Downtown Asheville, second in the Southeast U.S. only to Miami Beach for its fine example of Art Deco architecture, exudes a creative vibe and style, which throughout the city's history has attracted an eclectic array of artists and artisans. Stroll along just about any of the downtown Asheville streets and you will find unique galleries and shops featuring locally created fine arts and regional handmade crafts.
At one time, known as the Paris of the South, Asheville of today enjoys a revitalized and thriving arts scene, making it one of the top arts cities in the nation. For anyone who enjoys art, from casual browsing to serious buying, here are ten places to consider including in your Asheville travel itinerary.
The River Arts District
1. The River Arts District
A treasure trove for art lovers, Asheville's River Arts District sits along the French Broad River, just over a mile from the central Downtown Asheville Historic District. Former factory buildings and industrial warehouses, many built in the late 1880s, now house over 160 artists' studios and galleries. The range of work is eclectic and interesting, from paintings and sculpture to pottery, textiles, glass art, jewelry and many other art forms.
Fairly compact at about one mile by one-half mile, the entire River Arts District area is walkable; however, we found it most convenient to drive there from Downtown Asheville since some of the gallery building groups are a bit spread out from each other and some of the streets do not have sidewalks. Parking in the area is plentiful and free.
The best days of the week to visit are Friday and Saturday when most of the studios are open. On the second Saturday of each month, there are Second Saturday demonstrations and activities. Twice a year, held in the spring and fall, the popular Studio Stroll features a full weekend of artists' demonstrations and hands-on activities in a creative and festive atmosphere.
There are several places to eat and drink in the area, cafes to brewpubs. If you enjoy the flavorful art of Southern barbecue, 12 Bones (located across from Curve studios and garden) is a must.
Location: The Asheville Arts District is located southwest of Downtown Asheville, roughly bordered by Riverside Drive and Lyman Street to the east and Clingman Avenue and Depot Street to the west.
More Information: The River Arts District Website
Grovewood Gallery and the Folk Art Center
2. Grovewood Gallery
Just across the road from the Omni Grove Park Inn in a pretty natural setting, Grovewood Gallery showcases exceptionally fine traditional and contemporary crafts from around the United States, including work from more than 500 artists and artisans in ceramics, glass, wood, fiber, jewelry and more. Even if you are not in the market for furniture, don't miss the stunning second floor studio furniture collection.
Outdoors, from June and through December, be sure to enjoy the unique and whimsical garden sculptures (pictured above). The complex also includes a working studio, (open to the public for Studio Tours only on scheduled days), two small museums and a cafe.
Location: 111 Grovewood Road, across from the Omni Grove Park Inn parking garage, about three miles north of Downtown Asheville
More Information: Grovewood Gallery Website
3. The Folk Art Center
Whether driving through Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway or visiting the city, a stop at the Folk Art Center should be on any art lover's itinerary. The Center is home to the Southern Highland Craft Guild, an organization with a history reaching back to the earliest movement of Southern Arts and Crafts and, which today, holds the most extensive collection of Appalachian Craft in the world. Offering an expansive collection of fine Southern Appalachian traditional and contemporary crafts in three galleries, the Folk Art Center features everything from gorgeous basketry, pottery, textile arts, paintings and glass arts to lovely wooden animal-shaped puzzles and handsome hand-carved walking sticks.
From mid-March through December, daily crafts demonstrations take place in the lobby. In addition, there are several events and workshops throughout the year. Heritage Weekend, held in the fall, features music, dancing and heritage craft demonstrations. The Guild Artists' Holiday Sale, held on scheduled days in December, is a wonderful opportunity to purchase overstocks and studio seconds at greatly reduced prices.
