Imagine it’s a rainy day on your trip, or you’re a local with a history buff buddy coming into town. You might be wondering where to find the best museums in Asheville. While there are many world-class museums in big city centers like Charlotte and Raleigh, you shouldn’t discount the smaller museums: niche options can often be the best museums in North Carolina!
Right here in Western NC, we have some unique and fun options that will get you out of the rain, help you learn something, and have a lot of fun, too. Some museums are the right fit for a casual stroll with a friend or on a date, while others are the perfect family-friendly destination to let kids blow off steam – find your fit and make your day exploring all the excellent Asheville museums a day to remember!
Don’t forget to check out our web story: The 12 Best Museums in Asheville
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The 12 Best Asheville Museums
1. Immerse in Art for All Ages at the Asheville Art Museum
Asheville boasts an art museum that is truly top-notch, particularly because it is so extensive and not located in a major urban center. Asheville’s history as a destination for artists led a collective of artists to create the Asheville Art Museum (AAM) in 1948, making it the third-oldest art museum in North Carolina.
The latest location, a stunning recently-renovated location on Pack Square, boasts wide-open spaces, lots of gallery space, and one of the best views in town from the rooftop lounge and cafe. While the decorum of an art museum may be tough for young children, AAM has created a space just for kids, the Wells Fargo Art PLAYce.
This area has interesting art to view, but also touchable interactive toys and art, supplies to make your own projects, and spaces to read a book and relax. It’s a good pit stop if you’ve been sightseeing or going all day and your kiddos could use some time to relax and be themselves.
Location: 2 S Pack Square, Asheville
2. Make Science Fun at the Asheville Museum of Science
The Asheville Museum of Science, or AMOS, is a fun addition to downtown that adds a really nice indoor destination for families when the weather isn’t good or when you’re spending time downtown for a show or to eat.
The science museum is not a sprawling multi-level experience, but many families find that the option to explore this museum for one or two hours can be a great morning or afternoon for kids. The main room of the museum has a centerpiece of a tree-house-like climbing gym, complete with a super-fast slide and lots of little hiding spots.
Children will enjoy finding their way through with their friends and getting out some of their wiggles. The rest of the room is full of interactive exhibits: children can manipulate flowing water in the French Broad River exhibit, complete with clouds that really rain!
There are atoms to build, a hurricane simulator, and a dinosaur to unearth from the sand. Through it all, elementary-age children and younger learn about science from interactive exhibit placards.
The next room over holds an impressive precious metals and gems exhibit to help children learn about geology, and the final room is a hands-on activity lab that holds special events, summer camps, and activities that general admission visitors can explore as well. While not enormous, the museum provides a wonderful dose of fun and learning for children engaged by the STEM fields.
Location: 43 Patton Ave, Asheville
3. Learn Something New at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center
One of the most innovative artistic focal points in Asheville has been Black Mountain College, a small and very progressive educational institution. While classes are no longer being taught at BMC, the artists who have taught and learned there remain a force in the art world, and as a result, their legacy lives on in the flourishing museum and art center in downtown Asheville.
At the center, you can learn about the school and its unusual approach but also see exhibitions by a variety of faculty and students who spent time at BMC. They hold artist discussions, exhibition openings, and other special events that bring the community together around the ideas of how to teach the arts well and how to make wonderful art.
It’s a treasure to have this place among the many Asheville museums and a great opportunity for any budding teacher or artist to see world-class examples of their work on display.
Location: 120 College Street, Asheville
4. Walk Back Into History at the Biltmore Estate
There are few Asheville museums that offer more to learn and see than the Biltmore Estate. The house itself is the largest private residence in the United States. The mansion itself is a prominent example of mansions from the gilded age and has been restored in various ways to reflect the life led by the Vanderbilt family during the time that they spent there.
The grounds were designed by famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, and there are working elements of the estate, like a working winery and farmland. Biltmore Village offers shops and dining for after your historic explorations.
If you find that you don’t get quite enough with a self-guided tour of the house, Biltmore offers various guided tours that help guests really focus on all the incredible details of the rooms they walk through, contextualizing each step by bringing to light the things that made life in the Vanderbilt mansion both unique and a product of its time. Or you can check out our guide on how to tackle the Biltmore Estate in one day!
