Why North Carolina?
The key to surviving in NYC are those weekend getaways you must, must, must take advantage of. Many people in New York have visited Asheville at some point so it was a highly recommended place to visit. We know we can always visit upstate New York if we wanted some relaxing scenery, but Asheville was calling our names-- something about those mountain views.
Asheville is situated in between the Great Smoky Mountains, Black Mountain, and several national forests, including the grand Biltmore Estate and Forest, which you will learn more about when you keep reading.
We simply couldn't say no to a trip that would take us completely out of our New York element and into something so calming and picturesque.
Time of Year and Lodging
We chose to visit Asheville during the off season for a Valentine's Day getaway. The town was quiet, but lively enough that we didn't experience any of the typical tourism you get during the peak. The only downside of February is that it's still February so temperatures are consistently below 50 degrees. Some days were very sunny and great, others were cloudy and pretty chilly. Some routes for hiking were blocked off due to the cold temperatures, which was okay because there are hundreds of hiking trails in Asheville. Hiking is definitely an activity you should have on your list. Many people go to Asheville for the hiking. Don't worry, you don't have to scale the side of a mountain...unless you want to.
I found our cabin on Airbnb. It was remote and added to our need to be removed from city life. We stayed in a town called Alexander, which is 20 minutes or so north of Asheville. It got super dark out there with absolutely no streetlights.
On the farm, there is a tiny, home/cabin right next door that you can also look into for your stay. These were the two options we narrowed down. In the end we chose the cabin. It felt more comfortable since we were staying 6 days.
When you decide to stay in a cabin, remember it is a cabin. We might not have had a bear sighting like I'd hoped but even in the cold temperature, bugs made themselves visible.
Although our cabin had lighting, amazing heating, and electrical cooking appliances, hot showers longer than 6 minutes tops was out of the question and we learned that the hard way. Ice cold showers do not feel good in February.
In a weird way our cabin stay was still super romantic.
The food in Asheville was rated very high from those that recommended this trip to us. You get southern comfort food but with a healthier, sustainable offering. We even chose to cook in our cabin one night so we bought an amazing piece of catfish and made Blackened Catfish, broccoli, and brown rice.
Below are several of the dining out options we enjoyed!
The first place we ate at after landing was Farm Burger.
Farm Burger is located in Downtown Asheville. They offer a menu of grass-fed, 100% organic beef burgers, chicken burger, and even a vegan burger. It's all made to order and if the specialty options don't excite you, you can also build-your-own!
Farm Burger offers a daily special burger which is put together by the line cook or signature burger combos from the menu. I chose the build-your-own option which was a beef burger, Wisconsin aged-cheddar, smoked paprika mayo, candied jalapenos, lettuce, tomato, and onion. Hands down the best burger I ever had. The candied jalapenos are super creative and gave the PERFECT sweet and spicy kick paired with the smoked paprika mayo.
AND they have sweet tea on tap! Free refills and even take it to go!
Brunch hour in Asheville can be just as insane as NYC. No reservations during brunch and unless you show up at the time the place opens you could have a 20 minute to an hour wait time. On Haywood Street in West Asheville, there are a lot of options for breakfast, so you can either put all your eggs in one basket and wait the hour or just hop around and find something with a smaller wait.
We stumbled upon Biscuit Head whose menu offers meal options paired with a southern style biscuit. You can choose the Mimosa Fried Chicken Biscuit, the Cajun Benedict (served on a biscuit), the Brisket Biscuit, and the list goes on.
If you don't want something heavy on a biscuit, then choose the deep fried french toast or quinoa scramble or housemade granola and yogurt.
I had the Mimosa Fried Chicken Biscuit. Crispy fried chicken breast served in between two fluffy southern, buttermilk biscuit, coleslaw and a poached egg.
Have you ever had deep fried french toast? If not, get it! The fact that they managed to fry the outside and keep it from being soggy is amazing. It was basically funnel cake for. breakfast; covered in powdered sugar and blueberries.
