Asheville: The Top 25
How do we love North Carolina's favorite mountain town? Brad Tuttle counts the ways, in no particular order
9. Hazy days and quiet nights on the parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway snakes up, around, and over the Appalachians for 469 miles, connecting the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah national parks. On the parkway, at 5,000 feet above sea level and 20 minutes south of Asheville, is the Pisgah Inn, where all of the 51 units look out over miles and miles of hazy mountain peaks. 828/235-8228, pisgahinn.com, doubles from $80.
10. Cloggers, hippies, and more
There's a drum circle, political rally, or concert happening somewhere all the time. The City/County Plaza is popular, as is Pritchard Park, in the center of town. It doesn't have flowers or grass. What it does have is gatherings--lots of them. Skinny dudes with dreadlocks and camouflage cutoffs mill about playing the bongos or reading poetry. In summer, the park hosts a series of old silent movies accompanied by live music.
11. Jugs that smile
The Appalachian Craft Center showcases work from dozens of regional artists. Particularly popular are the collectible "face jugs" (sculpted and glazed with quirky faces, $45 to $300), as well as brooms with specially carved and finished handles ($25 to $65). Kids, meanwhile, will love the simple wooden folk toys that were popular in Civil War times--and their parents will appreciate that they cost less than $5. 10 N. Spruce St., 828/253-8499.
12. Sliding Rock
First-timers worry about bruising their behinds on the natural 60-foot water slide that drops into a six-foot-deep pool. A more worthy concern: The water--runoff from the mountains in the Pisgah National Forest--usually hovers around 55 degrees. Once reachable only by a trail, Sliding Rock now has a parking lot and changing house, a metal railing to help people climb up, and even a lifeguard in summer. The ride doesn't hurt a bit--or maybe the frigid waters simply numb your nether regions. Pisgah Ranger District Information Center, 828/877-3265, visitwaterfalls.com, $1.
13. Too-cute Main Streets
With its large Victorian homes, concrete and art deco office buildings, quaint storefronts built in the World War II era, and even a modern, all-glass high-rise, Asheville's architecture is a mix of old and new that doesn't always jell. Within a half hour of the city, however, are a handful of small towns with historic districts--Black Mountain, Hendersonville, and Brevard, to name three--where buildings and the cast of characters seem little changed in half a century. In Brevard, Rocky's Grill & Soda Shop is covered in 1950s memorabilia and serves up standards like milk shakes, floats, hot dogs, and hamburgers. 36 S. Broad St., 828/877-5375, malt $3.80.
14. Fruit that sticks to the pit
Open seven days a week, the 36-acre Western North Carolina Farmers Market has a café, bakery, and ice cream parlor; a store stocked with crafts and preserves; a greenhouse with plants, trees, and a 45-foot-high waterfall; and, as you'd expect, an enormous selection of fresh produce. There's even an area set aside just for melons and peaches--the latter coming in clingstone (fruit sticks to the pit) and freestone (fruit separates easily from the seed) varieties. 570 Brevard Rd., 828/253-1691.
15. When your name gets called at Tupelo Honey
An Asheville institution right across from Pritchard Park, the Tupelo Honey Café certainly is eccentric. It doesn't take reservations, the hours are weird, and the line usually stretches out the door. The food is southern-with-a-twist, appealing to both sophisticates (spiced tuna with a rémoulade sauce) and classicists (peanut butter and banana on toast). Most dishes are $5 to $8, and everything oozes butter and spice. Closing time on Fridays and Saturdays doesn't come until midnight, and up to the last minute the place hops with folks treating themselves to late-night snacks of sweet potato pancakes, fried green tomatoes, and raspberry French toast. 12 College St., 828/255-4863.
16. The bowling alley in the basement
The mountains of North Carolina have embraced tourism for years--in fact, the local Minor League Baseball club is the Asheville Tourists. (Fanny packs and cameras are not part of the uniform.) The city's most famous attraction, the lavish Biltmore Estate, was designed as a primary residence but used mostly for escapes to the country by the Vanderbilt family. Styled after a French château, the 250-room Biltmore House opened on Christmas Eve 1895 with its own bowling alley, countless art treasures from Europe and Asia, and a banquet hall that has 70-foot ceilings. Many visitors make a day of checking out the main house as well as the 8,000-acre estate's expansive gardens, walking paths, and winery, with serene Smoky Mountain views all around. Self-guided rafting trips booked through the Biltmore are a reasonable $20. Reserve your ride for the day after you explore the estate--that way, your admission is valid for two full days. 1 Approach Rd., 877/324-5866, biltmore.com, $39.