The two most common requests I get from friends and strangers alike, is for recommendations of downtown apartments in Indianapolis, and recommendations of where to go when traveling to Asheville. (And, if you’re wondering why people might be asking me for apartment recommendations, read up on certain passions of mine here.)
On what authority can I make recommendations on Asheville? Great question! One set of my parents moved down to the area several years ago, so I’ve had the perfect excuse to visit the city a couple times a year since 2013. And, since I’m not one to sit at home when on trips, I’ve exhaustively covered the Asheville grounds. So much so, that this will likely be one of the most extensive city guides I’ll ever be able to publish. I’ve wandered downtown for days at a time. I’ve shaken my money maker at the iconic Friday night drum circle. (There’s video evidence, I just haven’t posted it.) I’ve eaten at the famous restaurants. I’ve chatted with the local sitar player. I’ve shopped ALL of the vintage stores. I’ve encountered the hippiest of Asheville hippies. I consider it a second home.
When asked for Asheville advice, my immediate follow-up question is “What kind of trip are you looking for?” (I used to ask “What kind of person are you?” but the consistent “deer-in-headlights” facial expressions led me to conclude a rephrased question might be in order.)
I always want to know what kind of experience the inquiring person is looking for. Is it nature? Is it “woo”? (My code word for all things spiritual and mystical.) Is it touristy explorations? Asheville offers great options for all of the above.
I’ve divided my picks by interest. I also provided links. (Which, hopefully won’t all be broken in 2 years.) I’m nothing if not thorough.
Okay, ’nuff chit chat. Let’s get to the good stuff.
For the foodie:
Tupelo Honey (Downtown)
If I could, I would make an entire meal of the biscuit and blackberry jam you get as a complimentary side to breakfast/brunch. And by “meal”, I mean ordering large quantities of biscuits and eating them all.
Plant (Outside of Downtown)
A highly rated vegan restaurant. I haven’t eaten at many vegan restaurants, but it was a compromise with my vegan traveling companion, and it ended up being surprisingly delicious. Who KNEW there were so many different types of cheeses that can be made from cashews?!
Delicious french crepe place. One of my favorite dinner spots in Asheville, right in the heart of downtown. With outdoor seating, which is a nice perk.
White Duck Taco Shop (River Arts District)
Super popular with a great little patio. The tacos were fine (not spectacular) but the experience is lots of fun. Right next to train tracks in the heart of the River District (and, steps away from my parents’ house if you want to say “hi!”)
Honorable taco place mention that I haven’t gotten to try: Taco Billy. Wins big awards for style.
Great home cookin’, and a wonderful second choice if Tupelo Honey’s lines are too long. (Right next to one another.)
Laughing Seed Cafe (Downtown)
Vegetarian yums served right up. As well as other healthy things like large selection of Kefir water and such. (I drink Kefir water just to spit it out in indignant protest, but I know some of you sweet little health nuts enjoy it.)
Noodle Shop (Downtown)
There is a competing restaurant not far away called Doc Chey’s (with slightly higher ratings), but since I haven’t tried the competition personally, I can only speak to the Noodle Shop. And say that it was great when I tried it. Chinese food at its finest.
Moe’s Original BBQ (Outside of Downtown)
From what I hear there are many great BBQ places (Other top mentions go to 12 Bones and Luella’s), but I’ve only tried Moe’s, which left me completely satisfied. Everything you’d expect from a good BBQ place – juicy meats and hearty sides – you’ll find here. Bring yo’ napkins. (Just kidding. They’ll give you napkins. So maybe bring yo’ bib.)
Other recommendations (that I haven’t personally tried but have on good authority)
- Sunny Point Cafe (farm to table)
- Biscuit Head (farm to table)
- Chai Pani (Indian)
- Rosetta’s Kitchen (Vegetarian)
For the nature lover and the lover of “views”:
This will not be an exhaustive list, because there are SO many ways to get in touch with nature in the Smokies. But, they are places I’ve been and loved. (Be advised, the first two aren’t in Asheville proper and will require a bit of a drive.) Full disclosure, I’m not the best person to give advice on hiking and such (try her.) But I can give you a bit to get you started.
Interested in being carried through the Smokies in an open-air train car while being served unlimited Arnold Palmers? (The non alcoholic kind.) OF COURSE YOU ARE. Get your ticket and enjoy the gorgeous scenery and excellent service. Lasts about 3-4 hours round-trip. There are two options of routes. I did the Nantahala Gorge option.
I understand from my hiking/camping friends that this is a pretty iconic spot in the area. My experience with it was a brief stop-off on the way home, but certainly enjoyed the drive up to the top, and the brief “hike” we took to get to the jaw-dropping 360-degree views.