When buying coffee you pay for the first cup and each one after that is free refills (you fill up on your own).
Pack's is the place you go when you want starchy comfort food and a cold beer for an extremely reasonable price. We stopped into Pack's on our way to try to find the Graybeard Trail. Their beer list is endless and a pint will only cost you $6 at most. Pack's was definitely the best meal we had in Asheville.
Pictured is the Prohibition Pot Roast. The meat was fall apart with every small touch. It was juicy and seasoned very well. The flavors from the roast, mashed potatoes, and this incredible broth came together deliciously. I was beyond full after finishing this plate.
Prohibition Pot Roast
Brisket Mac and Cheese
And no visit to the south is complete without enjoying perfectly cooked, hot brisket on top southern-style mac and cheese.
Mellow Mushroom Pizza
I wasn't super excited about $15 for a medium cheese pizza, but when you realize it's the best $15 you've ever spent price doesn't even matter. Mellow Mushroom has a really good menu. When it comes to pizza toppings they have it all, anything you can think of. The interior is very eclectic and colorful and the beer tap has everything. Beer and pizza for lunch, or dinner sounds good to me.
We snagged this pizza before heading to the spa. Ate it New York style, box in one hand, pizza folded in the other while walking down the street.
We visited this cozy taco restaurant for some really good breakfast tacos! You can build your own or choose one of the menu option like the Billie Holiday (pictured);
sausage, eggs, jack cheese, or the Mama’s Favorite; sausage, eggs, spinach, sweet potato, and goat cheese on a plantain tortilla.
I did a build-your-own (obviously) and got a plantain tortilla with sausage, egg, refried beans, cheddar cheese, and tomatillo avocado salsa.
The second taco was the Billie Holiday. Both were beyond good and this place is so chill that I hope you check them out!
Battery Park Bookstore and Champagne Bar
Great place for drinks before or after dinner! Very sweet place to hang out and enjoy conversation. The drink menu is very simple. We ordered the Valentine's Day champagne and hung out here before heading to the speakeasy. This bookstore sells rare, some $2,000 books. The staff doesn't like when you sit in the shop and read the books, the goal is for the books to be purchased. We glanced at a few but chose to sip and chat instead.
The Crow and Quill
Think if Edgar Allen Poe and Dracula designed a living room but located in New Orleans. I could've taken more pictures but it felt best to keep it lowkey. This is a bourbon bar. Although you can order beer, I think you should take advantage of the wide range of alcohols. We had the gin and tonic; it was not your average gin and tonic. It was made with artisan, housemade tonic, and infused with lavender.
There is this weird unspoken rule about needing a membership for many of the North Carolina bars. The membership is just $1. I advise you enter and be prepared with your $1 right when you walk in. It also helps if you know someone who lives there.
Hopefully you go on a good night when there is live music!
Dinner in the cabin
For one night we chose to cook in our cabin. We stopped at Whole Foods and picked up the juiciest piece of catfish I'd ever seen! Bought garlic, black pepper, and a chili powder blend to make blackened catfish. For the sides, just cilantro shrimps, broccoli and brown rice. The whole meal took 20-25 minutes!
If you have the luxury of a stove top in your airbnb, don't feel like you're wasting a night by staying in. The laid back, relaxed vibe of Asheville will let you know it's all good.
One night we even stopped at Bojangles' on the way back to the cabin. Although it is fast food, it came recommended by the locals.
AND before our flight we found a Waffle House on the way to the airport. I've never had Waffle House so it seemed only right.
There is so much to do in Asheville! The main activities are brewery hopping (this is the land of beer) and hiking (with all the moments and greenery, how can you not?). Since this trip was to give us space from the hustle and bustle that we are used to, I feel like we did a lot without overdoing it. We still wanted to have those moments to unwind and disconnect. With that being said, read on to see what we did do!
For us, hiking was a challenge. Just finding trails was a bit of a mystery to us. All the locals and people we met made it sound so simple but didn't clarify that a) the trail is 2 hours away, or b) you will have a hard time finding where it even is.
