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Discover the enchanting beauty of Asheville: A guide to exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains

Discover the enchanting beauty of Asheville: A guide to exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains

Embark on an unforgettable getaway in the heart of Asheville, North Carolina, and immerse yourself in the warmth and authenticity of this inviting locale. Discover the perfect plan for an experience that captures the true essence of contemporary Appalachia.

This story is brought to you by our partners at Explore Asheville.

When you explore the Blue Ridge Mountains, you immediately feel invited into a deeper connection with the world around you. The beauty of Asheville consists of lofty elevations and over 100 species of deciduous trees, providing some of the most breathtakingly vibrant views in the country. Locals welcome you with warm smiles and Southern hospitality. Artists, makers and entrepreneurs have built a city with deep roots and undeniable charm. With a river that literally flows backward, Asheville knows how to go in its own direction.

From the iconic O. Henry’s bar to Malaprop’s Bookstore, there’s a lot of pride in Asheville. And that should come as no surprise, because this North Carolina haven has a lot of LGBTQ+ history. Asheville has been a beacon for the queer community for decades and is home to advocacy groups established from the 1960s onward, including Youth OUTright and CLOSER, an initiative that has provided an inclusive space and community at the All Souls Cathedral in historic Biltmore Village for over 30 years.

Credit: Eli Cunningham

Asheville proudly honors this legacy and preserves it with initiatives like The Blue Ridge LGBTQ+ Oral History Project, which is a community-based oral history and physical artifacts archive dedicated to preserving LGBTQ+ history of the South. Blue Ridge Pride, which has been promoting equality, safety and quality of life for Western North Carolina’s queer and allied communities, has been held annually for over 10 years. For the current queer voices of Asheville, there’s Authentic Asheville, a camper van travel blog founded by Caroline Whatley and Erin McGrady. Their website offers a wealth of resources and recommendations for an unforgettable getaway.

With the legacy of places like Black Mountain College and Echo Mountain Recording studio, the Asheville area also boasts a rich history of creativity and innovation. Don’t miss out on special events like Chow Chow, the city’s food and culture festival committed to celebrating and enriching the foodways of Southern Appalachia, and AVL Fest, a citywide celebration of music that made a huge splash when it debuted in 2023. There’s also Downtown After 5, a weekly chance to catch local bands and musicians performing for free downtown, April - September. The celebrated Asheville Symphony Orchestra also produces free and budget-friendly events throughout the year, including Symphony in the Park and the biennial Asheville Amadeus Festival, in addition to its ongoing concert series. With so many must-attend events and can’t-miss destinations, we’ve provided an Asheville-approved itinerary to help you make the most of this mountain oasis.

Credit: David Simchock

Day One

When you enter the rejuvenating city of Asheville, the first thing you’ll want to do is check in to your home away from home. Asheville has no shortage of hotels, motels and rental options to choose from, with a variety of amenities and price points. Standouts include: The Omni Grove Park Inn, which has an incredible history filled with noteworthy guests; The Radical, featuring interiors brought to life by a former Wes Anderson set designer; Wrong Way River Lodge & Cabins; and the queer-owned Bittersweet Cottage & Suite.

Check out this list of lodging options on

After settling in, you’re sure to be hungry. The three-month reservation window at Neng Jr.'s is absolutely worth it, as you'll experience a fusion of Filipinx and Southern flavors unmatched anywhere else. For a more low-key option that's good for walk-ins, try Ben's Tune Up, which features snacks, bowls and sandwiches packed with Asian flavors. And right next door is Hi-Wire Brewing, home to Asheville’s new tiki speakeasy, The Tiki Easy Bar.

Credit: Explore Asheville

After dinner, make your way to O. Henry’s. Established in 1976, it's not only the oldest gay bar in Asheville but in the entire state of North Carolina.

