Divided into five color-coded sections on the River Arts District map, this artists’ haven puts over 200 working artists in a one-mile radius. Add in restaurants, coffee shops and even a brewery, and you can easily spend a day exploring Asheville’s River Arts District.
Start today’s River Arts District adventure at PennyCup Coffee Co. or Ultra Coffeebar. PennyCup won the best roaster in 2017, and their coffee tasting room in RAD has a small wooden bar with a smattering of barstools and tables, some created by the district’s own Iron Maiden Studios. Or, for a wide choice of coffees, espressos and cold brews, check out the sleek Ultra Coffeebar, where guests can also get breakfast sandwiches like avocado toast; pretzel, ham and cheese; or the Boss – a corned beef and egg sandwich on pumpernickel. Spend the rest of the morning exploring the “purple zone,” home to The Lift Studios, NorthLight Studios and the Eco Marketplace, which features a collection of artists that either utilize recycled materials or donate part of their earnings to an environmental nonprofit.
One section of the River Arts District sits about half a mile from the main section, so visitors may opt to drive to the Riverview Station or pick their way down Lyman Street – one section does not have sidewalks – to the “blue zone.” This zone is the most undeveloped in RAD, but new artists and businesses continue to put down roots here. Start at Riverview Station, a two-story building dating back to 1902 that’s now filled with painters, jewelers, photographers and glass artists. Across from Riverview Station sits Foundation, a collection of old warehouses now covered in huge graffiti murals. Here, visit Foundation Woodworks, grab a beer at Wedge and be sure to grab lunch from beloved 12 Bones Smokehouse, a lunch-only, slow-smoke spot that can come with long lines during peak hours.
Next, explore Curve Studios and Garden. Sit for a spell in the adorable hidden garden, which features some outdoor art sculptures, then head inside to find handcrafted clothing, pottery and jewelry on the first floor. Upstairs, one of the only chair caning museums and studios awaits at Silver River Center for Chair Caning. The husband-and-wife team has a mission to grow this dying art form and have students visit from all over the world to learn about chair caning.
Studios in the River Arts District do not share set open and closing times, but many studios close by 4pm, so spend the rest of the day exploring studios and galleries of specific mediums that intrigue you the most. This area of RAD tends to attract a higher concentration of people from several residing restaurants, including White Duck Taco, Bull & Beggar, The Grey Eagle’s taqueria and All Souls Pizza. Plus, Wedge Brewing’s original location operates here, often hosting food trucks. Be sure to squeeze in a stop at the North Carolina Glass Center, where students and artists spin their creations right next to displays of paperweights, glassware, ornaments and other beautiful glass pieces.
After exploring the green and red zones, opt to hang at Wedge or head to Asheville Guitar Bar for live music and debauchery. Or, cross the river and head to New Belgium Brewing Co.’s impressive $140 million facility or go for a dive-bar vibe at Burger Bar. About a half mile farther down Haywood Road begins eclectic West Asheville, Asheville’s other downtown with a host of restaurants, music venues, shops and bars should you want to continue your nighttime exploits.