The Asheville River Arts District (aka RAD) by the French Broad River is a former industrial area that slowly became one of the coolest parts of town after being abandoned and run-down for decades. Spending a day walking around this area to appreciate the eclectic Asheville art studios and shops is one of the best things to do in Asheville!
There are over 200 art studios and shops in 23 buildings and many wonderful restaurants – from family-friendly options to a James Beard award nominee to the Obamas’ favorite BBQ joint. You’ll also come across plenty of cafes, breweries, and music venues, as well as two skate parks and a movie theater. You can spend a whole weekend exploring and still not see everything!
The Asheville River Arts District is a perfect location for your urban vibe photos. It’s by the river and the railroad, and it features many pieces of street art, funky graffiti, and flower gardens in the warmer months.
You can’t miss the mega Instagrammable Asheville Silo (1 Roberts St.) painted by Ian Wilkinson (Ian the Painter) and Ishmael, featuring an ever-changing slogan (“Stay Weird,” “Good Vibes,” “Stay True,” and “Stay Home” during the pandemic). Ian has also painted RAD’s beautiful mural of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and is the author of other iconic street art pieces in Asheville.
The newly done Wilma Dykeman Greenway follows the eastern banks of the river, and it’s a favorite spot for locals to bike, roller skate, and walk their dogs and a great place for you to people-watch. It also connects to other Asheville greenways and urban parks. Rent a bike or e-bike and explore it by yourself!
The best day to visit the Asheville River Arts District is Saturday, although the studios are open daily (each has a schedule). So, if you want to see a specific place, call before you go.
There are open studios, opportunities to meet the artists, free workshops and classes, and other events on the second Saturday of the month, and you can take a free trolley to go from one building to the other. However, the Asheville River Arts District is walkable, and parking is free.
There is also an annual Studio Stroll in November, an excellent opportunity to get your holiday shopping done while supporting local businesses. Also, most studios welcome well-behaved dogs, and they can even ride on the Second Saturday’s trolleys!
If you are considering visiting Asheville in May, go to GrindFest, a weekend-long block party-style festival in the Rivers Arts District, to celebrate Asheville’s Black entrepreneurs and business owners.
Here is a map and a studio guide so you can find your way around (although signs are everywhere). Now, are you ready to explore? Here is a list of the best things to do in the Asheville River Arts District!
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The Best Things to do in the Asheville River Arts District
1. Kick Start Your Day at One of the Best Coffee Shops in the River Arts District
Grind, Asheville’s first Black-owned coffee shop, was ranked the No. 3 coffee shop in North Carolina. This is where GrindFest started. It has excellent coffee and pastries and a warm, spacious atmosphere. There is also a co-working space. If it’s busy, get your cup and start strolling around the Asheville River Arts District.
Ultra Coffeebar‘s outstanding coffee, extensive menu with vegan and gluten-free options, and ambiance make it one of the best Asheville coffee shops to work from.
It has a full espresso bar serving Counter Culture Coffee, and its coffee flavor shots are made in-house using only natural ingredients. Try the Nitro Cold Brew infused with a heavy nitrogen load, creating a creamy brew with a foamy head.
Summit Coffee is a beautiful space full of natural light. It serves organic coffee, and excellent bagels, muffins, and other breakfast items. It’s another great coffee shop to work from.
2. Get Lost at the Design Center Marquee on Foundy Street
Marquee is housed in a converted 50,000-square-foot warehouse on Foundy Street, one of the most vibrant areas of the Asheville River Arts District and a great place to start exploring.
Going to Marquee is one of the most fun things to do in the Asheville River Arts District and one of the best things to do in Asheville in the rain. You’ll find funky antiques, vintage decor and clothing, jewelry, art, and even plants. Imagine a European street market like El Rastro in Madrid or Portobello in London with the unique Asheville imprint.
It hosts 291 vendors called “cast members” (isn’t it genius?) that have offerings that go from handmade puppets and unique visual art to furniture (both vintage and new), cute crafts, and antiques. There is something for everyone and every budget.
