“No repeats. There’s too much to see!” This is always my response to the suggestion of repetitive events. I think it is fully possible to enjoy and appreciate a situation without the need to make it an annual affair.
The exception to this?
Up until about 5 years ago, I probably couldn’t have pinned it on a map. But now? Now my veins feel like they are running dry if I don’t get my annual fix of those crafty North Carolina brews.
Matt and I first visited this magical city by pure accident a few months after we started dating. I had a full blown itinerary taking us into the mountains of Vermont for some of the best east coast skiing. Mother nature had other plans for us. This was the weekend the north was hammered with multiple FEET of snow and so instead, we took a turn south. In hindsight, I lucked out because I can barely handle the bunny slopes of Pennsylvania.
Every year since, we have returned to the city that now feels like our home away from home.
Thanks to some great airfare deals from Baltimore on Allegiant, we are normally able to fly in on a budget. This time, however, we opted to drive so that Matt could test his driving skills on the Tail of the Dragon. We decided to spend the night before in Knoxville as we had never been there and it also served as a good starting point, not too far from the Dragon.
Our overnight stay in Knoxville was short and spicy. Our dreams were big with high hopes of live music and cheap beer lasting until the wee hours of the night. Things don’t always work out the way we plan.
We pulled into town absolutely famished and with one goal in mind. Hot chicken. A quick internet search led us to Jackie’s Dream. It was getting very close to closing time so we went straight there. That meant later fumbling our way into our airbnb in the dark, but damn it if we were going to leave Tennessee without getting our chicken fix.
Just a few minutes later the kitchen bell “dinged” to signify our order was ready. I’m not gonna lie – the prospect of this spicy chicken terrified me just a little bit. I’m no stranger to spice. I once stuffed bell peppers with minced habañeros. Okay, that was a bit of a mistake, but still, we ate them. When the fully-sauced chicken permeated the air around us I approached my dinner with hesitation.
Matt, on the other hand, dove in head first. Sticky red blobs appeared where his fingers once existed. He was eating so fast and furiously that he barely looked up from his plate. But when he finally did, I saw blurred eyeballs and puffy red cheeks. Uh-oh.
We paid our bill and quickly headed for the door but were stopped by Jackie herself. She wanted to make sure we enjoyed our meal, ask where we were from, and didn’t let us depart without a warm, thankful hug. Jackie’s Dream was awesome. We both LOVED her chicken (once I got over my fear of the heat) but that chicken did not love Matt. As quickly as he gobbled it down, he hurled it back up. Much like I left my lunch all over the streets of Cape Town, he did the same in Knoxville. The best part? We needed to switch drivers so he could be sick in the passenger seat. Upon doing so I stepped in his vomit. If that doesn’t scream “Happy Birthday” to me, I’m not quite sure what does. These are things travel memories are made of!
Instead of late night live music, we crawled into the bed of our airbnb. We were planning on checking out Preservation Pub which looked like a pretty cool venue! Fortunately, since it was the eve of my birthday, Matt packed my present which turned out to be the makings of a manhattan. Ah, yes! Bourbon to the rescue.
At some point he started feeling better so we took to the streets and found a dive bar to grab some local brews. We chatted up the bartender who taught us a great deal about the history of Knoxville. Talk to the locals and you’ll always learn a great deal. That wrapped up our short stint in Knoxville and the next morning we headed off to Asheville.
Asheville, North Carolina
There’s so much more to this little hops haven than the brews, but truth be told, that’s one of its biggest draws. We always dedicate one day of our trip to weaving our way from one brewery to the next. With somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 (+/-) breweries, there is no shortage of the good stuff on tap. The best part is that many of them are within walking distance from one to another so you don’t have to worry about driving. When we first started traveling to Asheville, one of our favorite brew pubs was Wicked Weed. The food is incredible and the beer even more so. They are well known for their barrel-aged sours. We are now able to get some of their product at home, so it is not as high on our must-visit list. However, if it is your first time visiting Asheville, you should definitely check it out. It is a great place to get some food in your belly and set out on foot to the other great breweries in the nearby vicinity. There’s plenty here to occupy you for a few hours.
