There are many things to do in downtown Asheville, from shopping to people-watching and everything in the middle. But, of course, one of the highlights is the amount and diversity of restaurants. There is something for everyone, from award-winning restaurants to amazing tacos and burritos to outstanding breweries, bars, coffee shops, and places to eat dessert.
Asheville has made it onto many Yelp and TripAdvisor lists as the best destination for foodies, beer connoisseurs, and dog lovers, to name a few, yet one of the best titles it got is “one of the friendliest towns in the US.” So, please take any chance you get to mix with locals!
I love a term in Portuguese: “andar à toa,” which means to wander around without having an exact destination in mind. While I don’t necessarily recommend doing this if you are hiking, there is no better way to get to know a town than to leave Google Maps aside and andar à toa to discover it on your terms. That’s how I’ve discovered downtown Asheville – step by step.
Don’t forget to check out our web story: The 12 Fun Things to See and Do in Downtown Asheville
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12 Fun Things to See and Do in Downtown Asheville
1. Discover Downtown’s Hidden Treasures
Start by grabbing coffee, hot chocolate, or tea in one of downtown Asheville’s excellent coffee shops (I’m thinking High Five Coffee, the French Broad Chocolate Lounge, or Dobra Tea) and go to Pack Square, a park in the heart of downtown.
Enjoy people-watching, relaxing on the grassy area, or participating in an open-to-all Zumba or salsa class. In the warmer months, you’ll see Splashville, a fun splash pad for little ones! Or you might catch a festival or a concert.
Or hang out with local gardeners at the Elder and Sage Community Garden on 33-35 Page Ave, across from the Basilica of Saint Lawrence. Your younger kids will love to stroll around the garden’s funky, eclectic decorations, and the elders will love having your kids around.
Find some of the best Asheville murals (look for Lexington Gateway and Chicken Alley) and take a photo of the fam with the This Is a Positive Sign piece. Then, walk with your little ones on Woodfin Street (between Lexington and Broadway) and discover the tiny fairy houses on the walls.
2. Explore The Block
Just a few blocks from Pack Square is The Block, an area that was the cultural and business center of Black people in Western North Carolina for 70 years and is now the home of interesting and fun downtown Asheville attractions and businesses.
Go to the YMI Cultural Center, which is a place for Black people to get together to learn more about the area. Then, stop at PennyCup Coffee Co. (inside the YMI building), a small-batch coffee roaster.
Triangle Park is a great park to relax, bring a picnic, and enjoy the mural that honors the history of African-Americans in Asheville. Also, visit some of the area’s Black-owned businesses: Noir Collective (a boutique and art gallery), Jawbreaking (a fashion store with awesome T-shirts!), and Soce’s Afro-American Hair Braiding. Or book a yoga class at Asheville Iridescence Yoga.
You can plan to have dinner at Benne on Eagle, the restaurant inside The Foundry Hotel (the menu and the decoration aim to honor the area’s legacy), or Limones, a Californian-Mexican restaurant (don’t miss the ceviche and the bread pudding).
You can also take a guided tour with Hood Huggers to learn more about The Block and the past and present of Asheville’s Black residents.
3. Visit the Iconic Landmarks
The house where the Thomas Wolfe Memorial sits was the childhood home of one of the greatest American writers and a downtown Asheville native. The two-story house used to be a boarding house run by Wolfe’s mother.
Fun fact: In his autobiographical novel Look Homeward, Angel, the author immortalized his childhood in Asheville. But, some Ashevillians recognized themselves in Wolfe’s characters and didn’t like how they were portrayed, so the book was banned from the Asheville library. Also, my kids and I took a tour with Haunted Asheville and learned there is a famous ghost resident on the property!
Next on the list, the Basilica of Saint Lawrence is one of the top downtown Asheville attractions. This is North America’s largest self-supporting elliptical dome, built by Raphael Guastavino, a Spanish architect who came to Asheville to work on the Biltmore House in the late 1800s. They offer a self-guided tour, which I highly recommend.
If you want to tick off the best downtown Asheville attractions, the City of Asheville offers the self-guided Urban Trail, a free audio tour following 30 stations around downtown marked by cool, Instagrammable bronze sculptures telling the city’s story.
Finally, for music lovers, the interactive Moogseum celebrates the legacy of synthesizer pioneer Robert Moog, inventor of the revolutionary Moog synthesizer (1964).
4. Sample the Best Restaurants
Asheville is known for its farm-to-table food movement, and some of the city’s best restaurants are located right in the heart of downtown Asheville. If you’re not sure where to start, here are some recommendations.
Tupelo Honey Cafe is of the best places to eat Southern comfort food in Asheville. Tupelo offers “scratch-made Southern faves” using responsibly sourced ingredients (try the biscuits and the bone-in fried chicken).
Chai Pani won the James Beard Foundation’s “Outstanding Restaurant” award. It serves Indian street food, and I love everything from the happy, colorful decorations to the explosion of flavors and textures.
