By Charlene & Richard Mixa
Take a tour to experience this dynamic city!
A lively vibrant and thriving downtown area welcomes visitors to Asheville in the beautiful western North Carolina Mountains. Asheville is more than the Biltmore Estate! This welcoming city offers museums, excellent shopping, art galleries, great restaurants with sidewalk café’s, and entertainment. The bustling city is fun to visit whether walking or taking in a local tour.
Upon arriving in Asheville visit the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau. The Bureau has excellent information on the local area, places to stay, things to do, relocating information, maps, discount coupons and a very helpful staff. Plus some of the local trolley tours have kiosks where you can purchase tickets at the Visitor Center.
Having visiting Asheville several times in the past few summers, we continue to enjoy exploring this dynamic city. With so much to see and do in Asheville below are some highlights for visitors for touring the city. Of course as a first time visitor a must is a tour of the Biltmore Estate. Be sure to go beyond the Biltmore to explore Asheville.
Take a Tour
Learn Asheville’s exciting history, diverse culture and what’s happening in town by taking a tour. Since downtown Asheville offers driving challenges with its mixed up street patterns, a trolley tour is the perfect way to see the city and many of its sites in a relaxed atmosphere.
Asheville Historic Trolley Tours has a kiosk in the Visitor Center for purchasing tickets. Tours leave the Visitors Center on the hour starting at 10:00AM with the last trolley leaving at 3:00 PM. With unlimited hop-on and hop-off privileges this is a perfect way to get around town. Plan on taking the first trolley at 10:00 AM and fill your day with the sites to see in Asheville. The Trolley stops at 9 major locations making it important to plan the stops for getting on and off. A trolley comes by once an hour. Be sure to pick up the Asheville Downtown map. In the downtown area you can hop-off at one stop do your sightseeing and hop-on at another stop. The Trolley ticket includes FREE ADMISSION to the Thomas Wolfe Memorial State Historical Site and a FREE chocolate sample from the “Chocolate Fetish”.
On our tour, we enjoy the live narration about Asheville and its history. Quickly, we learn that two major players impacted Asheville into becoming the city that it is today. George Vanderbilt with building the Biltmore Estate, the Biltmore Village, a school and church plus the craftsman he brought to the area greatly influenced Asheville. Edwin W. Grove is the other mover and shaker in Asheville from selling tonics to building the Grove Park Inn and the Grove Arcade. The narration has stories on famous people such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, and O’Henry. A wealth of information is shared during the trolley tour. We listen carefully to learn details and trivia to gain insight into this dynamic city. As the Trolley passes Kilwin’s Handmade Chocolate in Battery Park, the driver stops and a young lady runs out with a bag of chocolates for the passengers to share. UMMM good!
Places we recommend during a visit to Asheville while on the tour or other times are:
Grove Park Inn with its history, unique building style and great views of the mountains it is a must visit while in Asheville.
Thomas Wolfe Memorial State Historic Site which was his boyhood home is an excellent tour. Learning about the interesting life of Wolfe with his domineering, yet entrepreneurial mother and her influence on his life is fascinating. Remember your Trolley Ticket includes free admission for this tour.
Grove Arcadehas excellent shops, arts and crafts stores inside and great sidewalk café’s outside.
Basilica of St. Lawrencedesigned and built by Rafael Guastavino has both history and its unique design and dome structure with its Spanish building style using only brick and mortar.
Pack Place stop has several museums that visitors should check out based on their personal interest. The Mast General Store is fun to roam through, too.
Biltmore Villagehas exceptional shops. We especially admired the stores featuring arts and crafts.
River Arts Districtallows you to wander through artists’ studios and work areas. Visiting these areas the artists welcome us, sharing the work they are doing, the process and answering our questions.
Lazoom Bus Tour is definitely a non-traditional tour. We book the Lazoom Comedy Bus Tour of Asheville for a Friday evening at 6:00 PM. Arriving at the pick up stop by the French Broad Co-op, we easily spot the wildly decorated “purple bus”. Many guests bring their libations of beer, wine and snacks onboard to enjoy on the tour. Boarding the bus we are greeted by Jen our guide in her bright costume, black frame glasses, heavy blue eye shadow and a fake Cardinal in her black kinky hair. FUN! FUN! FUN! A wild and zany comedy tour of Asheville begins as the bus pulls away from the curb. Jen gives great information and history on Asheville but with an extra comic touch. As we tour through Pack Place “Sister Bad Habit” jumps on to have us sinners repent. Traveling through the neighborhoods on the Purple Bus, we learn the well-known and the “wildly unknown” history of the area. All in good clean fun! Excitement is around each corner as the Purple Bus is accosted by various “crazy” characters. Each adds to the amusement of the tour. At our fifteen minute stop downtown, we have a chance to get a drink, wine taste in an artist gallery before re-boarding the bus. Lazoom Tour is a terrific and non-traditional way to tour Asheville. The tour is fast paced and entertaining the entire time. We loved it!
Brews Cruise Tours
Asheville is becoming the Brews Capital. Doing a Brews Cruise is an entertaining way for visiting and learning about the local brewery business. Our Brews Cruise is a 4:00 PM tour on the 3rd Wednesday of the month, featuring two breweries of Pisgah Brewing Company in Black Mountain, NC and French Broad Brewing Company in Asheville.
At Pisgah Brewing Company the brewer gives us a tour and explains this is a small organic brewery. All the while we sample various Pisgah Beers. Pisgah Brewery sells all their beer in Buncombe County, North Carolina. They fly in their malt and barley from the Northwest US states. This is an excellent tour giving us an understanding of a small all organic brewery. Pisgah has huge barn like room with a long L-shaped bar with one end of the room opening to the outside with picnic tables and a stage with a backdrop draped in purple velvet curtains on one wall. The Lobster Trap is a feature food vendor today and our tour includes one complimentary sample. The ½ lb. of boiled shrimp is an excellent choice. It lives us to be boast: “This shrimp ain’t no wimp!” Plus there are other food choices of crab cakes, etc. all for only $5.00.
At the French Broad Brewing Company in Asheville. The Assistant Brewer and explains the brewing process for French Broad. Started in 2001, they specialize in creating traditional European style-beers. They distribute all over North Carolina, Virginia and Eastern Tennessee. We enjoy the beer samples with their more unique European flavors. French Broad Brewing Company is basically a 3-man operation handling everything that needs to be done including bottling. As the tour finishes we buy a souvenir tee shirt and head out. Brews Cruise exceeded our expectations and is highly recommended for beer lovers visiting the Asheville area.
If you go:
Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau, 36 Montford Ave Asheville, NC 28801 (828) 258-6101; www.exploreasheville.com
Asheville Historic Trolleys, 37 Montford Ave. Asheville, NC 28801 (828) 681-8585; www.ashevilletrolleytours.com
Lazoom Comedy Tours, 90 Biltmore Avenue Asheville, NC 28801 (828) 225-6932; www.lazoomtours.com
Asheville Brews Cruise, 828.545.5181; www.brewscruise.com/asheville