Some of our old favorites include :
On this most recent trip we visited a couple new or new-to-us spots which also did not disappoint!
Oyster House Brewing – we stopped in here just after having dinner, so we weren’t hungry to try the food, but it looked fantastic and if you’re in the mood for oysters, well this is your place.
Outside of the Asheville city limits, but just a short drive away, are two of our long-time and widely distributed favorites. Oskar Blues Brewery, and Sierra Nevada. These two are vastly different from one another but are both worth a visit. Bonus? If you’ve made the trek to Oskar Blues, you’re practically already at the doorstep to one of nature’s most pleasurable rock formations.
Natural Rock Slides
Last year, Matt and I visited Turtleback Falls in Pisgah National forest and had an absolute blast! A less than 2 mile hike through the forest led us to a special spot with a swimming hole and natural rock slide. In order to go down the slide, you first had to pull yourself to the top via the provided rope. The water was cold and the current was strong, but the adrenaline helped my wobbly arms climb to the starting point. A short slide down the rock and over the falls we went. Matt continued to haul his body to the top for a few more rides. Here’s a short video I captured of him.
If you find yourself in Pisgah National Forest, you should definitely check this out!
So that brings us to this year. Matt and I were meeting up with good friends who suggested we spend some time at Sliding Rock. As they were bringing their 3 month old son, I thought wow, that’s going to be a long hike with a baby, but okay, let’s go! In my mind, they were referring to Turtleback Falls which we had visited the year before. Nope, no, nope. North Carolina, and Pisgah National Forest in particular, is apparently teeming with natural rock slides. It was a nice surprise to get to experience a new attraction.
Sliding Rock is a lot easier to access. The rock itself is only a short walk from the parking lot, no hike required. There is a small entry fee of $3/per person to access the recreation area. However, that comes with the use of public restrooms. Which is great, because you will definitely want to change out of your swimsuit and into some warm, dry clothes after you finish. The water is FREEZING! I can only speak from experience when we were there over Labor Day weekend, but it was turn-your-lips-blue water. Don’t let that deter you though, because the ride was worth the shivers.
Unlike Turtleback Falls, this swimming spot does have lifeguards and is a great option for children. There were plenty of them waiting their turn to go down the rock slide with us.
As you can see from the photo, this popular attraction can become quite crowded, but the line does move quickly.
Sliding down rocks into freezing temperatures is sure to work up an appetite. Or is that just us? At any rate, as you’re leaving Sliding Rock, there is a shop called The Hub and Pisgah Tavern just a few miles away. Matt was completely enamored with this place. It is both a place to buy/rent bikes and grab a pint. Sadly, we didn’t have the time for biking. If you have time to spare, there’s plenty of riding trails in the surrounding area so you could rent a bike here and go explore. The staff was incredibly friendly and helpful.
I’m not sure if they are parked on-site daily, but the day we visited there was a BBQ food truck serving up some of the best we’ve had. If you see it, do yourself a favor and order up some brisket. There is also a brick and mortar BBQ spot across the street. We didn’t try that one but locals standing in line with us loudly broadcasted that the food truck was “way better”.
I really wanted to love this, but full disclosure (because I never want to lead you astray), I only just kinda liked it. The idea behind the tour run by No Taste Like Home was really intriguing to me. Matt and I both take an interest in knowing the origins of our food so the opportunity to get our hands dirty and forage our own sounded like a learning experience worthy of a few hours of our Saturday. The really exciting part about this tour? Once it has concluded, one of the participating downtown restaurants will prepare an appetizer, free of charge, with your finds. Sounded amazing! So, we signed up.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t until a couple of days before that we received an email with instructions for the event. Our email indicated that we would be responsible for making our own reservations at one of the restaurants for dinner, where we would then have our appetizer prepared. Had we known this previously it would have been no problem, but by the time we received these instructions there were no available reservations at any of the included restaurants, so that was very misleading and terribly disappointing. I did later find this information in the FAQ section of the website, but it was certainly not prominently displayed in the tour description. We never ended up getting to taste more than a spoonful of our foraged food prepared. Hopefully this serves as a heads up to any of you that might be interested. Make reservations in advance and be a more detailed reader than I!