The art and craft space dresses up for the holidays and has tons of items that will make meaningful gifts. You can get a drink at the woman-owned Saint Brighid’s bar (there are great non-alcoholic beverages, too) and start exploring this “design center for the bold, the old, the creative, and the unexpected” to find some treasures to take home.
3. Check Out the Two Skate Parks Next to Marquee
Are you into skateboarding and scooters, or have members of your family who are? Then, check out Foundation Skatepark, an outdoor graffiti-covered skateable sculpture park that’s free to everyone. The best part about Foundation? Local volunteers built it, and they are maintaining it.
It’s worth the visit, even if your party doesn’t have skateboarders. It’s a funky, 100% Asheville sight. The park is suitable for beginners and a fun spot to mingle with locals. Plus, there is tons of street art around it.
The indoor RAD Skatepark is next door. You can access it by paying a fee or by becoming a member. It’s also a good place for beginners, and scooters are allowed.
They offer classes, birthday parties, and a fantastic summer camp. So you can drop off your kids, walk around, go on your shopping spree, and pick them up later, tired and ready to shower and go to bed!
4. Visit Curve Studios and Enjoy the Hidden Garden
The three buildings of Curve Studios host 11 artists working with diverse mediums such as ceramic sculpture, functional pottery, jewelry, clothing, fine art photography, and chair caning.
The beautiful garden is the perfect spot to take a break during your RAD adventure. You’ll love the peace, the flowers, and the arch made with chairs. It’s free, open from dawn to dusk, and available for rent for special events.
Don’t miss Pattiy Torno’s” Fotopiecing,” the term she came up with to describe the fusion between her quilt and photographic work. Maria Andrade Troya’s functional clay pieces are decorated with slips and stamps and make excellent souvenirs.
Codega Fiber Studio features beautiful felt creations, and Silver River Center for Chair Caning offers workshops on restoring chairs. They have also expanded to create the nation’s only chair caning school and museum!
There are special pop-up events, like the Holiday Market or the Sweetheart Shop, around Valentine’s Day, too.
5. Peruse The Foundation Studios for Cool Artwork
The Foundation Studios feature some of the best art in Asheville. The building hosts 80+ resident artists working in various mediums, such as stained glass, mixed media painting, ceramic, wood, and metal. It also has a space for rent and hosts special events and classes.
Lindsay Anderson’s pieces are made with discarded plastic grocery bags. A small painting uses one or two bags, while larger pieces can use up to four or five. According to Anderson, “the resulting texture is something of a psychedelic nature which I love, and it adds a level of aliveness to my pieces.” The best part? She donates a portion of the sales to nonprofits that work on healing the planet.
You’ll love Amy Boye’s naive portraits of people and pets, greeting card design, purse and fabric design, jewelry, and unique pendulum-powered puppets. Mountain Glass Werks specializes in custom stained glass panels, and they can bring any of your stained glass ideas to life.
6. Go to the Asheville Cotton Mills Studios, one of the oldest buildings in Asheville
The Asheville Cotton Mill Studios was built in 1887 and is one of the oldest buildings in Asheville. The Cotton Mill had 300 people employed, and it was a successful denim and flannel production center. It now hosts eight Asheville River Arts District studios and the Guajiro Food Truck with yummy Cuban comfort food (more on that in the River Arts District restaurants section!).
Sugarcane Sewing Studios makes beautiful custom-made clothing and works on specialty alterations. You’ll love the accessories and the custom veils and robes. They can also help you integrate your special pieces into your wedding day, transforming your grandma’s wedding dress into a special robe, for example.
Great Wild Nowhere mixes an art gallery with excellent drinks and live music. Plus, its outdoor mural is one of the most photogenic spots in the Asheville River Arts District.
Andy Herod’s illustrations are whimsical and come in all forms, from cards to fine art prints. You’ll love them!
7. Watch Glass-Blowing Artists Work at Their Studios
Western North Carolina’s glass art movement started to take off in the 1970s with artists like Mark Peiser, Harvey Littleton, Richard Ritter, and Kate Voge. Today the area is home to a broad community of artists taking this art to the next level.
