Asheville Trip Report – Enjoying the Little Things, and a Rather Big One
I love Asheville, a small city in North Carolina among the Blue Ridge Mountains. I can never seem to do everything I want in one trip. Something, actually many things, are always left for the next trip. The town is a perfect mix of scenic beauty, historical architecture, eclectic dining and drinking, museums, outdoor activities, interesting people, the list goes on. While Asheville isn’t overly far from where we live, I haven’t been back since the pandemic started. Using up some Hilton free night certificates at the Foundry Hotel was the kick in the rear I needed get back now. After this trip, I (unsurprisingly) know that even a couple years was too long a wait. Today, I’m sharing my most recent Asheville trip report. I an’t possibly cover everything about this enchanting town – there’s so much more for next time. I focused this trip on a few simple activities and pleasures. Come join me!
Asheville Pinball Museum
Soon after checking into my room and dropping off my bags, I couldn’t wait to get out and walk around downtown Asheville. I’d known about Asheville Pinball Museum but had never gotten there – it was a no-brainer to visit on this trip. The museum holds about 75 pinball machines and a few arcade style video games. Many know of the Pinball Hall of Fame in Vegas – this one in Asheville is a whole different deal. While the Hall of Fame is a relatively antiseptic experience, the Asheville museum more completely embraces nostalgia throughout. In a natural complement to the machines, the place is decorated with retro art, posters, toys, jukeboxes, and so on. The arcade area felt like I was stepping into Flynn’s from Tron or an Aladdin’s Castle at the since-demolished local mall from my childhood. The video jukebox was playing Duran Duran’s Hungry Like The Wolf when I entered.
I thoroughly enjoyed my few hours here. I had two primary pinball games from my youth I sought to find – Taxi and The Addams Family. They had the former, but not the latter; I was pleased enough. Above each pinball and arcade machine was a card with interesting info about each – the year built, how many units were made, and interesting facts about the game. Indeed, it was an entertaining and educational visit. For instance, I learned that John Connor was playing Missile Command when he was approached by the T-1000 in Terminator 2. I’ll be back!
Visitors pay a flat $15 for a wristband to access all pinball machines and video games to play freely all day and night. No messing with quarters. Randomly, there are two exceptions – the Willy Wonka pinball machine and Star Wars arcade game require quarters. The museum has their own small snack bar, too – just $4 for local beers and $1 for sodas, candy, or other snacks.
The Biltmore Estate
The next morning, I visited the Biltmore Estate, including the house, gardens, and sprawling land. It was all originally owned by George Vanderbilt II and designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. The build started in 1889 and continued until 1895. At over 198k square feet, the Biltmore house is still the largest privately owned house in the United States to this day.
I visited the Biltmore during the Holidays about ten years ago, but I yearned to get back again during the fall season. While I enjoyed touring the house before, only on my second experience did certain aspects sink in. The house has 250 rooms, including 30 guest rooms. Vanderbilt (or his staff, more accurately) was basically running a hotel within his own home. Guests had their own gathering areas on multiple levels of the four floor mansion, as well.
I took in the garden more fully on this visit, also. Olmsted co-designed New York City’s Central Park and many other famous outdoor spaces. Designing the landscape for a big house may seem like a comparatively small endeavor without understanding the sheer size of the Biltmore Estate’s land. The estate is approximately 8k acres, or 13 square miles. Among other highlights, Olmsted thoughtfully designed a four mile road from the outer gate of the property all the way to the house. I could go on and on about the house and gardens, but those interested should definitely visit.
Speaking of visiting, my ticket for all-day access to the property and gardens and a specific entry time for the house tour was $96 in late October. Prices vary depending on the season and events but mostly peak over the Holidays. The home tour comes with an audio guide which I enjoyed even more on this return visit. It’s the second best self-guided audio tour I’ve experienced domestically, next to that of Alcatraz Island. Visiting the Biltmore isn’t cheap, but you get what you pay for.
New Belgium Brewery
Ever since my first Fat Tire in college, New Belgium has been my favorite brewery by far. Originally from Colorado, New Belgium opened their eastern brewery in Asheville about five years ago. New Belgium’s location just outside downtown Asheville is tremendously scenic along the French Broad River. Their “Liquid Center” is widely open throughout the week and offers their full slate of beers on draft. My jaw fell open when I saw the lineup of all those New Belgium beers on draft in a row. I was close to happy crying. I enjoyed Accumulation IPA and Mountain Time Lager over a few hours. You pay for beers as you go here – no tabs from what I could see. Bartenders do not directly accept gratuities – any tips left are given to local nonprofits. New Belgium only serves beverages – a rotating selection of food trucks parks onsite.
The Liquid Center space is very open but probably reconfigured a bit due to the pandemic. Plenty of outdoor picnic table seating is available, in addition to a few fire pits. I enjoyed socializing outside with a few locals and others passing through. Brewery tours are temporarily suspended due to the pandemic. Darn – I guess I have another reason to go back again – as if I needed another reason.
While the brewery is outside of downtown, walking from there is feasible. DD’s and their drinkers will appreciate the ample free parking.
Asheville Trip Report – So Much Fall Foliage
I timed my trip for peak week of fall foliage in Asheville. I wasn’t disappointed. Whether I was downtown, at the Biltmore Estate, or in between, fall beauty was everywhere. Rather than blathering on more, I’ll let the pictures below speak for themselves.
As I drove down the mountains on my way home, the beauty of the outdoor landscape taunted me. It was as if nature was daring me to leave her behind. How could I possibly depart? At the very least, I had to slow down. The funny thing is, I don’t think I was alone here. Not only was I about ten miles under the speed limit, so was everybody else on the highway. Sure, perhaps that’s because we were going down the side of a freaking mountain. But I chose to believe that at least one other person was doing so to take in the remarkable scenery. At this moment, I caught myself smiling. At the thought, at the experience, at the last few days. In one small but meaningful way, this is what travel is about for me.