If you’re not in the mood for Indian, Ukiah is another one of the best restaurants in downtown Asheville. Ukiah was born “out of a passion for Japanese soul food and southern BBQ (with a good cocktail on the side!).” This is one of the best brunch spots in downtown Asheville, too.
Cúrate (another James Beard winner) and La Bodega by Cúrate feature amazing Spanish food and an excellent menu of wines. Other popular downtown Asheville restaurants locals love are Suwana’s Thai Orchid, Jerusalem Garden Cafe (there’s live music and belly dancers on the weekends), and Salsa’s.
5. Have Fun with the Kids
If you’re looking for things to do in Asheville with kids, you’ll be spoiled for choice. While most of the downtown Asheville activities I’ve listed above are child-friendly and child-proofed (I raised two little ones here!), some things will make your kids extra happy.
The Asheville Museum of Science is perfect for younger kids. It features many hands-on experiences, a gem/mineral collection, a virtual climate display, and a dinosaur skeleton. The gift shop has exciting games and souvenirs, too.
If you’re looking for fun for the whole family, the Asheville Pinball Museum has 35 pinball machines and 35 classic video games, while Well Played offers a selection of 700 games organized by difficulty level, and Breakout offers family escape rooms. And for more fun indoor activities, check out our list of the best things to do in Asheville in the winter.
Once you work up an appetite, the S&W Market is downtown Asheville’s only food court and is the perfect spot for hungry families. It’s in an Art-Deco building (one of the Urban Trail landmarks), and it has everything, from local craft brews and pasture-raised hot dogs to excellent fried chicken and amazing Asian street food. Don’t forget to get a scoop of ice cream from The Hop!
Some other family-friendly restaurants in downtown Asheville are Mamacita’s Taqueria for great burritos and horchata, Mellow Mushroom for excellent pizza, White Duck for amazing non-traditional tacos, Mela for an affordable Indian buffet, and Farm Burger for pasture-raised burgers. Plus, kids love having tea and pastries at Double D’s coffee shop!
6. Eat Dessert
Are you feeling like a luxurious, beautifully-decorated cake with a cup of coffee or Earl Grey tea? Then, head out to the award-winning Old Europe Pastries. Try their tiramisu and the crunchy-creamy-fluffy Hazelnut Napoleon. Another great option is Karen Donatelli Bakery – you’ll love the Italian Zucatto!
The Hop Handcrafted Asheville is in the S&W Market described above, and it’s one of the best dessert places in Asheville. This ice cream shop features unique flavors (imagine blueberry kale, cardamom, fresh ginger, and sweet beet). Or go to Sunshine Sammies for their incredible handcrafted ice cream sandwiches.
Stay Glazed Donuts is in the basement of the Jackson Building, right in Pack Square. They offer 24-hour raised brioche yeast donuts and the only gluten-free mochi dough in town. And if donuts are your jam, make sure you check out or lineup of all the best donuts shops in Asheville.
Do you love chocolate? While French Broad Chocolate is the most popular chocolate shop, downtown Asheville has other excellent places. Try Asheville Chocolate for extraordinary truffles, The Chocolate Fetish for addictive chocolate bars, and Kilwins in the Grove Arcade for incredible fudge and caramel-covered apples.
Downtown Asheville also boasts the Crave Dessert Bar, which serves fantastic tapas, drinks, and desserts.
7. Time Your Visit with a Fun Festival
Asheville hosts festivals year-round, so no matter when you visit, there’s a good chance something exciting is happening in this town. Downtown After 5 (DTA5) takes place every Friday from June to September on Lexington Ave. This beloved downtown Asheville event offers free live music and many opportunities to try the local beer and food and to hang out with the local crowd.
If you’re visiting in the summer, Shindig on the Green is a recurring concert series that takes place in July and August. It starts at sunset and features Appalachian musicians and dancers. People are also welcome to bring their instruments and play in the park. Shindig on the Green has its mural adjacent to Pack Square on Pack Tavern’s wall.
Asheville’s famous Drum Circle takes place every Friday night at Pritchard Park, one of the best downtown Asheville parks to people-watch. It’s open to anyone who wants to play drums and dance.
Then there’s Goombay which takes place in September at Pack Square and celebrates Black culture in all its expressions with live music performances, poetry, and food. Downtown Asheville also hosts international festivals like Hola Asheville (Latino culture) and the HardLox Jewish Food and Heritage Festival.
Held in July, the LoveShinePlay is a weekend-long, pedestrian-friendly wellness festival with dozens of classes, workshops, and events around downtown Asheville.
8. Catch a Live Performance
If you’re looking for entertainment options in downtown Asheville, you’re going to love checking out all of the live music and performing arts venues. The Orange Peel is one of the most known downtown Asheville attractions and has been recognized multiple times as one of the best music venues in the country by the national media (including Rolling Stone magazine). Have dinner at Wicked Weed Brewing before the show!
