By far our most far-flung choice, Asheville, NC is easily one of the most eclectic small cities in the United States. And considering it’s in Western North Carolina, Asheville’s status as an unquestionably LGBT friendly tourist destination is all the more remarkable.
In 2000, Rolling Stone dubbed Asheville the “new freak capital of the US,” and it has remained an hospitable place for LGBT people to let their freak flags fly, or to simply enjoy the art and culture that permeates the region.
Where to Stay
The options for LGBT friendly lodging in Asheville are plentiful. LGBT-owned and operated facilities – such as North Lodge on Oakland, a B&B, and 1889 White Gate Inn & Cottage, a AAA 4-Diamond accommodation and the closest inn to downtown Asheville – provide plentiful opportunities to enjoy a comfortable weekend away, while supporting the local LGBT economy. Perhaps the most famous and historic hotel in Asheville, however, is The Omni Grove Park Inn. The hundred-year-old hotel, nestled in the mountains, has had many famous lodgers, including ten presidents, Harry Houdini, Thomas Edison, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, who spent two summers in Room 441.
See the Sights
Asheville is full of interesting things and people, but the single biggest attraction, both in size and number of visits, is George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate, the largest home in America. Built in the style of a French Renaissance castle, the Biltmore has over 250 rooms and sits on thousands of acres, including 75 acres of superbly manicured gardens. Also available on-site is America’s most-visited winery, a touristy hopping and dining complex called Antler Hill Village, and an outdoor adventure center offering fly fishing classes, land rover driving classes, and clay shooting to name just a few.
Downtown Asheville, meanwhile, is home to literally dozens of art galleries and a large number of antique shops, boutiques and other unique shopping opportunities. The collections in the art galleries rival those of small museums, and the antique shops are nearly as finely curated. Wandering downtown’s shopping district, as well as Biltmore Village and the River Arts District, is bound to turn up a treasure you just can’t pass up. Or for a literary turn, you can visit Thomas Wolfe’s home, and tour a museum dedicated to one of America’s great authors.
Asheville is also a destination for food tourists, and its restaurants are regularly reviewed by national and international journals. Selecting a list of highlights would be impossible, but Asheville’s culinary delights are so popular the city has a number of food tours. Eating Asheville Walking Food Tours (http://eatingasheville.com/) offers the Classic Walking tour, which features 6 farm-to-table restaurants and includes 3 or more beverage pairings for the bargain price of $47, and a High Roller option with 7 restaurants for $10 more. Competitors, including Asheville Food Tours, offer similarly priced packages, and all are sure to please.
Check out the Nightlife
With a varied music and arts scene, as well as a healthy ratio of bars to customers, Asheville is anything but a quiet mountain town on weekend evenings. And with a population of under 90,000, Asheville boasts no less than four LGBT clubs, including Club Hairspray, an eclectic nightclub featuring drag and karaoke, Smokey’s Tavern, and O’Henry’s, North Carolina’s longest running gay bar and home to the Western North Carolina Leathermen and regular live music. Asheville’s largest gay nightclub, Scandals, is a downtown dance club, which has three dance floors and four bars.
A Little Something Extra
Asheville was named “Beer City USA” for four years running (2009-12), and so even if you’re not a foodie, a local craft brewery tasting tour might just hit the spot! Asheville Brewery Tours offers van transportation between tastings and will guide you right, but the Asheville Brews Cruise gets points for rhyming, and for offering private custom tours if you bring a bunch of your buddies!
More from the Staycation vs Vacation series:
Top 5 cities for end-of-summer road trips
Asheville: "the new freak capital of the U.S."
Louisville: "right up I-65 and well worth the drive"
Chattanooga: "a family friendly getaway on the Tennessee River"
Memphis/Tunica: "a Deep South version of 'The Hangover'"
Nashville: "there truly is no place like home"