Location: 1 Lodge Street, Asheville
5. Discover the Science of Sound at Moogseum
Asheville, if you didn’t already know, is the headquarters of the Bob Moog Foundation, which celebrates the creation of the Moog synthesizer in 1964, which changed music forever. The Moogseum is a testament to that work and a recognition of the many complex components needed to duplicate and modify sounds in real time.
The museum is a tribute to the life of Bob Moog, showcasing his career with exhibits that help you understand his passion for electronic music. You’ll also see the kinds of devices he built and invented and get a science lesson on what actually makes sound emerge from electric devices.
If you’ve got a musician, a science lover, or a budding inventor in your crew, this museum is going to be nothing like anything else they’ve ever seen and could be the highlight of your trip!
Location: 56 Broadway Street, Asheville
6. Play the Day Away at the Asheville Pinball Museum
While most Asheville museums fit the bill of having exhibits and placards to read while you walk through rooms looking at things, if you’re ready for a good and interactive experience, you might opt for a visit to the Asheville Pinball Museum.
Less a traditional museum and more an all-you-can-play pinball extravaganza, this museum nonetheless houses 35 pinball machines and 35 classic video games, giving you a taste of the arcades of your youth (or of before your youth!) for $15 a person admission at the time of writing.
Be aware that some of the games will be for display only or may show their age since they are vintage and may be quirkier than a modern all-electronic screen-based game. During busy seasons, they take a waitlist that can mean several hours of waiting, so if this is top of your list, make sure to stop by early in their open hours and get on that list to get an idea of when you’ll be able to enter.
Location: 1 Battle Square Suite 1b, Asheville
7. Visit a Childhood of Yesteryear at the Thomas Wolfe Memorial
Thomas Wolfe, the well-known author of Look Homeward, Angel, has a strong tie to Asheville – not only did he grow up in the Old Kentucky Home boardinghouse, which his parents ran, but he also wrote his popular book about the town of “Altamont,” a thinly veiled version of Asheville itself.
A tour of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial (inside the actual Old Kentucky Home itself!) shows a snapshot of life at the time in Asheville in the first half of the 1900s. With furnishings to create the real look of it, you can imagine being a young child growing up among a cast of varied and temporary characters, an interesting perspective to create the need to write in a young person.
If you or anyone in your group is a writer or aspires to be one, this tour of an author’s childhood dwelling could be very inspiring.
Location: 52 N Market Street, Asheville
8. Watch Artists at Work at the Folk Art Center of the Southern Highland Craft Guild
Part museum, part organizational headquarters, and part living art workshop, the Folk Art Center is just down the Blue Ridge Parkway in a truly picturesque part of the local area. At any given time, you’re likely to find museum-style exhibitions that showcase a particular kind of artwork or crafted item, as well as large sections of the space devoted to for-sale items like an art gallery.
On many days, however, it’s also a gathering place for the members of the Southern Highland Craft Guild who do this kind of art, leading to the option to see live art demonstrations. Artists gather for events like Clay Day and demonstrate techniques for working with different kinds and styles of pottery making, for instance.
One of my favorite factors is the location, making it a good pit stop to get out of the elements during a hike or simply to take in a slightly different experience, relishing the local heritage of artisan workmanship in this area. For older children and teens, this can be a great way to expand their ideas about what art can look like and the art that is important to the people of this area.
Location: 382 Blue Ridge Parkway, Asheville
9. Pet a Goat at the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site
If you’ve got a crew that is interested in history but mostly wants to get out into nature, the Carl Sandburg Home might be a good in-between rather than a more standard Asheville museum. Driving out to Flat Rock, you’ll see incredible vistas, and the walk up to the house is a bit of a hike itself.
If you keep going, you’ll find the Glassy Mountain overlook, an incredible view by any standard. At the house itself, you’ll learn about Carl Sandburg as an influential writer but also as a Western NC resident and the life he led here. Finally, the barn keeps goats on the premises, and with the option to pet goats, many children and adults alike report that it’s the highlight of the visit!
For touring the house, it’s recommended that people buy tickets in advance, so consider ahead of time whether that is part of your plan. Overall, it’s a great spot to show children what a farm is like and to enjoy nature, in addition to the history of the home itself.
