This Jazz Age gem of a city appears like a mirage out of the mists of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Long a vacation destination for moneyed East Coasters, the city now has a large student population and a highly visible contingent of hardcore hippies.
Asheville remained unchanged from the Great Depression through the 1980s because of economic stagnation, thus the art-deco buildings of downtown remain much the same as they were in 1910. But the area is now hopping with boutiques, restaurants, vintage stores and record shops, giving it a decidedly modern vibe.
Perched at the confluence of the Swannanoa and French Broad Rivers and tucked in the middle of a loop formed by I-40/I-240, the town is relatively compact and easy to negotiate on foot. West Ashville is an up-and-coming area, still gritty but very cool.
The brand-new visitor center (828-258-6129; www.exploreasheville.com; 36 Montford Ave; 9am-5pm) is at I-240 exit 4C.
Malaprop’s Bookstore & Cafe (828-254-6734; www.malaprops.com; 55 Haywood St; 9am-9pm Mon-Thu, to 10pm Fri & Sat, to 7pm Sun) is a downtown tradition for sipping cappuccino and perusing the used-book shelf. There’s free wireless internet.
The public library (828-251-4991; 67 Haywood Ave; 10am-8pm Mon-Thu, to 6pm Fri, 2- 5pm Sat) offers free internet access.