The Wortham Center of the Performing Arts has year-round performances. It hosts the Asheville Comedy Festival in August, making you “laugh your Asheville off.” You can also stop off at Rabbit Rabbit, which features many outdoor events for the entire family, including movie nights, concerts, and silent dance parties.
Harrah’s Cherokee Center is the biggest venue in downtown Asheville and hosts concerts, sports events, exhibitions, and fairs. One of their signature events is The Nutcracker by the Russian Ballet, which is easily one of the best things to do in Asheville in the winter. You can also check Asheville Community Theater’s calendar of events if you are thirsty for more local theater.
Finally, did you know you can go to the movies without leaving downtown Asheville? The Fine Arts Theater offers the best films, including some indie or international films, right in the heart of the city.
9. Have a Coffee and Brunch
Start your day by having your first meal (or your first cup of coffee) in one of these fantastic downtown Asheville restaurants. There are so many more, but here are some personal recommendations for Asheville’s best breakfast and brunch spots.
Early Grey Eatery is a favorite brunch spot in Asheville. Try the fried chicken, the biscuits, and their epic grits. If you’re looking for the best coffee shops in downtown Asheville, Green Sage offers a broad menu with something for everyone, and everything is made with local, organic ingredients. Alternately, High Five Coffee serves exclusively Counter Culture Coffee and is one of Asheville’s best coffee shops to work from.
And then there’s City Bakery for award-winning artisan bread and pastries. Be sure to try the breakfast torta. Another local favorite is Trade and Lore. Set on the cobblestone road of Wall Street, this place is known for its beautiful ginkgo trees and addictive chocolate croissants. It easily made our list of the best bakeries in Asheville.
10. Indulge in a Shopping Spree
Shopping is one of the most fun things to do in Asheville! Wall Street, Haywood Street, Biltmore Ave, the Grove Arcade, and the awarded Lexington Ave are some of the best places for shopping in Asheville.
Mast General Store has a little bit of everything, from high-end clothing and gear to home decorations. But your entire crew will love the candy bar and fun toys and games section. Remember to buy Asheville-opoly (Monopoly Asheville style!).
LOFT (Lost Objects, Found Treasures) is my go-to place when someone visits me. They always end up buying their Asheville souvenirs there! They have lots of fun stuff, including an outdoor display of unique garden accessories (a downtown Asheville landmark).
Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe has a great selection of local and regional authors (plus great coffee). Don’t forget to buy the book Goodnight, Asheville for the little ones in your life. Read our complete review of Malaprop’s here!
If you need a stop to relax and recharge, the Sauna House welcomes walk-ins, and Wake in the Grove Arcade offers foot soaks. Or if you’re traveling as a group RU Social Spa in Pack Square is always a good idea.
11. Go Bar Hopping
Asheville (aka Beer City, USA) has an average of 28.1 breweries per 100,000 residents, which is why beer lovers flock here from all over the US. Burial Beer and Asheville Brewing are some of the best breweries in downtown Asheville, but there are plenty more!
Would you like to learn more about Asheville’s beer scene? Take one of BREW-ed’s Brewery Tours, recommended by National Geographic and TripAdvisor and led by Cicerone-certified guides. Or join Asheville Adventure Company’s e-bike brewery tour.
Asheville is famous for its rooftop bars that offer fabulous city and mountains sunset views. If you’re looking for the best bars in downtown Asheville for a sundowner, check out Montford Rooftop Bar, Capella on 9, and Hemingway’s Cuba. Or take the award-winning Asheville Rooftop Bar Tour.
Do you love books and champagne? Then Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar is your spot! Order one of the delicious charcuterie tables and start turning the pages.
Thirsty Monk is a downtown Asheville favorite. It features three different levels, each with a unique atmosphere: the Top of the Monk Cocktail Bar, Holy Water Hard Seltzer Brewpub, and the Delirium Belgian Bar and Pub.
Jack of the Wood was one of the city’s first pubs and the original home of Greenman Brewing. This downtown Asheville classic hosts lots of live music events. And if you’re a cider fan, be sure to pay a visit to Urban Orchard Cider to your list of things to do in downtown Asheville.
12. Take a Fun Tour
The purple buses of the award-winning LaZoom comedy tours are an Asheville landmark. They mix history and comedy and are one of the best Asheville tours if you’re looking for a bit of fun.
Another fun way to explore downtown Asheville is on an open-air six-seater electric tuk-tuk with Tukit Tour Co. These babies are decorated with LED lights and equipped with Bluetooth speakers and heated seats.
The Gray Line Asheville Trolley features a Hop-On Hop-Off Tour that the Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County has endorsed. Visitors can stop at 10 stops along the 15-mile route to experience all Asheville offers. AVL Free Walking Tours are tip-based and budget-friendly. They also offer tips on how to explore Asheville on a budget.
If you’re a music fan, the Asheville Music History Walking Tour follows the city’s streets to tell the stories of Asheville’s eclectic past and present music scene. This one-of-a-kind downtown Asheville tour is highly recommended!