Why Is Asheville North Carolina So Cool?

Asheville North Carolina

Fun Things To Do In Asheville

Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville has to be one of the coolest small cities on the East Coast, with a relaxed bohemian vibe and adventurous spirit. Here are some fun things to do there!

Located in North Carolina’s scenic Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville has a unique mix of hipster coffee shops, award-winning restaurants, outdoor activities, and more breweries per capita than anywhere else in the United States.

After hearing about Asheville for years, whether from friends, or the Obama’s visiting on vacation — it was time to learn what all the fuss was about.

Why was Asheville rated the #1 US travel destination for 2017? Why does everyone think Asheville is so cool?

Pack Square Park Asheville

Pack Square Park

Jack of the Wood in Asheville

Travel Tips for Asheville, North Carolina

Things To Do In Asheville

Anna and I spent 4 days visiting Asheville in partnership with Explore Asheville Tourism, and had a wonderful time eating, drinking, shooting photos, and enjoying nature.

Asheville’s creative (and slightly eccentric) locals contribute to a lively downtown unlike any other. You can experience an intoxicating drum circle, shop at vintage boutiques, sit down to an amazing locally-grown meal, and admire cool street art all in one day.

One of the best ways to experience the city fully is by exploring on foot. With about 87,000 residents, Asheville isn’t huge. But it’s not too small either.

It feels like a large town, and just the right size. Asheville’s downtown in particular is easily walkable, with a charm all its own.

Writer for hire

Asheville Street Performers

Asheville Street Art

“Chicken Alley” Mural

Tons Of Art & Music

Asheville is known for its art scene, and you’ll quickly understand why. There’s fun street art all over the place, like colorful murals painted on the side of buildings & under bridges depicting the city’s history.

My favorite was probably “Chicken Alley” by Molly Must, which you can find on Carolina Lane & Woodfin Street. Two giant chickens watch over the alley, a place that used to be full of real chickens in the past.

In the 1980s artists began transforming a bunch of old industrial buildings along the French Broad River into studio space. Now the public can visit these studios as part of the Rivers Arts District and browse the work of over 200 local artists.

The town is full of small lounges, clubs, and breweries featuring live rock, jazz, and bluegrass. Many don’t charge a cover either.

Or you can check out some fun (possibly strange) street performances in the center of town. Don’t forget to tip if you enjoy the show! Asheville wouldn’t be the same without them.

Beer in Asheville

Lexington Avenue Brewery

Pack's Tavern Asheville

Pack’s Tavern

Beer City USA!

Asheville is known as “Beer City USA”. Because with 26 different craft breweries in the city, and another 60 nearby, beer lovers won’t want to leave.

Some of the most popular in town are Green Man, Catawba, Wicked Weed, and Lexington Avenue Brewery.

About 100 local beers can be enjoyed in Asheville, and each brewery has its own unique character. From strong hoppy IPAs to dark stouts, to fruity raspberry ales, you’re bound to find something you’ll love.

On top of the incredible beer scene, the city is also “steeped” in tea culture.

Check out Dobra Tea, afternoon tea at Biltmore, and The Herbiary.

Asheville River SUP

Whitewater Stand-Up Paddleboarding

French Broad River Asheville

The French Broad River

French Broad River

The French Broad River winds its way past Asheville, providing a natural space for all kinds of outdoor activities & adventures.

You have your obvious river sports like whitewater kayaking and inner-tube floating, but there are some lesser-known activities here too, like “bellyaking” and whitewater SUP.

Bellyaking was actually invented in Asheville — it’s a face first kayak-type ride using special “paddle gloves” to maneuver through the rapids.

I decided to try some whitewater SUP (Stand Up Paddleboarding) for the first time with Wai Mauna SUP Tours.

Stand-up paddle-boarding through class I & II river rapids on the French Broad River requires a lot of balance, it was more difficult then the lake or ocean SUP I was used to. I fell a few times, but it was still fun!

The Marketplace Restaurant Asheville

Eating Our Foraged Food at The Marketplace

Restaurants in Asheville North Carolina

Salsa’s Restaurant in Asheville

Farm To Table Dining

Asheville is home to over 250 restaurants, many serving locally produced meats and veggies while supporting North Carolina’s farmers. They’ve been doing “farm to table” long before it became a cliche.

We obviously couldn’t try every restaurant in town with just four days, but my favorite places to eat in Asheville were The Marketplace and Salsas.

French Broad Chocolates is an ice-cream lover’s dream too. The line outside is long, but there’s a reason for that.

The chocolate ice-cream floats are sooooo good! It was worth the wait.

