Immerse yourself in the unique charm of one of the coolest small cities in the South
By B.C. Rausch
Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV) to Asheville Regional Airport (AVL)
Duration: Varies by airline
Airlines: Delta (via ATL), American (via CLT)
Hilton Head Island to Asheville, N.C.
Duration: 4 hours, 49 minutes (305.3 miles via I-26 W)
Detours: S.C. State Museum (Columbia), S.C. Statehouse (Columbia), R.J. Rockers Brewing Company (Spartanburg), Peachoid (Gaffney), Falls Park on the Reedy (Greenville)
Looking for a quick getaway? Craving some mountain air? Head north to Asheville, a unique and enchanting destination for any traveler.
People visit Asheville for the views, culture and atmosphere, but they particularly enjoy the unique neighborhoods, which are a vital part of the community fabric — from Grove Park to historic West Asheville, Biltmore Village to the River Arts District.
While it’s not our usual habit to steer you to the obvious, the Biltmore Estate is a “must see” on a visit to Asheville. Explore the hiking trails, particularly the farm trail, which runs along the river, the petting zoo (great for kids) and magnificent gardens designed by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.
All of this natural beauty surrounds “America’s Largest Home,” as magnificent today as it was more than a century ago. The self-guided house tour covers three floors and the basement of the luxurious, 250-room family home of George and Edith Vanderbilt, which was completed in 1895. The tour explores the stories of the Vanderbilt family, their guests and employees through displays of vintage clothing, accessories, art, furniture and more. For an additional fee the rooftop tour is well worth the investment.
There are options for overnight stays at the estate as well, with hotel, cottages and a boutique inn offering gracious hospitality and opportunities for full immersion in the natural beauty of this Blue Ridge Mountain oasis.
In the nearby historic Biltmore Forest neighborhood is the charming Rose Bank Park, ideal for children and a great place to picnic. There is a misconception that Biltmore Forest and its parks are accessible only to residents, but that’s not true, so be sure to check this out.
Another historic property is Omni Grove Park Inn, which has been welcoming guests for over a century. Among its many attractions are a subterranean spa and mineral pools, Donald Ross-designed golf course and the annual National Gingerbread House Competition (2023 marks the 31st year), which runs from late November until early January. Local legend has it that the Pink Lady, one of Asheville’s resident ghosts, roams the halls of the resort.
Visit Grovewood Village and the Estes-Winn Antique Car Museum, founded by local Harry Blomberg, a local Cadillac-Pontiac dealer. This small but interesting display includes his prized collected of antique automobiles and a 1922 American LaFrance fire truck, housed in an historic building. It’s open from April through December.
There are 113 Asheville buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Grove Arcade, originally constructed to be America’s first shopping mall, and the S+W Market, a food hall and dining destination downtown. Another whimsical stop? The Asheville Pinball Museum.
You won’t get completely away from the tourists, but a great hike along the Blue Ridge Parkway is the Art Loeb Trail. The walk up to Graveyard Fields offers some of the best views in the area; it’s about an hour from Asheville to the trailhead, with the drive almost as special as the hike. The Mountain-to-Sea Trail doesn’t have the most stunning views, but it’s closer to Asheville and an amazing venture through the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Closer to town — and underground — secret tunnels are rumored to lie beneath Asheville’s downtown, which may have been part of an abandoned plan for an underground subway system for Asheville’s elite during the first part of the 21st century. Others claim that the intricate underground labyrinth was likely part of liquor smuggling during Prohibition. Check it out!
Sightseeing and mountain air can work up an appetite, and there is no shortage of places to sample the many tastes of Asheville.
The aptly named The Local Joint is a breakfast spot located in a former gas station in the Fairview neighborhood. Part greasy spoon, part Asheville hippie flair, there is often a wait, so plan to get there when it opens. A good lunch option is Trout Lily Market, right down the street.
Whistle Hop Brewing Company has tons of activities for kids —playgrounds, volleyball, mini golf and more. Flying under the radar, this is a local favorite.
Sweeten Creek Coffee. Parking is a pain, but the coffee is great at this unassuming building.
Locals swear by 828 Pizza in North Asheville, then walk it off at Beaver Lake, next door.
It’s hard to keep up with all the new restaurants popping up. Among the newest are Ghan Shan West, serving Asian food on Haywood Road in the West Asheville area, where there are dozens of bars and other spots to check out before or after dinner.
Rendezvous in Haw Creek is the sister of the very popular Bouchon (located downtown). The menu is similar, but Rendezvous has more of a neighborhood feel.
Nine Mile in the historic Montford neighborhood has great food but doesn’t accept reservations, so go early. Jettie Rae’s is great for seafood with covered outdoor seating,
Check out Farewell Coffee on the south slope (downtown), as well as the delicious cheese shop next door. Vortex Donuts is a short walk away and opens early, making for a great coffee/donuts breakfast combo.
The River Arts District is rich with galleries, glass and ceramics studios, as well as the Bottle Riot Wine Bar.
For a real local hangout, mix books and bubbly at The Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar. The labyrinth of bookshelves includes tables for enjoying elegant drinking and good cheese boards too.