North Carolina Glass Center is a nonprofit glass studio and gallery featuring new and well-known glass artists. The low-cost shared studios help emerging artists start their careers. In addition, they offer affordable classes for everyone (all levels are welcome!) and special opportunities for veterans and low-income youth.
Level 42 Studio and Gallery is a gallery and flameworking studio featuring beautiful pieces sold worldwide. They also offer glass-blowing classes, torch rentals, demos, and shows. You’ll love the diverse, colorful displays and the alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
If you haven’t watched a glass-blowing artist at work, don’t miss the opportunity to do it! It’s a marvelous experience that you’ll never forget. Plus, you can meet the creators at the Asheville River Arts District studios and take a piece or two home.
8. Let Your Inner Artist Play by Taking an Art Class
Many of the River Arts District art studios offer classes and workshops. You can make clothing, paint, learn how to blow glass, or fix a chair! Please don’t hesitate to contact the studio to see if they can accommodate you.
My kids and I, for example, took a one-time watercolor painting class with local photographer and artist Julieta Fumberg. It was a great way to connect through art (and without words!). Afterward, we felt very relaxed. All the materials were provided, and the best thing is that if you’re a local or are planning to return, you can deepen your skills every time.
The Foundation Studios has a full calendar of classes, including various experiences like Watercolor and Pen Art Collaboration, Create a Hearth Chakra Activating, Mala Necklace, Acrylic Painting on Wood, and Jewelry Making.
Asheville Art Experience offers engaging art-making experiences, sometimes paired with an Asheville River Arts District art tour. You can work with glass, clay, and enamel or learn to make the Ukrainian pysanky, those beautiful, colorful, dyed wooden eggs (a perfect activity to do in March or April for Easter!).
9. Eat Barbecue at 12 Bones, the Obamas’ Favorite Local Joint
12 Bones Smokehouse has been featured in the national media many times, and Barrack and Michelle Obama have eaten here three times. I’m sure they can’t wait to come for a fourth one, but they don’t have the good fortune to live in Asheville!
12 Bones opened in 2005 in a squat building in the Asheville River Arts District. I love this story: the sign outside offered “Tender Butts and Sweet Racks,” making the neighbors wonder if they were opening a strip club.
Today, 12 Bones is an Asheville institution. It serves creative barbecue that doesn’t adhere 100% to any particular style, and nobody cares about that because it tastes fantastic! As they invite guests to do: “Let the purists be the purists, fire up the grill, and enjoy some Southern ‘cue, 12 Bones style!”
Everything is made daily and from scratch. You shouldn’t live in Asheville before trying their ribs with blueberry chipotle sauce, the cornbread, the beans, the collard greens, the jalapeño cheese grits, and the smoked potato salad (yes, you read that right).
10. Eat Your Way Through the Best River Arts District Restaurants
Vivian was recently (and fairly) nominated for a James Beard award. It started in 2016 as a food truck and is today one of the best restaurants and Sunday brunch spots in Asheville. Don’t miss its “honest American food with big flavors that utilize the bountiful products of our region and the rich history of European cuisine.”
RosaBees is a Hawaiian/Polynesian restaurant owned by Asheville native and pastry chef Melissa Gray. The food is fantastic, but the desserts are incredible, making the restaurant one of the best dessert places in Asheville. Try the Right Side Up Pineapple Butter Mochi!
The Bull and Beggar offers “the best rustic European farmhouse and bistro cuisines, filtered through Appalachian traditions and products.” This is an excellent place for a date night. Every Monday is half-off oysters!
You don’t feel like a full dinner? Head out to Pleb Urban Winery, voted Best Local Winery by the Mountain Xpress readers’ annual “Best of WNC Awards.” They make wine right in the middle of the city using grapes from local farms and offer wine tastings, tours, and food options (think charcuterie tables and food trucks).
Also, Bottle Riot has excellent cocktails and small bites!
11. Enjoy These Kid-Friendly Restaurants
The River Arts District has some of the most family-friendly restaurants in Asheville, and they also serve fantastic food because even kids are foodies here.
White Duck Tacos is by the river and has plenty of indoor and outdoor space for your little ones to move around (properly supervised). There are games, and the food is excellent, but be aware these are not your traditional Mexican tacos, and they don’t even have guacamole (my only complaint, but the queso is the best in town!).
