ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA
“This is a nice reality, I see why you like it here.”
I overheard this statement from a trendy 70 year old talking with his friend over a bottle of wine and cheese platter, in an extremely unique bookstore with live jazz on a Sunday afternoon. I felt like it was the perfect scene and statement to describe the city of Asheville.
Let me start by saying, I actually loved Asheville, NC. It is trashy and trendy in all the right ways for me. It is referred to as the San Francisco of the East Coast, and in some regards I completely agree. In it's homegrown, earth friendly, shop local, all accepting, good beer and good music culture, they share some of the aspects I liked about out west. There were a few aspects of the town that I am cautious of, but let me start with what we did.
Asheville is the first city out of Florida that we specifically traveled to for possible future home locations. Therefore, we weren't traveling quite like a tourist or a hiker, but more looking at a day to day feel. When it comes to 'future home' cities, we already know what we are kind of looking at; decent job opportunities for both Eric and I, proximity to airport, community feel, medium size around 1,500 people per square mile, housing market, land availability, outdoor activities, and possible proximity to family. A lot of that we researched before hand, but community feel, city layout and outdoor spaces are three things we try to focus on when we are in a area we are considering.
We stayed for two weeks in the West Asheville area on a homestead and exchanged farm work for lodging (our first WWOOF! Explained in another post) which left us with about 8 full days to explore the area. Unfortunately, the weather was really bad most of the time. We had a few nice sunny days in the low 70's, but those were used for our working days. This left most of our off days with rain or snow, and highs in the 40's. Needless to say I was not in the highest of spirits. We were still camping but we were in a barn, so we were thankful to have a roof and pseudo walls for the weather. Luckily we didn't need to do much outdoor exploration, because the Asheville is surrounded by national forests and is close to the Great Smokey Mountains, so we knew we liked the natural area and there were plenty of hikes close by.
A lot of our time was spent walking or driving around the different sections of the city, and people watching. You can get a good read on the general population just by watching and eavesdropping on people in public spaces, as creepy as that sounds. It also produces some gems of comedy. For example, while we were eating at this (awesome gluten free) restaurant called BimBeriBon, Eric and I had to contain our laughter as we heard the conversation with this as a starter: “I wanted to get your opinion on this, I saw two white cats the other day and had a dream about connecting with a Snowy owl, what do you think that means?” This was said in all seriousness.
The town is separated into about six main districts, West Asheville, the River Arts District, Downtown, East Asheville, North Asheville and South Asheville. The historic West Asheville, the River Arts District, and the Downtown area all had historic shopping streets which were fun to walk through and window shop. All three had a different flair and their own unique shops and restaurants, all three were enjoyable. Close to the downtown area was another smaller area called Grove Park, and it had a neat indoor shopping plaza where we found the aforementioned bookstore. We spent two afternoons hanging out, enjoying local beer/cider, and playing Stardew valley or reading while silently judging everyone (its a hobby). It was difficult for me to stay in one place and enjoy goofing off, as traveling anywhere can lead to the 'fear of missing out' which causes me to pack my days so tightly that I need a vacation from vacation. I am trying to break that habit. Eric has no problem with just ambling and letting his mood dictate what he does from day to day. Especially in a city where cell phone reception is abundant, a ton of pre-planning isn't necessary and can make us miss some spur of the moment events.
One event we were told about by our WWOOFing hosts was the annual food truck battle. I realize a lot of cities have events like this, but we thought that would be perfect to see how crazy community events get. If a food truck battle was held in the Bay Area, parking would be $25, the event would have a cover, and it would be so packed you would have to wait an hour just to get in. This was definitely not the case here. It was a lively event with great food for both Eric and I, good music, and best of all FREE! Everyone was nice and not in a rush, which seemed to be the trend in most places.
For me, the best thing we did was catch a show at the Grey Eagle, one of the many music venues in town. The bands for the night were two I had not heard of, but fell in love with after their stellar performances. The opening band was Circus No. 9, a bluegrass band out of Nashville. The best way to describe them is to say I have never heard anyone shred on banjo so casually. As all the greatest musicians do, they made it seem absolutely effortless to jam and produce such complicated melodies, that of course Eric and I decided right there that we quit music forever. Then Front Country came on and blew the house down. Excellent musicians, great soloing, killer vocals, and once again, effortless. It was inspiring and depressing all at the same time. Regardless, we had a great time in this small venue, and I was impressed at this $5 Thursday night show. A good music scene that is accessible is a huge bonus to me for a city. Also, Nashville is not to far away either 😉
Another activity we enjoyed was hanging out at the Retrocade in historic West Asheville. This was a cool bar arcade that had a mix of old arcade games and large screens for old and new consul game play. The best part was it was $10 for unlimited play and you could drink, again, great local beers all day.
If I haven't made it clear yet, I really enjoyed the beer available in this city.
After a few hours at the Retrocade, I left Eric to play games to his heart's content while I went to a Fusion dance. Fusion is a new kind of dance that is a bit.....interesting to say the least, but it is intended to be a mix of various dances, and most of the time rooted in Blues dancing. It is really fun, and had a large community out around San Francisco, so I was happy to see it spreading around the East Coast as well. This dance was small but enjoyable, and I was able to talk to people more about how they like Asheville.
I also went to a swing dance at a neat place called The Block, where they have a live jazz band every Tuesday. The music was outstanding, though the dancing was mediocre. I realize this will be the case for most swing dances as it is not very popular anymore, but I am always happy to know I would have dancing options. Plus it is a fun release and an excuse for Eric and I to have some alone time, which is needed when you live together in a tent. Asheville also has a variety of dances, such as bachatta and west coast swing, that I did not go to, but again, nice to know for the (possible) future.
We visited a few breweries, cideries, and one ginger beer place called Gingers Revenge. There were so many breweries around town, I would be so fat and broke if I lived here trying to find the best stout (which I was told by my hairdresser from the River Arts District it is the Nitro Stout from Pisgah Brewery). I guess I will never know. When we ventured to the woods or outdoor centers around the city, we found less parents with dreadlocks and more of the bland hiker, but all spaces seemed to be family friendly and not overly populated.
On the list of reservations I have about the city for a future home would also be what I tend to like about this area, unfortunately. The artsy, eco-friendly culture generally doesn't lead to to many jobs that keep an economy growing, and sometimes I don't want to talk about what color my aura is, or how grateful I am for the gifts from the Mother, or how yoga changed my life. The University of North Carolina campus in Asheville does have science and engineering courses available, but it is limited due to the fact it is a liberal arts college primarily. There is no beach and ski resorts are too far to make it a viable activity in the winter. Hiking, climbing and river sports would be our primary interest, which isn't terrible, but something to consider. White people problems, I know.
Overall, Asheville was a great combination of the trendy and progressive atmosphere of the West Coast, and the cultural grass roots vibe of the Southeast. We loved our visit, but we are excited and ready to move on to our next National Park, the Great Smoky Mountains.
Song: Business – Front Country