There were some high notes to the tour. First of all, we were greeted by the guide with a warm glass of sassafras tea. He had made it himself from the sassafras he foraged the day before. Once the group was gathered in its entirety, we set off in search of some edibles. It was fascinating to learn that many of the plants I would normally just walk past can actually be eaten. We chewed on pine needles and clipped different plants, some of them surprisingly tasty. The highlight of course was scampering through the woods in a scavenger hunt for mushrooms. Our group found more than a dozen different varieties. Most of them were deemed inedible, but they sure made for a photogenic spread.
After we finished gathering, one of the guides quickly prepared a very flavorful dish starring the chicken of the woods mushrooms we foraged.
Overall, I think this tour has some great potential. At $75/pp it was a bit on the expensive side. This can be slightly offset if you are able to take advantage of the “free” appetizer at the local restaurant, but still pretty pricey for what it is. That being said, if this is the type of activity you find enjoyable, you’ll probably have a good time. The guide was very knowledgeable so pay attention, ask plenty of questions and you’ll walk away a little bit more informed of the nature around you. Our foraging tour was in September, but I’m guessing a little earlier in the summer would have produced much more in the way of edibles. We did end up taking home some sassafras to make our own tea.
When Matt and I visit Asheville, we always stay with his aunt and uncle at their home in Hendersonville. A vibrant little town about 30 minutes south of Asheville. I could ramble on and on about their adorable pups who are always a bright spot in our week, or the bottles of vintage port we share over late night conversations on the most quintessential southern porch, but that’s not at all helpful to you. Instead, I’m going to tell you why you should include this lovely gem of a city in your itinerary.
The Brandy Bar
At some point of brewery hopping, you will hit your beer saturation level. Matt would probably disagree with me on that, but I’m all about variety. Cue The Brandy Bar. This is a member’s only club, but don’t worry. For just one dollar, you too, can be a member. Recently opened in March 2018, The Brandy Bar hosts a large selection of, you guessed it – brandy. There are several different flights on offer as well as many, many cocktails. Ask your bartender to make you their specialty, pictured below. I can’t remember what it is called, but they are very proud of it.
And because you can never have too many pictures of pretty cocktails
Dat’s Cajun Cafe
If you didn’t know better, you’d swear you were in New Orleans. The owners, originally from New Orleans moved to North Carolina after Hurricane Katrina and opened up this authentic Cajun restaurant. The seafood served here is even flown in from New Orleans daily! The portions are large, inexpensive, and leave you wanting for nothing but a good pair of sweat pants. We actually had dinner here on my birthday. I’d normally suggest that the absence of cake on one’s birthday is a sin. However, Matt and I shared some of the best damn banana pudding from here instead. It’s nothing fancy, but you’ll be happy. Promise.
Connemara Farms Goat Dairy
I’m a total sucker for any hands on interaction with animals so this was the perfect stop for an hour’s worth of entertainment. This goat farm was run by Pulitzer Prize winning American poet, Carl Sandburg’s wife. If you’re interested, you are able to take a tour of their house on the property. We were too busy chasing goats through the field to do so. There are volunteers on site to give you some background information on the goats and to answer any questions you might have. This guy here was my favorite. I’m convinced he was trained to take selfies on command.
If great food, plentiful beer selections, animals, and natural outdoor attractions aren’t for you, we can’t be friends. Just kidding, but you can also check out the Biltmore and other historical attractions if that’s more your style. In all of our visits we have never made it there, but maybe in time.
We love Asheville and think you will too. If you haven’t been yet, pencil it in! If you’re already hip to this cooler-than-school mountain city, are there any spots you think we should check out next time we’re there? Let us know in the comments?
Megan & Matt