Asheville's winding mountain highways, painting-like and framed in one of the country's longest-lasting displays of fall-foliage, helped to earn the nickname “The Land of the Sky.” Even this title doesn't do it justice, though, as this unique city is teeming with titles and recognitions.
One example is the name "Beer City USA," granted by a poll hosted by Examiner.com. Another is by the Official 2020 Asheville Visitor Guide, which called it "Foodtopia." Laura Lanier, volunteer coordinator with the Southern Highland Craft Guild, recalled the nickname "the Paris of the South," given because of the city's rich arts scene and abundance of galleries.
This assortment of monikers demonstrates the city's potential as a destination for any kind of traveler. It also echoes the sentiment of Amy Hollifield, an Ashville native: "We've got it all here. The challenge is to figure out, kind of, what anyone wants to do."
Hollifield is the director of visitor services at the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center. Travelers come to the city for a variety of reasons, but the most popular pages accessed on the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor's Center website are about ways to enjoy Asheville's scenery and natural landscapes, according to Hollifield.
Asheville's natural beauty has a history of attracting people from a multitude of backgrounds, hometowns and interests. According to Hollifield, it might also have helped to cultivate the creative buzz seemingly infused with the mountain air.
"We've always attracted travelers, tourists, visitors, summer residents and — because of the mountains and the amount of greenery and wildlife; the flowers; the plants — there have always been artists that have come to Asheville," Hollifield said.
Lanier, who opened one of Asheville's first art galleries in the 1980s, said Asheville's art scene and creative residents are what make her proud of her hometown. When she traveled North Carolina in search of art, she ultimately returned to Asheville because she couldn't find an art scene with the same versatility.
Lanier said the area's notoriously eclectic nature is a reason young people should experience Asheville's art scene.
"It's very diverse," Lanier said. "It gives an education in itself just to see the possibilities from one extreme to another."
Such diversity can be seen in the crafts produced in Asheville, from furniture-making to blacksmithing, but also in the art forms themselves. Aside from visual arts, Asheville is also rich in performing arts, such as theater and storytelling, and is home to popular music venues, such as The Orange Peel.
Visitors interested in Asheville's local crafters and artists can drive through the Blue Ridge Craft Trail or check out the city's River Arts District, which Hollifield said is a must. The River Arts District, or "RAD," allows visitors to access the studios of hundreds of local artists free of charge and to enjoy galleries, live music and sample the food and drink this "foodie city" has to offer, according to the RAD website.
River Arts District restaurants such as White Duck Taco Shop and 12 Bones Smokehouse are popular, and Hollifield said travelers should always make a point of trying local restaurants. Eating at chains doesn't allow for the same variety and experience as embracing local venues, Hollifield said.
Hollifield said she recommends trying out local breweries such as Hi-Wire Brewing and New Belgium Brewing, the largest brewery within the River Arts District.
It's hard to go wrong with food or drink in Asheville, according to Michael Craft, community program manager for New Belgium Brewery.
"When you come to Asheville, you'd be hard pressed to find a bad beer or a bad plate of food. I think that's what makes it so uniquely Asheville," Craft said.
According to Craft, before the onset of the pandemic, anyone interested in the brewing process, the history or culture of Belgian beer could take a free tour of the New Belgium facility. Tours have been placed on hold for safety reasons, but Asheville's beer culture can still be experienced through annual beer festivals, walking, biking and driving beer tours or beer crawls between small, independent breweries and the Asheville locations of national favorites.
"I rarely have heard anyone say that they come here for one specific reason. It's usually a combination. And it's all of those things ... It's the food; the music; the outdoor activities," Hollifield said. "They combine to make Asheville a priority destination with a lot of people."
Asheville's versatility ensures that there is culture and creativity for everyone to explore, whether it be on a day trip or an extended stay.