Weeklong roadtrip from DC: Should we go to Asheville, NC?
October 6, 2008 11:00 AM   Subscribe

Fall road trip before the baby comes: DC to . . . Asheville NC or somewhere else?

Our baby girl is due in early March and we'd like to take a week long vacation before she arrives or it gets too hard for me to move around. Planes are out, so we were thinking about a road trip to view the fall colors.

About us: My husband is a vegetarian. We like to bike, though I haven't been doing as much since the pregnancy. We like relaxed, casual vacations where we can mix being active with exploring at our own pace. We like seeing local art, symphonies or other local music, good food is a must, and we like to try different activities. When we went to Maui, we biked down the volcano, did alot of snorkeling, whalewatched and boozecruised, ziplined, and really enjoyed the atmosphere and food in hippie town Paia. (I'm expecting this vacation to involve less athletic pursuits and no alcohol for me, but exciting is still good.)

I've been googling and it seems like Asheville NC might be a good mix for us in terms of food, atmosphere, and local activites. It looks like it's about an 8 hour drive (one way) from our house in the Northern Virginia suburbs. I've checked out the previous AskMes involving Asheville and I have a few questions.

1. Do you think we would like Asheville, or would you suggest someplace else assuming we have about 9 days and a budget of about $1500 to get there, explore, and come back?

2. Do you think we'll find enough veggie-friendly food in Asheville to keep us happy for this long of a stay, or would you recommend somewhere else, or any restaurants in particular? There are a few suggestions here, but I trust AskMe more.

3. Any recommendations for activities in Asheville? I've checked out the local event calendar but am also looking for activities that might not be on that calendar, such as vising the Biltmore, etc. For that matter, does anyone have any particular recommendations about what to do at the Biltmore?

4. Any recommendations about where to stay? I was wondering if a local bed and breakfast might be a better option than one of the bigger hotels; however many of the appealing ones look fairly expensive (though they include really nice breakfasts!). Has anyone stayed at a really great and not too pricey B&B in Asheville? Do you think they would accommodate vegetarian requests? And when you stay at a B&B do you need to socialize alot with the other guests? I saw some advice from another thread about a Priceline deal at the Renaissance for $70/night in 2007 -- should we try that, and anyone know if that's still offered sometimes or of any other good lodging deals?

5. Should we take our bikes or rent bikes once we get there? I don't think we'd bike every day, but maybe a couple of times. Anything we should not miss by bike?

6. If we were going to stop along the way in our drive, would Raleigh or Greensboro NC be a better overnight stay for us? Or maybe Roanoke?

7. Anything else you think we should know or do?

Thanks so much in advance for any advice!
posted by onlyconnect to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Shoot -- one more question. We want to do this in mid- to late October. Do you think we will see some beautiful foilage on the drive, or is that pushing things a bit too late? Thanks!
posted by onlyconnect at 11:04 AM on October 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Asheville is great! I think you will really enjoy it.

I have a friend that lives in the area and she told me that if I wanted to see some lovely foilage, that October would be the best time. Mid-to-late October may be toward the end, but I'm sure that it will still be beautiful. Don't miss going up the Blue Ridge Parkway for a leisurely drive. It's quite lovely.

If you're into fiber arts or antiques, Asheville has a lot to offer. There are quite a few excellent antique stores and some yarn shops with nice locally-spun skeins. There are a lot of "hippie-type" establishments and restaurants. I highly recommend Mellow Mushroom for dining. It's veggie-friendly. Their calzones are not to be missed. It's casual and has some eccentric decor.

There are also many lovely waterfalls in the area. Some were accessible by car or an easy hike. I wish I could be more specific, but I was a passenger and am not clear where exactly we were.

If you feel like venturing out of Asheville proper, there is a really cute town a little less than an hour of of Asheville that I really like to frequent. Dillsboro, NC. There are lots of shops with local flavor. You'll find antiques, used books, jewelry, crafts, homemade jams/jellies/butters and chocolates. A lot of artisans have shops in Dillsboro as well, including a nice pottery shop and a store that features handmade furniture. There is also a train tour that I believe runs a fall foliage tour every autumn. Maybe you can find something like this closer to Asheville - I'm not sure, but the visitor's center there would be able to tell you.

