Long weekend in North Carolina: Charlotte, Cashiers, and Asheville

Disclosure: The Biltmore Estate provided me with complimentary media passes, but all opinions shared here are my own.

I recently turned the big 3-0 on July 5 and my only requests for a birthday trip were to celebrate anywhere but at home and to do a birthday hike. With that criteria in mind, Alex and I decided to do a weekend trip to North Carolina. Fortunately, Charlotte is one of only a handful of places that we can travel to on a direct flight so it was quite a quick and easy trip. As a bonus, we were able to visit some of our best friends at their beautiful mountain home in Cashiers, North Carolina where we checked off the birthday hike and spent some quality time with them and their sweet new baby. To cap off the trip, we spent a day and night in Asheville, where we have always wanted to visit. In Asheville, we visited the phenomenal Biltmore Estate and sampled several local beers. Once we arrived in Charlotte, we rented a car to drive to Cashiers, then Asheville, and back to Charlotte. It was about two hours between each city and most of the drives featured beautiful scenery.

To begin, Charlotte is quite a happening little town. For quite some time, I have felt drawn to Charlotte. I really enjoy the urban feel of the city contrasted against the proximity to the mountains. And despite its size, Charlotte still maintains the wonderful breed of Southern hospitality that I adore. We had a whole day to explore Charlotte, so when planning the trip, I used one of my favorite go-to guides, the New York Times’ 36 Hours in Charlotte. The short guide helped us to get our bearings in the various neighborhoods. We spent most of the day in the neighborhoods of Noda and Plaza Midwood, both artsy and eclectic areas with tons of character and history. Our first stop was Midwood Smokehouse, where we had a fantastic lunch of Carolina barbecue and local NoDa beers. From there, our friendly waitress gave us suggestions for several breweries and local shops.

We walked off our big meal with a stroll along the crepe myrtle-lined streets of the Plaza Midwood neighborhood, which features charming turn-of-the century craftsman homes, several antiques shops, and boutiques featuring locally made jewelry. I adored this neighborhood. Some highlights that capture the essence of the neighborhood were a take one leave one book stand, origami yard art, and a water and doggie treat stop in various front yards.

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Next, we drove for about 5 minutes to the 7th Street Public Market downtown. The market features several local and regional farmers and “food artisans,” as well as local coffee, beer, and handmade items. 7th Street Public Market is located on the ground floor of the Seventh Street Station parking deck and offers free parking for 90 minutes with a validated parking ticket. Unfortunately, we were too full from our barbecue lunch to enjoy most of the offerings (including pizza, cheese, sushi, crepes, and bread), but we shared a Front Porch Carolina churned ice cream, which began in Mooresville, North Carolina and is now sold at several retail locations across the state. Flavor to try: Charleston Sea Salt Caramel.

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7th Street Public Market
7th Street Public Market

Next up, we were ready for happy hour and stopped at the Birdsong and NoDa Brewing Companies. We loved Birdsong and shared two flights along with complimentary peanuts and chips while enjoying live music. What to try: Higher Ground IPA, Up on the Sun Saison, Jalapeno Pale Ale (if you’re brave!). NoDa Brewing Company was our next stop and was packed for the holiday weekend. The atmosphere was very fun and lively. What to try: Ramble on Red, Ghost Hop White IPA. If you are a fan of local beer, I highly recommend checking out both breweries, as well as Triple C.

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My final recommendation for Charlotte is to make time for dessert at Amelie’s Bakery. You can thank me later! A 24 hour French bakery, Amelie’s serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee, and of course desserts, all under eclectic decor. What to try: Salted Caramel Brownie, Chocolate Peanut Butter Petit Four.

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The next morning, we drove to Cashiers, North Carolina to celebrate Independence Day and my birthday with our friends, Kylie and Zach. Cashiers is the most charming little mountain town, filled with people on weekend getaways from Georgia and North Carolina. You could easily spend a week in the area as there are several hikes and restaurants nearby.

