From the coffee to urban wine, restaurants and skate parks, art in its various mediums and form is the focus of the River Arts District in Downtown Asheville.
Paintings adorn the walls, sculptures stand proud in gardens, murals form the backsplashes to bars, and graffiti wraps around the revitalized warehouses and brick buildings of the region.
This is not just one or two buildings dedicated to celebrating local artisans and a vibrant community spirit but several blocks of it. It’s well suited to the free and adventurous lifestyle of Western North Carolina, and it’s now one of our favorite things to do in Downtown Asheville.
- What is the River Arts District in Asheville?
- Why visit the River Arts District (especially with kids)
- How to experience the River Arts District, Asheville
- Things to do in the River Arts District
- RAD Green Hub (Riverside Drive)
- RAD Red Hub: (Roberts St)
- Purple District (Depot Street)
- Orange Art District (River Arts Pl)
- Blue Hub: Foundy St
- The French Broad River Trail
- Best time to visit the River Arts District
- Where to stay in Asheville?
- Places to Visit Near Asheville
What is the River Arts District in Asheville?
The River Arts District, or RAD for short, is the artistic heart of Asheville. In the late 1800s it was the industrial heart of the city with factories and mills lining the river. This didn’t last and soon it turned into a run-down area with abandoned and boarded up buildings.
Until the 1980s where this gritty industrial area started to transform, its rebirth growing local artist’s need for cheap rents and large studio spaces.
For over two decades now these empty warehouses, factories, mills, and tanneries have been revitalized into this colorful and creative safe haven for local and resident artists, and now visitors, who want to experience what can happen when a community puts art, people, and unique stories first.
These days the rent prices aren’t as cheap as they were in the beginning. With the exploding growth of this area, and future expansion plans, it was only a matter of time.
The River Arts District stretches over a mile and is made up of 22 buildings housing more than 200 local artists working in paint, pencil, pottery, metal, fiber, glass, cold wax, paper and more. Within some of these buildings, you’ll find multiple artists, sculptors, and studios.
The region is divided into hubs that take up a block or two.
Each hub is identified by a color (red, green, blue, purple, orange), which corresponds to pole banners you’ll see along the road, building colors, and the map/brochure for each area.
Within each hub, you’ll find studios, galleries, places to eat and drink, and live music venues. (See our REEL of the River Arts District)
Where is the Asheville River Arts District?
The River Arts District is located just south of the main downtown Asheville area east of the railroad trips and the French Broad River. The paved 2-mile Wilma Dykeman greenway runs alongside the river and through the district and features public artwork.
There is ample parking on the streets around each of the hubs.
Why visit the River Arts District (especially with kids)
I was worried half a day would be too much exploring this place in Asheville and the kids would get bored. Typically, they are in an art museum. But this is not pristine, stuffy, and quiet like an art museum. Even our teen enjoyed it a lot.
What sets this apart from an art museum, and why I especially recommend it when traveling with kids, is that this is a living, breathing creative space.
It’s art in process: from the originating ideas written all over walls, to pieces in motion sitting on desks or easels, to completed works beautifully displayed on shelves.
You can walk through artists’ studios and see the messy side of creation (with its mistakes), touch (check first) or snap mural photos, talk to the artists, participate in a class, see an eclectic mix of art designs and forms, and even purchase something you can’t stop thinking about or looking at.
And all of this comes with a local perspective helping you to get to know the culture of the region you are visiting. In this case, Asheville, a city that puts community, art, and nature at the center of everything.
Any art enthusiasts or collectors on a getaway to Asheville, you will love diving into this blossoming eclectic, home-grown art scene.
It’s also a place for those who love shopping – you can’t beat a piece of art hanging from your wall to remind you of your Asheville.
There is something to suit all budgets from postcard sized prints, little trinkets, mugs, vintage clothes, and jewelry pieces to wall sized canvas paintings and commissioned sculptures that could set you back tens of thousands of dollars. Art is always in the eye of the beholder (of the eye or wallet)
As this is a living, breathing space, I can’t wait to come back with every return visit to Asheville to see how it is evolving and keeping up with Asheville’s vibrant spirit and pace.
How to experience the River Arts District, Asheville
Spend a little bit of time planning out your River Arts District Day. I recommend at least 3-4 hours.
We started at the top red hub and then finished in the Blue Foundy area. I liked ending here as it was my favorite section with a lot to do.
Plan your itinerary around where you want to eat, have coffee, and a craft brew or urban wine – and at what times. The art you can easily fit in around that. Unless there are specific exhibitions, events, or live music on.
