By the Numbers
AVERAGE COMMUTE 17 minutes
MEDIAN HOME PRICE$218,000
BIGGEST EMPLOYERSMission Health and Hospitals (6,000), Buncombe County Public Schools (3,725), Ingles Markets (2,225)
TELLING STATISTICYou won't find a single Starbucks downtown
YOU CAN LEARN A LOT about a town from the stickers on locals' cars. One that's always nice to see: KEEP ASHEVILLE WEIRD. An island of liberal alternative culture, the town attracts artists, musicians, and, of course, plenty of outdoor funhogs. Cradled in a lush green bowl anchored by 5,721-foot Mount Pisgah and surrounded on all sides by the Appalachian Mountains, Asheville serves up more than 2,000 miles of hiking and mountain-biking trails and some of the nation's finest whitewater creeking. In downtown's compact grid, infused with art deco brick buildings, it's not uncommon to see a "suit" in deep confab with a natty dread about the past evening's mountain-bike ride at Cane Creek. Live-music venues host a regular lineup of top-shelf bands (recently, the Smashing Pumpkins announced an artists-in-residence extended-stay performance at the Orange Peel Social Aid & Pleasure Club), and every July the town hosts Bele Chere, the Southeast's largest free outdoor festival, with some 70 bands. Though the population of surrounding Buncombe County has swelled to 222,174, prompting an anti-development backlash, the city retains its small-town vibe. Don't worry: Asheville will still be plenty weird by the time you get there.
The Perfect 48 Hours
From subscriber Jeff Keener, 34, a 2006 Asheville transplant and owner of a construction-recruitment firm:
Stop in at Gourmet Perks (828-254-4777) for a ham-egg-and-cheese croissant, then make the 30-minute drive to 5,492-foot Big Bald for a five-mile run along the Appalachian Trail. Back in town, grab a spicy chicken burrito at Mamacita's (mamacitasgrill.com), then rent a hardtail at Carolina Fatz Cycling Center for a spin on Bent Creek's nearly 50 miles of singletrack. Later, pound a Japanese Kobe-beef burger and a pint of Highland Gaelic at the Bier Garden (ashevillebiergarden.com), then roll over to the Orange Peel (theorangepeel.net) for a set with local funk favorite Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band. Start the next morning off with a big ol' cup of Blue Ridge Blend at Picholine (254-3800), a French café. Then drive about an hour and a half to hike Newfound Gap for 270-degree views of the Great Smoky Mountains. After 18 holes of disc golf at Asheville's Richmond Hill Park (259-5800), hit Jack of the Wood (jackofthewood.com), a quirky Celtic pub, for a pitcher of Green Man Gold Ale. Finish the evening at Shoji Retreat (shojiretreats.com), a Japanese spa.
Though the ATL is a huge metropolis (with jobs aplenty and a relatively affordable cost of living), there's a surprising variety of outdoor playgrounds in easy striking distance. A 90-minute drive takes you to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains or the vast Lanier Lake wilderness. Thirty minutes west and you're hiking Sweetwater Creek State Park; 20 minutes northwest and you're road-biking the epic 60-mile Silver Comet Trail. Traffic is tough here, so the best places to live for outdoor fun are the north-side suburbs of Roswell and Alpharetta.
"Amazing bouldering and paddling." Ed Carley
"Water everywhere to swim, fish, or boat." Sue Lowery