In a country as big and as populated as the USA, it’s easy for cities to become a perfectly planned replica of each other, forcing you, as a traveler, to dig deep to uncover its unique story. That’s not Asheville!
Asheville, North Carolina, is not shy about hiding its personality. It confidently shines it from its surrounding mountain peaks to its bustling, vibrant streets in the valley.
In this post, we’re sharing the top things to do in Downtown Asheville, not the surrounding areas. We’ll have future posts on things to do in the Asheville region.
We spent two nights in Downtown Asheville and were so happy to do nothing else but explore the wonder of it’s core streets. (we still have so many things left on our Asheville wish list.)
- Why we love Unique Downtown Asheville
- About the Heart of Downtown Asheville
- Battery Park Book Exchange + Champagne Bar
- River Arts District
- Shopping in Downtown Asheville
- Participate in an Art Class
- Visit the Asheville Museum of Science
- Best Coffee in Asheville
- Breweries and Bars in Downtown Asheville
- Places to Eat in Downtown Asheville
- Where to Stay: Hotel Indigo Asheville Downtown
- Places to Visit Near Asheville
Why we love Unique Downtown Asheville
Being in Downtown Asheville felt like I had stepped into the world. Sometimes I felt like I was in Newtown (a suburb of Sydney, Australia), at other times in San Francisco, then in a moment I was transported to London, Dublin, and Thailand.
How can you not love a city that reflects the cultural diversity of our planet and brings to the surface some of your best travel memories? It wraps you up in a warm blanket of comfort, assurance, joy, and a feeling that everything is okay in the world.
It’s now one of my favorite outdoor adventure towns in the USA and, at only four hours’ drive from Raleigh, I can’t wait to keep returning.
Our daughters took to it straight away as well, which is a great sign, especially when you have a teen in the family!
About the Heart of Downtown Asheville
Asheville is the commercial hub of Western North Carolina and is surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Pisgah National Forest.
Downtown Asheville has a funky, bohemian vibe showcased in its local selection of shops, restaurants, cafes, art galleries and street performers.
There are no expectations in Asheville for you to be anything but yourself. Although a laid-back spirit and love for life will help you feel a part of the community.
We visited over the Thanksgiving weekend, after spending 6 nights in a mountain cabin in nearby Boone, off the Blue Ridge Parkway in the high country (about 2.5 hours form Asheville). It was a hive of activity on Saturday, which eased off to quieter streets on Sunday.
What I love about Asheville is that it’s a destination focused on LOCAL. You won’t find a chain anywhere in the city center.
Even better is that Asheville’s local theme is focused on health, wellness, connection to Mother Earth, farm to table, and outdoor adventure.
This makes it incredibly unique. Many of the experiences below I have not seen anywhere before, and that’s why I’ll continue to talk about this city long after I’ve gone. I’ll just stop talking now and show you.
Battery Park Book Exchange + Champagne Bar
“What new world am I about to walk into?” is the general thrill that comes with picking up a new book.
At the Battery Park Book Exchange + Champagne Bar that thrill comes with walking in the front door into a new world: Champagne tasting inside a bookstore!
It’s a speakeasy vibe with a dusting of French sophistication.
Black curtains drape the windows, live bluegrass in the corner warms you up, and surrounding you is a vast array of new and old books to peruse while you sip on a glass of fine champagne.
Tasting flights are the norm here but be prepared for the champagne price tag. We opted for a sparkling wine cocktail and Syrah instead paired with a charceturie board with local goat’s cheese.
River Arts District
It took me awhile to warm up to The River Arts District. I’m not sure why. I guess we’re not typically art museum type of people.
But as we soon discovered, this goes beyond the stuffy quiet halls of a museum. This is a living breathing local art space that invites interaction, sparks curiosity, and feeds creative inspiration.
From the coffee to urban wine, restaurants and skate parks, creativity is the focus of the River Arts District in Downtown Asheville.
In its various mediums and form, art adorns the walls, 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 blocks of it that run alongside the French Broad River.
The district is divided into hubs that take up a block or two. Each hub is identified by a color, which is on the signs (and map) for each corresponding area. Within each hub, you’ll find studios, galleries, places to eat and drink, and live music venues.
Here are a few of our favorite things:
- NC Glass Center – take a glass blowing class if you have time
- The Blue Foundry St district was my favorite with wild graffiti art on every building and a skate park
- Plebb Urban Winery – fantastic wine bar for wine tasting. All wine is made on site.
- Summit Coffee – definitely the best coffee in Asheville (we tasted quite a few)
- Wedge Brewery – we did not stop for a drink here, but it looks cool. Craig liked the industrial feel of their location at (the red section) They also have one in the blue.
- 12 Bones Smokehouse – So good Obama went back twice for some Carolina BBQ
Great news. Our kids loved this district too, even our teen, Kalyra. You know a place is good if it captures the attention of your teen.
READ OUR FULL GUIDE to the River Arts District in Asheville (what, why and how!)
Shopping in Downtown Asheville
We’re not really shopping people, especially on famous streets like Saks Fifth Avenue that doesn’t have much of a grounded, relatable spirit.
But since Asheville is brimming with independent shops, a grounded mountain energy, and a spirit of fun centered around entertainment and good food, I was happy wandering up and down the streets for hours. I was very surprised at how much the downtown Asheville shopping scene had to offer.
It is one of the most popular things to do in Asheville!
There are several main streets in Asheville with an interesting store every couple of steps. There are actually 200+ locally owned stores and boutiques.
It’s a very walkable downtown area with the main streets being Patton Avenue, Wall St, Battery Park Ave, Lexington, Broadway, and Biltmore Avenue.
What I loved about shopping in Downtown Asheville was discovering the different vibes each street had. One of my favorites was Lexington Avenue where yuppy hip crossed with punk grunge in a way that works.
Here are a few of the stores I loved. (I still did not get to see many, so please leave in the comments your tips for my next Asheville vacation).
Element Tree Essentials
Element Tree Essentials was my favorite store in Asheville.
I could have spent hours in here and bought one of everything. Instead, I opted for their signature hand lotion candles and a creativity spell jar for Savannah’s Christmas present.
Asheville Bee Charmer
Do you love bees? Get buzzing over to the Asheville Bee Charmer store (2 locations downtown).
They work with beekeepers across Western North Carolina and the world to curate a selection of delicious 100% pure, raw honey.
Down the back is a honey tasting bar, where Bee-ristas take you on a sweet and spicy tasting adventure around the world from local sourwood honey to firecracker hot. Your tastebuds will be buzzing Beelicious!
Did you know that it’s best to purchase local honey? Not only does it support the local economy, BUT it supports your own body. Since bees are local pollinators, the raw honey produced from them can help your body adapt to the environment, build up immunity, and help ease those seasonal allergies!
I loved walking through the door on Lexington Street to a room filed with crystals, mandala tapestries, tarot cards, jewelry and books on mystical living.
Earth Magick has created a sacred space supporting local artisans by selling their handmade tools and empowerment pieces from Asheville and surrounds.
It’s truly Magickal.
I know sometimes you want to avoid souvenir type shops for fear of entering tacky-ville, but the Asheville Emporium has a surprising number of cool local gifts. The perfect kind of travel souvenirs. They also have a section at the back where they print their own T-shirts, so cool to see that set up.
The Grove Arcade
The Grove Arcade is located in an elegant historical building and is Downtown Asheville’s most popular mall for shopping and eating out. You’ll find a variety of retail stores, eateries, our fave champagne bar mentioned above, and a daily artists market for local crafters.
Asheville Chocolate & French Broad Chocolate Lounge
Swoon chocolate lovers. Asheville is filed with scrumptious local, hand crafted chocolate.
Check out the following chocolate places:
- Asheville Chocolate: offering small batch truffles and gelato made by hand in store. You can even watch them make it while you wait!
- The Chocolate Fetish: Since 1986, they have been wowing Asheville with award winning truffles and European style chocolates.
- French Broad Chocolate Lounge: Located in an unmistakable celestial blue building, this extremely popular emporium has artisanal, organic chocolates and pastries and signature sipping chocolates. Their factory just north of Asheville offers tours of their bean-to-bar chocolate making process
1. Discover Downtown Asheville’s noteworthy landmarks and architectural gems on this 2.5-hour guided tour of Asheville by electric bike, including downtown and greenways. Learn more here, and here is a 3 hour option.
2. A guided walking tour with a local guide focused on the city’s history, architecture, and culture. See more here.
Participate in an Art Class
On a previous visit, the girls participated in an art class, which is a fantastic thing to do in Asheville with kids. Asheville is the Arts, so this is a great way to get to know the culture on a deeper level.
Looking for black owned businesses in Asheville? Check out this guide from my friend Nadeen from The Sophisticated Life.
Visit the Asheville Museum of Science
On Patton Street in Downtown Asheville, you’ll find the Asheville Museum of Science, a popular Asheville attraction with kids.
We visited on a previous trip and the girls loved feeling the full force of a wild storm in the Hurricane Simulator, and exploring the cool crystals on display.
Small enough to not bore the parents, and big enough to entertain the kids, the Asheville Science Museum is a good place to spend an hour or so – it’s more suited to the younger children!
Best Coffee in Asheville
So, our coffee tasting experiences weren’t as mind-blowing as we’d expected (as Aussies, we are coffee snobs). Until our last day when we found two stellar cups of coffee. (We did not get to taste all of the downtown Asheville coffee shops, but we gave it a good nudge. Let us know your favorites in the comments?)
Summit Coffee Co
Ah, a real cup of coffee. I lingered over the first sip as it filled me up with coffee love warmth. Summit Coffee Co will be your go to coffee spot in Asheville. You can trust coffee that is responsibly sourced, and roasted in small batches in their certified organic facility.
We visited the funky location in the River Arts District. They also have a location in the Grove Arcade.
High Five Coffee
Your first sip of Counter Culture roasted coffee will tell you that High Five Coffee’s barista’s have to pass tests before serving you up your favorite brew.
Thank goodness we found High Five Coffee before leaving Asheville. You’ll find three locations in Asheville.
Breweries and Bars in Downtown Asheville
It seems like there are more Asheville breweries than there are Dublin pubs! Every couple of feet you’ll discover another one dedicated to showcasing the flavors of the Appalachian region.
The good news is many of them are family-friendly. More good news – they have a lot of ciderie’s as well for those gluten free drinkers. We didn’t visit as many on this trip but have previously.
South Slope is a revitalized hip warehouse district and is where you’ll find many of the downtown Asheville breweries as well as a growing number of restaurants and shops. Brewery crawls are easy here! This is one of Asheville’s best neighborhoods.
With a covered outdoor space and delicious pizzas, Asheville Brewing is a casual place to drop in, especially if traveling with kids. The gluten free pizza here was probably the best we’ve had.
A legend in the North Carolina brewing world, Burial Beer is a must stop on your Asheville brewery tour. We love the Raleigh location – especially their very cool Point Break mural. And here they have one featuring Sloth from the Goonies.
Well, just look at the Sloth mural they have in their Asheville location. You’ll find a great outdoor space with heaters and a cool kombi van to sit in.
Another one of the more established breweries in Asheville is Hire-Wire Brewing who now has locations in Durham and Knoxville. They love to brew traditional styles, and beer they want to drink!
Green Man Brewery
Green Man is just a touch outside of downtown Asheville, but offers a terrific selection of beers that are true to style in a cool building, relaxing atmosphere, and great set up for outdoor seating (and indoors)!
Catawba Brewery is the perfect brewery for sports lovers with its wide open, inside area and big screens. It also has an outside beer garden that hosts food trucks.
1. Discover which breweries are worth the hype on this Asheville brewery tour, which takes you to craft breweries with behind-the-scene access and ample pours at each. Click here to learn more.
2. Cycle (on an e-bike) to five of Asheville’s most popular microbreweries, enjoying a drink (or two) at each location. Click here to learn more.
The Crow & Quill Speakeasy Bar
We walked through the non-descript green door of the Crow & Quill with the light above it of what looked like an abandoned building. It creaked open, and we were greeted by a modern gothic looking bar tender.
I felt like I had stepped into the shadowy underworld of Ketterdam from Shadow and Bone.
The dimly lit room was filled with antique furniture, art on the walls and an elaborate array of whiskeys from around the world and other spirits such as rums, mezcals, and gins (700 in total). They are known for their expertly created craft cocktails. Proof of vaccination is required. The Crow and Quill is a uniquely cool Asheville Speakeasy Bar.
Jack of the Wood
We walked past the windows of Jack of the Wood and saw the Irish band playing in the corner and knew it was a place we wanted to come back to. Anything to give us a taste of Dublin – our once home for a year that we miss so much!
Well, we returned the next evening on a Sunday when the amps were turned off and the city almost empty! We pulled up a seat at the bar and enjoyed a drink anyway. No Guinness for me as I’m avoiding gluten – but let’s face it, no bar in the world can quite do Guinness like they do in Dublin.
But we enjoyed a local craft brew, a delicious cider from Urban Orchard Cidery that tasted just like Thanksgiving, and a chat with the bartender.
Places to Eat in Downtown Asheville
Like the meal I had only days before at The Local in Boone, NC, I wanted complete silence when eating my gluten free biscuit so that I could savor the delicious flavors.
The last time I had a biscuit so delicious was from Honest Biscuits at Pike Place Market in Seattle (coincidentally founded and owned by an old acquaintance in Raleigh).
The Rhu knows how to make a fluffy, melt in your mouth biscuit. The is cafe, bakery and pantry also have sandwiches, bagels, chocolate croissants, pastries, and their own loaves of bread.
Early Girl Eatery
Early Girl Eatery was our delicious brunch stop on the first day. This is the Asheville farm-to-table experience you’d expect from the area with meals made from scratch and ingredients sourced from the highest quality in the region.
You’ll find breakfast bowls, omelets, biscuits, and southern breakfasts. Lots of GF options on the menu too!
Not to be missed is the crisp-fried Heirloom Grit Cake Stack piled with mushrooms, red pepper, squash and a southern tomato sauce. Kalyra enjoyed a spicy chicken sandwich.
Excellent service as well. Our order ticket was lost in the kitchen and so our food was delayed. We understand this happens and so weren’t bothered by it. But as it was not up to the standard Early Girl wants, they discounted our check. (They did not know who we were either. Secret shopping is generally how we do things.) I was very impressed with this customer care.
Looking for breakfast in downtown Asheville the locals love? Pull up a stool at the diner counter and enjoy watching the cooks expertly take care of an endless line of waiting tickets of this iconic Asheville Diner, the Med. And apparently it was quiet!
I enjoyed watching their team work and easy going nature. I saw plate after plate of omelets, French toast, pancakes, country ham and eggs, homemade hash browns, and biscuits. They have modern breakfast items like bowls and fancy grits.
I loved my flavorful breakfast hash bowl: potatoes topped with sausage, parmesan, peppers, onions, tomatoes and over easy eggs.
The Med is open for lunch also. But keep in mind it’s one of the most popular downtown Asheville restaurants.
Chai Pani is where you go for your delicious Indian Street food that has been raved about from the Washington Post to Fox News!
The brightly colored walls and murals are the perfect match to the vibrant flavor diversity of its dishes from thalis, to uttapam, street burgers and and snacks.
I’m not an Indian street food expert, but I have taste buds enough to say its worthy of the accolades. My gluten free version of the sloppy jai was delicious.
Suwana’s Thai Orchid
Since we lived in Bangkok for six months, we can label a dish authentic Thai with one tantalizing taste. Even the simple décor and restaurant space at Suwana’s Thai Orchid made me feel like I was back in Thailand.
You’ll find all your Thai favorites on the menu: noodle dishes, rice bowls, classic stir fries and curries, spring rolls, dumplings, and my favorite, mango sticky rice.
Where to Stay: Hotel Indigo Asheville Downtown
If you’re looking for hotels in downtown Asheville, Hotel Indigo Downtown Asheville is where location meets gorgeous mountain views
Hotel Indigo is within walking distance to all the Downtown Asheville restaurants, shops, music venues and experiences, including the popular South Slope for trendy breweries and local vibe.
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.
You can read more in our Hotel Indigo Downtown Asheville Review.
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!
Do you have any questions or your own tips on the best things to do in Downtown Asheville? Leave us a comment below!