Asheville, NC is one of those magical towns that you’ll hate to leave and, somehow, always find your way back to. With quirky shops, eclectic eateries and unique watering holes lining its charming streets, there’s always something new to see and taste. Though it’s a doable day trip, there’s at least a weekend’s worth of Asheville eats and more to keep your stomach full and soul happy. Before I begin rattling off must-see gems, let me warn you that the allure of Asheville is real and, in some cases, dangerous. Here are some spots to check out in (not just) Beer City USA. Beware: You may never want to come home.
THE GROVE PARK INN (290 Macon Ave.) Its wonderful reputation is what gets visitors to flock, but it’s what they find there that inspires them to return. There really is no place quite like the Grove Park Inn. Between its historic walls, there are some really magical things going on. Some would call it Disney World for adults but I’d say it’s much more than that. It’s a genuine getaway that evokes an unparalleled sense of charm and refinement.
Don’t leave without spending at least a half a day at its world-renowned spa. Even if you don’t splurge on a spa treatment, buy a day pass to enjoy amenities like eucalyptus-infused steam rooms, saunas and indoor and outdoor heated pools. While enjoying the outdoor area, you’ll be surrounded by breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the sights and scents or North Carolina high country. Later, retreat upstairs with a glass of wine or magazine to a women’s only area with outdoor fire pits that gaze over scenic mountainous views.
Rest assured you’ll be well fed during a Grove Park stay. With multiple on-site restaurants including its newest addition, Edison Craft Ales + Kitchen, you won’t have to worry about driving once you’re in a spa-induced trance. Edison is the perfect spot for dinner or light bites and cocktails out on its cozy and scenic patio.
Also, don’t miss Omni’s “Art of Breakfast” at the Grove Park. Unlike any standard hotel breakfast, you’ll be amazed by its fare and abundance. This atypical morning ritual is definitely an experience, for both eyes and stomach. Go hungry and enjoy everything from an omelette station, waffle bar and gourmet doughnut wall to platters of local cheeses and charcuteries, mason jars of fresh squeezed carrot ginger juice and anything else your morning appetite could desire.
Ben’s Tune Up (195 Hilliard Ave.) This is one spot you really can’t miss, especially since there’s nothing like it in Charlotte. Housed in a converted auto shop, the indoor/outdoor space is filled with character. Sit outside in the open air beer garden by a cozy fire pit surrounded by green living walls or belly up to the funky Tiki bar for a cocktail.
While there, enjoy an ultra local brew (Ben’s shares a wall with a Hi-Wire Brewing) along with some unique, oriental-inspired bites. I suggest the Pu Pu platter, which will give you a sampling of crab legs, ribs, chicken wings, shrimp purses and crispy tofu dumplings.
Biscuit Head (733 Haywood Road) This breakfast joint challenges the Asheville “granola” stereotype; this is still the South, you know. Biscuit Head is a shining beacon for breakfast done right. Though the line may look daunting, it’s worth the wait.
Specialty offerings include a fried green tomato biscuit topped with brie, tomato and smoked tomato hollandaise and a carnivorous pulled pork biscuit served with jalapeno pimento, bacon and maple syrup. P.S. There’s a jam, jelly and butter bar filled with unique toppings like chocolate blueberry butter, kimchee jam, sriracha honey and a delectable bananas foster jelly. You can, and should, buy them by the mason jar as a take-home treat. Enjoy a fresh squeezed mimosa with your buttery biscuit and call it a good morning.
The Admiral (400 Haywood Road) They say you can never judge a book by its cover. In this case, you can never judge a restaurant by its cinderblock exterior and proximity to a gas station. The Admiral has been the experimental culinary gem in Asheville for a few years now. But, because of its West Asheville location, out-of-towners don’t often make it there. At just 10 minutes away from downtown Asheville, it’s definitely worth the venture.
The interior ambiance is quirky; it’s rare for a fine dining establishment to be dotted with fluorescent Budweiser signs but hey, this is Asheville and anything goes. The menu is simple yet inventive (you can actually pronounce and identify most everything on it) and the fare is locally driven meaning the selection changes daily. We had the stuffed medjoul dates to start; served with mascarpone, pear puree and bacon anchovy vinaigrette, which were to die for.
Wicked Weed (91 Biltmore Ave.) This downtown watering hole is so much more than just a brewery. It has just about the coolest indoor/outdoor space and it’s the perfect place to go day or night. You’ll find flavorful, hoppy West Coast beers and a selection of unique sour beers. With your brew, enjoy incredible gastropub fare like classic fish and chips along with lighter options like gourmet salads and local cheese plates.
King James Public House (94 Charlotte St.) King James is a simple bar concept executed seamlessly. The drink menu is filled with tasty craft concoctions with names that pay homage to ’80s rock songs. Try the “Flight of Icarus,” a refreshing Pimms cocktail or the “Where is My Mind,” a spirit-forward whiskey drink. An added incentive is that the food is executed just as seamlessly as the drinks. Try the PEI mussels, which come doused in a savory and mouth-watering broth.
Wood & Spoon (227 Haywood Road) Located in West Asheville, this quirky housewares store is a gem for the vintage obsessed. Shop retro furniture, unique artwork and handmade goods to add to your personal collection or to gift to a fellow treasure seeker.
Garage 34 (34 South Lexington) This adorable downtown shop houses everything from quirky prints, tea towels and pillows to handmade jewelry and vintage clothing under one perfectly curated roof. You’re likely to score unique finds as most of the items are handcrafted by local artisans.Whether you’re shopping for your home or closet, don’t leave Asheville without popping in.
k2 Studio (59 College Street) If you’re furnishing your home, it’d be worth it to drive from Charlotte to peruse this inspiring studio. k2 has inhabited the historic Kress building in downtown Asheville for over 15 years. The store has some serious and diverse style with offerings ranging from mid-century modern pieces to vintage and contemporary finds. If hauling a bed frame or armoire back to Charlotte isn’t your idea of a fun to-do on a weekend getaway, still pop in as the shop is filled with locally crafted accessories and gifts.
Old North (N. Lexington Ave.) If you happen to have a man in tow, take or send him to Old North; a rugged American craftsman style men’s shop. The laid-back space is outfitted with superior menswear to transform a dude from drab to dapper. From Herschel weekender bags and designer denim to grooming products and rock and roll inspired leather goods, this is one shop he’ll be happy to take his credit card out for.