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!

Hanging Out Of A Helicopter Over Manhattan

Helicopter Flights NYC

Open Door Helicopter Flights in New York

New York, New York

One of the best ways to see New York City is by air, and this scenic helicopter flight company lets you dangle your feet over famous Manhattan landmarks for amazing photos!

I’m a complete helicopter fanatic. Sometimes I think if I hadn’t become a travel blogger, I’d have become a professional helicopter pilot by now.

Soaring free above the clouds, hovering only hundreds of feet over mountains or buildings, able to take off and land almost anywhere.

Helicopters are incredible machines. While expensive, I try to hitch a ride in one whenever I can for a truly unique photography experience.

Plus, helicopters are just so much damn fun!

FlyNYON Helicopter

Eurocopter TwinStar AS355

Manhattan Helicopter Flight

Flying Over Manhattan Skyline

Scenic NYC Helicopter Flight

After all the times I’ve visited New York City over the years, I’ve never taken a scenic helicopter flight over Manhattan. It was Instagram that finally convinced me to take the plunge and splurge on an aerial photography helicopter adventure.

I started seeing these crazy “shoe selfies” showing up in my feed on popular accounts. Photographers were taking photos of their shoes floating over the Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State Building, and Central Park.

A company called FlyNYON are the ones who make these epic Instagram shots possible with their crazy open-door scenic helicopter flights over some of Manhattan’s most famous landmarks.

Open Door Helicopter Tour

What a Crazy Helicopter Ride!

Shoe Selfie Photo

New York City Shoe Selfie!

Open-Door Photography Flight

Here’s the thing about aerial photography. For the best possible shots, you don’t want a window in front of your lens. So flying in a helicopter without doors is the perfect way to capture incredibly clear, crisp images from the air.

Anna and I began our adventure from Blade Lounge Heliport in midtown Manhattan, where the FlyNYON team briefed us on safety and asked where we wanted to go.

There were 4 of us going up, and we discussed which landmarks we should visit during our 15 minute helicopter flight. They also fitted us with full-body harnesses.

Flying a helicopter over New York without doors means you need to be strapped into a harness for safety. Your camera gear is also attached so it doesn’t fall on people below or get sucked up into the rotor.

You literally have your feet dangling outside the door on the skids!

Inside the Helicopter

Pilot Christi Rocking the Controls

Empire State Building

Empire State Building from the Sky

FlyNYON Helicopter Experience

Our badass pilot Christi brought us out to her sleek black Eurocopter TwinStar AS355 “Angry Bird” to be strapped in. Engines were powered up and off we flew into the sky!

We then soared past some of New York’s most iconic landmarks like Governor’s Island, the Brooklyn Bridge, Battery Park, One World Trade Center, the Empire State Building, and Central Park.

Earlier, Christi was yanking on my photography gear, making sure nothing would come apart once we were flying. I thought she’d been a bit rough…

Until I actually felt the force of those blades whipping around directly over my head 1000 feet in the air. It was like a mini-tornado!

Helicopter Photo Tour

Difficult Tail Rotor Shot

Central Park NYC

Flying Over Central Park

Incredible Aerial Adventure

At first it’s a bit unnerving to be sitting on the edge of a chopper thousands of feet in the air. But you slowly get more comfortable as the flight goes on.

Eventually I trusted the harness enough to lean out and feel the power of the wind as adrenaline coursed through my veins, shooting photos of the helicopter’s tail rotter.

When the helicopter banks sideways in a turn, you’re looking straight down at the tops of New York City’s massive skyscrapers, the only thing keeping you from plummeting to your death is those straps!

If you find yourself in New York, and want to have the experience of a lifetime, make sure to book an epic open-door ariel photography helicopter flight with FlyNYON. You won’t regret it. ★

Watch Video: Helicopter Over New York City

(Click to watch Helicopter Over New York City on YouTube)

READ NEXT: How To Visit Cuba For Americans

Would you fly in a helicopter without doors like this? Afraid of heights? Let me know in the comments below!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

Fantasy Fest: Key West’s Crazy Street Festival

Fantasy Fest

Fantasy Fest in Key West

Key West, Florida

Want to learn about the best-kept secret for street celebrations in the United States? It’s a wild 10 day costume party in October called Fantasy Fest in Key West, Florida.

If I had to describe Fantasy Fest in one sentence, I’d say it’s Burning Man meets Mardi Gras for Halloween on a tropical island. Except in a place where you can also stay in a beautiful B&B surrounded by ancient banyan trees.

A place so diverse that gays, bikers, pirates, artists, strippers and entrepreneurs are the norm, living a motto “One Human Family.” A place where you can watch the sun both rise and set over the ocean every day.

After knowing about the festival for years living in South Florida, I finally made it down to see what all the hype was about with my blogger friend Steph from Travel-Break.net.

Our week was incredibly fun, absurd, and liberating all at once.

Fantasy Fest Pirate Bash

Shiver Me Timbers!

Fantasy Festival Key West

Super Heroes Showing Some Skin

The Conch Republic

Key West is America’s own little Caribbean island, known as the Conch Republic to locals who fancy themselves a separate country. The island is located at the southern tip of the beautiful Florida Keys.