Location: Milepost 382 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, adjacent to a small portion of the Appalachian Trail and just a five-minute drive from Downtown Asheville
More Information: The Folk Art Center Website
Downtown Asheville Galleries and Shops for Arts and Crafts
4. The Grove Arcade
After completing the Grove Park Inn, visionary and self-made millionaire E.W Grove conceived of an elegant mixed-use retail, business and residential center in the heart of Asheville. Although the center was designed to include a five-story base and a fourteen-story tower, only the base section of the Grove Arcade ended up being built. Today, the stunning Grove Arcade (pictured above) is home to an interesting array of shops, galleries and restaurants. While there, do plan to visit Mountain Made, a lovely shop which features many beautiful works of pottery, jewelry, furniture, paintings, textile art, blown and fused glass, hand made books and more from over 80 regional artisans.
Location: One Page Avenue in Downtown Asheville
More Information: The Grove Arcade Website
5. Woolworth Walk
This locally owned gallery, situated in the historic F.W. Woolworth Building, features the work of more than 160 local artists and artisans in a range of mediums and styles. Five annual Art Walks take place on the First Friday of April, June, August, October and December. To add to the delight of your visit, stop at the soda fountain (designed to recall the original Woolworth Luncheonette) for a sandwich and an egg cream or an ice cream soda; or choose from many other menu items, such as locally roasted organic coffee, cappuccinos, lattes, veggie burgers and homemade pimento cheese to mention just a few.
Location: 25 Haywood Street in Downtown Asheville
More Information: Woolworth Walk Website
6. More Downtown Asheville Art Galleries and Shops
A good place to help you plan your art lovers' itinerary, the Asheville Downtown Gallery Association offers a map of its many member galleries, all located within a one-half mile radius. First Friday evening art walks take place every month from April through December.
Location: Various venues in Downtown Asheville
More Information: The Asheville Downtown Gallery Association Website
The Asheville Art Museum and Downtown Walking Tour
7. Asheville Art Museum
The Asheville Art Museum is home to a notable permanent collection of 20th and 21st century American art, including works in all media. In addition, the museum presents special exhibitions, featuring borrowed and permanent works, throughout the year. The Asheville Art Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday during scheduled hours and is closed for some major holidays. Admission is charged.
Location: 2 South Pack Square in the heart of Downtown Asheville
More Information: Asheville Art Museum Website
8. The Asheville Urban Trail
Explore Asheville's history and heritage while enjoying public works of art at each stop along this 1.7 mile, self-guided walking tour, described as Asheville's museum without walls. Expect to spend about two hours to complete the entire tour.
Location: 30 Stations around Downtown Asheville
More Information: About the Asheville Urban Trail
Biltmore Estate and Biltmore Village
9. Biltmore Estate
In addition to the opulent chateau, expansive grounds and stunning gardens, Biltmore Estate is home to many treasures from around the globe, including extensive collections of art, sculpture, books and much more. Among the many priceless items on view, there are two paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, two portraits by John Singer Sargent, porcelain bowls from the Ming Dynasty, a priceless chess set owned by Napoleon Bonaparte, and rare tapestries. In the outdoor rooms and gardens, enjoy the many garden sculptures and decorative architectural embellishments.
Location:The entrance to Biltmore Estate is at 1 Lodge Street, at the edge of Biltmore Village, less than three miles from Downtown Asheville
More Information: About Visiting Biltmore Estate
10. Biltmore Village
Before or after your visit to Biltmore Estate, plan to spend some time exploring Biltmore Village, which was built by George W. Vanderbilt in the late 1890s to house the workers from his estate. Today, the charming village still reflects the original design in the style of an English country village.
Most of the shops are locally owned and there are several galleries, including a Southern Highland Craft Gallery, which opened in 2013. (Related: See the Folk Art Center, located on the Blue Ridge Parkway - Page 2). In addition to the eclectic array of shops, there are several good restaurants in the area. The annual Biltmore Village Art and Craft Fair, held in the summer, is one of the region's most popular arts and crafts events.
Location:Biltmore Village is located, across from the entrance to Biltmore Estate, south of Downtown Asheville.
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