Explore the Carolinas: In the two states to our south, you’ll find beaches, cities, and mountain towns that make for idyllic vacation spots. Before you pack the car and head down I-95 this summer, get the lowdown on some new-to-you locations in North and South Carolina — and find out what’s new this year at your old favorites.
Drive time from Dulles: 7+ Hours
Outdoorsy types love this western North Carolina hot spot and surrounding towns as much as travelers who’d rather not spend their vacation hiking. Wear hiking attire anyway and you’ll fit right in with the casual, hippie-like vibes of Asheville. A youthful enthusiasm permeates, blending with Southern hospitality to make even the most cynical traveler feel a little more optimistic about the world. Or maybe that’s the mountain air doing its job.
Want to treat your getaway like a wellness retreat? Embrace the natural beauty of the area with a private or group Guided Forest Bathing & Nature Therapy session at Asheville Wellness Tours. A two-and-a-half-hour stroll through the Blue Ridge Mountains led by a certified forest therapy guide culminates in a tea ceremony with snacks. The facility also offers yoga hikes, winery tours, tarot readings, massages, aromatherapy, and more. Visit Skinny Beats Sound Shop downtown for a sound healing session led by an expert percussionist. Purchase a new tarot card deck at Asheville Raven & Crone. You can get a reading in the back if you call ahead.
If liquid therapy is more your thing, Asheville has nearly 40 breweries, with many located right next to each other downtown, which makes it easy to hop from one to the next. Live music, from solo guitarists to full bluegrass or rock bands, can be found at most of them. A crowd favorite for superb sours with four outposts in or near the city is Wicked Weed Brewing Pub. For some of the best IPAs, try Hi-Wire Brewing, and world-renowned Sierra Nevada has a taproom just south of Asheville in Mills River.
Devote a chunk of time to checking out the city’s artwork. There’s no shortage of original works to be admired. You’ll find playful murals of pop-culture icons like Homer Simpson and RuPaul and open studios that showcase more than 200 artists. In the River Arts District, view and shop for ceramics, metal arts, paintings, prints, and woodwork at approachable gallery and studio spaces. Foundation Studios is conveniently located near 12 Bones Smokehouse, a favorite of former President Barack Obama. The 50,000-square-foot-plus creative vendor space Marquee, which is styled after a European street market but features Asheville touches, like a full bar, is a must for art hunters and vintage shoppers.
The Biltmore Estate, the former home of George Vanderbilt, remains a top family-friendly attraction and one that you could easily spend several hours exploring. The Gilded Age estate is not just a house; it’s an experience, with an on-site winery, restaurants, and gardens. It truly lights up during the winter holidays — a Hallmark Channel movie was recently filmed there.
Vibrant towns near Asheville worth a day trip, and that are destinations in their own right, include Boone, Blowing Rock, and Black Mountain. Black Mountain, which a local referred to as “Asheville, 10 years ago,” is worth the drive just for Phil’s Bar-B-Que Pit, which has some of the best classic red sauce around. Boone has college-town energy (plenty of bars) and leaf-peeping splendor with prime hiking trails. The Restaurant at Gideon Ridge Inn in the quaint village of Blowing Rock has been ranked among the best date-night spots in the U.S. by Tripadvisor.
Plan in advance if visiting on Mondays, or even Tuesdays. Many establishments are closed on those days. Leave room in your luggage for take-home bottles of barbecue sauce and souvenirs by local artists.
The folks behind Asheville Glamping opened the luxurious Mirror Hotel, set on 55 acres outside Asheville, in March. Plan ahead, as this boutique nature-lovers’ hotel books months in advance. Also make sure to reserve a seat at Asheville’s intimate, crowdfunded Neng Jr.’s. The restaurant opened last year and brings Southern ingredients to classic Filipino dishes.
Where to Eat
PennyCup Coffee Co. Start the day with a perfect latte.
Chai Pani. For lunch, try memorable dishes inspired by Indian street vendors. The bhel puri is insanely good and affordable.
Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar. Browse rare editions with a fresh-squeezed mimosa in hand.
Buxton Hall Barbecue. Dinnertime means barbecue. The in-house smoked meat and Eastern Carolina sauce can’t be beat, but save room for pie.
Where to Stay
The Foundry Hotel Asheville is situated on a quiet street just off the bustling downtown. A restored steel factory in the heart of The Block, the historic Black business district, the stylish hotel brings an authentic experience you won’t find anywhere else. It’s partnered with Hood Huggers International to offer historian-led immersive tours of the neighborhood. The cozy Workshop Lounge bar displays local artists’ paintings and features music five evenings a week. Plus, on-site restaurant Benne On Eagle has some of the best breakfasts around.
Feature image courtesy C2 Photography, visitnc.com
This story originally ran in our May issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to Northern Virginia Magazine.