With certain laws being a bit more lax (like allowing “open containers” on the street) and such a unique blend of people and styles, you actually do feel as though you’re in another land.

Spend an afternoon walking past Key West’s pastel colored homes or browsing some of its 50 art galleries while still never more than a dozen blocks from the sea in any direction.

The whole island’s 1 x 4 miles is navigable by quaint lanes bordered by tropical flora, feeling a bit like a secret garden which you can navigate by foot, bike or moped.

Fantasy Fest Toga Party

Steph is Attacked by Sexy Spartans

Fantasy Fest Parade

Fantasy Fest Parade

Fantasy Fest Vibe

This magical little island gets even wilder when it celebrates Halloween for 10 days at the end of October in an incredible wonderland known as Fantasy Fest… where almost anything goes.

Bring out any piece of your character (or a different one every night)!

During the festival venues host their own special events. These celebrations create an entire world within themselves, worlds that you are encouraged to join in! They pull together a combination of local cuisine, talented artists, and fundraising for various local charities.

This collaboration makes each event take on a life of its own, feeding everyone’s creative inner-child that you’ll leave the festival feeling closer to.

There are costume competitions, AIDS fundraisers, family-friendly parades, drag-queen contests, and more.

Pirate Party

Pirates

Alien Costume

Intergalactic Alien Invasion

Intergalactic Freak Show

The theme for 2015 was the All Hallows InterGalactic Freak Show, and it certainly lived up to its name. This small town welcomed 60,000 freaks, free spirits, and aliens from all over the country.

People spend months planning out their costumes (or lack thereof) for the multitude of themed parties that happen throughout the week. I got into the spirit of things by packing 3 different costumes myself — Greek God, Dirty Pirate, and Intergalactic Alien complete with full-body paint job.

One night Steph and I found ourselves at Irish Kevin’s annual Fantasy Fest 80’s party when who should crash the stage but Mr. Margaritaville himself!

Jimmy Buffett (ok, maybe not the real one) picked up a guitar and played along with the band for a few songs as the rest of us danced like no one was watching.

Just a typical evening at Fantasy Fest in Key West.

Exploring Ireland

Is that Jimmy Buffett?

Fantasy Fest Queen

King & Queen of Fantasy Fest 2015

Fantasy Fest Events

Some highlights of Fantasy Fest include The Coronation Ball where the Conch King and Conch Queen make an appearance. They win this royal title by having raised the greatest amount of funds for AIDS Help.

In 2007 they raised over $200,000 and since 1989 almost $2.6 million has been donated.

Goombay is a two day street party held in Key West’s Bahama Village neighborhood. It’s named after the goatskin drums that generate the party’s rhythms and celebrates the heritage of Key West’s large Bahamian population with food, art and a lot of dancing.

Other popular events include the Zombie Bike Ride, Pet Masquerade, Anything But Clothes Party, Rum Barrel Pirate Bash, Airbrush Expo, Sloppy Joe’s Toga Party, and much more.

You can find a full listing of events on the Fantasy Fest Website.

On the last day, the festival culminates with the Fantasy Fest Parade down the town’s main Duval Street spanning the 1 mile cross-stretch from the Atlantic to the Gulf shore.

Key West Parade

There’s No Place Like Home

Pirate Bash

Arrrrrgh! Rum Barrel Pirate Bash

Fantasy Fest Tips & Advice

While basically an extended adult costume party at the end of October, Fantasy Fest doesn’t always fall on Halloween itself. It did in 2015, but that’s not always the case.

There’s some nudity at Fantasy Fest, but that’s not all it’s about. You’ll find people of every race, age, body type, sexual-preference, and career here too. A celebration for judgement-free and open-minded people.

With only 75 taxi cabs and 60,000 people during the event, finding a taxi isn’t always easy. Renting a bike might be a good option for getting around, provided you don’t drink too much.

No Fantasy Fest experience is complete without some body paint. Airbrush artists from around the country set up shop to make your dreams reality. Prices range from $100 to $800+ depending on how intricate the work is.

Need a cure for your killer hangover the morning after? Grab a bite to eat at Blue Heaven or some strong cuban coffee at Cuban Coffee Queen.

Clown Costumes

Psychotic Clowns

Fantasy Fest Costumes

Don’t Mess With These Two…

Getting There

So how do you get to this crazy party called Fantasy Fest in Key West? Fall down a rabbit hole? Hope a tornado picks up your farmhouse in Kansas? Fortunately you can just drive 160 miles South from Miami on Highway US1.

The road trip to Key West from Miami is a beautiful drive over endless bridges across the Florida Keys islands, flanked by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other.

A quick 45 minute puddle jumper flight from Miami or Ft Lauderdale airport directly to the island is also possible.

Good Places To Stay

We stayed at the beautiful Casa Marina Resort on the edge of the water. But I’m a big fan of AirBnB too. If you haven’t yet, make sure to read my article about how to find cheap hotels.

So if you’re looking for a good party, and wild photos of crazy and scandalous costumes, you have to check out Fantasy Fest sometime. I hope I’ll see you there next year! ★

READ NEXT: Ultimate Key West Road Trip