So, er, I hope that helped a little!
posted by bristolcat at 11:39 AM on October 6, 2008

Best answer: You mention a view, biking, and Roanoke. Roanoke has an interesting climb (street-bike) to a really cool summit and city-wide vista. I would think that riding up there, picnic-ing (or whatever), and riding back down would be a cool usage of a mid-travel morning.

I am also from Nova originally, taking a trip to NC seems kind of odd, have you guys considered other activities?

If you are set on it, (I have no problem with that :)) then consider taking 81 instead of 95 (you will get much nicer views, and can detour to skyline drive, and hit up Luray caverns if you route it well). 81 also has the perk of sending you through Roanoke for the suggestion above.

These things may or may not be /obvious for a fellow Nova-er but that is for you to determine, not me :)

posted by milqman at 11:44 AM on October 6, 2008

Response by poster: Would 81 would be alot nicer than 95? We have friends in Richmond via 95, and I wondered whether we might try to squeeze in a quick visit along the way.

milqman, why does a North Carolina trek seem strange to you? We've only been to the beach there before. Do you have other suggestions? We don't want to spend the whole trip in the car.

bristolcat, thanks for the great suggestions. The Mellow Mushroom looks right up our alley, and the thought of waterfalls and Dillsboro sound lovely.
posted by onlyconnect at 11:56 AM on October 6, 2008

Best answer: You're a little too late for the music season in Brevard, NC, but the town is still worth a visit. There are nice galleries and shops downtown. Not sure about vegetarian food, but Western North Carolina seems to be sensitive to vegetarian and organic needs.

Seven Foxes and Earthshine are neat getaways.

Dillsboro, NC (seconding) Waynesville, NC and Cullowhee, NC are all in the general area and might be worth your time.
posted by Andy's Gross Wart at 12:01 PM on October 6, 2008

Best answer: 1. Do you think we would like Asheville?
Yes! My husband and I have been there twice in the last 3 years - once for our honeymoon, and again recently for a week-long vacation. It has great food, music, movies, and lots of outdoors stuff. And, I personally find the place very relaxing. Plus it should be very pretty this time of year!

2. Do you think we'll find enough veggie-friendly food in Asheville to keep us happy for this long of a stay, or would you recommend somewhere else, or any restaurants in particular?
I have heard Asheville has a lot of veggie-friendly restaurants, but the only one I've been to is Mellow Mushroon (good!). I can recommend the Corner Kitchen for great food though!

3. Any recommendations for activities in Asheville?
Definitely visit the Biltmore! It's an amazing place. We also drove the Blue Ridge Parkway and visited some very easy to get to waterfalls. (I can give you specifics if you want them.) The Asheville Brewery is a fun place to eat good pizza and watch movies. The NC Arboretum was a nice, relaxing place to stroll through gardens. If you like zoos and animals, the Western North Carolina Nature Center is a fun way to spend an afternoon.

4. Any recommendations about where to stay?
We recently stayed at the Country Inn & Suites for around $90/night. I'm sure it will cost more now, during their peak tourist season, though. Decent, clean accomodations and a large, free continental breakfast each morning, with everything from cereal to waffles.

Would 81 would be alot nicer than 95?
We're driven to Asheville both from Richmond down 95 and from western VA down I-81. The trip down I-81 into Asheville is far more scenic than the trip down 95!
posted by geeky at 12:20 PM on October 6, 2008

Oh, and I forgot to add that in my opinion, all of the tours at the Biltmore are worth it, but at the very least, do the main house tour. I would say don't miss the winery tour and free tasting too, but since you're pregnant that's probably not the best recommendation :)
posted by geeky at 12:23 PM on October 6, 2008

Best answer: Would 81 would be alot nicer than 95?

Absolutely; we have taken two trips from GA to Maine and back and the one leg we took on 95 was pretty bad-boring road and heavy traffic. For us even though it added a couple of undred miles on the trip it was worth it to take 81 for better scenery and fewer trucks.

