Footloose and roaming Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville is a place with creative energy. There is a frequency that hit me in waves as I walked through the center of the city. Places like Asheville remind me of Santa Cruz, California and the kind of places where people flock for a good time. Creative happenings occur at greater frequency here than most places. Unexpected weird shit happens too.

PubCycle Asheville

One of my first downtown sights was this PubCycle rolling down the street, filled with young women slowly navigating through traffic.


‘Childhood’, a statue of a young girl at the water fountain is an image I saw somewhere before coming to Asheville.

I drove around downtown Asheville trying to figure out where the hub of activity was for the city. Turned out I parked pretty near to the city government center about a block from Pack Square.

Pack Square

The 6.5 acre park is named for George W. Pack who donated the land for a large public square in 1896. Asheville was a small town of 15,000 in 1900, a few years after George W. Vanderbilt constructed his immense Biltmore Estate. Pack Square is a popular concert venue.

The domed building on the right is Asheville City Hall, completed in 1928, and listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The eight-story art deco style building was designed by architect Douglas D. Ellington, who designed several other buildings in Asheville in the 1920s. The 17-story Buncombe County Courthouse, the building on the left, also completed in 1928 by a different architect, is known for its elegantly ornate interior.

The week before I had breakfast with a travel writer from North Carolina and she gave me suggestions for several restaurants in Asheville. At the time I arrived in Asheville, hungry after a day of hiking, I stopped by the first place I saw for a couple of beers and a burger at Pack’s Tavern off Pack Square.

Pack's Tavern

Refueled with food and drink and friendly conversations with people at the bar, I found a center of Asheville, up the street at Vance Monument.

Asheville in Architecture

Vance Monument

George W. Pack financed the construction of the Vance Monument in commemoration of Zebulon Baird Vance, two term Governor of North Carolina 1862-1865 and 1877-1879. Vance was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives at the time of Secession in 1861 and was North Carolina governor during the Civil War. He later served as U.S. Senator from North Carolina from 1879 until his death in 1894.

My static photo gives no indication of the energy all around this small square in Asheville with restaurants spilling out onto sidewalk café seating, buskers jamming on the street and a troupe of musical vagabonds hanging out on another street corner.


These buskers were playing real good for free and earning some cash with a violin case filled in bills. The woman is playing spoons.

Thomas Wolfe

Thomas Wolfe Memorial Angel in front of Asheville Art Museum, formerly Pack Memorial Library.

Footloose in Asheville

Footloose and roaming Asheville, North Carolina.

An ornate metal bench on the sidewalk marked with a plaque and canopy of twisting metal vines reminded of sometime in the past when I read a book about Elizabeth Blackwell, MD. She was the first woman to earn a medical degree in the United States as an 1849 graduate of Geneva Medical College in western New York. She started her medical studies in Asheville 1845.

Blackwell plaque     Blackwell bench

My Nikon DSLR camera seemed to be a focal point of interaction with several locals hanging out on the streets of Asheville. The two teenage guys sitting on the Elizabeth Blackwell bench were kind enough to move their feet away from the plaque for my photo. In exchange, I let one of the boys borrow my iPhone to arrange a meeting with his friend. The other guy on the bench pulled out a cell phone while his friend was on my phone. They were toying with this tourist.

S & W Cafeteria Asheville 1929, historic southern cooking.

S-W Asheville 1929

There are interesting architectural styles in downtown Asheville. This S & W Cafeteria was part of a Charlotte-based diner chain that operated for more than 70 years from 1920 to the 1990s throughout the southeast. S & W Asheville is another art deco building from 1929, also designed by Douglas D. Ellington, architect of Asheville City Hall. The S & W Cafeteria closed in 1974. Apparently the building was converted to condos.

Grove Arcade

I came around a street corner of Asheville and saw an immense building. The feature that caught my eye are the consistent lines along the block. This building is seriously huge.

Grove Arcade

Grove Arcade was one of the first indoor shopping malls in America when it was built 1926-1929. The federal government purchased the full city square block building in 1943 and it served as the National Climatic Data Center until 1995. The NCDC, the world’s largest archive of weather data, moved to a new building in downtown Asheville in 1995. Grove Arcade is now shops again.