Biltmore Estate in Asheville

The Famous Biltmore Estate

Vanderbilt Library

George Vanderbilt’s Extensive Library

Biltmore Estate View

View Off the Back Deck

The Biltmore Estate

The historic Biltmore Estate is one of the most frequently suggested places to visit in Asheville. George Vanderbilt’s gigantic, hundred-year-old property is indeed quite busy all year long.

George, an heir to the Vanderbilt railroad fortune, fell in love with North Carolina and began building his property by late 1889. He decided to create a dream home surrounded by natural forests and productive farms.

This 178,926 square foot mansion sits on 8000 acres, with over 250 rooms, and is America’s largest home. The Biltmore holds regular exhibitions — they were displaying movie costumes used in films set during the XVIIIth century when we were there.

George Vanderbilt was one of the most-read men in America, and amassed a library of more than 22,000 books — including over 3,000 he read himself. Gazing at the walls of books in his preserved library was fascinating.

Foraging Tour in Asheville North Carolina

Wild Foraging with No Taste Like Home

Mushroom Hunting in North Carolina

Picking Chanterelle Mushrooms

Wild Foraging Tours

I’ve never been wild mushroom picking before, so we signed up for morning foraging tour with a company called No Taste Like Home.

Our day began with an overview from owner Alan Muskat about types of edibles we’d be looking for, and which poisonous plants to avoid.

After being equipped with baskets, harvesting knives, and paper bags, we headed into the enchanting North Carolina forest. I was completely surprised at how many things you could eat, and how good they tasted!

We collected Day Lily flowers, Chanterelle mushrooms, Stinging Nettle, Sassafras leaves, and strange mushrooms called Hairy Rubber Cups. While not popular in the US, they are apparently a delicacy in Malaysia.

After, you can bring your “catch” to local restaurants in Asheville like The Marketplace, where chefs prepare your dinner using the wild ingredients.

Asheville Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway

Hiking around Asheville

Many Fun Hikes in the Mountains

The Blue Ridge Parkway

Nestled between the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville offers year-round access to hiking trails and exhilarating views along the famous Blue Ridge Parkway.

The complete route stretches 469 miles from North Carolina to Virginia, and is home to a wide range of diverse plants and animals. It’s technically part of the National Park System.

Along with hundreds of hiking trails, the parkway includes sections of the Appalachian Trail — one of America’s classic long distance hikes that stretches from Georgia to Maine.

Asheville was a perfect base for exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway, and we spent a full day cruising its winding pavement. Stopping occasionally at mountain lookouts and for short hikes to admire the area’s nature.

Waterfalls near Asheville

Looking Glass Falls

Sliding Rock Falls Pisgah Forest

Sliding Rock Falls

Asheville Sliding Rock

Natural Waterslide!

Pisgah National Forest

Pisgah National Forest is located South West of Asheville, only 30-45 minutes away. It’s considered the birthplace of modern forestry in America, and home to the country’s first forestry school.

Driving through Pisgah on Route 276 is a fun little road trip complete with waterfalls, white water rapids, hiking trails, and camping opportunities.

We stopped by two different waterfalls. The first is called Looking Glass Falls. Located right off the side of the road, it’s super easy to reach, and a nice place to cool off in the summer heat.

The second is Sliding Rock — basically a huge natural waterslide made of smooth stone. A quick ride down the 60-foot flat, sloping boulder will definitely wake you up due to the chilly 50 degree water!

The Davidson River is a popular area for fly-fishing too.

Asheville Grove Park Inn

Grove Park Inn

Abbington Green Asheville B&B

Abbington Green B&B

Places To Stay In Asheville

If you’re wondering where to stay in Asheville, here are my recommendations:

Grove Park Inn – Asheville’s most famous hotel is one of a kind. Built out of stone on the top of a hill, it features various restaurants, a beautiful spa, and scenic views of the city.

Abbington Green B&B – This has to be one of the best bed & breakfasts I’ve ever stayed at. Beautifully designed with a peaceful garden, tasty breakfast, and friendly southern hospitality.

Downtown Asheville North Carolina

Downtown Asheville

Asheville Travel Tips & Advice

  • There’s a fun public drum circle every Friday night between 6pm – 10pm in Pritchard Park, where people of all ages join in to dance to the music.
  • Asheville has a beautiful array of wildflowers that bloom between April and June. Keep your eye out for trillium, lady slippers, wild ginger, evening primrose, mountain laurel, rhododendron, and many more.
  • The best time to visit Asheville is during the fall foliage season (October), as trees & mountains are incredibly colorful. Summers are usually pretty busy too, and get the best weather.
  • Parts of the Appalachian Trail pass through this region. For a taste of this famous 2,180 mile trek, try hiking the Max Patch Mountain trail for great views.
  • The Biltmore Estate is Asheville’s most popular attraction, so it can get quite crowded. Go super early for awesome photos and less people.

