Asheville, NC is a city that opens her arms wide to embrace all who enter. Perhaps that is why Eric Weiner crowned it the happiest city in American in his book The Geography of Bliss. Well, that, and the thriving art scene, live music of every sort, and a plethora of good restaurants promoting the farm-to-table movement for its organic-minded residents. It’s also a vibrant college town, and live street performers can be found on almost every corner.
Just recently I got to stay in this cute downtown loft, compliments of a friend of a friend for a few days with a few other friends. Everything we needed or wanted in the form of food or entertainment was within walking distance (almost). We shunned popular touristy attractions such as The Biltmore House and Grove Park Inn, choosing instead to immerse ourselves in the local culture.
Craft Beer Town
Who knew that Asheville was such a beer city, offering 50 something local brews from nine different brewing companies. It all started 1n 1994 in the basement of Barley’s Taproom & Pizzeria. The brewery soon outgrew its original home and relocated to a warehouse, spawning other breweries in its wake. Natives told me that in the early 90s, pre-brewery, Asheville was pretty much a boarded up town. Nothing happening at all. Amazing turn-around for this gem of a city.
Barley’s taproom, on Biltmore Avenue, still serves up delicious sourdough pizza and live music to a laid back crowd of all ages and all walks of life. Loved the Mediterranean Pizza.
Good Food and Music Galore
Tupelo Honey’s, recommended by a local working at the Mast General Store, is another sensory delight. From the black raspberry jam on melt-in-your-mouth biscuits offered gratis as an appetizer to the Sweet Potato Pancakes, this place exceeded expectations.
Asheville’s Literacy Leanings
But wait, there’s more. Besides food and fun and street performers and art galleries, Asheville also has literary leanings.
This is the grave of Thomas Wolfe, native son, who penned Look Homeward, Angel in the 30s. The familiar expression, “you can’t go home again,” comes from this famous novel. Based on the colorful characters of Wolfe’s boyhood in Asheville, Look Homeward caused such an uproar that the city banned its author from his hometown for a while. He seems to rest peacefully here now, though.
Seems you can go home again, after all.
The Grove Park Inn served as a writing retreat for F. Scott Fitzgerald on two separate occasions. His wife, Zelda, perished in a fire while a patient at a psychiatric hospital in Asheville. O Henry is buried in the same cemetery as Wolfe, although he spent only the latter part of his life there, while Carl Sandburg’s old home place is just a few miles away in Flat Rock.
Top Outdoors City to Visit
Disclaimer: I didn’t take this picture and regret that I’m unable to credit it. But isn’t it breathtaking? Situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville is known for its spectacular scenery, and a five-minute car ride is all it takes to find the great outdoors and hiking trails galore. That’s probably why it’s been named a top outdoors place to visit.
Asheville also has several other designations. Among them: Top 25 Art Destination for Small Towns; Most Vibrant Food City; Top Ten Dog-Friendly Resort Regions; Beer City, USA.
And let’s not forget, it’s The Happiest City in America.