The Best River Towns in America: Asheville, North Carolina

Two things stand out: water and beer

Asheville's Grove Arcade.     Photo: Derek Olson

The Stats

Asheville, North Carolina
Population: 83,393
(metro area: 424,858)
Median Age: 38
Median Annual Salary: $39,408
Median Home Price: $201,300
Unemployment Rate: 8.5 percent
Votes Received: 6 percent

Two things stood out among Asheville commenters: water and beer. “Time to marry Beer City USA with the Best River Town Ever,” says local Julie Mayfield. “Join a flotilla from the Wedge Brewing Company to the Bywater bar: Is that a perfect day or what?” says political science teacher Tish Szurek. But there are other worthy distractions that helped put Asheville on our list. “There’s a national park—the Blue Ridge Parkway—and two world-famous trails, Mountains-to-Sea and the Appalachian, that run through the city or nearby,” notes Chris Cavanaugh, president of Magellan Strategy Group. “During or after a paddle, stop off at the Asheville Outdoor Center for some of the best barbecue ever, smoked with Scottish peat,” suggests reader Tom Boeger. And the recreational opportunities are only getting better: in March, the city will debut its new marathon, which runs through the meadows and gardens of the 8,000-acre historic Biltmore Estate. Manufacturing companies and a smattering of tech firms keep the economy pumping. The city can occasionally feel like it’s overrun with tourists, especially in summer. But it’s a small price to pay for a town with a thriving arts district, a different festival nearly every weekend in the spring and fall (everything from the French Broad River Festival to Beer Week), a community that values preservation and sustainable living, and yes, more microbreweries per capita than any other city in the country.

BEST POST-PADDLE BEER SPOT: “Take out from French Broad River under the Haywood Road Bridge and walk five minutes to Wedge Brewing Company, one of Beer City USA’s 11 craft brewers,” says Cat Kessler, a marketing assistant at Asheville’s visitors’ bureau. “Grab a Belgian-style Golem and nab a slice of pizza at Tin Can Pizzeria’s food truck on your way out.”

ON THE TOWN: Saturday evenings in the summertime, “enjoy the best bluegrass on the east coast at Shindig on the Green,” says Boeger.

WHAT YOU GET FOR $5: A lifetime membership with the Bywater, a hopping riverside bar that offers lawn games, food trucks, live music, and grills for BYO barbecues.

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