Grid of images of story subjects in Asheville
Cliford Mervil
Grid of images of story subjects in Asheville
(Photos: Cliford Mervil)

Best Things To Do in Asheville, From Local Experts

This charming North Carolina mountain town has world-class dining, excellent beer, and plenty of mountains, rivers, and trails to explore

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Asheville, North Carolina, is surrounded by Pisgah National Forest and the Black Mountain Range—ripe terrain for adventure. These five locals provide the lowdown on one of the region’s most vibrant cultural and outdoor-recreation hubs.

Katie Button (wearing her own clothing) at her restaurant Curate
Katie Button (wearing her own clothing) at her restaurant Curate (Photo: Cliford Mervil)

Katie Button

Chef and TV host

Asheville punches well above its weight when it comes to the culinary scene; the city of just 94,000 boasts multiple James Beard nominees at the helms of various kitchens. Button is one of those standouts, captaining the tapas-heavy Curate and La Bodega, a Spanish-inspired market and bakery.

The four-time James Beard nominee, cookbook author, and TV show host (check out From the Source on the Magnolia Network) learned to cook as a child and did stints in restaurants in coastal Spain, Los Angeles, and New York before settling down in Asheville in 2011. “People have to make their own way here and create something for themselves,” she says.

To experience the local culinary scene, Button recommends starting with coffee and a vanilla glazed donut from Hole in West Asheville, then making your way to the North Asheville farmers’ market (Saturdays only), where bread bakers, veggie growers, artists, and musicians gather on the town’s University of North Carolina campus. Take a field trip to Hickory Nut Gap, a farm that produces proteins for the best restaurants in town. You can shop the farm store for your own ingredients, take a tour, and even sign up for a butcher class.

For lunch stop at Little Chango, which serves Latin American–inspired dishes in Asheville’s vibrant South Slope district, then grab a happy-hour negroni and a table on the sidewalk at Contrada, a casual Italian restaurant with a great bar. Save room for dinner at Curate, where you should order the rossejat, a noodle-based take on paella with squid and shellfish stock that Button describes as “the essence of the ocean.” Cap off the night with a show at Rabbit Rabbit, a nearby outdoor venue that books an eclectic array of national acts, from Modest Mouse to Shakey Graves.

Erin McGrady at Wrong Way
Erin McGrady at Wrong Way (Cliford Mervil)
McGrady and her wife, Caroline Whatley, in Pisgah Forest
McGrady and her wife, Caroline Whatley, in Pisgah Forest (Cliford Mervil)

Erin McGrady

Trail runner and founder of Authentic Asheville

When McGrady moved to Asheville from Maryland in 2016, the people she met made it easy to call the town home. “It’s a place where you can find and create community,” McGrady says. “And being able to take that community outdoors is even better.”

McGrady is cofounder of Authentic Asheville, a blog that shares stories about the outdoors and the LGBTQ+ community and seeks to better represent the diversity that already exists outside. She also founded a running club to encourage non-white and queer individuals and their allies to explore Asheville’s trails and build relationships. “Running is a vehicle for change,” she says. “It can bridge the gap and unify people across different demographics.”

McGrady loves running on the 30-mile Art Loeb Trail, which traverses 6,214-foot Black Balsam, an hour south of downtown off the Blue Ridge Parkway, but she’s quick to point out that you don’t have to leave the city to find a great run. Richmond Hill, a park on a bluff above the French Broad River, has several miles of singletrack, and the ever expanding French Broad River Greenway has a three-mile loop connecting parks, breweries, and restaurants. “You can run so many different kinds of surfaces and never leave town,” she says.

On Erin (left): Trailsmith overalls by REI Co-op ($90); Well Worn Short Sleeve shirt by Roark ($42); Everyday beanie by Patagonia ($39).

On Erin (right): Distance Short Sleeve shirt ($36), Carbonite 4-inch shorts ($75), and Catamount 2 sneakers ($170) by Brooks; Trail Running hat by Merrell ($30); Adv Skin 5 W Set hydration vest by Salomon ($140). On Caroline: Sprint Free Short Sleeve shirt ($40) and Moment 5-inch shorts ($45) by Brooks.

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Pete Kennedy and Katie Cahn hanging out at the Wrong Way River Lodge and Cabins
Pete Kennedy and Katie Cahn hanging out at the Wrong Way River Lodge and Cabins (Cliford Mervil)

Pete Kennedy


Pisgah National Forest envelops Asheville, offering quick escapes and epic backcountry destinations alike. Kennedy knows every inch of it. Hyperbole? Not really. As a mapmaker and owner of the Pisgah Map Company, which produces recreational maps of the forests surrounding the city, it’s Kennedy’s job to transcribe the landscape he loves onto paper. A South Carolina native, Kennedy went to high school in Asheville, fell in love with the area on a backpacking trip through nearby Linville Gorge, and never looked back.

