This was my first time in Asheville. It’s a great city for the arts and has a fabulous autistic community. Everyone seems to know everyone, and they are very accepting. This town will be a strong contender if I ever decide to settle down somewhere for a while. Here are my top picks.
Western North Carolina Nature Center
How much do you love otters and goats?! If you love them as much as I do, don’t miss the WNC Nature Center! After feeding time, both otters went for a swim, circling the enclosure and swishing up to the glass to say hello. I put my hand out and they swam toward me and sped past without stopping. Otters are quite graceful and very adorable. There are plenty of other animals at the Nature Center, including snakes, bears, bobcats, and wolves, but my favorite after the otters were the goats at the petting zoo. I got a free souvenir at the petting zoo when I wasn’t paying attention and one of the goats took a big bite out of my Nature Center map. When I unfold it, its like one of those paper snowflakes we used to make in elementary school, shaped like the goat’s bite mark!
Another must visit is the Woolworth Walk. I don’t always enjoy art as much as I enjoy books and music, but I decided to check this place out for its old-fashioned soda fountain. The historic Woolworth building has not changed much since its Department Store days, which is a big part of what makes this such an awesome experience. The soda fountain area seems to include the original furnishings, so you can sip your ice cream soda and imagine you went back in time to the 50s (I kept expecting to see Marty McFly skateboard up next to me).
I was pleasantly surprised that the art was just as enjoyable as the soda fountain! The Woolworth Walk includes art from over 170 local artists and truly offers something for everyone. It is rare to find this much variety in one art gallery.
Although I didn’t pay the $15 unlimited pinball, I still enjoyed a walk through the Asheville Pinball Museum. They have over 75 machines including Star Wars, Kiss, and Metallica, and that’s just what I remember off the top of my head. The whole vibe is super cool, with cardboard cutouts and posters of Star Wars, Gremlins, the Matrix, and more, plus Atari games. This is a must-see, whether you decide to play pinball or not.
I stopped by this working studio too late in the day to watch the glassblowing process, so be sure to check their hours before you go. If you go Fri-Sun from 2-6pm when the bar is open, you can enjoy a cold beer while you watch the artists. If you haven’t watched glassblowing before, you should come in while they are working. It’s an awesome process!
Asheville Drum Circle @ Pritchard Park
Every Friday night from April through October the Asheville Drum Circle meets in Pritchard Park. This Asheville tradition began in 2001 and remains wildly popular. There were as many locals in the audience as tourists, if not more. The drummers start arriving around 5pm and stay until about 10pm. You can come to drum, dance, or just watch.
I wish I wouldn’t have missed the Folk Art Center and North Carolina Arboretum, but it leaves me something to look forward to next time. The Biltmore is expensive to visit, but I hear it is ideal for art, architecture, and wine lovers.
I visited several book and record shops in Asheville and, like their art galleries, I found a truly diverse collection. While Malaprop’s and Mr. K’s were my favorite for browsing, Firestorm is perfect if you are looking for radical and anarchist literature. Battery Park Book Exchange has the most interesting décor but had a somewhat unwelcoming vibe due to the signs posted everywhere mentioning that books are for purchase, not for reading in-store.
All three record stores I visited have a diverse selection of old and new music. Harvest had the most welcoming vibe, with better lighting and a less “hipstery” vibe than the average record store. Static Age has a nice selection of punk and metal and they host local shows, so it’s a great place to check out the Asheville music scene.
- K’s Used Books
- Firestorm Books & Coffee
- Downtown Books & News
- The Captain’s Bookshelf
- Battery Park Book Exchange
Fair trade supporters should not miss one of the largest Ten Thousand Villages stores to shop fair trade home décor, accessories, and gifts from almost 40 countries around the world.
The Grove Arcade shopping center is Western North Carolina’s largest commercial building and arguably its most beautiful. It was built in 1929 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in the 80s. While it’s certainly worth a visit for the architecture alone, there are plenty of shops and restaurants to enjoy. My personal favorite is the Woodrow Instrument Company, where you can watch the dulcimer-like Woodrow being hand-built right there in the shop.
A Comment on Transportation and Lodging
Uber doesn’t pick up at the Asheville airport and the bus does not run frequently. If you aren’t renting a car and there is no shuttle to your hotel, be sure to budget for a taxi. Since Asheville doesn’t have a good public transportation system, it can be less expensive to stay closer to downtown because of the savings on transportation.
Are you an Autistic or Aspie traveler and have something to add to the Asheville list? Please leave your tips in the comments below.
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