This little shop is for those who love the soil and all that springs forth from it. Marketed as an uprban homestead supply store, this shop has TONS of gardening supplies, seeds, books, and earthy things. Me? I bought sweet little glass bottles to put shampoo and conditioner in.
Yes, this is a stretch for this category, but sipping on a cocktail or glass of wine on the back patio of this iconic Arts and Crafts hotel while gazing out over the Asheville landscape is my kind of nature experience.
For the antiquing enthusiast:
I believe that, with the exception of my very first trip to Asheville (when I did not have a car), antiquing has always been a staple of my trips. (Even over holidays, I try to fit it in.) It’s not the very best city for antiquing that I’ve found, but there are some really solid options.
A fun little antique mall with some great booths, that comes with an awesome used bookstore (verified by my parents, who are some of the most avid book lovers I know) and a friendly shop cat. I make sure to hit this one every single time.
The best-curated mid-century selection in the bunch, and it’s in a little mall of several antique shops that are all great. Certainly worth a stop. I found a danish modern coffee table here that thankfully fit in my car for the ride home. It would have been a real bummer had it not. Prices are mid-range.
Right next to Local Antique Market – less curated, but filled with just as many wonderful things. I’ve gotten everything here from $3 nude charcoals to candleholders to vintage clothing. Also, if you’re into stained glass, they’ve got an impressive stockpile.
Another one right next to the last two mentioned. Honestly, I get Oddfellows and Nostalgique mixed up sometimes, so everything I said I got at Oddfellows might have come from Nostalgique. Just go to both.
Right downtown, this one is fun to go through. The only thing I’ve ever found there is a pair of legit black combat boots, but their selection is such that I keep going back due to my belief that they MIGHT have the treasure I’m looking for this time.
This is a freaking gigantic antique mall. I protested it for a while because I thought it would be dumb, but finally caved on my last trip. A lot of fairly traditional antiques, but some eclectic, industrial and MCM stuff as well. I walked out empty-handed, but you might find a beloved treaure. Also – it’s a great way to fit in some shopping AND exercise. (Imagine the flexing bicep text emoticon here.)
For the vintage fashion aficionado:
Asheville has yielded me some of my FAVORITE vintage pieces, so I feel especially generous in sharing these gems. (Vintage sources can be tempting to hide, since there is only so much to go around. Just… try to not to clean them out right before I go down.)
My very favorite for vintage clothing. The prices reflect an owner who knows what she’s got (but aren’t totally ridiculous for vintage clothing generally), and the staff has generally always been super-helpful. If you tell them what eras and looks you are in love with, they’ll help you out. My most recent swoon-worthy find was a colorful seventies caftan.
A recent discovery, and another instance of owners who know what they’ve got. The clothes are carefully tended to and labeled, and the prices are just slightly higher than what you’ll find at Honeypot.
Here’s one that I continue to believe in, though I’ve only ever found one thing for purchase. I think it’s mostly that the perfect things just haven’t been there when I’ve visited. Overall, they seem to have a solid stock.
So this place isn’t really vintage, it’s mostly reproduction. So, know that. But, still, the reproductions are beautiful, and I found one of my favorite dresses here. (Made with vintage fabric but newly constructed.) They also carry some cute Asheville teeshirts. Vintage-looking sunnies. Lots of fun stuff.
It’s like, two doors down from Honeypot, so it’s worth stopping in at. Not quite my style, but I did find a gorgeous eighties sequined top here, so I’ve got a little love for it. Lots of crocheted lace stuff. Peek your head in at least.
For the person who doesn’t go to bed at 10pm like I do:
First off… you sound like a party animal. As a non-party animal who also goes down to Asheville to visit her parents, I don’t have a whole lot of experience here, but I’ll offer what I can…
The Orange Peel (Downtown)
Fairly iconic concert venue in town. I keep hoping that I’ll be there for great acts, but the timing has never been quite right. But seriously, everyone raves about it.
Wedge Brewing Company (River Arts District)
Cute little brewery in the River Arts district with a positively charming patio covered in fallen leaves and peanut shells. Perfect for a breezy evening of playing cornhole and sipping on a foamy drink. Oh, and pet friendly! If you happen to have your dog, cat, or gerbil along.
The Mothlight (West Asheville)
Hosts pretty regular tapings of “The Moth,” and seems to pull in a fun West Asheville crowd. Plus, in addition to your traditional alcoholic beverages, they sell you pie. PIE! Have you ever heard of anything so wonderful?
