Downtown Asheville

If you're ready to take your first trip since the start of the pandemic, you might want to go for a domestic one. For my first getaway in nearly a year and a half, I chose a city that has recently garnered major buzz: Asheville, North Carolina. I’m happy to report back that it was the right choice. Here, I break down my getaway to “The Paris of the South."

Flying to Asheville

I flew on American Airlines from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA) to Asheville Regional Airport (AVL) with a stopover at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA). Everything went smoothly with no delays or cancellations, and everyone at the airports and on the aircraft was wearing masks.

COVID-19 Safety Precautions in Asheville

While no masks are required for walking around outdoors, masks are required for all indoor public spaces, as of date of publication.

Around town, you’ll see signs that have a cute bear with the saying "Be Kind. Be Patient. Be Our Guest. Please Bear With Us." to inform travelers that Asheville is doing the best that it can to protect visitors and locals alike.

The Omni Grove Park Inn / Photo courtesy of Explore Asheville

Where to Stay in Asheville

I stayed at the Omni Grove Park Inn, just a 10-minute drive from downtown Asheville. It's a great place for rest and relaxation after a long day of exploring. Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, this upscale inn is known for its historic past, famed guests, multiple restaurants, 43,000-square-foot subterranean spa, 6,055-yard, par-70 golf course, and more. Check out Sunset Terrace for an al fresco dining experience with mountain views.

I felt completely safe there, seeing guests and employees wearing masks. Omni Hotels & Resorts has implemented the Omni Safe & Clean initiative, using EPA-approved cleaning products that have a greater concentration of bacteria-killing ingredients throughout the resort where guest traffic is high.

What to Do in Asheville Right Now

With plenty to do, everyone in the family will find something to pique their interest. During these times, a lot of visitors favor outdoor activities. There’s a ton to see of the city, and going at it on an electric bike tour may be the best way to see a lot in a short amount of time. Tour Asheville with a local on Flying Bike Tours, which takes you all throughout downtown Asheville and brings you insider knowledge. I participated in their new River Arts District itinerary; it was fun to see the murals of the area on bike and ride along the French Broad River, among other sites. The company can also curate custom tours tailored to your interests. Bikes and helmets are sanitized between rides and mixed group tours are limited to parties of eight. Water activities more your style? Go tubing down the French Broad River, one of the oldest rivers in the world.

For culture and history enthusiasts, visit the YMI Cultural Center which features exhibits on local African-American history and African culture; connect with different cultures and communities at LEAF Global Arts, an interactive museum; browse numerous unique art galleries and studios in the River Arts District; and marvel at the historic and massive Biltmore Estate, built by George Vanderbilt.

Benn on Eagle / Photo courtesy of Johnny Autry

Where to Eat and Drink in Asheville Right Now

Asheville is recognized as having one of the most innovative culinary scenes in the country with 250-plus independent restaurants and 12 James Beard-nominated chefs, as well boasting a thriving craft beer community. With most restaurants and breweries offering outdoor seating, you can enjoy delicious food and drinks while feeling safe at the same time. All waitstaff wore masks, and tables were deeply cleaned and sanitized between patrons.

Located on Eagle Street in the historic Block neighborhood, Benne on Eagle honors and recognizes Eagle Street for being an integral part of the community’s rich African-American history. Here, you'll find modern soul food on the menu, headed by newly appointed Chef de Cuisine, Cleophus Hethington. Hethington grew up around the table and is excited to integrate new food techniques to tradition and to bring awareness to the African diaspora culture. Try the provisions board for a sharable app, ultra-tender braised short rib for the main and hummingbird cake for dessert – you won’t regret it.

If you’re looking for Indian cuisine, I’d be remiss not to mention Chai Pani from five-time James Beard nominated chef, Meherwan Irani. Highlighting India’s culinary diversity, tuck into some of the country’s most beloved street food while sipping on innovative cocktails. For an extra indulgent snack, check out the French Broad Chocolate Lounge for artisanal chocolate treats like truffles, bonbons, cake, cookies, and more.

If you love craft beer, you’ve come to the right place. With over 50 breweries in the area, you’ll definitely find a new favorite. Check out Burial Beer Co. in the South Slope area, Asheville’s only basement brewery in One World Brewing located in the heart of downtown, and The Wedge in the River Arts District, just to name a few.

Bottom line: I had a great trip in Asheville and felt completely safe eating, drinking, and exploring all that this eclectic city has to offer.

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