Tucked away in the mountains along the Blue Ridge Parkway is the hidden retreat of the east: Asheville, North Carolina. The little city is a haven full of unique experiences for all ages, with an eclectic assortment of things to see and do — from the truly elegant to the kitschy (hi, double-decker bus with quaint coffeeshop housed inside). And if you’re traveling to Asheville with kids in tow, you’re certainly in luck.
For families who love the outdoors, culture, arts, and/or sampling sweet treats, Asheville is not to be missed. You can float the day away on the French Broad River, explore the fabulous Biltmore Estate, and much more. Here’s how this small mountain city delivers big family-travel memories.
What to do
You’ll find a bit of everything at Grove Arcade; this cozy shopping location is filled with local brands. There are specialty shops, restaurants, and a bookstore all located in a beautiful historic building — the perfect escape when the weather isn’t cooperating. Located in the downtown area, Grove Arcade makes for a great place to wander and grab a cup of coffee or an ice cream treat.
Asheville Pinball Museum
The pinball museum is a favorite of kids and parents alike (particularly teens). You pay one entry fee to play over 80 pinball and classic video games — token- and quarter-free. Thankfully, the museum limits the number of people at any one time, so you’ll have a chance to play all the games you want. The museum is located just across the street from the Grove Arcade.
The Vanderbilts built the Biltmore Estate — a sprawling country estate plus 250-room château — in 1895. It’s the largest privately owned home in the United States, and an easy drive from downtown Asheville. The Biltmore gardens and grounds overflow with flowers and special events year-round.
There are over 40 craft beer breweries in Asheville, and a local (and national) favorite is Fat Tire by New Belgium Brewing. At the New Belgium brewery and tasting room, all are welcome to take the free tour; kids just can’t enjoy the free beer samples of course. There are, however, outdoor activities for the kids — and in the Liquidation Center, they can play games while you sample a few more brews. The brewery also boasts a picture-perfect patio and viewing deck just alongside the French Broad River and its walking paths.
Where to explore
Blue Ridge Parkway/Mount Mitchell
Mount Mitchell is the highest peak (elevation: 6,683 feet) of the Appalachian Mountains — and the highest peak in eastern North America, conveniently located about an hour northeast of Asheville. The drive to Mount Mitchell State Park is along the famous Blue Ridge Parkway, where you can appreciate miles of dramatic landscapes.
And if you love the mountains, Asheville is home to countless kid-friendly hikes, gorgeous waterfalls, and plenty of mountain biking opportunities throughout the surrounding temperate forest.
Looking Glass Falls
Looking Glass Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls in North Carolina. With easy accessibility, it’s a favorite spot for travelers of all ages along U.S. 276 near Brevard. The falls drop 60 feet, and there’s parking just along the road — with steps that lead you down to the bottom of the falls. Bring a picnic and savor an afternoon playing on the rocks or splashing in the water — just under an hour west of downtown Asheville.
Where to eat
Biscuit Head is excellent for breakfast or lunch — and famous for its large, mouthwatering biscuits, naturally. They’re a southern tradition, after all, and Biscuit Head does them right.
Burgerworx at the Grove Arcade
This is a great meal stop for kids; each person gets a small clipboard to mark up and detail their unique order. At Burgerworx, you select your patty (beef, chicken, veggie or cheese), choose your bun (old-fashioned or whole wheat), add your favorite cheese (from Classic American to Pimento) and finish it all off with as many of their 30-plus toppings as you like. Get weird; you’re in Asheville, after all.
Asheville is one of the sweetest locations you will ever visit. The city is known for its gourmet donuts, popcorn, chocolate factories, a chocolate lounge, and more. The kids will love experiencing a fully operational old-fashioned soda fountain at the old Woolworth’s building.
Where to stay
The Foundry is a luxury boutique hotel that encompasses several buildings, including the restoration of the foundry buildings that forged the steel originally used to build the Biltmore Estate. Part of the luxury Curio Collection by Hilton, the Foundry is located in downtown Asheville within an easy walk to historical points of interest across the city.
The hotel has a concierge desk, 24-hour pavilion pantry market, grand lounge, and a beautiful courtyard and butterfly garden. The hotel has also preserved the original historical elevator pulley system, hardwood floors, and exposed brick, which add to the ambiance.
The Omni Grove Park Inn
The Omni Grove Park Inn is one of the country’s most celebrated resorts. Noted for its understated elegance and southern charm, the Omni offers sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a Donald Ross-designed golf course, an expansive tennis and fitness center, and an award-winning spa.
There’s even an Omni Kids Crew program; kids get a backpack filled with goodies, milk and cookies delivered to their guest room (#winning), and more.
Country Inn & Suites by Radisson, Asheville Downtown Tunnel Road
If you’re looking for a budget-friendly place to stay, the Radisson Country Inn & Suites could be just the thing. The hotel is located three miles from the Biltmore Estate and about the same distance to downtown Asheville.
Asheville Cabins of Willow Winds
For a more rustic retreat, look no further than one of Asheville’s hidden gems: the Willow Winds forest cabins. The whole family will love the treehouse vibes, cooking breakfast together in the in-cabin kitchen, and snuggling up by the fire as a brook babbles outside.
As you wander Asheville, be sure to notice all the amazing sculptures and art displays; you’ll find pigs, cats climbing streetlights, a big flat-iron, and many other fun pieces. Asheville may be a small city, but its variety — and its weirdness — can’t be beat.