On our first day, we picked up takeout barbecue sandwiches from On the Side BBQ at the Cashiers Farmers Market. The sandwiches were excellent and the market is filled with fresh produce, gourmet food items, and homemade ice cream. As a bonus, some of the family that runs the market is from Florida so there are several Gators flags and memorabilia around the market. At On the Side BBQ, here’s what to try: Beef Brisket, Pork Cuban.

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Our first hike was a hidden gem and unfortunately, the name has escaped me (I will update if I can figure out the name or location). We had to park on a private road and it was an easy, but muddy out-and-back hike to the falls. The falls were beautiful and the trail was very unpopulated. I would recommend bringing snacks and even a bathing suit to take a swim at the falls before turning around.

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Alex and I at the falls
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Kylie and I at the falls

After relaxing and having a delicious 4th of July cookout, we drove to the Village Commons in “downtown” Cashiers for a fantastic fireworks show and live music. There were a few hundred people there with chairs and coolers. If you’re in the area, I would definitely check their event schedule as there are frequently events in the summer months, like free concerts for Groovin on the Green Fridays.

The next day, we hiked the Whiteside Mountain trail, a 2.5 mile loop that has moderate elevation gains and runs along the mountain cliffs. Fortunately, the clouds parted just in time for us to see the phenomenal views from the top. There are several places to stop and take in the views, with educational signs about the history and wildlife in the area. Parking is $2 per car.

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The hike was a bit misty at first!
The hike was a bit misty at first!

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Incredible views
Incredible views
30th birthday hike!
30th birthday hike!

For dinner, we all went out to The Orchard for an exceptional meal. The service was impeccable and we each loved our choices. The Orchard boasts an extensive menu of Southern/American cuisine, which changes seasonally, served in a 100-year-old farmhouse. I highly recommend dining on the patio if weather permits. It overlooks a beautiful orchard, lawn, and gardens. Unfortunately, I was enjoying my meal and the company so much that I forgot to take pictures, but I hope you’ll take my word for it that The Orchard is a must. What to try: Glenville Fried Trout, Continental Divide Trout, Menninger Lamb Chops.

We ended the night with beers and a U.S. Women’s soccer championship at Sapphire Mountain Brewing Company. If you’re in the area, our friends recommend the wood-fired pizza as well!

Celebrating my 30th with some of my favorite people!
Celebrating my 30th with some of my favorite people!

Our final day in North Carolina was spent in quirky Asheville, which I have (I believe quite aptly) dubbed “The Boulder of the East”. We started the day with breakfast at Tupelo Honey Cafe in downtown Asheville. I assume it is very popular because there was quite a wait on a Monday mid-morning! We had a fantastic and leisurely brunch while people watching. My favorite part of brunch was the complimentary homemade buttermilk biscuits with house blueberry preserves. If I was at home, I probably would have licked the bowl of preserves clean. Definitely say yes when you are offered the biscuits and jam! What to eat: Everything, but specifically the smoked jalapeno fried egg BLT.

After being sufficiently energized by brunch, we drove over to the famous Biltmore Estate for a visit. I have to admit, I was not at all prepared for the grandeur of the Biltmore. I knew it would be beautiful, but I had no idea just how expansive the home and grounds were. Once the private estate of George Vanderbilt, it is the closest thing I have ever seen in America to a royal home. With over 175,000 square feet and 250 rooms, it is the largest home in the US and is one of the few remaining examples of the Gilded Age in U.S. history. The home features a pool, bowling alley, billiards, nearly an entire floor devoted to the kitchen and servants quarters, and an elevator. It was built in 1895 and was opened to the public in 1930. Entry to the Biltmore will run you $60 each, but you will definitely want to spend the extra $10 for the audio guide. The audio guide has 40 “stops.” They say that the entire tour takes about 90 minutes on average, but it actually took us about 3 hours to get through the whole guide. It was very crowded on the day we visited so we had to wait to listen to the next “stop” at times. We also spent an additional 30-40 minutes walking around the gardens. Definitely allow a few hours to explore and see everything!

