Road Trip: Asheville, North Carolina Distance: 180 miles, three-hour drive


Asheville, you little paradox. With a Southern sweetness and a contemporary edge, at times it’s painfully hip, other times delightfully downhome. And that’s exactly what makes everyone fall in love here. Walk the streets of the art deco downtown past yoga studios and reiki healing, gastropubs, art galleries and pottery shops. The mix of southern hospitality, high brow art, and a sprinkle of new age-iness make for a vibrant city without pretension.

Now with more breweries per capita than anywhere in the U.S. (take that, Seattle!), it’s been dubbed the “Napa Valley of beer,” home to some of the most award-winningest microbrews in the country. Nestled in the foothills of Appalachia, you’ll have beautiful views from your bed and breakfast balcony, as well as access to some of the best hiking in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and Nantahala National Forest. For a luxurious overnight stay, or at least a chic happy hour, try the historic Grove Park Inn, a stone-walled Craftsman-era hotel overlooking the Blue Ridge skyline. Famous guests over the years have included Thomas Edison, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Helen Keller, not to mention ten U.S. presidents.

Obama has famously praised Asheville as his favorite vacay hideaway. For the former POTUS, and many others, it’s the food that ranks Asheville as world-class. Here the barbeque is some of the Southeast’s finest (12 Bones Smokehouse, Obama’s favorite, is a must, along with the hip newcomer Buxton Hall BBQ), but it’s also the daring contemporary and farm-to-table dishes (like the lamb caponata with ricotta and pine nut crumble at the Biltmore Estate Dining Room, or the local mountain trout with toasted pecan butter at Early Girl Eatery) that have put Asheville on the Michelin-star map.

The art scene might be Asheville’s most delightful juxtaposition of all. Folk art and pottery workshops line the street alongside sparse, light-flooded contemporary galleries. The River Arts District and the Biltmore Village showcase some of the most talented artists in pottery, glass blowing, photography, jewelry, mixed media and fiber arts. And the Asheville Art Museum houses an impressively large collection of American contemporary artists in every form of media.

The city also has an undeniable party side. Events like the upcoming LEAF festival and Brewgrass festival draw crowds in the thousands, while intimate acoustic music venues host next-big-thing artists before they’re discovered. Journalist Jen Nathan Orris advises skipping the cover charge altogether: “The city’s street performance scene boasts buskers of all kinds, from country crooners to electric violin players. It’s hard to miss the talent that overflows onto Asheville’s streets.” Make sure to pack your tambourine or maracas. The Friday night drum circle in Pritchard Park, where the djembes and congas resound in a joyous al fresco dance party, is not to be missed.

And that’s what makes Asheville so loveable. It’s a place where mountain music and the avant-garde live in comfortable harmony. Convinced? Pack your sport coat and your cowbell and hit the road.