Asheville: The Heart of Western North Carolina

Back in 2014 Matt and I traveled to Asheville, and we loved it so much that we almost moved there.  However, the job market was tough, so I ended up getting a job in Portland instead, and that is where we have been for the past 6 years. Now we have come full circle and are reconsidering this area as a potential place to call home.  What drew us here to begin with was its proximity to the mountains, the social culture, music, and plethora of breweries either already in business or under construction.  Now it was time to take another look and see what had changed, what had stayed the same and to explore the communities around Asheville.

Downtown Asheville

Murphy/Peace Valley KOA

After visiting folks in Alabama, we were northbound yet again, this time heading to Western North Carolina.  To break up the journey we stopped off at the Murphy/Peace Valley KOA, which is right over the border from Tennessee.  This is a smaller KOA, and since you drop down from the main road, it’s fairly quiet.

I took advantage of their clean laundry facilities, which were right across from us with a play area in between.  I’m not sure how great it would be for a longer stay, but for an overnight it worked for us.  There are white water rafting opportunities in the area, so this might be a decent jumping off place for you.

Asheville East KOA in Swannanoa

We didn’t have a lot of choices for a close-in stay to Asheville, but there are two KOA’s, one west and one east of Asheville.  The reviews seemed fairly even, so we picked the Asheville East KOA in Swannanoa because it would shorten our trek to our next destination in Virginia.  

We stayed at the first loop near the river, which is to your left as you head into the campground.  It was pretty packed most of the time we were there since it was close to the river and had full hookups.  There are also ponds on the property with tent or partial hookup sites available that have beautiful pond views.  You can also rent kayaks and take them out on the water.  

The laundry facilities were ok, but there were several machines out of order and the dryers are outside, so if it’s cold, it may not be much fun transporting laundry from the laundry room to the dryers.  The campsite is located right off of highway 70, so between frequent traffic and trains nearby it was pretty loud and we didn’t find any location in the campground where you could escape that noise.  However, we enjoyed wandering around the ponds, the KOA’s convenient location and even had a delightful time talking with the neighbors who rolled in on our final night there.  

Mike and Cindy have been RVing for years, and Cindy’s brother Johnny and his wife Lynn were first timers joining them on this trip, all hailing from North Carolina.  We even discovered a little known fact from Mike that the town of Mayberry on the Andy Griffith Show was based on Mount Airy, North Carolina, and Mike often dresses up as the Sheriff and performs wedding ceremonies in the jail there for fans of the show. 😂

Similar to our experience in Savannah, Georgia, we weren’t surprised that a conveniently located RV park was a bit loud and crowded, but it served its purpose and we did get to meet some nice people.  The park did host some fun Easter events for the kiddos and was well-staffed.  If you’re looking for peace and quiet, search elsewhere, but for convenience and keeping your kids entertained, this place worked well for us.

The North Carolina Arboretum

Just off the Blue Ridge Parkway is The North Carolina Arboretum.  Access for standard vehicles is $16, which may seem a bit steep, but the grounds are extensive.  Alternatively, you could walk or bike in for free.  If you live in the area, consider getting a membership as there is more to see than one day would allow.  There are about 10 miles of hiking trails and just under 5 miles of biking trails in addition to their gardens and exhibits.  We walked along the Natural Garden Trail and went to an azalea garden as we circled back.  Not many azaleas were in bloom yet, but I bet they look amazing in May.  

We walked up to the Forest Meadow and then toward the Quilt Garden where we saw a miniature railroad scene, which was really neat, especially as we watched birds hop through, looking gigantic in comparison. If you climb the steps above the Quilt Garden, there is a beautiful view of the mountains in the background.  At this point we were hot and tired, so we decided to call it a day, but would love to come back and check out more of the grounds.  

Eating & Drinking

We have made it a habit to reach out and see if friends of friends live in the area so we can get multiple perspectives on what it’s like to live in an area.  We had a lot of responses for this place in particular, so met up and discovered a variety of restaurants and breweries in the process.  Thank you to our friend and wedding photographer Olivia for introducing us to her friends Michelle and Ashley and to my cousin for sharing her dear friend Mitzi’s information. 💗

As seen walking around in Asheville

Our first meet up was with Michelle at Burial Beer Company.  Burial has four taprooms, two of which are in Asheville, and we met up at their South Slope location closer to downtown, which is a dog-friendly place.  They also have food at the taprooms and three bottling shops.  We sat out on their front patio, and got to know Michelle and her sweet dog Maya while enjoying a beautifully sunny day.  Michelle has lived in Asheville for over 10 years, and her insights were invaluable to us, not to mention the fact that she is an awesome person. 

