Asheville is in one of America's most scenic natural areas between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina. Hit hard by the depression, the local economy was slow to recover, but as a result the city's impressive Art Deco, Beaux Arts and Neoclassical architectural diversity survived a period of "urban renewal" that destroyed many other American neighborhoods.
This retro-urban environment makes a fine backdrop for the edgy bohemian energy of art galleries, boutique shops, farm-to-table restaurants, and a lively music scene. Besides the local campus of the University of North Carolina there are eight other colleges here. Rolling Stone has dubbed this the "New Freak Capital of the U.S." and CBS News' Eye On America, called it "a New Age Mecca."
Among major local events are Shindig on the Green with traditional music, dance and story-telling in July and August; and the Mountain Dance & Folk Festival each August. The Drum Circle is an unorganized get-together of local residents on warm Friday evenings in Pritchard Park, open to anyone; and street performing buskers play and sing all around town.
Some of the highest mountains on the East Coast roll across vast public lands in this part of the Appalachian Region, offering hiking, zipline canopy rides, whitewater rafting and many miles of mountain bike trails, attracting visitors from around the world. Scenic Blue Ridge Parkway views can be reached by bike with a 20-30 minute uphill climb from town. Bent Creek trails are fifteen minutes drive from downtown Asheville, and the Dupont State Forest, in Brevard, about 40 minutes south of Asheville, offers over 10,000 acres of recreational forests, and nearly 100 miles of mountain bike trails.
Blue Ridge Pride takes place with three days and nights of events in early October, including Pride Night and Pride Festival in Pack Square. See our events listings.
Getting here, getting around
Asheville Regional Airport is in nearby Fletcher, NC. Five major airlines and two budget carriers can get you to and from a dozen major US cities - with connections to most anywhere. Ashville Transit South 3 Route bus will get you to downtown Ashville for $1, and there are taxis too.
Ashville Transit's 18 routes serve the city from 6am-11:30pm, Monday through Saturday with buses every 30 minutes or so on major streets. The ART Station (formerly the Asheville Transit Center), located at 49 Coxe Ave, is at the center of this network.
A car is nice for exploring the surrounding countryside. For getting around the city or scenic mountain roads by bike, rentals are available at a number of shops around town, including: Liberty Bicycles (1378 Hendersonville Rd), with online reservations; Youngblood Bicycles (233 Merrimon Ave): and the Asheville Outdoor Center (521 Amboy Rd), which also rents canoes, kayaka, rafts, and tubes. City buses are equipped with bike racks. Beer City Bicycles (144 Biltmore Ave), specializing in mountain bikes, has sales, services, rentals, an informative website on all the local recreational options, plus beer on tap. For more cycling info see Asheville on Bikes, and Ride the City.
Media & resources
There's no specifically gay paper in town, but for arts-and-culture listings, restaurant reviews, and a general look at what's happening in the area, see Mountain Xpress for news, opinions, reviews, arts, food and media coverage.
Malaprop's Bookstore & Cafe (55 Haywood St) independent bookstore is a good resource on arrival; with seven languages spoken, a wealth of literature, and a full schedule of authors' readings.
For map locations and website links to the businesses below, and more, see our gay Asheville listings pages.
As is true elsewhere in North Carolina, bars and nightclubs in Asheville usually require membership. Friendly locals are often willing to sponsor visitors to enter as a guest, and at some places you can sign up for membership at the door.
Boiler Room and Club Eleven on Grove (11 Grove St), mixed venues, part of the Grove House Entertainment Complex; live bands, kink club events, Swing and Tango dance club and lessons, special ages 30+ and other private events.
O'Henry's (237 Haywood St), gay party bar, mixed crowd, movie nights, karaoke, game nights, drag shows, go-go dancers; Underground Friday and Saturday alternative/industrial dance club, with something different every weekend.
Scandal's (11 Grove St), at Grove House, billed as "the hippest, most fabulous, exciting, almighty dance club in the history of the world." Open Wednesday to Saturday, drag shows, private functions.
Thirsty Monk (92 Patton St), bears' favorite bar, big selection of American micro-brews, Belgian beers, 62 rotating taplines featured 850 beers in 2011.
Tressa's Downtown Jazz & Blues (28 Broadway St), Old New Orleans elegance, soft-lighting, Jazz, Blues, Latin, R&B to Global Grooves live music bands, all kinds diverse mix, martinis, dancing, chill-out fireplace lounge, light food, free WiFi.
CLOSED: Smokey Tavern (18 Broadway St), old-style gay/mixed neighborhood tavern.