What You Can't Miss in Asheville in 2020
The Blue Ridge Mountain legacies of craft and creativity take the spotlight in Asheville, N.C.—just named one of Travel + Leisure's 50 Best Places to Travel in 2020!
Asheville marks four major art center openings with immersive experiences. Other new creative offerings in the coming year include full moon yoga hikes, an Art Deco food hall curated by James Beard honorees, a collaboration between Asheville’s oldest and newest breweries and a vinyl record plant with a music café and bar.
Here are just a few of the reasons why you should travel to Asheville in 2020!
Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Legacy
Long-known as an arts colony with connections to the American Craft Revival and mid-20th-century avant-garde movements, the Asheville area features hundreds of fine artists, performance venues, mountain crafters, folk artists, colorful arts neighborhoods, lively music halls, galleries and myriad events and offerings that celebrate creativity.
The city’s rich architectural legacy, with its mix of Art Deco, Beaux Arts and Neoclassical styles, is a fitting retro-urban backdrop for the collaborative, artistic energy that permeates every sector of local life. With an eye toward the future of their crafts, many local artists also keep a strong foothold in Southern Appalachian traditions, such as basket weaving, quilting, woodwork, wildcrafting and pottery. Find out more at ExploreAsheville.com/arts.
River Arts District by Jared Kay; Center for Craft rendering courtesy of Center for Craft; Asheville Art Museum by David Huff.
Fresh Cultural Adventures and River Arts District Improvements
- Views Inside & Out: Asheville Art Museum just opened with a new $24 million-plus, state-of-the-art building that features expanded gallery space, education facilities, an art library, a lecture and performance venue, a new ArtPLAYce for families and children and the addition of a rooftop sculpture terrace and café with views of downtown architecture and the surrounding mountains. The opening exhibition “Appalachia Now!” is a survey of contemporary art in Southern Appalachia, highlighting 50 emerging artists from the region. 2020 programing also includes yoga, kid-friendly tours and sunsets on the rooftop sculpture terrace on Thursdays when the museum is open until 9 p.m.
- National Craft Hub in Asheville: The Center for Craft, the leading organization in the U.S. identifying and convening craft makers, curators and researchers and matching them with resources, tools and networks, is expanding with the National Craft Innovation Hub this November. The space includes new public galleries featuring local and national makers, lecture space and creative co-working, cementing Asheville’s reputation as a force in the nation’s fine art and maker scene. To celebrate the reopening, the “Craft Futures 2099” exhibition showcases 10 local and national artists and their craft objects of the future, an exploration of what’s been and what’s to come in the world of craft. The exhibition runs until February 2020. All Center for Craft galleries are free and open to the public.
- Global Art Immersion: One of Asheville’s most beloved festivals now has a brick-and-mortar location downtown. Opening to the public this winter, LEAF Global Arts Center will be a cornerstone in the continued rebirth of Asheville's historical African American business district, The Block. The Center will offer educational experiences for guests rooted in music, art, community and culture inclusivity via a mini-theater and global immersion room using virtual reality, unique musical instruments and a stage for performances and interactive artist workstations. LEAF Festival continues in the spring and fall in Black Mountain and in Asheville in the summer.
- Art District Elevated: Asheville’s River Arts District, home to more than 200 artists in working studios, will be more visitor-friendly when a major roadway and greenway construction project wraps up in 2020. Visitors can expect a continuous multi-use riverside path, more parking, wide sidewalks, bike lanes, better traffic flow and highly creative public art installations from the district’s artists.
- New Performing Arts Center Brings Top Touring Artists: Diana Wortham Theatre has been transformed into the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts offering new experiences and two new theaters for more intimate performances. The nine-month season includes over 60 performances from 40 artists in music, theater, comedy and dance.
- Gallery News: Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center offers “Question Everything! The Women of Black Mountain College,” an exhibition celebrating the work and impact of the women associated with Black Mountain College, the experimental college and important incubator for the American avant-garde founded in 1933 in nearby Black Mountain. The exhibition runs Jan. 24 – April 25.
Downton Abbey: The Exhibition produced by: Imagine Exhibitions, NBCUniversal International Studios, and Carnival; Hotel Arras courtesy of McKibbon Hospitality; S&W Building by Jason Tarr.
Curated Culture in Architectural Icons
- Artistic Amenities in Art Deco-Inspired Hotel: The Kimpton Hotel Arras, opened October 2019, is a four-star 128-room luxury property with floor-to-ceiling windows offering views of downtown and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Set in the former BB&T Bank building, the tallest building in Western North Carolina, the Art Deco façade is a nod to Asheville’s iconic architecture. In addition to one-of-a-kind commissioned pieces from nearly 20 local artisans and purveyors, the hotel also offers standout amenities and restaurants.
- Coinciding with the November 2019 opening of the Asheville Art Museum, families staying at the hotel will receive complimentary Kids’ Art Activities Packs curated by the museum. The packs include discounted admission passes to the museum as well as creative games and activities for the hotel room, such as an instructional book on how to fold hotel towels and washcloths into animals.
