I insist on making the most of 3-day weekends, but this year I ended up approaching MLK weekend without any concrete plans. Life had been nuts, and by the time I got around to looking at flights there wasn’t anything that really caught my fancy. So I decided to do something I’d been delaying for over a decade—I went local.
I lived in Atlanta for almost 12 years and had never been to Savannah, Charleston, Asheville, or really any of the amazing weekend trip options around here. So I hopped in the car and finally got around to visiting the “Paris of the South”—Asheville, North Carolina.
What to do in Asheville
Asheville has a TON to offer visitors, from a great local food and craft beer scene, to beautiful Blue Ridge Mountain scenery and hiking, to a super cool hipster vibe (like a smaller, Southern-er Portland). The food and beer were a big part of my plan, but unfortunately this past winter totally sucked and was insanely cold for much longer than is normal in the South. And I managed to accidentally pick the most brutally cold weekend of the year for my visit, with a high around 16 and low around 9 F…even just walking around town was awful, since I don’t own appropriate shoes for that.
So I wasn’t able to take advantage of one of the best things to do in Asheville—hiking. The trails were kind of frozen muddy and it was so cold that hiking wasn’t on the agenda, but I plan to go back since Asheville’s hiking and waterfalls are awesome.
Outside of hiking, though, I’ve outlined my tips for things to do in Asheville below. “Cool” is the theme here, because Asheville’s got that in spades.
#1 – Stay somewhere cool and close
You have a lot of good options, from the big and beautiful Omni Park Grove Inn on the hill (more on that later) to cool boutique hotels. But I’m a big fan of Airbnb, and Asheville is a great place to go that route. It was really last-minute, but there were still several good places available. Since I was only one person, I decided not to go overboard and rented this super cute downstairs apartment in a family’s house. It was only a short walk (well, would have been in better weather…) to a lot of the River Arts District must-eats like Hole Doughnuts and Taco Billy.
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#2 – Have a cool cocktail
Asheville’s cocktail game is on point, so you need to make sure you have at least one or two unique, retro-cool sips. As soon as I checked in at the Airbnb, I headed to Sovereign Remedies and ordered myself a Sugarplum—made with vodka, amaretto, prune, lemon, orange orgeat syrup, with a cinnamon-lined rim. Mmmmm.
I was pretty starving since I hadn’t eaten all day too, so grabbed an order of the chickpea fries (I’m told the chicken skin chips are pretty darn good too).
#3 – Have a pint
Asheville is known for being a craft brewery mecca, so unless you’re teetotaling, a brewery (or three) is in order. The weather really wasn’t my ally in being able to brewery hop without losing a few toes and fingers to frostbite, but typically you can easily walk between a dozen or more breweries in a day.
I walked to Wicked Weed since they had a few beers that sounded up my alley (I’m a stout & porter girl), but there was a line outside to get in, and since I wanted to keep all my phalanges I kept walking. Eventually I came to Green Man, which was crowded but I could get into right away. I made my way upstairs and ordered a pint of stout, then drank it downstairs while thawing out. We ended up at Bhramari Brewering Company on my food tour as well, and while it hadn’t been on my radar at all it was super cool. Bottom line is, Asheville has an insane amount of awesome breweries, and you could try as many as you can!
#4 – Have an amazing dinner
The food scene in Asheville can compete with just about any city in the country, with multiple James Beard-nominated chefs heading up restaurants, and a ton of other talented creators experimenting with various cuisines. It’s an embarrassment of riches, but I ended up bellying up to the bar at Rhubarb, created by James Beard winner John Fleer. I hadn’t been able to get a reservation last-second at any of the restaurants on my list (Rhubarb and Table among them), but took my chances of getting a single-person stool at the bar.
The bartender whipped me up a cocktail that wasn’t on the menu yet (he was testing it out for the upcoming spring menu) he was calling the Calamythest. It’s meant to be made with tequila but I had it with Sutler’s gin instead, and it had housemade lavender, thyme, and bay leaf syrup, rum agricole, and then lemon peel and a sprig of rosemary. Just yum.
It was super hard to choose what to get—one of the downsides of solo travel is that you can’t do the “we’ll each pick some and then share” strategy! I ended up getting the pimento pups (nom), goat cheese burrata salad, roasted beet and goat cheese salad, and then smoked wild mushroom cassoulet (good, but I always forget I’m not the world’s biggest cassoulet fan, due to the beans’ texture). Spencer and Ryan, the bartenders, were attentive and occasionally chatty, and I had a lovely meal with great ambiance.
After dinner I headed out to see some live music, something I highly recommend in about any city if you can swing it.