Burial Brewing’s South Slope Taproom

Afterward, we headed over to Buxton Hall BBQ, which is just a few blocks away from Burial Beer’s taproom.  This place has some tasty BBQ, but also sources locally, including pastured pigs from Vandal Farms in Lake Lure, NC.  The atmosphere was buzzing with activity, and clearly shows this place’s popularity with the locals.  I indulged in both a cocktail and dessert, but in this case it was worth it. 😋 If you are a fan of BBQ and supporting local farmers, you can’t go wrong with Buxton Hall.

Our second meet up was with Ashley, her husband Travis, friend Emily and one more!  We met up in West Asheville at Haywood Common, which has an outdoor space, and a nice selection of food and drink.  With another beautiful day in Asheville, it was lovely to sit outside and enjoy it.  This group of folks lives closer to or within Waynesville, which is west of Asheville, and most of them grew up in the area.  As such, it was interesting to get their perspective on how Asheville has changed with the influx of people from all over the country.

We said our goodbyes and walked over to Westville Pub per our hosts’ recommendation as a local favorite.  However, it is probably safer to go here earlier in the night, as they have been known to have issues in this part of town late at night.  We had some decent bar food and headed back after a long day of driving around the towns west of Asheville.

For my birthday Matt surprised me with a cookbook called Cúrate that focuses on traditional Spanish tapas and other dishes.  After reviewing the book I discovered that the restaurant Cúrate is in downtown Asheville, so we booked a night during our stay. 😍 We got a table in front, and enjoyed strawberry shrub drinks and marinated olives while we perused the menu.  

This place reminded us of a series of restaurants back in Portland: Tasty and Alder, Tasty and Sons, Toro Bravo, and Mediterranean Exploration.  We had to try their octopus to compare with Tasty and Alder, and also enjoyed their croquettes, ramps with romesco sauce, garlic shrimp, patatas bravas, and lamb skewers.  So much delicious food!  

We were stuffed, so decided to walk around afterward to digest.  As we did, we opted to stop at French Broad Chocolate, which was recommended to us by Mitzi, my cousin’s close friend.   Matt picked out a milk chocolate sampler, and I chose one of their 12-piece bonbon and caramel sets.  They are delectable chocolates with creative flavors, and I recommend them. 👍

French Broad Chocolate

On our final day in Asheville, we wanted to return to the River Arts District (RAD) and check out the riverfront greenways that had been established since we we visited last.  This area is known as a creative hub for artists specializing in a variety of mediums.  Normally, we would peruse the shops and pick up something to support local artists and remind of our travels there, but we simply cannot collect more things while on the road.  Instead, we parked and walked over to Summit Coffee Co. so Matt could pick up a mocha for our stroll.  This coffee shop is a cute space, but the prices were pretty steep compared to other coffee places in the area.

We walked along the Wilma Dykeman Greenway and across the river to the French Broad River Park.  The greenway is pretty short right now, but there are intentions of expanding it.  Crossing the bridge to get to the park was a little precarious, because there is only one single file sidewalk and we had to navigate pedestrians coming the other way so we could all stay out of traffic.  The park is small and seems to be under construction in sections, but it is a good place to relax near the river, take advantage of the dog run or find a shady picnic bench.  

Walking the narrow sidewalk to the French Broad River Park

Afterward, we had one more lunch at Taco Billy.  They have some creative flavor combos and a nice outside patio in the back.  And, there is plenty of creative art inside as well.  On one of the hottest days during our stay, walking around and eating lunch outside on a patio was a perfect way to cap off our time in Asheville.

Asheville has its challenges, space being one of them.  Expanding infrastructure is challenging since it is in such a mountainous area, so things like parks, bike lanes and public access are not readily available compared to other cities.  Since space is at a premium, growth is limited, which means the population remains small, but that also means there is less access to local jobs, and cost of living is higher.  If you can’t get remote work, you may struggle to keep expenses down in Asheville and maintain quality of life.  

All that being said, there is so much more to share about the surrounding areas, which I will do in my next post to give you a better picture of this mountainous region in Western North Carolina.  If you love the mountains, breweries, good food, and getting outdoors, this truly is a wonderful place to come and experience all of these delights and more. ⛰

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