Population = 83,393 (Metro area 424,858), latitude 35º 46′ N, longitude 78º 38′ W, elevation = 2216 feet above sea level. Average January low temperature = 20.5, average July high temperature = 86.5. Average sunny days = 205, annual snowfall = 25”, annual rainfall = 36.5”.
To a flatlander’s eye, Asheville looks hectic, sprawled, and disorganized. I am used to level cities with square grid roads and city blocks. Asheville is an old city that lies spread over hills and valleys and jumps across rivers, the streets winding and curving around what must have been old routes worn into the landscape by horse drawn carts.
I know I have written a lot about roads in the South. Doing so much driving, I guess I am more aware of them. My first impression (echoed by a local liberal) is that a tight-fisted government has not invested a nickel more than they had to on the roads in Asheville. Signage is minimal. Potholes are everywhere. No shoulders or gutter. No parking, especially downtown where it is sorely needed. Our place was on the West side and most of the streets we see are exactly two narrow lanes wide, edged with nasty sharp edged curbs. Side streets have no curbs or shoulders and it is hazardous to walk anywhere.
On my second day here, I misread a turn, hit a curb, and slit open a nice new tire. The tire guy, Snook, said it happens all the time. He blamed stupid DOT engineers for a multitude of problems in the city and, without impugning anyone’s intellect, I would have to agree with that assessment. Main arteries and interstates intercept in a jumble with signs listing 3 or 4 simultaneous designations for any given stretch of concrete. Street names and numbers change at random, apparently. Given the size of the Asheville metro area, it seems a lot more congested than it actually is. Herds of rude, tailgating, turn signal impaired, bozos contribute to the urban aggravation.
But other than that… Asheville is an interesting, fun, “happening” city with lots to do and see, eat and drink. Everywhere we go we see the young (relative to us, anyway) hipsters out having a good time, enjoying the city. Good restaurants are everywhere, varying from good ‘ol country to haute cuisine to rich BBQ.
Beer breweries are all over the city and new ones are springing up all the time. Theater and live music venues cover the city. The list of local festivals is long and varied. The area abounds with great trails to hike and bike. If you can’t find fun things to do around here, it’s because you are not looking. Or can’t find a place to park.
Climate is another big reason Asheville has become so popular. The altitude keeps it cooler in the summer and the latitude keeps it warmer in the winter. According to the locals, their version of winter is about 3 months of cool weather with the occasional cold and icy day mixed in. The spring and fall are long and pleasant. Summer can get hot sometimes, but not often. We visited friends who still have vegetables growing in their yard in December! Walking the city, we see flowers in bloom. It’s not the tropics, but it is sure a MUCH milder climate than Minnesota.
The city is great, but we have been suburbanites for a long time so we wanted to see some of the surrounding areas as well. The most recommended nearby town was Black Mountain, population = 8050, elevation = 2304, located about 20 miles East of Asheville. We went on a day trip to explore it and found a quaint little town. The first stop was at Lake Tomahawk for an easy stroll around the lake, past the Senior Center, tennis courts, and picnic grounds in the nice little park. Going downtown, we hit traffic and tourists but, with a little searching, we found a parking spot and set out on foot. The shops are varied, fun, and funky. Great kitchen supply store. Classic old cluttered hardware store. Artisans, crafters, boutiques, souvenirs, ice cream, grills and taprooms. Walk a couple of blocks and you’ll find the Lookout Brewery for some nice craft beer on the patio. Marylu started making nesting sounds as we sipped our ales. We both agreed to bookmark this cute little town for another peek, next time around.
So, final thoughts on Asheville. I loved the culture, the quality and variety of eats and drinks, the beauty of the mountainside location, and the mild climate. Unfortunately, Downtown and the close in neighborhoods are so packed together that they could not put in wider streets and parking without tearing down a lot of historic old city, but I can’t imagine them doing that in the foreseeable future. If we were to consider living in the Asheville area, it would have to be in one of the outlying areas where there is more open space. When we come back, and we will, we will have to explore more of the area. Next stop: Chesapeake, VA