Day Two

Credit: Reggie Tidwell

Rise up in time to catch the sun shining on the awe-inspiring foliage from one of the many trails in the area. Pisgah National Forest offers the highest peaks in the East, numerous waterfalls and flowing rivers that make for an exhilarating experience in nature. Another great destination to get your steps in while taking in the Asheville views is Biltmore. You could honestly spend a full day here! Known as America’s Largest Home®, you can tour the house and the gardens, wander over 22 miles of stunning trails and enjoy a free wine tasting. If you'd rather get your exercise downtown, check out Asheville by Foot Walking Tours, the definitive tour that will turn you into an Asheville insider as you explore the city’s rich history, stunning architecture and diverse culture.

By now you’ve worked up an appetite — it’s time to refuel with some lunch. Cúrate is a tapas bar that won the 2022 James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Hospitality. If you can’t get a reservation, its sister-restaurant, La Bodega, is built for walk-ins and offers rotating dishes-of-the-day for lunch — reminiscent of the sidewalk menu boards of Spain.

Now it's time to relax and restore those tired legs. Shoji Spa & Retreat has an eye-catching treetop deck with breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Or stop in at Sauna House, which offers contrast therapy that combines a hot sauna session with a cold immersion to increase blood flow, among other health benefits. Asheville Wellness Tours offers dozens of wellness experiences and retreat packages to choose from, like a Recharge & Renew Mini-Retreat involving tarot, yoga and a massage. Each option comes with specialized enhancements that offer you curated wellness benefits.

Credit: Explore Asheville

After some deep relaxation, it’s time to perk back up for a night exploring. Stop by Rowan Coffee, a cafe that celebrates the work of coffee growers, serving brews that are fresh, vibrant, clean and complex. If tea is more your speed, Dobra Tea is a great place for a pick-me-up. This charming oasis serves responsibly sourced and authentically prepared teas as well as sweet and savory bites. After a warm cup, check out the nearby Center for Craft which amplifies the work of local makers through grants, exhibitions, and mentorship.

For dinner and drinks, make your way to Sovereign Remedies. Their menu features local ingredients in "hyper-seasonal" dishes that provide you with different experiences based on the time of year in which you visit. Just up the street, you can dance the rest of your night away at Asheville Beauty Academy which offers drag shows and DJ'd theme nights every night of the week.

Day Three

Start this day of shopping and exploring with the anything goes vibe of West Asheville. Begin your day with a hearty breakfast at Sunny Point Café (worth the wait for a table). After enjoying the best of Southern breakfast (and hospitality!), it’s time to shop at some of the quintessential Asheville shops — Harvest Records, Firestorm Books, Emote (vintage clothing), Ware (a zero-waste boutique offering skincare and household accessories), Whist (greeting cards and gifts) and Provisions Mercantile (featuring curated gifts, home goods, local artisanal food, apparel and toys, among other products).

Credit: Stephan Pruitt

Head across the French Broad River to the River Arts District for lunch at 12 Bones Smokehouse — an Obama family favorite — then stroll through the working studios and galleries of nearly 300 artists representing a variety of mediums, including painting, pottery, jewelry, glass, metal, wood and so much more. Swing by Wildflowers Vintage for some retro clothes, and be sure to visit Marquee, an enormous art market filled with antiques and vintage decor.

Back downtown, you can earn more about the area (and enjoy its stunning views) with Asheville Rooftop Bar Tours, or hop on a LaZoom Comedy Tours bus for a mix of sightseeing and gut-busting laughs. You’ll want to pick up gifts for friends at Asheville Bee Charmer and local provisions at Sparky's Bardega.

Credit: Explore Asheville

For dinner, enjoy a glass of wine and a charcuterie board while gazing at passersby at 5 Walnut Wine Bar, or enjoy another James Beard Award–winning culinary experience at Chai Pani, which offers Indian street food at its finest.

End with a nightcap at the quirky Crow & Quill cocktail bar. The door is unmarked, so keep an eye out for the lit lanterns and the “106” over the door.

Regardless of how you choose to enjoy yourself in Asheville, you’ll find the experience you need in a place that will welcome you back time and time again.

To learn more and plan your trip, visit

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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