A Newcomer’s Guide to Asheville

As I rolled into Asheville with my home trailing behind me, I already had the inclination I’d like this place. Maybe it was the water tower emblazoned with the ”Stay Weird,” moniker. Or maybe it was the lazy river flowing through downtown, but the city seemed like the ideal blind date: chill but quirky, outdoorsy and charming. So I settled in for my month-long date with Asheville as a temporary resident of the city.

If you’re a curious traveler wondering what the word is on Asheville, or if you’ve just moved to town and you’re still sinking your feet into this city, this piece is for you. Below are my recommendations for a first-timer’s stay in Asheville. Whether you’re exploring the city on vacation or pondering a move, these places, people, and experiences give you a taste of Asheville’s quirky character.


Buxton Hall Barbeque

Normally I wouldn’t order seafood at a BBQ spot, but after three different locals suggest the can’t-miss Mussels, I caved. Eternally grateful that I did, these mussels are cooked beneath the whole hog, soaking up a rich, smokey flavor and the drippings of slow-roasted barbeque. Of course, a full menu of melt-in-your-mouth ribs, chicken, and pork also beckons. This is North Carolina barbeque done right.

Whole hog BBQ at Buxton Hall!


After a late-night out downtown and a questionable quantity of craft cocktails, I was craving a burger. But after feasting on a FarmBurger, the late-night greasy burger regret never came. FarmBurger’s grass-fed burgers leave you feeling satisfied, but not heavy or oily. Sides like sweet potato hush puppies and Kale Slaw add to a well rounded late-night meal.

Odd’s Cafe

Grab your morning wifi at Odd’s Cafe, a quaint West Asheville cafe with a garage-style open-air window and ample plant life peppering the interior. In the Spring, try their lemon-lavender latte with a fresh blueberry scone.

Pie at Baked Pie Company

I love a city with a hearty pie culture. Try a pie flight at this shabby-chic dessert spot (with 2 locations around Asheville). Or, pick up a whole pie for you and some friends to dig into while sitting around a fire.


Chill at the Bywater or Zillicoah

There’s nothing better than an ice-cold beer on a hot day…except an ice-cold beer on a hot day beside a river. Zillicoah Brewery sits on prime real estate along the French Broad. Grab tacos at their local food truck, or bring your own meal to eat while sipping on craft beer and watching the lazy current drift by. If you’re looking to meet some real locals, opt for the Bywater just down the road. This local bar requires a $5 membership (that lasts for a lifetime), and gets you a playground of outdoor fun along the French Broad: corn hole, live music, and various outdoor patio spots for congenial conversation.

Sackett Street BBQ at The Bywater.

Go vineyard hopping

Asheville and it’s mountainous surrounds make for great vineyard territory. Try Burntshirt Winery for a California style experience, complete with sprawling views of endless rows of grapes. Or head Northwest to Addison Farm Vineyards and sample their variety of wines and unique alchemy meads, a fermentation of local herbs, spices, and honey. 


Camp at French Broad River Campground

Wondering how to get your own stretch of the French Broad River to yourself? Rent a primitive site at the French Broad River Campground. This urban campground gets you mere feet away from the current. Bring ample firewood, string up a hammock, and wind down the Asheville way.


Tube/Paddle French Broad

In case you haven’t gathered, the river is the heartbeat of the city, and in the warm months, it offers a ton of ways to play. Tube, kayak, canoe, or SUP your way down the calm, ambling waters. Paddle with French Broad Outfitters and you’ll end your trip at their groovy headquarters, a shady hangout space with outdoor games and beer on tap.

French Broad River. Photo credit: @davepavlina

Take part in the Drum Circle

There’s nothing that says more about the earthy, friendly people of Asheville than the Friday night drum circle at Pritchard Park. This community event attracts hundreds. Bring your own percussive instrument and join in on the group jam, or just come and enjoy the rhythm of a community coming together. Lasting up to 3 hours, the drum circle is a great place to start or end your evening.

Go dancing at Ben’s Tune-Up

This brewery and bar in the heart of Asheville is an upcycled auto body shop, turned indoor-outdoor beer garden. Its open-air vibe makes it an excellent spot for dancing beneath the stars. A Japanese-American grub hub inside is available into the evening for late-night noshing.

Paddle Lake Lure 

If the French Broad is too crowded, head a little under an hour outside of town to Lake Lure. This lake nestled among mountains is a peaceful retreat and cool dip on a hot day.

Photo credit: @davepavlina


Second Gear

As an town for outdoor enthusiasts, Asheville has plenty of places to gear up. But in proper Ashville style, Second Gear is a used-gear shop encouraging outdoor lovers to reuse lightly worn gear. Find hammocks, sleeping bags, hiking boots, cycling gear and more at this second-hand store for nature lovers.


Right next door to Second Gear is a stationery and gift shop. Find the perfect card for your sardonic friend, or pick up a handbound notebook and locally made jewelry. Asheville stickers, pins, and paraphernalia abound here making it the perfect place to pick up a little something.

Woolworth Walk

If you don’t have time to explore the entire River Arts District, a sprawling hub of art studios, swing into Woolworth Walk in downtown Asheville, a collection of area artists tucked together in booths for easy perusing. Swing in here on a hot day for a Root Beer Float at their in-house soda fountain, then amble through pottery, paintings, and hand made art.

Bring me to an outdoor patio and put a beer in my hand and I’m happy. Add in outdoor recreation, paint the horizon with mountains, fill it with local artisans and a hearty farmer’s market and I might just stick a mailbox in the ground and call it “Home.” If you’re a lover of art, beer, or being outside, then Asheville is right where you want to be.


For more of Dave Pavlina’s Photography

One Response to “A Newcomer’s Guide to Asheville”

  1. Harriet

    Thanks for sharing all of these wonderful spots in Asheville. I’ll be sure to add them to my list for the next time I visit!


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