It’s been just two days since our epic Memorial Day road trip down to Asheville, North Carolina. I had the highest hopes for this city, and I’m so pleased to say that Asheville exceeded my highest expectations.
We packed a lot in during the 4-day getaway, and I wanted to share some of my favorite photos and travel finds from the trip. And, especially, I wanted to celebrate the 5 things that I loved most about Asheville.
1.) THE VIBE
Asheville is known for having an indie and bohemian vibe, and, indeed, the town seems to celebrate everything artisan and unique. A stroll through downtown leads you past talented musicians playing on pretty much every street corner. Boutiques showcasing local wares, hipster coffee shops, well-regarded restaurants, craft breweries and more line the streets and invite you to come in.
In addition to all the craft breweries (more on that in a moment), Asheville’s gotten a well-deserved reputation as a food-focused city with lots of highly regarded talent. The tables at Curate are some of the hottest in town, and head chef Katie Button has been on the James Beard list of Rising Star Chefs for the past 3 years. Vegan and vegetarian diners will find ample representation on menus throughout Asheville… I thoroughly enjoyed my meal at Plant, a vegan-only restaurant that even carnivores would love.
Also topping my list of favorite Asheville eats was the popular White Duck Taco Shop. I went to the River Arts District location and was floored by the line of people waiting to try chef and co-owner Laura Mixson’s fresh and flavorful combos. I stuffed myself silly fully of tacos and house-made queso all washed down with a fresh lime margarita. (Tip: The Bangkok Shrimp and Tofu Banh Mi tacos were my favorites.) YUM!
2.) THE BREWS
“Asheville is ‘Beer City USA'” is a sentiment that was proudly repeated to me countless times during my visit. Without a doubt, the city gleans a lot of pride from its hops-driven reputation. Countless craft breweries make up the Asheville Ale Trail and bars and restaurants proudly tout the NC beers on their menus. Edison at the Omni Grove Park Inn takes it a step further and ensures that their beer list features ONLY North Carolina craft beers.
Several of Asheville’s breweries came very highly recommended from all of you, like Green Man Brewery, Pisgah Brewing and Wedge Brewing. The one I ended up visiting was Wicked Weed. Located in the heart of downtown Asheville, Wicked Weed featured a HUGE beer list of traditional and more unique craft beers, an inviting indoor/outdoor space as well as inspired pub grub. I really loved it — it’s the kind of place you can come to for lunch and stay all day.
3.) THE BILTMORE ESTATE
Leading up to my visit, I solicited recommendations from friends on social media for things to do. The historic Biltmore Estate was one of the most frequently suggested places to visit.
I admit that at first I didn’t quite get what all of the fuss was about, and after seeing the hefty $60 per person (!) price tag, I nearly skipped it entirely. However, I’m so glad I thought twice and ponied up the cash to see George Vanderbilt’s historic hundred-year old property.
The Biltmore Estate is on a stunning 8,000-acres set in the pristine North Carolina mountains. The whole attraction is essentially a small city, with roads, villages, thousands of employees and more. It’s made up of the 250-room mansion, an elaborate garden (often considered one of the best gardens in the U.S.), Antler Hill Village featuring restaurants and a well-regarded winery, as well as the uber-luxurious Inn on Biltmore Estate.
In terms of the house itself, I was amazed how the inside of this architectural behemoth managed to feel as inviting and warm as it is grande. I truly loved visiting, and it was an experience I would highly recommend. (Note: if you book your tickets 7+ days in advance, $15 will get knocked off the ticket price. Also, leave yourself at least a half day to explore… your ticket gets you a basic self-guided tour of the mansion, free reign of the gardens and a complementary tasting at the Biltmore Winery.)
4.) THE GROVE PARK INN
Grand. That’s the first word that comes to mind to describe Omni’s Grove Park Inn. “Magnificent” would be a close second. The historic lodge-like resort has been designed on the grandest scale, with the most magnificent attentions to detail. Most magnificent of all is the view.
The surrounding area is gorgeously mountainous and each night guests gather on one of the hotel’s many terraces. There seems to be no bad spot to overlook the sun as it sets on the nearby mountains. Champagne seems to be the drink of choice (there does seem to be something so magnificently celebratory about mother nature’s nightly spectacle), but I opted for an Old Fashioned. After all, I was in the South… a heady bourbon drink seemed fitting.
I was lucky enough to spend one glorious night in a corner room at the Grove Park Inn. More on that in another post soon. But, needless to say, I really, really loved my stay.
5.) THE DRIVE
In most cases, having a 7 1/2 hour drive is not necessarily something to celebrate. But, in the case of Asheville, the journey truly was half the fun.
The drive from D.C. down the picturesque Route I-81 through Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains is as entertaining as it is beautiful. There are countless places to stop, and our drive ballooned to 10+ hours as we stopped to explore historic Lexington (on my Best Places to Visit in 2014 list) and Natural Bridge.
I discovered that this is a drive that tempts you and encourages exploration, not one that’s best served curled up asleep in the passenger seat. Over and over again, I was left staring out the window in wonder, thinking “It’s like an Instagram photo… without the filter.” It’s all just that beautiful.