Beyond the Biltmore Estate: Ten of the Best Things to Do in Asheville, North Carolina
May 31, 2012 by Susan Murray
From time to time, guests will call us before their stay asking about things to do in Asheville and, after we get past the Biltmore (which really should be seen), I will often refer them to my blog so they can see pictures and read about the various activities in detail. But I realized the other day that I have written 119 entries since my first posting in October of 2009. Even with the index it is daunting for someone to wade through all of that. There are more than 64 entries under “Things to Do”: seven hikes, six historical sites, ten stories on shopping and seventeen excursions outside Asheville!
So I decided it was probably time for a list. Ordinarily I am not a great fan of “ten best lists.” Something always gets left out and ultimately it is a matter of opinion. So I have decided to call my list “Ten of the Best Things to do in Asheville”.
So here goes, in no particular order:
Ten of the Best Things to Do in Asheville
1) The Carl Sandburg House: In 1945 Poet and Author Carl Sandburg moved with his wife and family to Connemara, a farm about a half an hour outside Asheville. When he died in 1967 his wife Lillian sold it to the state. She took nothing from the house but left it entirely intact down to the wastepaper in the bin. Even if it were not the final home of a justly famous man and his equally interesting wife, it would be fascinating as a museum display of the way Americans lived more than 50 years ago. The farm is beautifully situated in the mountains and Lillian’s goat herd continues to happily roam the fields. The simplicity and austerity of their lifestyle forms a great counterpoint to the extravagance and abundance of the Biltmore Estate.
2) Navitat Canopy Adventures: What better way to see the beauty of our countryside than from the treetops? Since its opening in 2010, the Navitat zip-line course in Moody Cove has becoming a destination of its own here in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery and there are now three zip line courses to choose from in our area. In our opinion, Navitat with its dedicated group of naturalist guides and continued improvements to the course continues to be the best.
3) Hiking to John Rock: There are a great many hikes one can do in the State Parks near the Carolina Bed & Breakfast, ranging from a pleasant walk to a serious mountain outing. John Rock is a more difficult hike, climbing over 1000 feet to a huge “pluton” or rock on the summit. It is not as well known as Looking Glass Rock so tends not to be as crowded while rewarding the climber with an amazing vista and great spot for a picnic.
4) An Asheville Trolley Tour: This sounds kitschy but it’s not. There are two companies offering historic tours of Asheville in open-air trolleys. The tours leave from the Visitor’s Center a short walk from our inn. They take about 90 minutes if you stay on all the way through but you also have the option of getting off, exploring an area and then continuing with the tour on a later trolley. This is a great way to get a quick overview of our town. It has a very interesting past—was home to a number of famous authors and, through a fortunate turn of events, has retained and restored many of its historic buildings with their beautiful Art Deco facades. The trolley drivers are entertaining as well as knowledgeable.
5) Riverside Cemetery: I know, I know! I can hear you saying, “A cemetery? Really?” Riverside Cemetery was established in 1885, around the same time the Montford Area was being built and is still in use today. It is in concept, and in actual fact, a Victorian Cemetery. The Victorians had an interesting viewpoint on death and mourning. Among these was the concept that cemeteries should be for the living as well as for the dead, with trails for walking, benches for resting and spots for picnics. It makes sense when you think about it; these beautiful, green, places make lovely parks and the citizens of Asheville continue to use it as a pleasant site for gentle leisure. The cemetery has a number of very old graves going back to the Civil War and if your imagination can be stirred by reading old epitaphs, you will find much to interest you.
6) Downtown Asheville: I’m not sure this isn’t an obvious choice but the city of Asheville was made for exploring. The downtown streets are filled with small boutiques, art galleries, independent bookstores, and food vendors ranging from the simple and homespun to high-end and sophisticated. We even have a district dedicated to the arts! Equally as interesting as the shops are the people. Musicians, street artists and characters of every kind will make your walk through town a kaleidoscope of sound and color.
7) The Montford Park Players: Too many people are put off from going to the shows of this fabulous troupe because they perform Shakespeare. This is a shame because these experienced and talented actors will draw you into the story until you forget you ever found Shakespeare difficult. Throughout the summer they perform outdoors in a nearby park. For a nominal price you will be given VIP treatment: greeted at the entrance by the Company Manager and escorted to comfortable reserved seats, complementary beverages of your choice, blankets in case the evening turns chilly and a picture taken of you with the cast. In addition, if you are at all adventurous, you can have a walk-on role in the evening’s performance complete with costume! For those who have taken advantage of this offer, it has been a highlight of their visit to Asheville.
8) The Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar: Once there was a man who wanted to have a rare books store but he found that he couldn’t make any money at it, so he got a liquor license and starting selling wine and champagne in his bookstore as well. Comfortable couches and easy chairs are interspersed among the shelves of books creating an atmosphere that is both convivial and private. This is the place where locals gather in the evening. Dogs are always welcome and live music is often performed (but never in a way which stops the conversation). They also have a coffee bar. What more could you ask for?
9) The Asheville Tourists: I love baseball and I love that Asheville has its own Single A farm team for the Rockies (rather lamely named the “Tourists”). The best tickets in the house are $10 and you will enjoy a wide choice of local beer with your hotdogs, peanuts and Crackerjack while watching baseball that is occasionally very, very good and entertainment between innings that is straight out of small town America.—is there anything better than watching a little boy race a huge teddy bear mascot around the bases? After the game, head across the street to Wings for some deliciously sticky Buffalo wings in a wide variety of flavors!
10) Sitting on the front porch at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast. You can listen to the birdsong in our garden and watch the neighbors pass by: mothers with small children, dog walkers and the occasional jogger. Say hello to the post man as he delivers the mail while you rock back and forth on our porch swing. And in the evening we will offer you an array of hot and cold hors d’oeurves before you set off to walk to town for dinner. Breakfast is all very well but if that was all I ever got to make I would be sad. Our evening social hour is my chance to have fun. Our canapés are often based around the produce available in the markets so I’m never really sure what will be there from day to day, but there are always four to five different choices!
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