You might want to check out this thread for other suggestions in that general area.
posted by TedW at 12:24 PM on October 6, 2008

Best answer: If I were you, I'd start by driving down I-81 to Floyd, Virginia. Lots of amazing local color and culture in Floyd; every single spot mentioned on this page -- Mabry Mill, Chateau Morisette, New Mountain Mercantile, Harvest Moon Food Store, Schoolhouse Fabircs -- is nifty beyond words. And definitely jump on the Blue Ridge Parkway just outside of Floyd. From Floyd south into NC is, IMO, much more scenic than Skyline Drive; the mountains of NC (and in the distance, TN) are breathtaking. You could take the Parkway all the way to Asheville, but that will make for a much longer and slower drive. YMMV.
posted by junkbox at 12:26 PM on October 6, 2008

Best answer: From the sounds of it, go to Asheville - you'll love it. Delicious food - vegetarian and otherwise. Definitely get some breakfast at the Early Girl Eatery. Eat at Tupelo, Fig, Mela (Indian food), and I think this amazing Mexican-type place is called Limones. Vegetarian food at each. Laughing Seed is an all-vegetarian cafe, I think. Tons of locally sourced, organic and healthy food in Asheville.

You can rent bikes at the Biltmore and tool around on their bike paths. It's really easy and beautiful. You can also go for a long walk on their grounds - don't just stick to the botanical gardens.

There are lots of art galleries in Asheville and I think they have one of those gallery maps to follow around. Great shopping too - some super cute clothing stores, one huuuuuge shoe store, lots of other fun stores to peek in. A bunch of other recommendations in this comment. And tons of live music. I think the end of October will still have good fall colors. Go for a drive on the Parkway, go see surrounding towns, go for a gentle hike one day. Get a massage!

Since meals in B&Bs are for breakfast, request for vegetarian meals are never a problem. I don't have specific recommendations for B&Bs there.

You could stop in Blowing Rock on the way to/from Asheville. I haven't stayed at this place, but the Gideon Ridge Inn comes highly recommended.
posted by barnone at 12:27 PM on October 6, 2008

Best answer: asheville is a really nice place to visit!

and i agree with junkbox - floyd is a very quaint little town - good food, good shopping, good scenery. i'm heading that way this weekend, actually.

when we visit floyd (my best friend lives there), we go down 95 south through fredricksburg, then through charlottesville. i try to schedule my road trips around as many sonics as i can hit, though - no road trip is complete for me without a cherry limeade with crushed ice.
posted by kerning at 12:52 PM on October 6, 2008

Best answer: I forgot - when I was in Asheville I picked up a brochure for this place: ASIA Spa. I always wanted to stay there, but never got to. I didn't have any personal recommendations, but it just looked SO COOL.

I have also stayed at the Country Inn and Suites. Nice enough for what it was. Good location - about halfway between downtown and the Interstate.
posted by bristolcat at 1:11 PM on October 6, 2008

Best answer: I hate 81--too many trucks lumbering uphill, then careening downhill. When I head that direction, I go out 66 a bit to 29, take that south to Greensboro, NC, then take 40 west. Much more pleasant drive, though it adds about an hour.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:33 PM on October 6, 2008

Best answer: I-40 between Greensboro and Old Fort (into the mountains) is pleasant in a cruise-control monotony kind of way. I-81 does have the trucks (not that I-40 doesn't, it's just that the road is flatter and straighter) but it also has the views, and you can choose to drop towards the Blue Ridge for parts of the drive if you don't mind the leaf-peepers and the speed limit.

Leaf season looks like it's going to be spectacular: the early reports from Grandfather Mountain are coming in, and it'll sweep down to lower elevations in the next two weeks. You can sample the variety at the Arboretum, just south of the city and next to the Parkway, or head down to Cradle of Forestry nr. Brevard.

Another option might be to rent a cabin to the north, perhaps near Boone, or in Avery County (caverns, Christmas tree) or Hot Springs (geothermal hot tubs).

If you have trouble avoiding meat at mealtimes in Asheville, you are Barack Obama ordering takeout at 12 Bones. Otherwise, you're fine.
posted by holgate at 4:15 PM on October 6, 2008

Best answer: Yes, definitely take 81, I think you can still come through Roanoke. I've driven from Asheville to DC/NYC many many times and 81 is sooo much more pleasant. Plus, the scenery is gorgeous coming through Tennessee into North Carolina.

