Why Asheville should be at the top of your travel list right now

Sep 18, 2021

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Getting back into travel in our new COVID-19 world can be uncomfortable. The constantly changing guidelines make it difficult to plan far in advance, and hard to know what will feel safe. But after lengthy lockdowns and a year of isolation, I don’t think I’m alone in feeling eager to take a weekend away.

The key is picking a location that is conducive to lots of time spent outdoors, and a destination where you won’t feel the need to double-check the availability of outdoor seating at every single restaurant you think you might want to visit.

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Which is why Asheville, North Carolina, was my pick when it came time to finally hit the road again. Asheville is known for two things: its proximity to the Blue Ridge Mountains, and its high concentration of breweries. In other words: space!

I spent a recent weekend in Asheville and came away plenty of thoughts about how to make the most of a vacation there, whatever your level of comfort may be around COVID-19.

Breweries are a spacious haven for non-pre planners

Breweries across the country are known for one thing (other than their beer, that is) – their size. Asheville’s breweries take advantage of their stunning natural surroundings by offering spacious indoor and outdoor areas, fully tricked out with fans and umbrellas in the summer and heaters in the winter — the perfect option for travelers who want a loose itinerary that doesn’t require reservations.

The New Belgium Brewery is a must-visit when in Asheville. (Photo by Jacob Biba for The Washington Post/Getty Images)

All of the cult favorites in Asheville, like Wicked Weed, Burial, and Green Man, have plenty of outdoor tables, and many of them allows kids, making them perfect for families. I spent a lovely couple of hours at New Belgium Brewery, which has one of the largest properties in Asheville, with a deck overlooking the French Broad River and a large field for romping children and dogs. Another favorite is Wedge Brewing Company, which has two locations in Asheville, both of which have ample outdoor seating.

If you’re looking to make a weekend of beer sampling, you’ll have no problem doing so without ever having to make reservations ahead of time or compromising on space.

There are plenty of restaurants to go around

Asheville has tons of amazing restaurants, but many of them have relatively limited outdoor seating if that’s what you’re after, and book up quickly — especially in comparison to the number of visitors that descend on the city every weekend.

For critically acclaimed restaurants like Katie Button’s Spanish tapas restaurant Curate, or New American favorite Rhubarb, you’ll definitely need to make a reservation in advance. The same applies to Benne on Eagle, a restaurant celebrating Appalachian foodways that has gotten tons of press over the last few years.

(Photo courtesy of Cúrate/Facebook)

If you’re too late to snag one of these hot reservations, looks to places like Chai Pani, a small space serving Indian street food dishes in the Battery Park neighborhood with several outdoor tables, or Jettie Rae’s Oyster House, a relative newcomer with tons of outdoor space and a menu that ranges from oyster shooters to fish and chips.

local lodging comes with perks

For optimum social distancing, Airbnb is, of course, a good idea. But if you’re looking for a little more luxury, consider one of the boutique hotels in Asheville and the surrounding areas.

Related: Coronavirus tourism done right: a visit to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC

The 1900 Inn on Montford has fewer rooms than some of the hotel chains downtown, and the wraparound porch is perfect for enjoying breakfast or a nightcap in a lovely outdoor space. A little further outside the city, the Old Marshall Jail offers spacious rooms on the banks of the French Broad River. Their outdoor deck and back patio, which happens to be right next to the train tracks – a huge hit with kids — are great for kicking back before heading into the mountains for an adventure.

(Photo courtesy of The 1900 Inn on Montford)

outdoor activities abound

Driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway is always incredible. The North Carolina Arboretum is just off the parkway, at mile-marker 393, so it’s easy to combine the two into a full day of outdoor activities. The Arboretum, which has more than 400 acres, is large enough to feel spacious even on the most crowded weekends.

The North Carolina Arboretum Quilt Garden in Asheville. (Photo by JillLang/Getty Images)

Beyond the arboretum is Pisgah National Forest, which has hundreds of miles of trails marked for hiking, biking, and even horseback riding. The options are so many that it can be overwhelming. (Pro tip: I always use the AllTrails app, which lets you sort by length, elevation, and location.)

If the weather is nice, kayaking, paddle boarding, or tubing down the French Board River is a great way to see the city. The French Broad Outfitters offers a handful of different trips, included self-guided tubing trips (with cooler floats available for all the local beer you bought). Whether you’d like to spend a half-day paddle boarding or a full day kayaking (with a break for lunch, don’t worry), French Broad Outfitters has something for everyone.

Photo courtesy of Benjamin Wu / EyeEm / Getty Images

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