“There’s something comforting about these lush mountains,” he says. “I always wanted to make a better map of the forest using local knowledge.” Today bikers, hikers, and paddlers alike rely on Kennedy’s maps as they spend time roaming amid its nooks and crannies. “Just looking at a map gets me excited about exploring an area,” Kennedy says.

He recommends that you start your explorations by acquiring gear and beta at Black Dome Mountain Sports, a long-standing pillar of the local outdoor community. From there head to Bent Creek Experimental Forest to mountain-bike Little Hickory Top, a 1.2-mile cross-country trail with a mix of flow and old-school Pisgah rock gardens. For a killer view, hike Bearwallow Mountain, on the edge of Hickory Nut Gorge, east of town. Regardless of your adventure, Kennedy suggests ending the day sipping an Iron Rail IPA at the Wedge, one of many great craft breweries in town, before perusing the nearby graffiti murals in the River Arts District.

On Pete: Dirt Shirt by Topo Designs ($89); Well Worn Midweight Organic T-shirt by Roark ($45); Performance Denim pants by Duer ($139); TR1 Mesh shoes by Astral ($130). On Katie: Milani Henley by Prana ($89); Layover pants by Roark ($95); Webber W’s sandals by Astral ($110).

Fly-fishing in Pisgah Forest
Fly-fishing in Pisgah Forest (Cliford Mervil)
At Double D’s Coffee and Desserts
At Double D’s Coffee and Desserts (Cliford Mervil)

Katie Cahn

Jewelry maker and fishing guide

The sheer volume of rivers surrounding Asheville is staggering, as are the healthy populations of stocked and native trout that live in them. That’s a tantalizing prospect for Cahn, a former raft guide turned avid angler who loves to fish for elusive wild brook trout.

“When I’m on the river, I’m surrounded by everything that feeds my soul,” Cahn says, adding that you don’t need to trek for miles to find what you’re looking for in the southern Appalachians. “The streams are so accessible. You can pull off on the side of the road and fish.” When she’s not guiding, Cahn spends her days making jewelry inspired by the mountain trout she seeks, using recycled and reclaimed metals. She sells her pieces online under the name Dirt Road Wares.

If you’d like to ply the local waters yourself, Cahn recommends gearing up at Hunter Banks, a fly shop on the northern edge of downtown, before heading 25 minutes south to the North Mills River Recreation Area, which is both accessible and pristine, holding plenty of rainbow and brown trout. Back in town, spend the night at Wrong Way River Lodge and Cabins, where the A-frames overlook a mellow, flat stretch of the French Broad River, perfect for a sunset kayak or paddleboard excursion.

On Katie (left): Ahnya Full-Zip Fleece hoodie by Patagonia ($99); Holler Sunfish hat by Crooked Creek ($40); Delaware pack by Deli Fresh Design ($175).

On Katie (right): Dirt coveralls by Topo Designs ($189). All jewelry by Katie Cahn for Dirt Road Wares.

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Meherwan Irani (wearing his own clothing) at his store Spicewalla
Meherwan Irani (wearing his own clothing) at his store Spicewalla (Cliford Mervil)

Meherwan Irani


Irani came to Asheville, like many others, in search of a quieter life. The Indian-born chef had been living in San Francisco with his wife and young daughter but moved to the southern town in 2005 for a change of pace. “This is where people come to figure out their lives,” he says. Irani, who never had any formal training as a chef, opened Chai Pani in 2009 to introduce Asheville to the Indian street food of his childhood.

More than a decade later, he’s a James Beard Award winner, and Chai Pani regularly has a line out the door. The small space is vibrant, with colorful portraits of people from Ahmednagar, Irani’s hometown, hanging on the walls. The menu blends southern ingredients such as okra with the dishes that Irani grew up loving, like puri, a stuffed flour crisp. The restaurant has helped define Asheville’s eclectic food scene.

“The quality of restaurants in Asheville is mind-boggling,” Irani says. “It’s easy to get excited about eating here.” At Chai Pani, Irani recommends ordering the Sloppy Jai, his take on the classic sloppy joe, with lamb hash simmered with tomatoes and ginger. His other favorite casual bites in town are the wood-fired pies at All Souls Pizza and the burgers at Bull and Beggar, which Irani describes as an “English gastropub with a southern accent.”

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Photographs by Cliford Mervil; photo assistance by Joe Shively; styling by Tyler Minor.

From July/August 2023 Lead Photos: Cliford Mervil

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