Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville, North Carolina is the perfect location to escape the hustle and bustle of Washington, DC. Don’t let the small town vibes fool you. There are tons of food options and quaint shops abound. In this travel guide you will get a heavy dose of African American history, food and culture. Get ready to learn, see and do all things in Asheville, North Carolina.
- YMI Cultural Center: Located down from the busy market street is the Young Men’s Institute (YMI) Cultural Center. The historic facility was once the hub for the African American community in Asheville. The building is one of the many architectural gems in the city that James Vester Miller, a prominent African American contractor, principal builder and business owner in the area. The YMI was a safe place for young labor men to relax and rest before they had to head out another hard day of work at places like the Biltmore Estate. Throughout the years the YMI transformed into a community center that opened their doors to the entire African American community. The services expanded as well to offering after school day care and movie screenings. Today, the community center is undergoing a major renovation with the goal of reopening the building to reclaim their purpose of being the gathering place for the Asheville community.
Munch Tip: Head over to the Asheville Fire Department that is located in the center of town to see the historical marker that tells the history of the YMI Cultural Center.
- Equal Justice Initiative Community Remembrance Markers: It is the mission of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) to recognize as many African Americans as possible that were slain due to false accusations that were brought upon them for just being black in America. The community remembrance lynching markers in Asheville tell the senseless murders of Bob Brackett (1897) and John Humphries (1888). Both were accused of assaulting a white woman and were ultimately arrested on this charge. This resulted in a mob of white men kidnapping them from the custody of the law enforcement and lynching them. The EJI markers are located where the murders occurred. Bob Brackett’s marker can be viewed at Triangle Park which is a short walk from the YMI community center. Within the park there is a beautiful mural that acts as a timeline of African American history in Asheville. John Humphries marker is located in the center of town in Pack Square Park.
Munch Tip: There were actually three lynchings that took place in Asheville. Hezekiah Rankin’s marker can be found at the Craven Street bridge in the Rivers Art district.
- Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center – Asheville: Whether you start or end your journey on the Blue Ridge Parkway it is a must that you stop at one of the National Park Service’s visitor centers along the way. At the Asheville location you get a glimpse of the culture of the area. The exhibits provide the history of nature, the native people and their traditions of hunting in the mountains. The map in the back of the visitor center shows you how massive the parkway is. It spans 469 miles through the Appalachian mountains from the Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. So basically, it connects Virginia and North Carolina.
Munch Tip: If you are a hiker this is a great location to take a break, go to the restroom and get the most up to date maps of the trails.
- Peace Gardens & Market: The Peace Gardens & Market is a neighborhood meeting place where you can buy fresh vegetables or view the black artistic creations throughout the space. Located in West Asheville, the urban garden showcases everyday donated items in the form of art installations that highlight social justice causes and black icons. The garden is the brainchild of DeWayne Barton who is the founder and owner of Hood Tours. His tours provide guests a perspective of the African American experience in Asheville. It is free to view the garden, however donations are highly encouraged and appreciated.
Munch Tip: If you have some time, head to the shed with the peruse library full of black history books.
- Biltmore Estate: Driving down the winding road to the Biltmore Estate reminds me of driving through the English countryside. Even though it was raining on the day, it didn’t deter people from visiting the estate. The Vanderbilt’s started building the house in 1889 as a family escape from New York City. African Americans from the Asheville area were hired to assist in the construction of the home. The estate is currently working to uncover the untold stories of those who had created the massive mansion. To enter you can choose from several tours such as the self guided experience where you are provided an audio tour device or you can take a behind the scenes guided tour. I chose the self guided tour so that I could explore the home at my own pace. The price of your ticket also includes the option to view the gardens that have been beautifully manicured by the staff. The mansion is an elaborate maze of stairs and hallways that winded through the corridors to see a room for basically every need imaginable. It was crazy to see there was a bowling alley and Olympic size pool with dressing rooms for women and men in the basement. The Vanderbilt’s’ were also the first in the country to adopt refrigeration and installed a walk-in refrigerator that assisted in preserving all of their perishable items. You can obviously see that money was no object for convenience and luxury. After viewing the house I headed over to the stables that were converted into a gift shop and several restaurants where you can buy American delicacies that are made on property, such as the honey. The Biltmore is definitely a must see attraction if it is your first visit to Asheville.