Asheville has a little something for everyone. You can enjoy scenic mountain vistas, fun live music, locally produced food and beer, a vibrant arts scene, hiking and other outdoor adventure activities too.

I have to say it has become one of my new favorite mountain towns in the United States, and an excellent weekend vacation destination. Who knows, you may never want to leave! ★

Bonus Video! Things To Do In Asheville

(Click to watch Things To Do In Asheville – North Carolina on YouTube)

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Things To Do In Asheville. More at ExpertVagabond.com
Things To Do In Asheville. More at ExpertVagabond.com

Any questions about traveling to Asheville, NC? Do you have any other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Surfing & Hot Springs In Tofino On Vancouver Island [PART 2]

Vancouver Island Coastline

Exploring Vancouver Island’s West Coast

Vancouver Island, Canada

The second half of my Vancouver Island road trip took me to the island’s West coast, and the fun little hipster surf town of Tofino. It’s a lush wilderness outpost on the edge of the sea.

I was on a self-drive road trip with Canada By Design — their Coastal Cultural Explorer Tour of Vancouver Island.

Which means I was following a basic itinerary, while my accommodation, a rental car, and some activities were included in the price.

This 8-day journey across Canada’s Vancouver Island was mixed with adventure, a taste of First Nation’s culture, and dramatic Pacific Northwest scenery.

Yet I was on my own, taking my time to enjoy this road trip at my own pace.

Driving To Tofino

For the first half of the journey, I’d explored parts of Vancouver Island’s East coast. Today’s drive was a long one (about 6 hours) which took me across the island from Telegraph Cove to Tofino over the stunning Pacific Rim Highway.

I managed to drop into some native art galleries, hiked an ancient old-growth rainforest, and enjoyed beautiful mountain scenery and lakes along the way.

First Nations Longhouse

K’ómoks Longhouse Mural

iHos Gallery Vancouver Island

iHos Gallery in Courtenay

First Nations Art Galleries

During this road trip around Vancouver Island, I’m constantly reminded of the deep history of the landscape, first populated by the peoples of the First Nations around 7,000 years ago.

Driving into Courtenay, I stumble upon a K’ómoks native longhouse, decorated with a colorful mural featuring an eagle & whale. These cedar buildings were often shared by extended First Nations families, everyone participating in daily tasks like preparing food, building canoes, etc.

At I-Hos Gallery, local people express their identity through art. This gallery, with its masks, wood carvings, intricate prints and textiles, is designed to tell stories as much as please the senses.

Stories of origins, about their technological and spiritual relationship with the natural world, about how they lived, how they died, and how they endured to become modern descendants of First Nations cultures.

Vancouver Island Goats on a Roof

Goats?! On a Roof?

Coombs Vancouver Island Goats

Coombs Old Country Market

Goats On A Roof!

My eyes started to play tricks as I entered the town of Coombs. What first looked like a green hill with goats appeared to become the roof of a long, wood-pannelled building.

I found them. Vancouver Island’s famous “Goats On The Roof!”

In the 1950s, Kristian Graaten and his wife, Solveig, left Norway and emigrated to British Columbia.

When they decided to build a market in the mid-70s, Kris used the Norwegian tradition of lining roofs with grass/sod. It may sound eccentric, but this roof traps the warmth of the building, reducing heating bills up to 25%.

It’s also soundproof, easy to maintain, and the perfect place to keep your pet goats! Which has turned into a huge tourist attraction for his roadside Coombs Old Country Market, a fun location to stop for lunch.

Cathedral Grove Vancouver Island

Yes, I’m a Tree Hugger

Vancouver Island MacMillan Park

MacMillan Provincial Park

Hiking Cathedral Grove

A twenty-minute drive west, and things got even more vertical. If you’ve never seen a majestic Douglas Fir, your first sight can be overwhelming.

Imagine the average fir tree, the kind you’d hang your Christmas ornaments on. Now double it in size. Now double it again. Maybe a third time. Now you’re getting close – but maybe not close enough, since a fully-grown Douglas fir can reach 225 ft / 75 m into the sky!

At the heart of MacMillan Provincial Park stands Cathedral Grove, home of the densest collection of these trees. It’s an opportunity to stretch your arms around their trunks, failing to make it even halfway (the widest has a circumference of 27 ft / 9 m).

