Travel: Asheville, NC

Quick Notes:

  • Best times to go: to get the best views for your visit come in October/November, when the leaves turn. The mountain views with the cascading colors are delightful.

  • Safe to travel alone: yes.

  • Cheap travel tip: Whatever your search vehicle, set your alert to “flexible” and start your search about three months in advance. This allows you to follow trends and flexibility in the rates of things, and have enough time to snag a low rate. Also frequently search daily deal sites, like Groupon and Living Social, for hotel and adventure, even food deals for the area.

  • Tips before you go: Check the weather. Most times of the year you’ll get rain, at least once a week. It’s not enough to ruin the trip, but you may want to pack a small umbrella or poncho.

When you think of Asheville, North Carolina, what comes to mind?

Well for a person who had never been there before all I knew is that there were 
1) mountains,  
2) the hippies and artsy types flocked there and 
3) it is home of the Biltmore Estate (although I didn’t know much about why the property was important.)

After a quick weekend trip there 
1) I understand the depth of the art and music scene,  
2) I know more about the history of the town, the construction of some of the buildings, including the Biltmore house and Mr. Vanderbilt, 
3) the people there love their dogs and DOGS are welcomed almost everywhere, 
4) and the enormity of FOOD eating and BEER drinking opportunities, for which I only scratched the surface.

And one more bonus, it’s apparently a favorite Carolina stop for President Obama.
By the way, there are always celebrity sightings in this little retreat in Western Carolina, and some famous people have even purchased homes there; singer Gladys Knight and actor/comedian Steve Martin are a couple of big names.

Fun Fact: It’s history is filled with stories as a place for healing. Legend has it that Cherokees found the area to have healing properties. In the early 1900’s, when the railways made it more accessible to visit, doctors would prescribe a retreat to Asheville as part of people’s treatment. Now modern scientists agree that the air, the climate and location have health benefits.

Getting there from Charlotte was so easy. It’s a simple two hour drive on main highways. You never have to take a scary mountain road, which is what I was used to growing up on the west coast. (It was so easy, that I am disappointed that it has taken me three years of living in Charlotte before I made the trip!)

The vibe is everything it’s reputation promised. The people are super friendly and will talk to you as they pass you by on the street. (After all, though it be in the mountains, it's still in the south. So, consider being open to the friendliness. But that shouldn’t be so hard because the energy will suck you in.)

There's always folks walking around. This is Saturday evening near Pack Square.
In just the downtown area alone there are 11 Bed and Breakfast lodges. Many people like that tradition of staying at one. It just gives you that mountainy feel; it’s a good choice to experience the city. But I was looking for a BEYOND THE USUAL
I stayed at the Aloft Asheville. It’s the  newest hotel in downtown Asheville. In a place where old and historical sites are treasured and fascinating, this hotel holds it own. Aloft hotels are GREEN, meaning they are environmentally conscious down to every detail: the soap, the light bulbs, the drinking water for your stay in the room. And though it is new, the concept is right in line with eco-friendly culture of Asheville! (This hotel is also pet friendly, and parking is only $5 a day.)  The rooms are modern and minimalist, and one of the best parts are the glorious mountain top views. It will make you feel like you’re in a cozy cabin.
Don't judge: but I was fascinated with the gel thingy on the floor in the elevator of the Aloft Hotel.

No doubt, Asheville is a great destination for the outdoorsy types. Finding a zipline or whitewater adventure is easy. The Biltmore Estate is beautiful, but is truly magnificent during the holidays...when it is even more elaborately dressed up. (But, I don’t recommend it for the solo traveler or even the romantic weekend. The Biltmore Estate is better for a family trip...that even includes grandparents.) There are a plethora of tours you can take for any passion you have: food, wine, beer, art and history. But what I did was the Gray Line Trolley tour. The historical tour. For less than $20 bucks you can get a comprehensive look around town in an uninterrupted 90 minute ride, and for a second day you have unlimited “hop-on/hop-off” privileges at their designated stops. (You have a week to use the second day.) That works really well in cities where it’s hard to park or if you are staying outside of the city center, because it eliminates your need for a taxi for the day. But for me, I was staying in downtown, parked my car in the hotel garage, and walked to all of the hot spots.

