Top 10 Asheville Cheap Thrills

This list isn’t meant to be a suggestion of how to spend your limited vacation time. But it does give you an idea of how local folks have fun off the beaten path without spending a lot.

  1.  A soak in the woods at Hot Spring Spa. A gurgling brook, a Jacuzzi full of hot mineral-rich water, your sweetie and a whole lot of privacy under the stars are the attraction here. And it barely costs more than a lap past the McDonald’s drive-thru.
  2. Gourmet pizza and some of the finest microbrew on the planet would be reason enough to visit Asheville Pizza and Brewing Co., one of more than 20 micobreweries in the Asheville area. But they also show recently released (but not quite first-run) movies for $5. What a deal.
  3. Picnic on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The 1.5 mile hike to the top of Craggy Gardens and back is just long enough to work up an appetite for lunch at one of the most beautiful, sunny and pleasantly breezy picnic areas around. If you make the hike around Labor Day, bring a bag for wild blueberries.
  4. Become a flower child. Admission to the N.C. Botanical Gardens at UNC-Asheville is free but priceless. The collections of wildflowers and enchanting paths are pleasant for even the most botanically challenged.
  5. The Urban Trail. What a fun and educational way to make your acquaintance with Asheville. And each stop along the self-guided walk is marked with a whimsical sculpture guaranteed to make you smile.
  6. DuPont State Forest. North Carolina’s newest state forest, snatched from a developer by a conservancy group and turned over to the state. What were intended to be roads are now trails for hikers, horses and wheelchairs, making it one of the most comfortable and accessible hiking areas. And with good reason: There are several spectacular waterfalls within a short hike. Look for backdrops from the movie “Hunger Games.”
  7. Weaverville Art Safari. OK, so it only happens twice a year. But this self-guided studio tour is a great opportunity to pick up bargain artwork while getting a peek at how creative mountain dwellers live. Last weekend of April and last weekend of October.
  8. Farmers Market. One of the only retail places open on Sunday morning, it’s also a fun source of plenty more than ‘taters and ‘maters. Pick up some canned jams, whirlygigs and gee-haw whimmydiddles, Amish cheese and sourwood honey. Sears doesn’t sell this stuff.
  9. A trip to the mall. Except this time it’s the Grove Arcade, the first shopping mall in the Eastern United States, which spent the past several decades as a drab government office building. It has been restored to its ’20s glory with marble, brass, leaded glass and reconditioned Art Deco details, and hosts dozens of charming little shops.
  10. Folk Art Center. Another rare shop open on Sunday morning, is on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s the retail outlet for the Southern Highland Craft Guild, some of the most talented craftspeople in America. Often you can watch demonstrations on chair caning, spinning wool, making brooms or any of dozens of other skills and crafts of Southern Appalachia.
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