- With an extensive food focus, the hotel also brings two new independent restaurants by local chef Peter Pollay—Bargello, a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant, and District 42, a more casual spot with outdoor seating, small bites and hand-crafted cocktails.
- New Exhibition at an American Castle: “Downton Abbey: The Exhibition” arrived at Biltmore on Nov. 8 with set recreations and artifacts, more than 50 of the show’s costumes and exclusive multimedia elements. The exhibition will run through April 7, 2020, and will highlight the parallels between the show, the movie and Biltmore’s Vanderbilt family, friends and staff. The grandeur and size of Biltmore House, designed by prominent New York architect Richard Morris Hunt in the Châteauesque style, also echo England’s Highclere Castle, where the show and feature film were shot. Learn more about the Downton Abbey exhibition at Biltmore.
- Also new at Biltmore, the “Through the Servants’ Eyes Tour” is an in-depth look at rarely seen servants’ areas including the Boiler Room, Butler’s Pantry and more.
- Travel Packages Highlight “Downton” at Biltmore: Area properties are offering unique ways to visit Asheville and experience Biltmore’s newest exhibition. Pinecrest Bed & Breakfast’s “Downton” package includes tickets to Biltmore and a suggested three-day Asheville itinerary, DoubleTree Asheville’s Biltmore Package includes a special tea amenity if booked for the exhibition’s timeframe and The Village Hotel (located on Biltmore Estate) is offering a package with an afternoon tea experience. More Asheville packages and deals.
- Two James Beard Nominees Team Up for Art Deco Food Hall: Asheville’s iconic Art Deco masterpiece S&W Building, considered one of architect Douglas Ellington’s most refined projects, will see new life when Chef Meherwan Irani (Chai Pani Restaurant Group and James Beard-nominated chef) and Highland Brewing Company (Asheville’s oldest brewery run by Leah Wong Ashburn, a James Beard nominee for Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional) open S&W Market this spring. Irani will select restaurants to fill the food stalls, and Highland will offer bars on both levels among the building’s Art Deco details, like great arched windows and terra cotta panels topped by a parapet of green and blue tiles.
The Asheville Music Scene
- Vinyl Record Plant + Music Café: Opening in spring, AVL-VINYL will offer an immersive music experience with a record plant, independent record store and music café and bar with food, coffee and craft cocktails. Powerhouses of Asheville’s maker scene have combined on this project and include Gar Ragland (music producer and President and CEO of NewSong Music), Charlie Hodge and Morgan Hickory (Ole Shakey’s, Sovereign Remedies and Asheville Beauty Academy), Susannah Gebhart (OWL Bakery) and Graham House (Sovereign Remedies executive chef). Ragland also hopes to offer in-house live performances and engaging events that focus on one album where folks can enjoy cocktails and discuss the ins and outs of each song.
- Green Book Site Gets New Life at Rabbit’s Motel: A probable Asheville Green Book site, the Southside neighborhood’s landmark Rabbit’s Motel was opened in the 1940s and hosted legendary black celebrities like Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Richard Pryor during segregation. “The Negro Motorist Green Book” was a mid-20th-century guidebook for African American road-trippers. Local chef Clarence Robinson plans to open a soul food restaurant at the space, also home to the forthcoming SoundSpace project (Asheville’s first full-fledged music practice facility) by Claude Coleman Jr. of the band Ween.
- Mega Collab: Boyz II Men, Steep Canyon Rangers & The Asheville Symphony: The Grammy Award-winning Steep Canyon Rangers reimagine their catalog with the Asheville Symphony and music scene giants. The new album, recorded at Asheville’s Echo Mountain Studios, includes arrangements by Jonathan Sacks, who has worked on many Disney films, and orchestra conductor Michael Bearden, who is currently the music director for Lady Gaga and has worked with Michael Jackson and Madonna. The first track off the album, “Be Still Moses,” a collaboration between the band, symphony and the music group Boyz II Men, was released in August.
Elk by Mark File; tarot reading and mountaintop yoga courtesy of Asheville Wellness Tours.
Creative Outdoor and Wellness Offerings
- Salamander Capital of the World: The North Carolina Arboretum is opening a new Willow Pond site in May, an outdoor learning site focused on salamanders, frogs, aquatic insects and other reptiles and amphibians. Southern Appalachia is known as the salamander capital of the world (20 percent of all the world’s species can be found in the Southeastern United States), and the Arboretum’s ponds host an abundance of salamanders, including the rare mole salamander.
- Forest Bathing & Group Tarot Readings: Asheville Wellness Tours, known for their guided tours to zen-filled businesses downtown, greatly expands their menu to include yoga hikes, sound healing sessions, forest bathing, food tours, ziplining, flower crown workshops and group tarot readings.