You should check out some local guest houses while you're here, if you have a little extra money. ... a friend of mine told me about this place. The Renaissance is a very nice hotel, for $70 a night that's a great deal.

So many fun things to do in Asheville. Hiking and camping are still possible in October as well. Check out Graveryard Fields and Black Balsam.

Salsas, Sunny Point (in West Asheville, but the best brunch in town!), Mela, Overeasy Cafe, Heiwa, Rosettas-- you can get great vegetarian anywhere.

Check out the Wedge Gallery and The Flood in the River Arts District for great, local art.

Malaprops and Downtown Books and News (two great independent bookstores)... also The Fine Arts Theater. And make sure to get a Mountain Xpress, the local weekly magazine or check it out online for things to do while you're here.
posted by Rocket26 at 5:38 PM on October 6, 2008

... www.sharonspringcabin.com- that's the guest house i meant to refer you to!
posted by Rocket26 at 5:39 PM on October 6, 2008

Best answer: We live in NoVa now, too, but I grew up in NC, vacationing in Asheville and other parts of western NC quite often. Asheville is beautiful, especially in the Fall.

Just dropping in to recommend against 81 (parts of it are really pretty but the trucks and constant construction make it a very very tiring road to drive), and to add some veggie-friendly restaurants to your list. The Early Girl Eatery, which has a farm-to-table vibe, and the Laughing Seed Cafe, which is exclusively vegan/vegetarian, are both right downtown and fantastic.

The town of Black Mountain, near Asheville, is a fun day trip, and there are some great trails with waterfall action very near the town.
posted by weezetr at 8:58 AM on October 7, 2008

Response by poster: I just wanted to thank folks for all of this helpful advice. NortonDC and I have definitely decided on Asheville now and are pretty stoked about it; I think we will have a great, and relaxing, time, and I think NortonDC is pretty happy with all the vegetarian eateries suggested here (the Early Girl is going to be a must, along with the Tupelo, Mellow Mushroom, and Mela (yay Indian food!). You all have given us some spectacular ideas for day trips as well. Not sure yet how we are going to resolve the drive/don't drive down 81 dilemma -- it seems like there is a lot of disagreement in this thread. Maybe we will try it coming down and take a different way back, or vice versa.

The more I look at tripadvisor and other internet resources, the more convinced I am that I'd like to try staying downtown within a walkable distance of most things, particularly if I can get a good hotel deal. $70 at the Renaissance didn't work last night via Priceline, but I might try a little higher or some other cheaper downtown places (like the recommended Country Inn & Suites). Some of the bed and breakfast places or spas or resorts are really lovely and I love love love the idea of a fireplace in the room at this time of the year, but they seem to run at least $250/night (often a lot more -- sob!), and I'm wary of blowing our budget on the hotel. I've also heard that parking downtown is a real pain, especially during high fall when tourists like us are all over the place, so I think I really would like to be within walking distance of things and worry about parking as little as usual.

Anyway, thanks for all the great advice!
posted by onlyconnect at 9:46 AM on October 7, 2008

Best answer: A little more info on the drive down 81 that may help you make up your mind:

I drive on 81 all the time, and yes, there are a lot of trucks. That can make it a tedious, long drive. The scenery along 81 is nice (and nicer than 95), but it's really the scenery along 26 that makes it worth the trip (especially in the fall!). From DC, the drive on 26 will only be maybe 1/4 of the entire road mileage - most of it will be along 81.

One other driving note - as you approach Asheville (from either 95 or 81), you will have to drive over a large mountain. I believe it's 6 miles or so of uphill driving from either direction. If you're running low on gas toward the end of your trip, pull over and gas up! I believe there is a sign warning about the lack of gas stations going over the mountain coming from 95, but not coming from 81.
posted by geeky at 12:49 PM on October 7, 2008

Best answer: The other thing to note about hitting the ascent is that it can get suddenly foggy on the interstate around this time of year outside the daylight hours (and sometimes for a few hours after sunrise), so be prepared for it.
posted by holgate at 1:42 PM on October 7, 2008

Asheville is a great place to visit! If you do not already have accommodations lined up, check out this B&B: Ashville Green Cottage. Their web site has pictures of the rooms.
posted by bchaplin at 4:13 AM on October 8, 2008

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