Grove Arcade Bookstore

Asheville tripped me out. The darker streets were an invitation bringing more people closer together in the Asheville night.

Flat iron Asheville

Transported to Manhattan, New York City in the blink of an eye.

Wall Street Asheville

Flat Iron Building Asheville (1926), architect Albert C. Wirth based his design on the New York Flat Iron Building. The Flat Iron building today is known for its rooftop Sky Bar. A couple of guys in the elevator foyer played piano singing tunes.

Asheville has more than 65 buildings constructed in the 1920s. The Depression and decades of stagnant growth limited new building construction downtown, giving Asheville its distinctive architectural style focused on early 20th century designs. Asheville has a history of creative design going back to the 1890s when artisans and craftsmen came from many places to work on George W. Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate, the largest private residence in America, located a few miles from Asheville city center.

National Park Service Asheville Architecture.

FW Woolworth

F.W. Woolworth Co. 1938 was restored in 2001 and operates as an artisan gallery. The Old Fashioned Soda Fountain inside is a fully restored to resemble the original Woolworth Luncheonette.

Not all of Asheville is a time-warp throwback to an earlier time. Modern boutique shops abound too in downtown.

Organic store     Farm to Fashion

“When the Power of Love takes over the Love of Power, then we will have peace.” – Jimi Hendrix

‘Local-Organic-Sustainable’ and ‘Farm to Fashion’ perfectly sum up Asheville boutique.

The buskers hit the dark sidewalks of Biltmore Ave. in force. This is the same street with Starwood Hotels Aloft Asheville, if you are in the mood for street entertainment.

Biltmore Ave Asheville   Biltmore Ave buskers

Asheville is also known for its craft beer scene. California’s Sierra Nevada recently built a brewery outside of the city for east coast production and Oskar Blues of Colorado has a brewery in nearby Brevard, North Carolina. Numerous microbreweries dot the Asheville area and there are brew tour guides available at tourist information or any brewpub. I’ll cover that scene in another article.

Before I die

Before I Die Wall is a public arts project by Third Messenger. The panel of chalkboards was an actively creative scene as I listened to a busker play songs for free on his amplified acoustic guitar and thoughts of Inside Llewyn Davis crossed my mind. One of the young girls in a group of girls crowded around the boards read the writings on the wall out loud, “Before I die I want to …” and her voice carried true emotion as she read the bottom line, “Before I die I want to make my mom love me.”

The sidewalks were getting more crowded, the music more prevalent and the city more intense on top of the intensity I had already experienced.

Love Asheville    Be Love

An Albert Einstein documentary I saw a couple weeks ago had me thinking about the idea of time dilation. The velocity of travel seems to make time move more slowly and imprint more memories.

My few short hours in Asheville and the people I met there one Sunday evening packed days of memories into my head. Asheville tripped me out. I barely slept that night in the hotel bed as my brain replayed encounters and conversations with people on the streets and in the brewpubs of Asheville.

The mountains are calling and I must go.

Western North Carolina waterfalls in the Blue Ridge Mountains beckoned me westward and back to nature.

Asheville movie

Loyalty Traveler Road Trip Orlando to Knoxville June 4-9, 2015

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

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  1. The three musicians you photographed during the day are
    Will Franke – Fiddle
    Abby “The Spoon Lady” Roach – Spoons
    Nathan Vargo – Banjo

  2. Thank you Nathan. I was in Orlando at a travel convention the week before arriving in Asheville and at breakfast one morning with a couple of travel writers, The Spoon Lady was mentioned to me and I thought this might be the same musician.

    I enjoyed hearing you play and the crowd on the corner seemed to be having a good time too.

    Music, beer and photographing downtown were the highlight of my time in Asheville.

    The woman stoned on brownies who wanted to punch me for photographing buildings was the incident that kind of turned me off to downtown. Once she realized she was being paranoid and I was not a threat, she invited me to sit down at her restaurant table to meet her and friends.

    Local Asheville characters.

    It was all very surreal that day in Asheville.

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