Baby Bull has one of the best burgers in Asheville. The double cheeseburger is marvelous! The lobster roll and the fried fish are also favorites. The fries are perfectly salted and served with aioli. They have Burger Monday deals, too.
Guajiro by the Asheville Cotton Mills has to die for Cuban comfort food. Try the Cuban breakfast, the homemade plantain chips, and the roast pork sandwich. You’ll also love the fantastic pastelitos with Cuban coffee!
All Souls Pizza has some of the best (if not the best) pizza in town, made with super-fresh ingredients. This wood-fired pizzeria also offers soups, salads, weekly specials, and soft serve that your kids will love.
12. Visit the Best Breweries in the River Arts District
Wedge Brewing Company is a local landmark, and it has two locations in Asheville’s River Arts District (plus one downtown, in the Grove Arcade). The iconic brewery at the Wedge Studios was the original location. There are rotating food trucks. The Chop Shop Butchery food truck is at the Foundy Street location daily and has fantastic burgers!
One of the coolest things about Outsider Brewing Company is that you can witness the brewing process in real-time through a transparent brewing vessel and witness how a few raw ingredients turn into craft beer. It’s dog and child friendly.
Hi-Wire Brewing RAD Beer Garden is a taproom and distribution center in the Asheville River Arts District. The taproom is an outdoor beer garden made from upcycled shipping containers covered with murals (making for very colorful photos!). There’s indoor seating, two indoor bocce courts, pinball machines, and the Foothills food truck, serving fantastic pasture-raised meats.
The nationally famous (and more touristy) New Belgium Brewing Company offers tours and seating by the French Broad River. It features some of the best food trucks in Asheville, like Cecilia’s Kitchen (Argentine and French cuisine).
13. Enjoy Live Events, Concerts, and Movies in the Asheville River Arts District
Located on the first floor of Cotton Mill Studios, Asheville Guitar Bar is a beloved, intimate music venue that welcomes excellent musicians from the area. The atmosphere is cozy, and it has a full bar, good food, and space to dance. It doesn’t get much better than that, doesn’t it?
The multi-awarded Grail Moviehouse is an alternative theater that shows all the cool indie movies you can’t find anywhere else. It has an intimate, eclectic atmosphere with lots of fun touches and colorful outdoor murals, and it’s next door to many of the wonderful restaurants and cafés described above. It also hosts special events and an Oscar Party.
The Grey Eagle Music Hall is Asheville’s longest-running live music venue, celebrating 27 years of hosting national and local artists like Ralph Stanley, The Avett Brothers, Band of Horses, and Richie Havens. You’ll also love the in-house taqueria, which serves up great traditional tacos and beer.
The Magnetic Theatre is a nonprofit theater that offers all kinds of performances, providing space for artists and creators who may not otherwise have access to perform. It’s an authentic forum of creative local and regional voices.
14. Take One of the Best Asheville River Arts District Tours
Asheville Art Experience offers walking art tours that’ll give you a deeper understanding of the Asheville River Arts District scene. You’ll visit some of the best Asheville art shops, meet the artists, and maybe get some masterpieces to take home!
Each Saturday, Mountain Mural Tours offers a popular street art tour that leaves from the Asheville River Arts District but also includes Downtown and West Asheville. You’ll learn about Asheville’s history while seeing some fantastic local art. Your Instagram account will thank you!
Flying Bike Tours‘ e-bike RAD tour starts at Summit Coffee, follows the greenways by the French Broad River, and stops at some art studios and landmarks, including Small Batch Glass, Marquee, and The Peace Gardens. Of course, you can always take advantage of Asheville’s bike infrastructure and tour the RAD and the city with your own bike.
You’ll also love the free, 2.5-hour tip-based walking tour offered by AVL Free Walking Tours. It features a visit to a glass-blowing center, a private tour of a historic music venue, and a tasting of local food and drinks.
As I said, Asheville River Arts District is one of the most photogenic places in town. So, why not get some professional photos done while you walk around? Photo Stroll in the RAD will do the work for you!