I want to start this off by admitting I’m originally from New England, so cut a Northern girl some slack.
When I moved here two years ago, I didn’t know much about the greater Charlotte area, let alone the Carolinas. Since then, I’ve been doing my best to experience as much of these two beautiful states as I can.
My goal is to one day become so Carolinian my parents don’t even recognize me at the dinner table. I’ll say, “Pass the biscuits and Cheerwine,” and my mom will faint into her bowl of clam chowder. It’s only a matter of time.
In the past two years, I’ve hiked Crowders Mountain; sat front row on Fury 325 at Carowinds (drooled from the force); people watched in Myrtle Beach; fell in passionate love with Bojangles’ chicken; spent the day in Greensboro, tried fried okra (loved it); seamlessly used “y’all” in a sentence; dazzled at the Christmas lights in McAdenville; and re-enacted scenes from “The Notebook” in Charleston. You know, all the typical things we do here in the Carolinas.
But there’s a lot I still haven’t done.
I haven’t toured the Biltmore Estate, cheered on the Carolina Panthers, rafted at the U.S. National Whitewater Center, seen a NASCAR race, boated on Lake Norman or eaten my way (completely) through the North Carolina BBQ Trail. I did go to the Outer Banks in high school, so we can actually cross that one off, too.
We can also cross off Asheville, which has been sitting near the top of my Carolina bucket list for a while. My boyfriend and I recently spent the day there and hit several must-see spots, starting with the famous Grove Park Inn on Macon Avenue.
If you didn’t know, the Grove Park Inn is named after Edwin Wiley Grove, who was a big name in the pharmaceutical industry in the late 1800s. He owned a lot of land on Sunset Mountain in Asheville and opened the hotel there with the help of his son-in-law, Fred Seeley, on July 12, 1913.
More than a century later, Grove Park Inn is still as beautiful as ever. The property boasts an 18-hole golf course designed by Donald Ross (he designed Pinehurst), six tennis courts, indoor and outdoor pools, a 43,000-square-foot spa, a sports complex, walking trail and restaurant called Blue Ridge.
The back patio on the other side of the lobby is great for photos of the grounds with the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Tons of famous people have stayed at the Grove Park Inn over the years, including Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Helen Keller, Michael Jordan, Macaulay Culkin, Jerry Seinfeld, Harry Houdini, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Barack Obama and Billy Graham. There are rumors the hotel is haunted, but we didn’t see anything paranormal while we were there.
I was getting ‘hangry,’ so we headed into downtown for brunch at Over Easy Café on Broadway Street. It was listed online as one of the top breakfast places in Asheville, and they weren’t wrong. I got some sort of summer omelet with chorizo and jalapeños, a biscuit and cup of fruit, while my boyfriend got breakfast tacos with bacon. Ten out of 10 would recommend to a friend.
Asheville has a lot of neat shops and boutiques, and we spent much of the afternoon just popping in and out of them. I got some local spice rubs for grilling chicken and fish, and talked my boyfriend out of a questionable pair of sunglasses, so all in all, it was a good time.
The Asheville Yoga Festival was going on downtown, too. I’ve never really been into yoga, so I just gawked at their flexibility and cute leggings. It also made me feel out of shape after eating that big brunch, but then I remembered we would be hiking later. Maybe I deserved some gelato from Asheville Chocolate. After all, life is about balance … get it?
We left downtown and drove along the Blue Ridge Parkway in search of a good spot to hike. The windy roads snaked around the mountains in the most graceful way, and there were breathtaking views around every bend. I felt like I was in a car commercial. My 2010 Mazda was a 2020 Mazda fresh off the factory line.
If you don’t like hiking, just drive on the parkway and stop at the scenic overlooks peppered along the way. You won’t regret it. But also, you should probably get out of the car and enjoy nature. The crisp mountain air is good for you.
We stopped at a visitor’s center and the park ranger recommended Craggy Gardens, which is north on the parkway and a decent hike if you just have an hour or two. There are a bunch of trails there, but my favorite was the Craggy Pinnacle Trail. It’s only 0.7 miles to the top of the 5,892-foot summit, where there’s panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We got some amazing photos and even saw a rainbow coming out of a lake down below. Could this trip get any more perfect?
On the way back to Asheville, heading south on the parkway, we saw a bear. He was just walking along the side of the road, minding his business and totally unaware he was the icing on top of our North Carolina mountain cake. He wasn’t big enough to be scary, or small enough to cuddle. Probably an angsty teen on a journey to find himself and focus on his art. Either way, I loved him.
We ended the day with dinner at Wasabi Japanese Restaurant on Broadway Street. I got a spicy salmon sushi roll, miso soup and fried shrimp. My boyfriend got chicken and shrimp hibachi.
It was the perfect ending to a perfect day in the mountains. Would I go back? Sure. But there’s still a lot to do on my bucket list that’s right here at home. I’m hoping I can cross off a few more before the year is over, but please don’t kick me back to Connecticut if I don’t do it all.
Like I said, cut a Northern girl some slack.