Many people love to cycle around the River Arts District, or you could walk from one district to another. I felt it was manageable and we walked between a couple of districts.
Some of the streets between the hubs don’t have sidewalks. I would have been fine regardless, even with kids. We did not visit on a busy day, however.
You can pick up maps at various places in the city, and more than likely, your first stop on your River Arts Explorations. There is also an interactive map here.
There is a guided tour available of the River Arts District, if you don’t want to do it on your own. See more here.
Things to do in the River Arts District
We did not get to visit everything, but plan to come back and explore more. That’s where we (and future readers of this post) need your help! Please leave a comment sharing your River Arts District favorite and why! We appreciate all your tips!
From what we experienced, here are what we feel are things to do in the River Arts District that are unique and memorable.
I’ll move down from the most northern green hub down to the southern blue. We started in the purple district and, with this decision, missed the Green district! I’ve researched to give some information below.
RAD Green Hub (Riverside Drive)
Asheville Cotton Mills Studios
One of the oldest buildings in Asheville, the Cotton Mill complex was built in 1887 and produced denim and flannel, employing more than 300 people until it ceased operations in 1953.
Most of the two-story brick complex burned to the ground in 1995, except for the south wing building which is today known as The Asheville Cotton Mill Studios. It’s now one of the busiest studios in the district, with eight studio spaces filled with natural light that is the dream of all artists.
Inside Cotton Mill you’ll find photographers, custom-made clothing, tattoo artists, painters, and printers.
On my wish list is to return to the Asheville Guitar Bar, an intimate music venue for musicians to play, network and compose, and Daidala Ciders, a small-batch cider company experimenting with creating rare and unconventional ciders.
White Duck Taco Shop, Hatchery Studios
High on the list of foodies visiting Asheville is the White Duck Taco Shop, a colorful, sunlit space that sells $3 fish tacos to rave about. One of their locations is in the vibrant Hatchery Studios, formerly the Earle-Chesterfield Mill Company Hatchery.
The Hatchery houses R.A.D. artists who create jewelry, pottery, paintings and more
RAD Red Hub: (Roberts St)
North Carolina Glass Center
After seeing master glass blower Chihuly’s artwork around the country, in particular Biltmore Estate Gardens and the Chihuly center in Seattle, the NC Glass Center was at the top of my list of things to do in the River Arts District.
First highlight was the vibrant mural on the front of the building inviting you into this fiery world of turning glass into masterpieces.
Not only can you watch artists at work, and see beautiful pieces in the gallery, you can try your hand at glassblowing with a range of workshops and glassblowing and flameworking classes they offer.
Olde London Road English Pub
I stared longingly through the windows of this English pub as we walked by. Crowds of people sat with their team scarves draped over their shoulders eagerly watching their team on the screen.
The girls wouldn’t have been happy if we stopped in to watch. But, if you’re an English fan, this may be a place you want to stop, especially if there is a soccer game on.
One of the most well known and popular of the places to visit in the River Arts District is Wedge Studios. This historical building houses over 30 professional working artists’ studios on four levels, a brewery, a restaurant, a hair salon, and a wine bar. Originally constructed in 1898, it was once the largest leather tannery in the USA during its time.
I loved the encaustic paintings with beeswax by artist Dagmar Bruehmueller and the abstract art of Callie Ferraro. Kids will especially love all her thoughts written over the walls!
Wedge Brewing Company
Tucked away behind the art studios is an industrial railroad yard is the popular brewery and beer garden of Wedge Brewing Company
While it feels cluttered and thrown together the vibe really works. I loved the industrial welding artistic style of the place with its tables, seats, and hanging art pieces made from salvaged iron and steel, possibly paying homage to Wedge Studios founder, metal artist John Payne.
They have regular rotating food trucks and patrons love their hoppy IPAs and stouts. Look for live music on Saturdays! They also have another location at the Foundy Section of RAD.
On our next visit we will stop here for a beer and, when I return, sans kids. I will also visit the adults only wine bar, Bottle Riot!
If you need coffee, Ultra Coffeebar is in this in the red area. The Bull and Beggar is also a popular restaurant (with raveable cocktails)
Purple District (Depot Street)
Pink Dog Creative
A good place for us to start our River Arts District, especially to capture the girls attention, was the vibrantly colorful Pink Dog Creative, housed in a former manufacturing and warehouse building.
Walk from one studio to another along the row. You’ll find 30 artists, a gallery and two restaurants – Fresh West Pizza and Vivian.