Munch Tip: Buy your tickets prior to your arrival to secure the best time to take your tour.
- Land Rover Experience: The main reason I came to the Biltmore Estate was to unleash my inner road warrior. The grounds on the estate are perfect to test out the capabilities of the high end vehicles because there are mountainous trails with winding roads through the forest. When making your reservations you get to choose which Land Rover you would like to drive and I chose the Range Rover Sport for its size and maneuverability. The futuristic technology of the car allows you to switch between economical and desert terrain modes. There was a point in the course where I thought the car was smarter than me because it could predict what my next move would be. There are several packages that you can choose from. I reserved the two hour driving experience that cost $425 per vehicle and allows you to have up to three people in the vehicle with you. I highly recommend that you splurge and bring a couple of friends along for the ride.
Munch Tip: A ticket to Biltmore Estate is required to access the Land Rover experience. Be prepared to add this expense to your overall trip cost.
- Noir Collective AVL: No trip can be defined as a vacation without a little shopping being incorporated into the agenda. Located directly next door to the YMI Cultural Center is the Noir Collective AVL. The boutique shop and art gallery showcases one of a kind creations from local artists for purchase and souvenirs from the YMI Cultural Center. Alexandria Ravenel, equity director of the YMI Cultural Center owns the shop with her daughter, Ajax. It is great to see a black owned business still existing in the historic black business district known as “The Block”.
Munch Tip: After you make your purchase, head to the back of the store and check out the patio where you can read one of the African American books that you may have purchased.
- Shanghai Dumpling House: I am truly convinced that dumplings are the best vehicle to have an entire meal without having to order tons of plates of food. This restaurant is located on Biltmore Avenue which is the main street that runs through Asheville. I sat at the bar and dived into the menu to narrow down my options. My attention was immediately directed to the homemade soup dumplings. I also ordered the pork belly bao buns ($11) which arrived steaming hot and ready to be devoured. My entree consisted of stirred fried noodles with shrimp that were piled on the plate. I could not finish the plate and ended up taking the food back to my hotel. The ambiance of the restaurant was lively and an absolute jewel to find in this mountain town.
Munch Tip: Get to the restaurant early because it fills up quickly. In my opinion the bar is the best place to sit, so you can have your meal being made right in front of you.
- La Zoom Comedy Tours: Not your average local history, La Zoom combines the uniqueness of Asheville’s history with the talent of local comedians interpreting the notable nuggets that put the city on the map. I signed up to take the ghost tour that was scheduled to last for an hour. Before boarding the converted school bus you have a drink at the bar to get you ready for the show. My favorite part of the tour was the many characters that the comedians played in each skit. They literally had me laughing until my stomach was cramping. I almost forgot that I was on a history tour. I definitely would take another one of La Zoom’s tours in the future to see if other members of the comedy troupe were as funny as guides on the tour I took.
Munch Tip: Alcohol beverages are allowed on the bus tour. You can purchase a few bottles at the La Zoom Bar and they even let you bar a lunch pail sized cooler to keep them cold.
- Biltmore Estate Winery: An estate is not an estate without having its own winery. To get to the tasting room you have to walk through the wine cellar where you can see barrels and barrels of the different types of wine that are made on site . Also, along the walkway there are placards explaining the wine making process at Biltmore. The wine tasting has several wine tasting stations where groups are escorted and allowed to try up to six complimentary wine tastings. Among the one’s I tried, the Orange Muscat was my favorite. Not only is it on trend to produce an orange wine, this one was really delicious. The wine store is like a candy store for adults. All the bottles are beautifully organized by flavor profile. I filled my basket with three bottles of Orange Muscat and several white bottles of wine.
