Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Asheville, North Carolina

We drove into Asheville, NC, during Phase 2 of their reopening after the pandemic, and it was a tricky time to visit. Many restaurants and shops that we wanted to go to were still closed, like the Asheville Pinball Museum, Malaprops Bookstore, and Well-Played Board Game Cafe. But the good news is that Asheville is a really COVID-conscious place. Everyone is wearing masks, even outdoors. Every business we patronized is set up for social distancing. And there are the gorgeous hikes that Asheville is famous for, an activity that easily lends itself to staying safe while having fun.

What to Do

Asheville is a stop toward one end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, a 469-mile, winding, and picturesque road that connects Shenandoah National Park in Virginia with Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee, both of which we visited during a two-week road trip. The parkway offers a relaxing and leisurely drive, with many interesting and beautiful stopping points along the way, from natural bridges and waterfalls to scenic overlooks to fun attractions like Mystery Hill in Blowing Rock (here are more details about our recent visit). The only thing is that the drive is so relaxing and leisurely, it adds a lot of driving time to an already long road trip, so the best thing to do may be to hop on and off along the way.

One of the stops along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and only a little over an hour from Asheville, is Grandfather Mountain. After paying an entrance fee, you're free to drive up and down the mountain, stopping at attractions along the way, such as the swinging bridge, the animal habitats, and the rock scrambles and hikes. Sadly, on the morning of the our visit, there were extremely high winds and thick cloud cover, so we weren't able to stay and enjoy all the activities  but I did snap an awesome, atmospheric photo from the swinging bridge.

Pisgah National Forest is one of Asheville's big attractions, and we spent a few hours exploring Sliding Rock and Looking Glass Falls. Sliding Rock is a natural water slide over an enormous and smooth rock face. Sliders get deposited in a pool of freezing water, which my kids did not enjoy. Still, the concept is extremely cool, and many sliders were lined up to take a turn. There's a small fee per person to enjoy Sliding Rock.

Looking Glass Falls (pictured at the top of the post) is just a couple of minutes from Slide Rock and a quick stop to make if you're all hiked out, as we were by this point in our road trip. The impressive waterfall is just a two-minute walk from the parking lot, and you can wade out into the shallow basin and stand right near the falls if you'd like. The chilly water is very refreshing on a hot day.

We participated in a fantastic activity while we were in Asheville: the No Taste Like Home foraging tour. A foraging expert takes you out into the woods to look for edible plants, berries, and mushrooms. Each participant is given a basket and tools for cutting and cleaning the food they find, and at the very end, the plants and mushrooms are cooked up on a portable burner and served to everyone for a taste.

Our guide Justin was extremely knowledgable about the various things we found, and we learned so much about what you can and cannot eat in the wild. It was an extremely educational and interesting tour, and I highly recommend it to anyone that wants to try something different.

We had a lot of kid-friendly hikes prepared for our stay in Asheville, but unfortunately some car trouble forced us to be homebound for half our stay. When we return one day, we'll be checking out Rough Ridge and Linville Falls (along the Blue Ridge Parkway), Moore Cove Falls (in Pisgah National Park), and Little Bradley Falls (southeast of Asheville).

Where to Eat 

So many of the restaurants in Asheville are highly rated, it's hard to choose just a few to visit. There's a wide variety of cuisines, from pan-Asian to tacos, but since we were on vacation in the South, we mostly ate southern fare. Biscuit Head is a fantastic place to grab breakfast. The biscuit sandwiches are out of this world, the gravy is the best I've ever had, and there are dozens of jams to choose from. I had a phenomenal breakfast sandwich with ham, egg, cheese, and fried green tomato.

Another great place for southern comfort food is Tupelo Honey Cafe, in the downtown area. That's where I had the best fried chicken I've ever eaten in my life, plus several fantastic sides: goat cheese grits, crispy seasoned Brussels sprouts, Yukon mashed potatoes, and perfectly baked mac and cheese. I wish I had a bigger stomach so I could try more things.

For barbecue, we tried Moe's Original Bar B Que, which was very tasty. I particularly enjoyed Moe's original sauce, which is more tangy than sweet. The kids raved about the baked beans, and we all loved the cornbread.

And if you find yourself on the Blue Ridge Parkway, near Blowing Rock, with a hankering for sushi,
be sure to stop by Moon Thai Sushi, a pan-Asian restaurant that's super cute and really yummy, with a lovely waitstaff. It was such a wonderful find in the middle of the mountain.

Where to Stay

Because we were visiting Asheville just after the height of the pandemic, we decided to stay at a rental home instead of a hotel. We found a nice, large suburban home in North Asheville with Towns Property Management. The peaceful sunroom and hot tub in the backyard were a nice bonus.

What's Nearby

Just across the border in Tennessee is Gatlinburg, a touristy spot that's fun for the kids, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where you can experience ethereal clouds clinging to the mountains to produce the namesake smokiness. Here's my itinerary for Gatlinburg, and my suggestions for hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains.

You might also like:
Gatlinburg with Kids: What to Do, See, and Eat
Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Best Hikes and Activities with Kids