A favorite of ours for this building were the colorful and intricate patterns on the Ukrainian pysanky eggs by artist Andrea Kulish. You may even pick up a stunning piece of handcrafted jewelry from Christie Calaycay.
You can grab a coffee from Grind Coffee Shop, the first Black-owned coffee shop in Asheville. It’s also a coworking space and café whose aim is to nurture entrepreneurship, especially in the Black community. You’ll find pastries AND cool artwork on the walls inside as well. Or, nearby Ultra Coffee Bar.
The Community Container Project
One of my favorite murals was across the road from Pink Dog Creative. Trinity Harper Pierce, an eleven-year-old budding artist, won a competition to paint the 44×18 ft container.
Her message was accompanied by a giant red heart “Love your community.” She says,
“There was a lot of violence in my neighborhood. I want people to care more about their community. When they drive by and see this, I hope their hearts grow as big as the heart in the painting. I want the love to spread all throughout my community, my city and my county.” (Source: The Laurel of Asheville).
Just reading this makes my heart grow bigger.
(Be sure to grab a photo if you arrive and there are no cars parked in front! We had a brain fart and had to settle for a photo later navigating around them!)
Orange Art District (River Arts Pl)
Curve Studios and Garden
Curve Studios has been keeping the RAD in R.A.D for over 30 years. Originally built in 1916 by Standard Oil Company of New Jersey as a warehouse from which they supplied their chain of retail gasoline stations, it was reborn into a studio space in 1989 by Patti Torno who purchased the buildings.
You’ll now find 11 artists hard at work making ceramic sculpture, functional pottery, jewelry, clothing, and fine art photography as well as teaching the art of chair caning.
Curve Studios close on Sundays which meant we couldn’t see anything inside the studios. But we enjoyed taking photos outside in front of the LOVE mural and their hidden garden.
Not to miss is the 8ft tall chair arch to honor Torno’s long contributions to the art district. Built by Brandy Clements, Dave Klingler, and Lucy Kruesel from the Silver River Center for Chair Caning at Curve Studios which is the only chair caning school and museum in the USA
Blue Hub: Foundy St
The Blue Foundy St area was my favorite place in the River Arts. It had an urban funk vibe with wild graffiti wrapping the walls of every building.
It feels like you’ve just walked onto a canvas and become part of the masterpiece. If you like street art, and your selfies in front of it, you’ll want to plan to spend some time here.
There are also several places to eat and drink and cool vintage shopping in this area.
Foundation Studios is a gallery space with working artist studios, and rooms for events and classes. Their mixed medium art includes painting, printmaking, ceramics, metal arts, wood burning, and fiber art.
They have a wide variety of classes such as basket weaving or oil painting that cater to adults and kids. The diversity of art here was incredible!
Both the girls and I were intrigued by the Amy Winehouse painting on display in the gallery. I did not record the artist’s name down and now cannot find it!
Housed in a former tannery and candle manufacturing building overlooking the French Broad River, this 110,000 sq foot space is home to a thriving community of more than 60 artists.
Inside Riverview Station you’ll find potters and painters, photographers, woodworkers, jewelry designers, mixed media artists as well as three art galleries.
Don’t miss the Art Garden, a studio and gallery space of artists working together to create an immersive art environment with Earth centered themes.
You’ll find not only extraordinary pieces of art but plants that naturally uplift and inspire awe and wonder. It’s worth going here just to see the fantastic realism paintings of Annie Kyla Bennett and Magical Realism art from Medicine Heart Mural (Annie Kyla Bennet, Dillon Endico, Jack Henry)
Riverview also has live art demonstrations and classes.
On our last morning leaving Asheville, we stopped into the Foundy St for lunch and a latte from Summit Coffee. I’m so glad we did, otherwise we would have left Asheville without sampling its best coffee.
Its minimalist interior and fun graffiti wrapped building, and outside garden creates the coffee shop experience only Asheville could offer, and two floors of seating inside with loads of natural light.
12 Bones Smokehouse
This BBQ joint is so good Obama went back twice for some Carolina BBQ!
Yep, unpretentious 12 Bones Smokehouse serves up a few mouthwatering items your President and his family will love! It’s hard to resist the smells wafting through the entire Foundy district as you]re exploring.
Meats include pulled chicken and port, and sliced beef brisket.
12 Bones makes everything from scratch and meats are smoked long & slow over select hardwoods, oak, and cherry.
We did not have the pulled pork, which I think is what Obama returned for. While the brisket was great, I have had better. I still highly recommend a visit though. Have some of that pork and let us know what you think.