Location: 81 Carl Sandburg Lane, Flat Rock
10. Relish Autos of Years Past at the Estes-Winn Antique Car Museum
Many locals know that one of the most fun displays of the year, the National Gingerbread House Making Competition, is held on the Omni Grove Park Inn property. By paying the parking fee, you can roam and enjoy the gingerbread houses even if you aren’t staying on-site.
And while you’re at the Grove Park Inn, you can visit the Estes-Winn Antique Car Museum which is adjacent to and easily accessed from the property. This privately-held museum houses 19 antique cars and trucks that will pique the interest of anyone who has worked on cars or who remembers that one great car they had a few decades back.
Kids will get a kick out of the antique fire truck, and the building itself used to be the Biltmore Industries weaving shop, making it an interesting view for architecture lovers too. A quick visit to this free, donation-encouraged museum will please nearly any group, and enthusiasts may stay quite a while enjoying the history and features of the cars.
Location: 111 Grovewood Road, Asheville
11. See Pioneer Life at the Mountain Gateway Museum and Heritage Center
If you’re driving in from the eastern portion of North Carolina, you’ll likely pass Old Fort on your way to Asheville. This area of the state represented the furthest west that pioneers advanced before the Revolutionary War, and the Mountain Gateway Museum and Heritage Center creates exhibits to show what life has been like in the Western NC mountains as far back as possible, before it was a state.
The exhibits show everything about Southern Appalachian culture, from crafts like spinning and weaving to folk medicine and even how moonshining became an important part of the local economy. Peek inside a traditional late 19th-century cabin and see what life was like.
The general consensus is that it takes about half an hour to an hour to see this site, and past visitors commented on the friendly staff, beautiful location, and how it was a nice stop on a car trip. If you want to make your trip more historical and educational using Asheville’s museums, this is a great addition to your itinerary.
Location: 24 Water Street, Old Fort
12. Learn Through Doing at Hands On! Children’s Museum of Hendersonville
While Hendersonville is 40 minutes or so south of Asheville, we included this museum because it’s well worth the drive when you need a rainy day activity in Asheville or the surrounding areas.
The Hand On! Children’s Museum is, as the name implies, completely hands-on: children are encouraged to interact with everything from the air-blowing tunnels that let them see scarves dance around twists and turns to the mini science lab and dental office, where they can try on potential jobs they might want some day.
A popular location is the mini grocery store, where children push right-sized carts and learn about meal planning, budgeting, and just how fun it is to scan items on a grocery scanner. Many of the activities, like the Lego car building and racing station, ask children to bring only their creativity but also help them play cooperatively with their peers – a great learning experience for all.
Even if you’re focused mostly on Asheville museums, definitely give this one a thought on a day when kids need to get their energy out.
Location: 318 N Main Street, Hendersonville
Looking for more art museums in Asheville? Check out the galleries!
While not museums, Asheville’s art galleries are a wonderful option for the same kind of rainy-day activity when you’d like to learn a little something or experience art. Two excellent areas include the downtown streets of Asheville, where every few blocks you’ll find another gallery, and the River Arts District, where working artists continue producing their crafts while also selling their wares to visitors. Check out these and many more options:
- Momentum Gallery (24 North Lexington Avenue, Asheville)
- American Folk Art and Framing (64 Biltmore Avenue, Asheville)
- Center for Craft (67 Broadway Street, Asheville)
- Benjamin Walls Gallery (38 Broadway Street, Asheville)
- Ariel Gallery (19 Biltmore Avenue, Asheville)
- Horse + Hero (14 Patton Avenue, Asheville)
- Asheville Gallery of Art (82 Patton Avenue, Asheville)
- Bender Gallery (29 Biltmore Avenue, Asheville)
River Arts District Galleries/Studios:
- 310 Art (191 Lyman Street, #310, Asheville)
- Bluebird Designs (Riverview Station, Asheville)
- Ignite Jewelry Studios (Riverview Station, Asheville)
- Level 42 Gallery and Studio (47 Foundy Street, Asheville)
- Asheville Cotton Mill Studios (122 Riverside Drive, Asheville)
- Local Cloth (408 Depot Street, Asheville)
- North Carolina Glass Center (140 Roberts Street, Asheville)
There you have it! The 12 best museums in Asheville. What are your favorite museums in Asheville? Let us know so we can add them to the list!
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