Friday Night Drum Circle (Downtown Square, in the warm months)
Every Friday night, locals and tourists gather together with the common goals of making a funky beat and dancing the night away. Around dusk. It’s awesome. I’ve been several times. Though, pro tip, if you go with a friend the dancing part is a lot more fun. Solo attendance makes you a little bit like that weird girl dancing in the corner. Speaking from experience.
For the sweet tooth:
Thanks to my sugar-loving father, I can give some advice here.
French Broad Chocolate (Downtown)
This is a beloved spot for locals and tourists alike. Expect long lines, though things have improved since they moved into a bigger space about two years ago. AND, if you happen to be in an especially long line, sometimes a nice lady comes around with a tray of free chocolates. Do like I do – grab the tray and run.
Owl Bakery (West Asheville)
A newly-opened coffee shop/bakery. To be transparent, we had a less-than-ideal service experience when I went recently, but the deliciousness of their croissants pretty much made up for it. Plus, my parents have been there a bunch and said that instance was an anomaly. Quick note – this is right across from Villagers which I mentioned earlier. Pop in!
For the “needs coffee to function” type:
Trade & Lore (downtown)
I think this might be fairly new, and came highly recommended by a very credible barista I know. Ambiance is cool, coffee is solid, and it’s totally worth checking out.
Izzy’s Coffee Den (downtown)
This used to be the really popular “legit” place when I started traveling down to Asheville a couple of years ago. Definitely has a slightly grunge feeling, which is fun. Worth a stop in for the experience, but I think others (like Trade & Lore) are bringing more of the coffee “A” game. That is all totally subjective, and spoken by a person who douses her coffee with cream and sugar, so take my opinion for what it’s worth.
Double D’s Coffee and Desserts (downtown)
Another “just do it for the experience” recommendation. The coffee is fine, but the big deal is that you get to order and drink it while sitting on a stationary double decker bus! Wha?! Totally a cheesy tourist attraction, but I did it once and had fun.
High Five (multiple locations)
They’ve got good coffee. I’ll give them that. Not a huge fan of the ambiance, but if you aren’t totally obsessed with decor like I am, you and High Five will get along just fine. (Plus, I haven’t been in a while, so maybe they upped their decor game, I dunno.)
For the transcendental/spiritual free spirit:
Here’s a pretty short little list. I’ll come back and flesh it out more if I get more recommendations.
Dobra Tea (Downtown and West Asheville)
The one place in Asheville that my most spiritual (I call it “woo” in a very affectionate way) friend fell absolutely in love with. Like, “I’m gonna sit here for a few hours while you wander around thrift stores, and then I’m gonna wanna come back and spend another half-day here tomorrow, mmmkay” kind of love. (She actually said that and did that.) She also got completely inspired to throw a tea party when she got back to town.
Gai (sadly can’t find the link to this one.)
Just a fun little shop with crystals and buddhas and tarot cards and such. Nothing earth-shattering, but a nice selection nonetheless.
For the appreciator of arts and literature:
River Arts District (Studio Walk)
This area not only gives you a lovely view of the river, but the opportunity to pop in on makers making. (During open studio time, of course.) I believe they are pretty regularly open on Saturday mornings. And, if you are in the area, and want to see the most lovely of homes, with the most lovely array of lamps, sculpture and artwork by the extremely talented artist who gave me half of my genes, let me know. Or just email him. They open their home to the public on Saturday mornings and by request.
A bookstore right downtown with an awesome selection of books, and featured staff picks. With a coffee shop (though books can’t go into the coffee shop and vice versa.) Walk right up to one of its knowledgable salespeople and ask for what you want, and they’ll point you where you need to go.
ScreenDoor Bookstore (Outside Downtown)
Already mentioned this one, but now I’ll give a little more detail. This one doesn’t really have fiction, if that’s your thing. It consists of books about art, design, architecture, animals, fashion, food, alcohol, and nature. Basically, this store has the books with all the pretty pictures in it. And, they sell them (generally) for about half the price of retail. Go. Now.
Downtown Books and News (Read the name)
Right on one of the main stretches of downtown, this bookstore is obviously a staple of the downtown community. You can see live readings here, and they carry a solid selection of periodicals.
The Captain’s Bookshelf (Downtown)
This one is just freaking charming. Books are crookedly stuffed in shelves and the chairs are all by iconic MCM designers. I’ve never purchased a book here, but I certainly have enjoyed perusing.
I stayed here a couple of years ago, before my parent’s house was built, and loved the experience. You have to be cool with the idea of sharing a sleeping space with others, but the pods feel private and the ambience is welcoming and appealing. Basically like a big Brooklyn loft. It’s a very economical way to stay in Asheville, at about $35/night.
Hope these recommendations help you make the most of your trip to sweet Asheville.