Next door is the Wedge Brewing Foundy St if you need to wash it down with something cold and local.
Pleb Urban Winery
If there is one unmissable thing to do in the Asheville Arts District, it’s a tasting flight of local wine at Pleb Urban Winery.
A giant-sized mural of an angelic girl blowing a dandelion into the breeze entices you into the large, open warehouse space that is both chic and rustic. The mural behind the bar is just as enticing.
It has an unpretentious vibe that invites thoughtful conversation, similar to the Roman plebeian community after which it is named. They wisely worshiped the gods of agriculture, fertility, and viticulture.
There is much to talk about over a $12 paddle of wine that gets you a choice of four different wines. Choose your own or select from the crafted options on the menu.
Know that with every sip, you are supporting local Western NC agriculture, sustainable practices, all the while enjoying the unique characteristics of Appalachian wine
I chose the Roaming Lands Paddle with a Redwood white chardonnay, a Sequoia Rose, and a Sequoia Red (Syrah). The Syrah is worth leaving with a bottle in hand, or a return visit!
While we did not watch a movie at the Grail MovieHouse, I loved the concept and look of this tiny independent theater. An intimate theater that shows a mix of first-run films, old classics, documentaries, and indie flicks.
Expect an eclectic vibe in the small theater rooms with either upholstered chairs or loveseats.
Foundation Spot Skate Park
It’s not just art lovers coming from all over to visit Asheville, but skateboarders as well. The Foundation Spot is a DIY skateable sculpture park built by volunteers with all the pipes, runs, tunnels, and bumps wrapped in graffiti.
I love watching skaters when we travel – it helps you get to know more about the people who live there. It’s my favorite thing to look at when we visit Venice Beach in California.
Next door is also the Rad Skate Park. It’s an indoor skate park with all the ramps and obstacles skaters dream of.
The French Broad River Trail
If you haven’t yet walked on the paved path beside the French Broad River, now is the perfect chance, as it’s right next to the blue area.
The French Broad River is the third oldest river in the world and is older than the Blue Ridge Mountains. You can walk north to reach the River Arts District sculptured sign, or south to the French Broad River Park.
This would be a great spot for a bike ride. Kayakers and tubers may also love a float (in the warmer months!)
TOUR IDEA: Guided Tours on the French Broad River
1 KAYAK the French Broad River and sight see Asheville as you go. Learn about local flora and fauna with your certified naturalist guide and enjoy a sneak peak of the Biltmore Estate. Book your trip here.
2. PADDLEBOARD TOUR: Paddle 7 miles (11 km) with a private guide on the picturesque French Broad River. You’ll pass by Asheville’s massive Biltmore Estate and hear about its history Book your trip here.
Best time to visit the River Arts District
Many studios are open every day, all year round, but it does vary from studio to studio. If you want to see a particular artist, be sure to research their opening time.
Wednesday to Saturday is typically the best time to catch artists, although Saturday is usually the busiest day of the week and when you’ll have the best shopping success.
‘Second Saturday’ is held every second Saturday of the month. The Asheville Arts District has gallery walks, with demonstrations, workshops, live music, wine tasting and more!
Popular with art aficionados is the annual Studio Stroll held on a weekend each Fall. Two days full of special demonstrations and events, including unique workshops and gallery receptions. Many studios have snacks and refreshments, and there are free trolley rides to help you get between the buildings.
From the beginning of May to November, the River Arts District Farmers Market runs on Wednesdays from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. every week. You will find dozens of local farms, creameries, and bakeries here.
Where to stay in Asheville?
As the River Arts District is only minutes from downtown Asheville, you have a range of options for accommodation to suit your needs.
We loved our stay at the Hotel Indigo Asheville downtown.
We like accommodation options that help to tell the story of the region we are visiting, and this boutique Asheville hotel does that with its ideal location, engaging service (with insider tips), and local flavors in both art and food. Click to read why we loved it.
OTHER ASHEVILLE HOTELS TO CONSIDER
Places to Visit Near Asheville
Check out the following posts for more inspiration and things to do in the Asheville region.
- Top Places To Go in the North Carolina Mountains (Western NC)
- Welcome to the Largest Home in America: Biltmore Estate, North Carolina
- Asheville NC: Rock climbing, breweries and stunning waterfalls
- Slip Into Serenity With These 8 Things To Do In Lake Lure, NC
- Lake Junaluska, North Carolina Mountains – a retreat for the spiritually minded
- Climb 499 Steps To The Top of Chimney Rock, NC for Incredible Views!