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If you have mobility issues, you may be limited as to how much of the house you can see because some areas are accessible only by stairs. As for the gardens, it is possible to park at the Gardeners Place for closer access to the gardens. The estate is enormous, but is well-marked and easy to get around. A shuttle is available to take you from the parking area to the Biltmore House. You could easily spend hours just exploring the grounds, which include the gardens, a waterfall near Bass Pond, and mountain views.

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Also included with the entry ticket is a stop at the Biltmore Winery. Although the wines were good, it was extremely busy and understaffed. It took almost an hour to taste just 5 wines. I would only recommend stopping at the winery if you have the time or if it is an off-day.

After several hours at the Biltmore, we were ready to rest our feet, so we drove to the beautiful Omni Grove Park Inn for a few cocktails on the Sunset Cocktail Terrace overlooking the mountains. The Grove Park Inn is fascinating to explore, even if you aren’t staying there. Photos line the hallways of the many notable Americans who have stayed there, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Edison. The Inn also features photos and information that give a great idea of what it would have been like to stay there at different times in history. What to try: Carolina Smoked Pork and Cheddar Fondue with house chips (again, I nearly licked the bowl clean!), Highland Brewing Company and Asheville Brewing Company local beers.

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We spent the rest of our final afternoon and evening in Asheville exploring the town. Some highlights include the Kress Emporium art shops, a retail center housed in a historic building that features hand crafted jewelry, clothing, furniture, and art. All pieces are from regional artists and craftsmen. I also particularly enjoyed the Grove Arcade, which features restaurants, crafts, and art housed in an early American public market that was opened in 1929 and renovated into the current Grove Arcade in 2002.

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Grove Arcade

We had dinner at Salsas in downtown Asheville. It looks like a hole in the wall, but features some of the best Mexican and Caribbean that I’ve ever enjoyed, which I think is quite impressive considering that I live in Florida. My only tip would be to come VERY hungry or share a meal. Portions are enormous! What to try: Guacamole, Slow Roasted Pork Pom Pom Pom.

To cap off our trip, we had sunset cocktails at Sky Bar, a unique bar overlooking panoramic vistas of the area. Entry to the bar is via an old-fashioned elevator, complete with an elevator attendant/bouncer. Sky Bar features cocktails, appetizers, and of course, craft beer, but the real highlight is the sunset mountain view. Definitely don’t miss this place!

Sky Bar entrance
Sky Bar entrance

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I’d love to return to this area very soon, so please let me know if you have been to the area and have other suggestions for a North Carolina trip! See you next week!

RECAP
Eat:
Midwood Smokehouse, 1401 Central Ave, Charlotte, NC 28205
7th Street Public Market, 224 E 7th St, Charlotte, NC 28202
Cashiers Farmers Market,  78 US-64, Cashiers, NC 28717
Orchard Restaurant, 905 Highway 107 South, Cashiers, NC 28717
Tupelo Honey, 12 College St, Asheville, NC 28801
Salsas, 6 Patton Ave, Asheville, NC 28801

Drink:
Birdsong Brewing Company, 1016 N Davidson St, Charlotte, NC 28205
NoDa Brewing Company, 2229 N Davidson St, Charlotte, NC 28205
Sapphire Mountain Brewing Company, 50 Slicers Avenue, Sapphire, NC 28774
The Omni Grove Park Inn, 290 Macon Ave, Asheville, NC 28804
Sky Bar, 18 Battery Park Ave, Asheville, NC 28801

Visit:
Biltmore Estate, 1 Lodge St, Asheville, NC 28803
Kress Emporium, 19 Patton Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
Grove Arcade, 1 Page Ave, Asheville, NC 28801

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