I don’t have pics, but another important food note is Chai Pani—I got dinner delivered on Sunday night because I was freezing, starving, and needed to get some work done. There isn’t Uber Eats or anything like that in Asheville, but I finally found Takeout Central (thank you, Airbnb host!) who allowed me to order from a list of several restaurants. I’d wanted to try Chai Pani’s cool take on Indian, so I got the chicken pakora, kale pakora, and okra fries. All super delish, highly recommend.
#5 – Catch some live music
I love seeing music in tiny venues! I haven’t done it nearly as much in recent years, and it’s something I want to get back to. I had found a few shows happening that Saturday night, but the one that sounded most up my alley was The Gin Rickys at Asheville Guitar Bar. It’s a super small venue, feels a bit like a coffee house inside, but really cool and eclectic decorations.
I grabbed myself a glass of wine at the bar and then settled in to my velvety chair. I loved The Gin Rickys’ bluesy, jazzy standards and their original stuff as well. I’ve included a little clip below, you should look them up!
Freezing and tired, I crawled home and crashed after cranking the heater up to like 75. Asheville, you wear me out.
#6 – Start your day with the best donuts
Got up Sunday morning and it was still freezing. The kind of freezing where you wonder if your car will start. But you know it’s too cold for you to walk to get the donuts you’re totally dying to try, so you take your chances with the car because you need donuts.
Behold, Hole Doughnuts.
Hole is very simple, you walk in and the dough is already cut out and sitting there waiting to be fried. You can get a simple coffee but nothing fancy (much to my chagrin), and you place your order and sit and watch them get fried. There are usually three regular flavors plus a seasonal one. I got the toasted sesame almond cinnamon (my fave!) and Earl Grey. Both awesome. The only thing that kept me from getting more was the fact that I had a food tour later that day and the almost-certain judgment of the people next to me.
#7 – Make it your goal to explore all the best coffee shops
In general my mission in life is to DRINK ALL THE ESPRESSO AND EAT ALL THE PASTRIES. I feel like I need it tattooed on me or something at this point. But of all the cities, Asheville is really one of the best places to try to really bring this mission to life. On Sunday morning I decided to do a self-guided tour of some of the top coffee shops in the city.
I started at Trade and Lore and had a good latte and a terrible stale scone (don’t eat the food there!). I sat and wrote in my journal for a bit, then moved on to Old Europe for a really good coffee, a decent almond croissant, and a way too sweet macaroon. Next up was French Broad Chocolate Lounge, an Asheville staple. I was bummed they were out of what I wanted, so panicked and ordered a lavender creme brulee and WHAT WAS I THINKING?? Sigh. I did have their Chocolate Truffle (a liquid thick chocolate) on my food tour later though, and it was surprisingly amazing. Do that.
I also stopped the next morning at Odd’s Cafe before heading back to Atlanta, and had an odd Dreamer Latte (with lavender in it), that was dumb and I should have gotten a regular latte. It was fine, just kind of overwhelming. Had some lovely walnut cake with it though, and loved the art on the wall.
#8 – Go on a walking food tour
Ever since going on a walking food tour in Istanbul a couple years ago, I’ve been obsessed with them as a way to get acquainted with a foodie town. They’re awesome because you get to try tons of different dishes and restaurants, you get to talk to a local, and you get a decent little tour of the area while you’re at it. So a food tour was definitely on the docket for a city like Asheville.
I’ve written an entire post about the food tour I took with Asheville Food Tours. It was awesome and I highly recommend it. We went like 7 different places and tasted like 10 different things. One thing that’s great about food tours is that when you stop at a restaurant, you’re generally getting to taste one of their best dishes, or the one they’re most proud of. It’s better than just staring at a menu and guessing yourself. Even with how terribly cold it was, I was happy I’d gone, even though I couldn’t feel my face…
#9 – Catch a great view for sunset
We all know I’m a sucker for a good sunset view, so I decided to schlep up the hill to the pretty insanely cool Omni Grove Park Inn. And by “schlep”, I mean drive my car because I’m not an idiot.
It was getting pretty close to sunset when I got there, so mostly I was rushed trying to figure out exactly where to go. By the time I found the patio area, sunset was in full swing so I didn’t even bother getting a drink. I just sat and soaked in a beautiful Blue Ridge Mountain view.
I mean, really. What do you say after that?
#10 is obviously hiking, which like I said above was the one thing I was really dying to try in Asheville but didn’t get to. The weather was my mortal enemy on this trip. But I guess that just means I’ll have to plan (plot) a return trip in the near future!
So there are my top 10 things to do in Asheville with a long weekend. Have I made any egregious omissions, or lauded something you think is nuts?? Hit me up in the comments and tell me your Asheville faves…I definitely plan to go back so want to start building my itinerary now!
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