In conversation, Asheville often gets confused for its twangy Tennessean cousin of a similar name, but this hopping Western North Carolina city has been strumming to its own tune for decades. Perched high in the Blue Ridge mountain range, Asheville is home to more than two-dozen breweries, including Wicked Weed (recently acquired by Anheuser-Busch), as well as East Coast outposts of craft heavyweights New Belgium, Oskar Blues and Sierra Nevada. The brewtopia bona fides, coupled with a thriving arts scene, has led to a hotel boom in the past decade as tourists lap up what’s on tap. But there’s life beyond the booze. Here are seven sip-free Asheville area experiences to savor.
Massive mansion moseying
The Biltmore Mansion, George W. Vanderbilt’s mammoth mountain estate, was built in the 1890s and boasts 250 rooms and roughly four acres of living space. The sprawling chateau, America’s largest private home, is hands down the big Kahuna of Asheville attractions. You could spend a whole afternoon gawking at grand rooms and admiring the Gilded Age opulence or just strolling the grounds, the handiwork of Frederick Law Olmsted. (Yes, the same landscape architect legend behind New York’s Central Park and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.) Speaking of the outdoors, the property’s 8000-acre backyard can be explored on bicycle, horseback or Land Rover. Biltmore hack: save big on admission by purchasing tickets a week ahead of your visit.
River Arts District crawl
This former industrial area is teeming with galleries and artist studios spread over a one-mile stretch of the French Broad River. A must stop is Lift Studios housed in a century old converted biscuit factory and featuring the animal abstractions of painter and Asheville native son Daniel Mclendon. The NC Glass Center which offers a variety of workshops, and the sprawling 110,000 square foot Riverview Station, home to an eclectic mix of sixty artisans from potters and photographers to jewelers and clothing designers, should also not to be missed.
Slide down Sliding Rock
When most folks think about water slides, they immediately envision whooshing along a tubular water park thrill ride, but Ashevillians are a more an outdoorsy set. Beat the heat the way the natives do by taking the plunge on this aux natural sixty-foot slope in Pigsah National Forest.
Rappel down Big Bradley
Get your canyoneering bearings by tackling a 30-foot vertical rock face before rappelling Big Bradley Falls, a 200-foot big kahuna. Outfitter Green River Adventures, who also offers zipline canopy tours, whitewater kayaking experiences and waterfall treks in the area, will hook you up with the requisite rock-gripping amphibious footwear to make the descent down the waterfall, a smart idea if your own kicks tend to get a tad slippery when wet.
Become a Pinball Wizard
Get steeped in the ways of silver ball at the Asheville Pinball Museum by playing dozens of machines from vintage relics to modern masterworks. Placards posted above each pinball machine school players on the game’s history. Classic video games are also in the mix for those who’d rather gobble power pellets than tap flippers.
Internationally renowned in botanical circles, the Bonsai Exhibition Garden is the star of the 65-acre North Carolina Arboretum. A stunning example of haute horticulture, visitors can scope out 100 specimens of the intricately groomed show poodles of the plant world. There’s miniaturized Japanese Maple, Chinese Elm, Willow-Leaf Fig, Bald Cypress and Limber Pine varieties. Open daily May to October 9am–5pm.
Pay respects to Thomas Wolfe
They say you can’t go home again, but you can go to the home of literary giant Thomas Wolfe. Wolfe paid homage to the yellow Victorian boarding house with a porch where he spend his formative years in his autobiographical opus Look Homeward Angel, though he took poetic license with Asheville dubbing the city “Altamont” in the book. Jude Law visited the house to help get into character when he portrayed Wolfe in 2016’s Genius.