Our first hike we parked at the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center + Folk and Art Center and pretty much hiked up the parkway. It was about an hour hike to the first overlook, not too bad, but we didn't make it. We went halfway and went to the Sierra Nevada Brewery.
The next try was Graybeard Trail. I read that it was a part of the Black Mountains and the chance to see "360 degree views". Well...again didn't quite make it. Not only was the road to get there blocked off due to weather so driving was out of the question, but we thought we would just walk there until I saw it was 9 miles just to get to the entrance. Instead we walked about an hour, came back down and went to the Black Mountain Brewery, it seemed only right.
Blue Ridge Parkway
For the third try we decided to just drive and take a long route to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Blue Ridge Parkway is America's "longest linear park." The drive is so serene and slow. You can take in so many views and if you keep driving you'll pass a lot of overlooks giving you the 360 degree views you want to. Pictures really don't do this area any justice.
At the end of our drive we pulled over at the Haw Creek Valley Overlook to see the sunset.
Here are several resources to use to help you navigate hiking and driving trails:
Sierra Nevada Brewery
Dubbed the "Willy Wonka of Breweries". This place is MASSIVE. The biggest brewery I'd ever seen. Driving you you pass through a wrought iron gate to a huge parking lot leading up to its grand entrance. If you want a guided tour of the brewery it requires a reservation months in advance. However, you are able to walk through the grounds freely, with your beverage.
If you choose to snack in the taproom, you will not regret it. A flight is around $6 and each of the menu items are tapas-style, so order up! The duck fat confit fries and the little chicken wings paired perfect with the beer!
The weekend we visited the brewery, they were launching a hard kombucha which was very, very good despite it's bright magenta color. I recommend you try the kombucha and one of their seasonal flavors during your visit.
Black Mountain Brewing
So we went from visiting the largest brewery then visited one of the smallest breweries in the area; Black Mountain Brewing
This space is just one room. The entire fermenting and brewing stages take place in this one room. The brewery keeps just 6-7 taps at a time with small plans to either add one more or focus some efforts towards wine and sparkling wines.
Black Mountain Brewing has been functioning for about a year and a half, so very new, and the brewers are very much into experimenting and developing their tap list further, while also keeping the experience intimate. Since we visited during off season, the space was left for just us, but the host told us once the season changes the taproom can become extremely packed. Good thing they are opening up their back patio to accommodate the spring/summer crowd.
Visiting the Biltmore Estate and Forest can be a full day experience. First off it's completely worth it and you must book your tickets in advance. We booked with https://www.tripster.com/detail/biltmore-estate-asheville because they were offering $10 off the original price of $69. This might sound like a lot but the Biltmore was a really cool experience and you get a complimentary wine tasting.
George Washington Vanderbilt (quite a name) had this chateauesque mansion built to be his summer home, but also to preserve the forest, raise awareness for forestry and start the first forestry trade program. Learning about his mission and the responsibility his wife had taking over the land was really the most interesting part. I definitely recommend renting the audio guide for your tour. There are no placards to tell you about any of the rooms, however there is staff posted that can answer any questions for you.
With your ticket you get access to the grounds, which has a petting zoo, but also a tour of the mansion. Swipe through the gallery to see photos from some of my favorite rooms.
Shoji Spa and Lodge was recommended to us by a friend who used to live in Asheville. They offer spa packages with massages, facials, and this private Japanese salt bath soak. It's by appointment only and you book a timeslot anywhere between 1 hr and 2 hrs.
The spa is high up on a mountain so the road to get there is very, very steep and whindy. Once there you check in with reception and head to the locker room. Since we were only doing the Japanese soak for an hour, we checked in and headed to the locker room to take a shower to rinse off any lotions or oils. You are allowed to bring drinks (not clear about alcohol) and snacks to be set up poolside for you. The spa also offers a purchase of tea poolside.
We booked our hour at Shoji to be a few hours before our flight back to New York. This was the perfect way to end our trip.