Asheville, North Carolina is one of the most popular destinations in the southern U.S. and it’s easy to see why. The city is in a valley ringed with the Blue Ridge Mountains, it has the most breweries per capita in the eastern U.S., the weather is perfect, and its nickname is “foodtopia.”
On peak summer weekends, there are usually more tourists than locals in the city -- so it can be hard to get a local perspective. Here are a few local tips to help you enjoy your visit.
Asheville locals love winter - November to March. The mornings can be frigid, but the weather warms up to the 50’s during the day. It’s usually dry. We get an occasional dusting of snow, and we can escape to the mountains when we want more.
But most importantly: Winter is when Asheville comes alive with local energy. We swarm all the popular restaurants, breweries, comedy clubs, music venues, and parks where we’d have to wait in line for hours or battle horrible parking during the other months of the year.
If you want to experience a more local vibe in Asheville, consider a winter visit. Bonus tip: Hike Carvers Gap to Roan Mountain after a big snow!
Asheville doesn’t get going until around 10 am. So, if you set your alarm for the wee hours, you’ll get most places in the city and the mountains to yourself.
If you want to eat at popular breakfast spots like Sunny Point, Early Girl, Tupelo Honey, and Biscuit Head, your only chance of avoiding an hour-plus line is to arrive right when they open. (And you absolutely should eat at those places!)
If hiking is on your itinerary, you’ll have the trails to yourself in the mornings. This also makes parking a lot easier. Aim to arrive at popular trailheads by 9 am - but you really don’t need to get there at the crack of dawn.
Tourism is one of Asheville’s biggest industries. It’s also a low-wage industry in a high-cost-of-living city. Locals know everyone is struggling, so we do our best to support each other. i.e. we tip well.
If you tip less than 20% at restaurants, coffee shops, breweries, or anywhere else you interact with hospitality industry workers, you’ll instantly stick out as a tourist
It’s hard to have a bad meal in Asheville. The city is full of local producers, farm-to-table restaurants, small-scale breweries, and of course, barbecue.
If you’re wondering what “secret” spots the locals love: some of the best restaurants in Asheville are also the touristy ones! 12 Bones, Chai Pani, Sunny Point, Rhubarb and French Broad Chocolate are a few places adored by locals and visitors alike.
Best of all, no one will stare at you for rolling up in grungy hiking clothes - the dress code is casual virtually everywhere. You’ll need reservations at nicer places -- book a couple months in advance for summer weekends. Many restaurants can’t accommodate large groups
The Biltmore Estate - America’s largest home, built by the Vanderbilt family - is one of Asheville’s top tourist attractions. The tickets include a self-guided house tour, unlimited use of the gardens and trails, and a wine tasting.
The house is interesting, and the gardens are absolutely gorgeous in spring. But visiting will set you back at least $76 per person. It’s not remotely worth it.
Wicked Weed is probably the most popular brewery in town. But it was bought out by Budweiser a few years ago, and locals are still really bitter about it. (Ashevillians feel strongly about supporting local businesses rather than chains.)
It’s not all bad - the brewery tour is cool, and their beer is good, especially if you like sours. But if you want to rub shoulders with locals you’re better off heading to Burial, Dssolvr, or Twin Leaf, all within a couple blocks of Wicked Weed. Or skip the crowded South Slope breweries altogether and head to Highland or French Broad Brewing.
Asheville locals love to hike, bike and run. We have easy access to 5 mountain ranges containing the highest peaks on the East Coast, over 500 waterfalls, and thousands of miles of trails.
Unfortunately, far too many visitors underestimate the Carolina mountains. Yes, they’re smaller than the Rockies or the Sierras. But our trails are rugged, steep, unmaintained, and often unmarked. Plus, the weather is unpredictable -- the iconic “smoky” fog can roll in at the drop of a hat and confuse even the most confident navigator.
Every year, visitors die swimming in our rivers, falling from our waterfalls, slipping off ledges, and getting lost on our trails. Others require dangerous search and rescue operations.
There are safe places for visiting hikers to hit the trails. But it’s crucial to research any hikes you’re considering and be realistic about your abilities before heading out. Stay on the trail and bring both a GPS app on your phone and a paper map and compass - or consider a guided tour. Bring more food and water than you think you need. And never swim in a river above a waterfall.