When you have easy access to more than a million acres of national forest, whitewater rafting and the highest peaks east of the Mississippi, there are many epic outdoor places in Asheville that locals are proud of. But it’s not just Western North Carolina’s natural beauty that locals love. This thriving cultural hub has lured many award-winning chefs, artists, makers and manufacturers of all disciplines with its mountain charm. Here are 11 epic places that Ashevillians love.
Blue Ridge Parkway
This epic parkway has been dubbed America’s Favorite Drive and runs from the Great Smoky Mountains at the Tennessee border to Rockfish Gap, Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. Along this 469-mile route, drivers are greeted by colorful foliage, 25 tunnels, ample overlooks and hiking opportunities, and sweeping vistas around every bend. In the fall, most locals won’t be caught on it on the weekends as hordes of leaf-peepers crawl along to gawk at the blanket of spectacular colors across the valleys.
Pisgah (and Nantahala) National Forest
Part of the reason the Blue Ridge is so special is that it connects people with the one million acres of national forests to explore within an hour’s drive from downtown Asheville. These two beauties earned Treasured Landscape honors in 2017 by the National Forest Foundation.
River Arts District
One mantra some Ashevillians live by is, “Keep Asheville Weird,” and this verbiage can be found on bumper stickers and other products, or just scratched onto a sidewalk. And in order to “keep Asheville weird,” having a thriving artists’ community is essential. For Asheville, that community is centered in the River Arts District, home to about 200 working artists and studios. An artist from almost every medium can be found in the district’s 20 old warehouse-turned-workspaces, and many allow visitors to watch them while they work or offer classes and workshops.
Go to a Thirsty Thursday baseball game to cheer on the Asheville Tourists and you can see firsthand the pride locals have in this old-school minor league stadium. Complex included it in their “25 Coolest Minor League Ballparks in America” list. Expect many local craft beers on draft with a number of food choices beyond just hotdogs and hamburgers.
Some locals may have a love/hate relationship with this square since tourists crossing to and from it can cause some traffic headaches downtown. But, whenever Asheville has a march for a cause or needs a location for a number of downtown festivals, they turn to historic Pack Square. It’s certainly a convenience for many to have this 6.5-acre park right in the middle of downtown.
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Locals love Sierra Nevada for a number of reasons. First, they chose the Asheville area as the hub of their East Coast operations, helping cement its Beer City status. Second, the company worked diligently to design a facility that prioritized sustainability and was one of the first LEED-certified “green breweries.” Additionally, the gorgeous setting and the food makes having a meal here worth it even for non-beer drinkers.
Highland Brewing Co.
Without Highland, Asheville would not have the beer culture or status it does today. Highland started as a tiny operation way back in 1994 that has grown into a beer campus with an outdoor stage and bars, indoor stage and tasting room, and a rooftop area and bar popular for events
French Broad Chocolates
Another business that makes Asheville proud is French Broad Chocolates. Sure, many locals won’t brave the long lines during peak weekend hours, but it’s always heartwarming to see a family business set exceptionally high standards for themselves and manage to be successful, too. The family also owns a cacao farm in Costa Rica.
America’s largest private home is another place that locals avoid if possible during peak hours and busy seasons. Yet, many locals own a pass so they can bring guests, enjoy the trails and visit their favorite rooms in the mansion. Plus, locals realize that Asheville would not be what it is today without the Vanderbilts deciding to build their mansion here, which attracted a creative class that has been here ever since.
French Broad River
On warm summer days, this river attracts locals and visitors alike for a day spent tubing, paddleboarding or kayaking along this wide-mouth river. This waterway also helped attract one of America’s other largest craft breweries, New Belgium Brewing Company, to open its East Coast operation right on a strip of the French Broad’s banks between downtown and West Asheville. More and more businesses are opening their doors nearby along the banks now, too, and a greenway has been started that will continue to lengthen along the water’s edge.
Lastly, Ashevillians dig the graffiti art that graces the Foundation’s brick walls. The collection of buildings sits adjacent to a skate park and has attracted some beloved local businesses to open shop here, including 12 Bones Smokehouse and Wedge Brewing.