Munch Tip: Continue your wine tasting experience at the wine bar next door. There are small plates for purchase and plenty of additional wines that were not included on the tasting menu.
- Benne on Eagle: The restaurant is a whole vibe. When you walk in the front door you are greeted by a large portrait of the prolific poet, James Baldwin. The open kitchen provides you with a glimpse of what you are to expect during your meal. I loved how the menu paid homage to Ms. Edna Lewis by offering her fried green tomatoes. Make sure to check out my Orange County, VA travel guide to learn more about Ms. Edna’s hometown. After going back and forth on what to order, I decided to start my meal with the cornbread and crispy pork belly. The pairing of the pork, apple butter and pistachio was a combination I was not expecting to be so darn delicious. There were many different textures in the dish that had my taste buds singing. I should have been here but I just had to keep going to try several other dishes on the menu. Next up was my entrée that consisted of fried catfish and collard greens. I was somewhat disappointed with the size of the catfish, however it was perfectly seasoned and fried. The collard greens were super yummy and were very fresh as if they had been picked from the garden that day. I closed my meal by ordering the banana pudding. Light and packed with vanilla flavor the pudding was a delicious ending to a satisfying meal. The only thing that I wished was that the vanilla wafers were crispy. I could tell by the sogginess of the wafers that they were left in the fridge for a while. Overall, my meal was delicious and I was glad to support a local black owned business.
Munch Tip: Parking around the restaurant is hard to come by. This is due to the restaurant being located on one of the main streets that lead into town. There is one parking garage located within walking distance, however it can be a little pricey.
The Munch Travelogue Quick Sheet
Asheville, North Carolina
- YMI Cultural Center
Address: 39 S Market Street Asheville, NC 28801
Hours: Monday – Friday from 9AM – 4PM
- Equal Justice Initiatives Community Remembrance Markers
Bob Brackett Marker: 56 S Market St, Asheville, NC 28801 (Triangle Park)
John Humphries Marker: 80 Court Plaza, Asheville, NC 28801 (Pack Square Park)
Hours: Open 24 hours
- Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center – Asheville
Address: 195 Hemphill Knob Rd, Asheville, NC 28803
Hours: Monday – Sunday from 9AM – 4:30PM
- Peace Gardens & Market
Address: 47 Bryant St, Asheville, NC 28806
Hours: Monday – Sunday from 8AM – 8PM
- Biltmore Estate
Address: 1 Lodge St, Asheville, NC 28803
Hours: Monday – Sunday from 8:30AM – 7:30PM
- Land Rover Experience
Address: 1 Approach Rd, Asheville, NC 28803
Hours: Monday – Sunday from 9AM – 5PM
- Noir Collective AVL
Address: 39 S Market St Suite C, Asheville, NC 28801
Hours: Wednesday – Saturday from 11AM – 4PM
- Shanghai Dumpling House
Address: 37 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
Hours: Monday – Thursday from 11AM – 3PM & 5PM – 9:30PM
Saturday from 11AM – 10PM
Sunday from 11AM – 9:30PM
- LaZoom Comedy Tours
Address: 76 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
Hours: Monday – Saturday from 10AM – 10PM
Sunday from 10AM – 6PM
- Biltmore Estate Winery
Address: 1 Lodge St, Asheville, NC 28803
Hours: Monday – Sunday from 11AM – 8PM
- Benne on Eagle
Address: 35 Eagle St, Asheville, NC 28801
Hours: Monday from 7AM – 11AM & 11:30AM – 2PM
Tuesday – Friday from 7AM – 11AM, 11:30AM – 2PM & 5PM – 10PM
Saturday from 7AM – 2PM & 5PM – 10PM
Sunday from 7AM – 2PM