Don't be fooled by the name. My Gray Line trolley was actually red!
Word of mouth tips suggest you try a Ghost tour if you like the mix of mystery, history and freaky. They all start at dusk to pump up the scary factor. Also very popular is the LaZoom Comedy tour. But you can’t beat a free tour, and there is one available weekdays via Asheville Free Walking Tours. (So weekend travelers don’t have this option.) It’s a one tour through downtown Asheville.

Pack Square, was right on my door steps. Street performers, rows of restaurants and cafes, or just pick a piece of the sidewalk, sit and people watch. This place was great for me as the solo traveler, because with just a walk down the street I felt that I wasn’t alone. 
Street performers catch the attention of passersby on Saturday evening.
But the day before, on Friday evening...there wasn't much of a crowd around.

The purpose of my visit was for a tennis tournament, so I only had time to breeze through the Grove Arcade. The shops and restaurants appeared to be more high end, but it was just as eclectic as Pack Square.

Asheville Racquet Club is one the best looking municipally ran courts that I have seen.

And I only saw the River Arts district, The Grove Park Inn and Biltmore Village on my trolley tour.

Asheville is a foodie town, and you won’t have any problem getting recommendations for where you should eat.

If you are in town in time for a weekday lunch (between 11-3pm) then 12 Bones is a must. It’s one of those places with a line wrapped around the building, but is worth the wait. So much so, that President Obama visited it twice (on two separate visits to Asheville), and waited in line just like everyone else...there were just secret service on the roof.

But every time it was time for me to eat, I was in rush or desperately hungry.

Dinner Friday night, was after a long work day, then a two hour drive straight to Asheville, a two hour trolley tour, and then checking into the hotel. Something good to eat, but quick was what I needed. Mamacitas was recommended by the hotel manager. (My default food is Mexican. Meaning, I am always hungry for Mexican) It’s like Moe’s, but local, organic and has healthy alternatives.
The made-to-order trays of food at Mamacitas.

My burrito from Mamacitas. I almost forgot to take a photo before I finished it.

Since saturday was my tournament day, I ate breakfast and lunch at the facility. After, I was beat (tired) and hungry. So another good and quick meal was all I wanted.

I was also craving something fun for dinner Saturday night. I always enjoy the experience of a French Dip sandwich, and from their online menu I ordered one to-go from Pack’s Tavern. It gave me an opportunity to walk around the area for a little bit as I picked up my meal. (I was tempted to blow the whole experience and retire to bed early after my day of tournament play.) I DON’T recommend that you order to-go, but rather enjoy the vibrant atmosphere. It’s a sports bar, had a lot of people, TV’s and music. If you are a solo traveler, it’s the perfect place to not feel lonely. There’s plenty of people watching and no doubt, you’ll make friends right as you walk through the door.
However, I DID NOT like my French Dip sandwich. Something was off with the bread. I’ve never had that happen, and I didn’t think you could mess it up. But indeed, my sandwich wasn’t as good because the bread had a weird taste. The fries, however, were great.
  • price: My meal (French Dip sandwich with sweet potato fries) was $13. I payed $16 with tip.
  •  menu: American
  • alcohol: A large selection of craft beers and rotating taps (from mostly) local breweries
The outside of Pack's Tavern
My French Dip and sweet potato fries combination.
Asheville is a town where you can spend as much money as you want to (probably mostly on food). But it can definitely can be done on a budget. For my two days I walked away with only $200 out of my pocket. (That includes gas, hotel, trolley tour and food. *I did get a deep discount for my hotel stay.)

What I learned is that there is no way to do all of Asheville in just two days. It could even be worth a week if you really want to immerse yourself in all adventures, all shopping, all museums, all drinking, all art and all eating.

My favorite part was all of it. There is something definitely something in the atmosphere and I think it has to do with everything about Asheville that makes it Asheville.

What are your tips for visiting Asheville, NC?
Have you’ve been? What was your favorite thing to do or place to eat or discovery?
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