Go Alternative in Asheville

1. Where to Stay

The Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa sits outside the city center, near the Blue Ridge Mountains.Photo: Courtesy of The Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa

Watch the sun set over the Blue Ridge Mountains from the huge terrace at The Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa (from $199), a landmark hotel opened in 1913 that has hosted the likes of FDR and President Obama. The massive, stone-faced structure contains a historic section with arts-and-crafts flourishes, but rooms in the newer wings offer more space.

Cozy up in one of sixteen rooms and suites at the twenties-era Princess Anne Hotel (from $127), located a fifteen-minute walk from downtown on a quiet street. Wake up to free weekend mimosas with breakfast in the light-filled dining room, and enjoy afternoon hors d’oeuvres during the daily wine service in the lobby.

Choose a bunk bed, your own private “pod” (which resembles a train-car sleeper), or a private room downtown at Sweet Peas Hostel ($28–$60; bathrooms are shared). Head to the sprawling year-round Western North Carolina Farmers Market to pick up supplies for cooking in the communal kitchen, or just walk downstairs for local catfish tacos ($12.50) and a pint of American Pale Ale ($3.75) at the Lexington Avenue Brewery.

2. Where to Eat

Early Girl Eatery serves up farm-to-table comfort food.Photo: Courtesy of Early Girl Eatery

Head just south of downtown for southern BBQ at 12 Bones, a lunch-only operation that serves all manner of smoked meats. Line up at the counter to place your order – options include sweet and savory blueberry-chipotle baby back ribs ($19.50 for a full rack), sliced beef brisket ($8), and sides of jalapeno-cheese grits or corn pudding ($1.50 for a single serving) – before taking a seat at an outdoor picnic table.

Find southern comfort food with some modern twists, and even vegan options, at Early Girl Eatery, a farm-to-table spot that’s a homey alternative to the more-hyped Tupelo Honey. Breakfast favorites like biscuits and gravy ($4) or shrimp and grits ($10) are available all day, but opt for the grilled cheese with homemade pimento ($7) or sautéed local mountain trout served with pecan butter and seasonal sides ($15) for a better sense of the local flavor.

Branch out from Asheville’s “new south” cuisine at Chai Pani, a star in downtown’s diverse restaurant scene that specializes in Indian street-vendor snacks. Try the classic bhelpuri, with puffed rice and chutneys ($4.99) or sample one of the restaurant’s fusion offerings, like Bombay chili-cheese fries ($7.50), a spicy hash of masala fries and Indian cheese. Cool your tongue with a yogurt-based mango lassi ($3.50) or a Mumbai Monsoon ($8) with tamarind, lime, and sake.

3. What to Do

The Orange Peel is one of the country's premier music venues.Photo: Courtesy of The Orange Peel

Find out who’s playing next at The Orange Peel (recent acts have included Cut Copy and Wye Oak), named by Rolling Stone as one of the country’s top five rock clubs, which hosts top acts during the annual electronic-music festival Moogfest, named after music pioneer and longtime Asheville resident Bob Moog. If you prefer a calmer concert-going experience, pay $2 for a yearlong membership at downstairs club PULP, which holds no more than 75 and broadcasts a live feed of all concerts on a high-definition TV.

Meander around the River Arts District and its galleries before hitting a show at The Grey Eagle, a 600-person venue that draws a diverse lineup, from jam bands to indie rockers to hip-hop acts (upcoming acts include Annuals and School of Seven Bells). On Mondays, line up for the weekly contra dances ($6), a kind of American folk dancing, where old-time pros and hipsters promenade and do-si-do alongside each other.

Sip Green Man Brewing’s handcrafted English ales or one of the many regional beers on tap at Celtic-style pub Jack of the Wood, where acoustic and bluegrass bands jam into the night, and members of the crowd, from alt-country fans to Appalachian-ballad enthusiasts, are invited to join in the singing. Weekly events include “Old Time” mountain music night on Wednesdays, bluegrass nights on Thursdays, or Irish night on Sunday, all of which draw musicians from all over the region.

4. Insider’s Tip

Pritchard Park hosts a massive drum circle on Friday nights in the heart of downtown.Photo: Courtesy of the Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau

For a firsthand taste of Asheville’s bohemian vibe, saunter over to downtown’s Pritchard Park (Patton Avenue at College Street) on Friday nights, when a huge, informal drum and dance circle appears after 6 p.m. The unsanctioned collective of Asheville’s free spirits, of which there are many, can grow to more than 100 people, letting loose as professional and amateur percussionists drum out beats until 10 p.m. If you want to join in, bring an instrument – anything from a cowbell to a set of jangling keys will do.

5. Oddball Day

Panoramic views of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains are just a short drive outside of the city.Photo: Courtesy of the Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau

Head out of town and hit the Appalachian Trail. Before departing in the morning, pick up coffee and a spicy country-ham sandwich ($5.50) at Clingman Café, then take Interstate 40 west before going north on Route 209, which winds past the tiny Smoky Mountain burgs of Trust and Luck. After Trust, take a left on Route 1175 and make your way, via State Roads 1181 and 1182, to Max Patch Mountain, a bald hilltop that’s home to two easy loop trails, one 1.4 miles long, and the other 2.4 miles. On your hike, you’ll see amazing 360-degree views of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains, which is why seasoned hikers consider it a highlight of the region. Once you’re done, hit the town of Hot Springs and grab a burger ($7.99) for lunch at the Iron Horse Station before soaking in a 100-degree tub of mineral water (from $13; call ahead to reserve a spot) at the Hot Springs Resort & Spa until you feel restored. Wind down your relaxing mountain adventure with an hourlong scenic drive back to the city on Route 251 along the French Broad River. In the evening, settle into the Thirsty Monk, which serves dozens of Belgian and American craft beers on tap and by the bottle, and nosh on an eclectic sampling of small plates, including spicy pickled-vegetable bruschetta ($4) and Thai-style pulled pork tacos ($7).

6. Links

Look no further than Asheville Now for an upcoming list of bands playing venues around the city.

Tap into the region’s strong buy-local ethic and get a sense of what local entrepreneurs are up to by visiting Asheville Grown Business Alliance.

To find out what area farmers are growing and where to buy or eat their offerings, check out the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project’s local food guide.

For a listing of area hikes and directions to the trailheads, check out HikeWNC.

Go Alternative in Asheville