise

The Blue Ridge Parkway is famous for a reason. It’s a 469-mile stretch along the Blue Ridge, which is a mountain chain within the Appalachian Mountains. The mountains out west might be more grandeur, but I grew up in the Appalachians, so this drive has a special place in my heart. Contrast to the jagged, towering, snow-capped mountains you’ll see in the western parts of the U.S., the Blue Ridge Mountains are subtler in their majesty. You’ll see rolling hills upon rolling hills all the way into the horizon while driving the Blue Ridge Parkway. The park connects the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with the Shenandoah National Park. When you feel moved to stop and take photos of the jaw-dropping landscape, you’ll find there are plenty of places to pull over and do just that. Buy some homemade jam, salsa or an assortment of other treats when you stop. These kinds of Blue Ridge specialties are widely available along the route and unlike so many gimmicky regional foods many of these offerings are worth the price.In addition to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Shenandoah National Park, you’ll pass through the Pisgah National Forest, Stone Mountain State Park and George Washington National Forest, among other destinations.

Blue Ridge Parkway celebrates 75 years by giving away a free trip

This year, Virginia’s scenic Blue Ridge Parkway celebrated its 75th birthday. What better way to celebrate than by giving away a six night, seven day vacation package?

The winner of the prize will receive round-trip airfare for four people to Dulles Airport, a seven-day Enterprise hybrid car rental, six nights of lodging at stops on the Blue Ridge Parkway and several great activities along the way. The winner and family will have the chance to explore the Luray Caverns and the Mill Mountain Zoo, and to go canoeing, kayaking, mountain biking, or rock climbing. They’ll enjoy ice cream at the Split Banana, dinner at Shenandoah Pizza and a picnic at Peaks of Otter plus much more as they explore this beautiful area of Virginia.

To enter, just fill out the online form. The winner must be 21 years old and a resident of US. The winner will be selected on November 10, 2010 and travel must take place between November 15, 2010 and October 31, 2011.

World’s Best Road Trips

Death ValleyIn March, my wife and I drove from Florida’s east coast to its west coast for a long weekend. In total, we put 600 miles on the car. Does that qualify as a road trip — or is it just a long drive?

In August, we’re planning on taking our two dogs and driving from Florida, through Georgia, and up to Indiana. We plan to be gone for 2+ weeks, and that trip will add about 2500 miles to the car. Does that qualify as a road trip — or is it just insanity on wheels?

Want to spin your wheels out on the open road but can’t figure out a good route? Check out Concierge, which has put together a dreamy list of the world’s best road trips, including:

Finally, after you read the piece, you can vote on your favorite road trip — or nominate a new one altogether.

In case you’re wondering, my all-time favorite road trip was the three-month tour my wife and I took along South Africa’s coast, from Durban to Cape Town: wicked pretty, varied scenery, friendly people, and lots to do.

Do you love road trips? See also: