So I went back to where I grew up over the holidays — taking in Asheville, North Carolina for the first time as an adult. Yes, I went back home for the holidays in the past — but this time I was more determined to check out the city whose often-seen slogan is ‘Keep Asheville Weird’. A few other cities, such as Portland and Austin, have similar slogans, and to be clear they’re on my to-visit list… whenever I get around to making a longer trip around the US. Even if you’re only around Western North Carolina for a day or two, make some time for some or all of these half-dozen destinations.
(By the way, I don’t cover coffee all that much in this post. If you’re an avid coffee drinker, you’ll love Amy’s post on the best coffee shops in Asheville.)
The Chocolate Fetish
There’s always time for chocolate. Artisan chocolate, in this case, trumps whatever mass-market brand you might find at the supermarket. Asheville is perhaps a textbook lesson in how to grow a local economy while keeping major corporations out. In fact, good luck finding a sign of Corporate America in the downtown area — even in places where a 7/11 might be handy.
Flavors range from the typical (pure dark chocolate) to the unusual (hazelnut) to the ‘WTF?’ (cayenne or wasabi). The high heels are but one example of the store’s creativeness — and yes, they take online orders.
Located inside a former Woolworth’s, the century-old interior has been transformed into an artsy market. The business cards promise over 80% of the sale goes back to the artist. Whether you’re in the mood for a free-standing, six-foot tall wooden statue or a three-buck bumper sticker proclaim Asheville as the city “where normal is weird”, you’ve come to the right place.
Two floors of interesting arts and crafts, made by local artisans. Perhaps it was mentioned when the artists themselves would be around, but the only staff around was at the checkout desk. A nostalgic note: the soda fountain area is still functional, as if Woolworth’s still owned and ran it.
An upscale version of the above — the brick-and-mortar storefronts offer everything from old books to unique-looking guitars. Bring your credit card, though — little about this place is inexpensive. Alternatively, wander about the sidewalks that surround this central location for some more reasonably priced offerings.
Grove Arcade, 1 Page Avenue, Asheville, NC, 28801 (GPS: 35.595547,-82.556645) 828–252–7799 — www.grovearcade.com
Asheville Pinball Museum
An unexpected delight! I regret only having the time to take a few pictures (had we stayed, we might not have left until the power got shut off!). Possibly one of the largest collections of working and playable pinball machines in the country, one admission fee per person gives you the run of the arcade. No quarters or tokens are necessary — all the machines are set up for free play.
Asheville Pinball Museum, 1 Battle Square, suite 1A, Asheville, NC, 28801 (GPS: 35.596273,-82.557061), 828–776–5671. $10 USD unlimited play for adults, $7 for kids.
French Broad Chocolate Lounge
Just in case one chocolate place wasn’t enough for you, Asheville also boasts the French Broad Chocolate Lounge. Coffee and tea both come from local operations, but the highlight is the liquid sipping chocolate. Do NOT come here if you have any hope of staying on a diet — unless it’s your cheat day, of course. Cheat days are good.
They claim a ‘bean-to-bar’ process where they handle all steps of the manufacturing in-city. They also claim portion sizes are reasonable (not the gargantuan-sized behemoths Americans are often known for gorging on), and in truth they are. They’re also one of the only places I’ve heard of to offer a tour of their factory (every Saturday at 2pm, $10, more details on their website) — complete with plenty of tastings, naturally.
The Thomas Wolfe Memorial
Although I’ll include it here, it’ll be featured as an excellent post of its own (partially because the guy did plenty with his 38 years of life, and partially because there’s plenty of story to tell). In case you missed it, look for it over here. The one-sentence version: locally famous writer and his mother’s boarding house, both of which make for a nice slice of early 20th century Americana.
The modern hall / entrance doubles as a museum and souvenir shop — as I understood it, the guided tour is the only part that costs to join. Don’t skimp, though — the extremely knowledgable guide knows the house and history backwards and forwards.
52 N. Market Street, Asheville, NC, 28806 (GPS: 35.597638,-82.550853) 828–253–8304 — www.wolfememorial.com ($5 USD admission)
There’s plenty more around the city, and summer or fall is by far the best time to check out Asheville (several places we wanted to visit will have to be saved for next time!). Make it a part of your next trip to North Carolina.