When I talk to people about Asheville, the reaction is usually either, “Ooh, I love Asheville!” or, “Asheville is too weird for my taste.” It really is a place unlike any other I’ve ever been to, and since I’m a fan of bizarre, I’m in the “I love it!” camp.
It is packed with artists. When you walk the streets, you’ll see musicians on many corners, playing anything from guitars to keyboards to saxophones to spoons. It is also peppered with stands and shops selling handcrafted items like pottery and soap and jewelry.
It is full of so. much. food. If you are hungry, this is the place you want to visit. Indian, Ethiopian, Mediterranean, Greek, Mexican, Asian, American, Himalayan…you can find it here. Specialty teas, chocolates, spices, you name it.
It is very spiritual. You’ll see a lot of people who look like they are on a search for meaning, and finding it in all the wrong places. It can feel dark, which is why some people don’t like it.
It is extremely diverse. I love watching people-watching, because you never know who or what you’ll see, or what strange styles will go strolling past you. Since it’s close to the Biltmore Estate, there are many tourists which just add to the mix.
Lyn and I like to take advantage of the fact we only live two hours away, the perfect distance for a day trip. We’ve gone often enough that we now have our little arsenal of favorite places we simply have to visit when we go.
A visit there must always begin with a trip to the High Five coffee shop to fuel up for the day. Brick walls, high tables, latte art, a window seat, excellent brews- this place has it all. My personal favorite drink is the Cubano, rich, foamy, slightly sweet, and with a hint of salt.
We roam the streets, marching up and down hills, and pausing to admire the alleys and street art.
The Basilica of Saint Lawrence is a good place to stop for a moment of quiet (unless there’s a mass in progress). It was designed and built by Rafael Guastavino, who also did work on the Biltmore, and whose unique tile system is found in places like Grand Central Station in NYC and Carnegie Hall.
Next up: Battery Park Book Exchange. If you have even an inkling of love for books, you can’t miss this place. We like to come here once our feet are tired and our caffeine has worn off, for an iced coffee and an hour of chilling. The aisles wander on and on, up stairs and down, with chairs tucked into every available corner. It is a chasmophile’s dream.
I like to perch myself by the railing upstairs with my iced coffee, and watch people down below. There might be a couple on a date there, or someone knitting quietly, or a musician playing classical guitar. Since it’s Asheville, you never know what you’ll see.
Last time we went we happened upon The Spice and Tea Exchange. Shelves and shelves of jars, which you can open and sniff, with every spice you want and a lot you don’t. There are mints and dips to sample, and the neatly organized rows just bless my slightly OCD heart. We left with a bag of black truffle salt and vinegar powder, for spicing our popcorn.
I can’t let you go without a little shout out to the food. When we go with crowds, Mellow Mushroom is just the ticket. The pizza is superb (especially the Thai pizza), as is the Greek salad I’ve gotten myself addicted to. Sometimes the line is long though, so be prepared for a wait.
When it’s just a few of us, we kind of have to stop at Chai Pani for some Indian street food. The okra fries are unlike anything you’ve tried, melt-on-your-tongue crispy, and with a hint of lemon.
A recent discovery is the Twisted Crepe shop, and I’m afraid it’s going to get added to the list of places we simply must go. Seriously, look at that beauty above! You can’t go wrong with spinach, tomatoes, and cheese.
The trouble with Asheville and food is that there are always way too many places we want to try, and only so much our stomachs can do. But oh, we try valiantly.
No visit is complete without a stop at the French Broad Chocolate Lounge for something sweet. There’s often a line out the door, but it moves quickly, and it’s worth the wait.
The options are vast, but I usually end up getting a pot de creme, because I know it’s going to be So. Good. And it always is. Rich, creamy and dark, it’s best eaten in tiny spoonfuls, or shared with a friend because even a little jarful is almost too much.
So there you have it, a few of our favorite stops. Are there any must-see places I missed? If you’re wanting to see it and need a directionally challenged tour guide, I might be available. I accept payment in the form of okra fries and pots de creme.