- Sunset & Full Moon Yoga Hikes: Leading yoga, meditation and hiking experiences in the mountains surrounding Asheville, Namaste in Nature offers public and private tours for folks wanting a deeper connection with the nature around them. New offerings include mountaintop yoga, waterfall hikes and a Sunset and Full Moon Yoga Hike (full moons March through October) on a scenic mountaintop with guided yoga and meditation.
- Guided Day Hikes to the Smokies: Blue Ridge Hiking Company, owned by Appalachian Trail record setter Jennifer Pharr Davis, will begin offering guided daytrips to the Great Smoky Mountains. Lunch and snacks are provided, and hiking spots will include places like Cataloochee Valley and Clingman’s Dome. The company’s downtown retail shop will also offer free fit instruction for any of their hiking and backpacking gear.
Chow Chow Grand Tasting tent by Jason Tarr; Futo Buta ramen by Kyo H Nam; Burial Forestry Camp by Spencer Kelly.
- Chef-Led Chow Chow Event Announces 2020 dates: With a successful inaugural year in 2019, Chow Chow: An Asheville Culinary Event returns Sept. 10-13. The festival, founded by Asheville culinary and artisan scene titans and named after the traditional Appalachian relish, includes grand tasting events, chef demos and hands-on experiences connecting participants to Asheville’s creative approach to preparing and sharing meals.
- James Beard Chef with Two New Restaurants: On the heels of a new partnership with Burial Beer Co.—including the brewery’s new Forestry Camp Bar & Restaurant, James Beard Award-nominated Chef Brian Canipelli has opened Contrada, two doors down from his original restaurant Cucina 24. The downtown restaurant offers a rotating menu with an emphasis on antipasto dishes, as well as wine, cocktail and beer options served via a tap system.
- Atlanta Chef Joins Roster of Asheville James Beard Chefs: The city’s roster of James Beard food folk hits 13 when award-winning Chef Linton Hopkins opens H&F Burger downtown with burgers and milkshakes—plus signature fried chicken dishes served out of the Hop’s Chicken window at the rear of the building. A lighted sign will indicate when the chicken shack is open for business and offering items like a katsu sando or Gochujang fried chicken rice bowl.
- Mead Tasting Bar to Open in Honey Boutique: New in fall 2019, Asheville Bee Charmer’s second downtown location offers more honey in a larger space. Known for niche bars (the original Bee Charmer location offers a honey tasting bar), the new location will soon offer a bar for tasting mead, beginning with in-state mead makers and evolving over time.
- Japanese Soul Food: Joining newer ramen offerings like Itto Ramen Bar & Tapas and The Broth Lab, Futo Buta just opened near Asheville’s South Slope. The restaurant, with a popular flagship in Charlotte, will offer authentic, but non-traditional, Japanese cuisine including house-made ramen, sushi, steamed buns and Japanese fried chicken.
- Brewing Beyond Beer: New downtown brewery DSSOLVR, with a design point of view that melds the absurd and surreal, opens December 2019 with beer offerings fit for picky beer enthusiasts and casual light beer drinkers alike, as well as their own mead, wine, cider and cold-brew coffee.
- Asheville’s Oldest and Newest Breweries Collaborate: Highland Brewing Company, Asheville’s original craft brewery, is partnering with DSSOLVR for Breakfast Stout, with the high ABV version brewed at Highland and the low ABV take on the same recipe to be made in DSSOLVR’s brewhouse. Both beers will be fermented in Bourbon barrels and released in early 2020.
- Brewery Nature Trails: Highland Brewing Company plans to open the first phase of trails on the brewery’s 40-acre campus in the summer of 2020. The walking trails offer a wooded retreat with sections along a creek and an old railroad, steps from the brewery’s taproom.
- New Location for City’s Second-Oldest Brewery: Green Man Brewery has opened The Dweller in a partially subterranean space downtown under Polanco Mexican restaurant. The name pays homage to Green Man’s beloved Imperial Stout as well as the creepy history of the century-old building. (Green Man owner Dennis Thies claims it used to be a morgue.)
- Tarot Reading Beer Flights: Thirsty Monk will relaunch its core lineup of Belgian-Rooted Modern Ales in 2020 with a new look and feel that brings tarot cards to life. Celebrating the creative energy and mystical spirit of Asheville, all Thirsty Monk small batch, seasonal and specialty beers will be categorized into their own style-based suits, varying in colors and patterns. These “readings” will provide collectable keepsake cards.
- Motorcycle-Aged Whisky: H&H Distillery, known for their rum, gins and Asheville Coffee Liqueur, will debut both vodka and whisky in the coming year. The Steel Horse Whisky, made in two batches, is motorcycle-themed, incorporating a rotating barrel-aging process in barrels that are the wheels of a motorcycle skeleton. One batch will be aged for 600 “miles” and the other batch will be 3,000 “miles.” The distillery also plans to release Crème De Cacao, made with French Broad Chocolate cocoa nibs, launch canned cocktails and offer cocktail workshops at their new downtown location, Cultivated Cocktails, in the coming year.