Fun and Funky Asheville, NC Beckons with Beauty, Beer, and a Book Bed

The many charms of Asheville, NC are readily available. With inexpensive two-hour flights from Minneapolis this fall, a visitor can take in natural beauty, take part in a musical or literary pilgrimage, sample craft beers and dine at a James Beard Award-winning restaurant over the course of a long, relaxed journey. . Back weekend.

Nestled in the western part of the Tar Heel state, Asheville is closer to the Great Smoky Mountains than the Atlantic Ocean. It is home to a visitor center for the scenic 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway. The journey through the region offers many viewpoints and impressive views; hop on the hiking and biking trails dotted with picturesque waterfalls, and stroll through the Popular Art Center to admire quilts, baskets, woodwork, and other mountain crafts.

Asheville’s other main tourist spot is the Biltmore, the Gilded Age estate built by robber baron George Vanderbilt. With 8,000 acres, a 250-room recreated French Renaissance chateau, and luscious gardens, it’s worth setting aside a day — and $89 — to enjoy what’s billed as America’s largest private home.

I’ve had the opportunity to explore Asheville repeatedly since my son moved there six years ago, allowing me to visit the must-sees and lesser-known attractions.

analog intrigue

I listened to LPs all my life and my son embraced vinyl records in his teens, but neither of us had any idea what was involved in stamping the grooves on records. We were both eager to see the process through Citizen Vinyl, a bustling record recording startup.

The pressing floor is located in an impressive Art Moderne building, former offices of the Asheville Citizen-Times. Three humming machines turn PVC pebbles into 12-inch vinyl records in a place where newspapers used to be printed by presses.

The work takes place behind glass windows that look out onto a two-tiered cafe and horseshoe-shaped cocktail bar that occupies a former editorial space. One store offers new and used records; we found a perfect copy of The Replacements’ 1984 classic “Let It Be” for $75.

The tour begins in the lobby, where we walk over a terrazzo map of western North Carolina, embedded in native granite. An elevator goes up to the third floor, now a recording studio, but the former WWNC studio. The historic AM radio station was incorporated in 1927; country legends like Bill Monroe and Jimmie Rodgers sang live on air.

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Our guide took us to the manufacturing plant, where we watched vinyl “records” being flattened into discs. On the day of our tour, the finished products were baby blue instead of the traditional black.

Nearby Moog Music offers more listening inspiration. The free shop and factory tour, showcasing the work of genius inventor, electronic music pioneer and Asheville resident Robert Moog, showcases vintage Moog synthesizers and other instruments. For another hands-on experience, visitors can play 35 pinball machines and 35 classic video games at the Downtown Asheville Pinball Museum.

literary legends

In the late 19th century, Asheville’s crisp mountain air was the big draw. The widespread but incorrect belief that higher altitudes could cure tuberculosis led to a boom in medical tourism. Asheville had two dozen TB sanatoriums and 130 boarding houses where patients and their families could rest and recover.

A boarding house with 29 rooms with porches to sleep in and a large front terrace has been preserved from that time. Built in 1883, this boarding house was the childhood home of author Thomas Wolfe, whose first book, “Look Homeward, Angel,” was a sensation in 1929. Set in a boarding house, the epic chronicled the colorful characters and situations that Wolfe I watched in Asheville.

The author’s family donated the house, its well-cared furnishings, and hundreds of original artifacts after his death in 1938, yes, from tuberculosis. Tours of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial provide a retrospective of the writer’s life and times, including detailing his friendship with Minnesota native son F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald spent the summers of 1935 and 1936 living in Asheville’s stately Grove Park Inn, now an Omni Hotel. Battling alcoholism, Fitzgerald hoped the stage would inspire him and reinvigorate his faltering career. His estranged wife, Zelda, was committed to a nearby institution.

Fitzgerald left Asheville for Hollywood, but Zelda stayed behind and was in and out of the mental hospital there. In 1943 she signed the guest book of the pension. Five years later she was reportedly receiving electroshock therapy when a fire broke out at the hospital. Zelda Fitzgerald was one of the nine patients who died in the flames. A plaque marks the spot, with a quote from a letter from Zelda to Scott: “I need nothing but hope, which I can’t find looking back or forward, so I guess closing my eyes is the thing.”

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Where to eat and drink

With more breweries per capita than any other US city, Asheville is a popular destination for beer. The region is home to dozens of notable and eccentric taverns, beer halls, and craft breweries, with walking and bus tours accompanying drinkers.

My favorite is New Belgium Brewing Company’s Ashville outpost, founded in Colorado, which is where my son works. After a tour, visit the light-filled Liquid Center Tasting Room and sample a variety of creative beers. On warm days, lounge on the spacious front lawn or patio overlooking the French Broad River. It’s an easy walk across the bridge to the River Arts District, where artisans sell their wares in studios converted from historic mills and tanneries.

Biscuit Head is a casual, southern-style breakfast favorite. Options are sweet and savory. Biscuits can be ordered Benedictine or with fried green tomatoes and brie cheese; traditionalists who select eggs, sausage, bacon, or country ham can add fried chicken, a side of pimento cheese, or a little gravy. A side bar lets guests drizzle those fluffy cookies with novelty temptations like sweet potato butter or rosemary peach jam.

At Chai Pani, winner of the 2022 James Beard Award for Outstanding U.S. Restaurant, the flavors are as bright as the colorful dining room, where small plates and entrees of Indian street food are shared. Chutneys, curries and wraps are brimming with spicy, crunchy and expertly seasoned ingredients, with delicious options for vegans. A cocktail and appetizer at a sidewalk table is a refreshing break after a busy day in Asheville.

If you’re going: Asheville, NC

Get there: Sun Country, Allegiant Air and Delta have nonstop flights from Minneapolis to Asheville this fall, winter and spring, with some Sun Country and Allegiant base fares as low as $47. It’s also a 16 hour drive.

Tourist information: exploreasheville.com.

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