When you stand there in the quiet, gazing up towards the distant canopy where the treetops meet the sunlight, it feels unchanging, like time itself has stopped to listen. Some of these trees are 800 years old.

Tofino on Vancouver Island

Ice House Oyster Bar in Tofino

Tofino Town Vancouver Island

Beware of Grandma… She Bites!

Welcome To Tofino

Making it across the width of Vancouver Island, I finally arrive to the quirky Pacific coastal town of Tofino. A place I’ve heard so much about.

Tofino is the gateway to Vancouver Island’s wildest and most spectacular scenery, and in the summer, it’s an enormously popular destination for visitors, greatly multiplying its small local population of 2,000.

Pacific Rim National Park is right next door, a 500-kilometer expanse of rainforest trails, rugged wave-battered coastlines and pristine beaches.

However it’s best to visit in the summer months, as winter conditions can get a little fierce (it’s a haven for storm-watchers in the winter).

Tofino is ideal for hiking, surfing, hanging out at the beach, wildlife viewing, or just strolling down boardwalk paths through pacific northwest temperate rainforests.

Vancouver Island Whale Watching

Pod of Orca Whales

Black Bear Tofino

Black Bear Feeding On Crabs

Hot Springs Vancouver Island

Hot Springs Cove

Whale Watching & Hot Springs

You can’t visit Tofino and not go whale watching! But I’ll give you a tip, rather than take a dedicated whale watching trip, join the Hot Springs Cove Tour with Remote Passages.

Because there’s a very good chance you’ll see whales (and other wildlife) on your way to the hot springs. Like I did. It’s like two tours in one.

As part of the Maquinna Marine Provincial Park, Hot Springs Cove gets its name from the nearby Ramsay hot springs (it hits up to 50 C / 110 F in places), which are only accessible by boat or float-plane.

The trip had us speeding through the waves in an inflatable zodiac, stopping to watch playful Orcas (don’t call them killer whales!), large sea lions, sea otters, and even a black bear fishing for crabs on the coastline.

After the boat ride, it was time to relax by soaking in these steaming-hot natural pools & waterfalls while enjoying an epic view.

Surfing in Tofino

Long Beach Surf Shop

Vancouver Island Surfing

Surfing Chesterman Beach

Surfing Around Tofino

If you surf, or want to learn, Tofino is a good place to hit some waves. In fact they call themselves the Surf Capital of Canada. Although keep in mind this is the Pacific Northwest, and chilly 50 – 60 F water means you’ll want a wetsuit.

There are a few surf-shops in town that can outfit you with a board, wetsuit, and even a surfboard car rack. I stopped into Long Beach Surf Shop and rented a longboard for a morning surf session at Chesterman Beach.

Tofino is a surfer’s paradise – so if you’ve been following my surfing adventures, you can imagine my reaction to these miles and miles of surfable coastline, reliable beach breaks, and uncrowded waves.

There are a few good surf-spots in the area, and waves for all abilities. Long Beach is a popular spot, a 15-km stretch of undeveloped coastline that’s regarded as the park’s most photogenic.

Chesterman Beach and Cox Bay are two more. Winter usually has the better swells, and fewer tourists — but crazier weather and colder water too.

Coastal Sunset in Tofino

Colorful Tofino Sunsets

Tofino Sea Plane Trips

Take a Scenic Flight with Tofino Air

Places To Stay & Eat

As part of my Coastal Cultural Explorer Self-Drive Tour, accommodation in Tofino was included at the stunning cliffside Middle Beach Lodge.

For good food, I recommend checking out Wolf In The Fog for dinner, and Tacofino for a delicious food truck experience at lunch.

Tofino has a super fun farmer’s market every Saturday, where you can sample all kinds of good food, or pick up some locally-made artwork/crafts.

If you’re looking for a great place to watch the sunset with a beer and some fresh oysters, check out Tofino’s Ice House Oyster Bar. Thank me later. ★

Bonus Video! Vancouver Island Road Trip


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(Click to watch Vancouver Island BC – Road Trip on YouTube)

More Information

Location: Vancouver Island, Canada
Self-Drive Tour: Canada By Design
Useful Notes: With a self-drive tour your accommodation, rental car, ferry trips, and some key activities are included. You present pre-paid vouchers for these things on arrival. The rest of the trip is yours to create as you go.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Pacific Northwest
Suggested Reading: Island Of Dreams

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Vancouver Island Road Trip. More at ExpertVagabond.com
Vancouver Island Road Trip. More at ExpertVagabond.com

Have any questions about visiting Vancouver Island? Are you planning a trip? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Canada By Design

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

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