Get to know the many sides of Asheville with this blog series, which examines Asheville through its unique, colorful, spirited, and incredibly distinct neighborhoods. Next, we’re living it up in West Asheville, which includes The River Arts District and Candler/Enka.
The River Arts District
Fittingly dubbed “the RAD,” Asheville’s River Arts District contains the city’s most creative sector. It’s a destination that grew out of necessity by artists, for artists. Located along the eastern banks of the French Broad River, 23 hundred-year-old warehouses hold galleries, restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and nearly 200 artist studios that welcome visitors, some also offering walk-in art classes!
In the early 1900s, those brick warehouses contained textile mills, a tannery curing facility, meatpacking warehouses, processing plants, and more. The railway that still traces the banks of the French Broad River (and still runs to this day!) helped establish the industry in this area. But after a terrible flood hit the area in 1916, the RAD never really bounced back. It wasn’t until an investor bought up the warehouses and began renting affordable space to artists that it started to build back up again—this time with an artistic frame of mind.
You’ll know it’s the RAD when you’re driving past, thanks partly to the spectacular graffiti across most warehouse walls. In 2016, a project called Foundation Walls was created, which allowed street artists the space to create wall art while complying with the city’s graffiti ordinance. It establishes one stunning display of our city’s talent.
And with the city’s 2021 completion of a city-led, decade-long improvement project, which includes a paved two-mile greenway, bike lanes, more sidewalks, parking, river access, and public art and signage, the River Arts District is even more accessible and thriving than ever.
Grab your comfy shoes for a day of walking the greenway and exploring the open-door galleries and studios, or hop on the free trolley service running throughout the area. Pick out a lovely lace-imprinted ceramic vase by Michael Hoffman at Hoffman Studios, or shop the modern block-printed pillows, table runners, and other textiles by Barbara Zaretsky at BZDesign. Don’t miss the contemporary works at the Mark Bettis Gallery or the brilliant paintings that come to life at St. Claire Art Studio & Gallery. The caliber and array of creative offerings will not disappoint!
When your stomach is grumbling, there are a few local joints scattered around in the River Arts District, including Ultra Coffeebar, which is excellent for breakfast or lunch; 12 Bones Smokehouse, which is a wildly popular BBQ spot (former president Barack Obama agrees!); White Duck Taco Shop, which draws a steady crowd for some incredibly creative tacos; and Rosabees, which specializes in Polynesian and Hawaiian specialties, desserts, and cocktails. For a more intimate dinner date, you can’t go wrong with Bull & Beggar, Vivian, or Smoky Park Supper Club (but remember, one person in your party must have a North Carolina license to dine here).
For some after-dinner drinks, there are a few breweries and bars in the area to check out. Bottle Riot is a beloved wine bar with a well-curated wine list; Wedge Brewing delivers on the beer front; plēb urban winery grows its own organic, natural, and minimal intervention craft wine; and the famous New Belgium Brewery is right down the street from the RAD.
The vast area west of the French Broad River encompasses numerous neighborhoods and is lovingly dubbed West Asheville. A vibrant corridor with excellent live music venues, hip dive bars, colorful brunch spots and bakeries, myriad restaurants and breweries, vintage clothing stores, and so many other eclectic independently-owned retailers, West Asheville maintains a bohemian small-town feel that draws locals and visitors alike.
Just beyond the main drag of Haywood Road, which starts in the River Arts District and curves two miles west, modern green-built homes can be seen next to 100-year-old bungalows. This historic part of West Asheville has undergone the most remarkable transformation of any residential area in the city over the past decade.
Start your flavor-filled exploration early, as this Asheville neighborhood offers some of the best, top-notch breakfast and brunch selections. From Sunny Point Cafe, which almost always has a line wrapped around the building, to Biscuit Head, which also almost always has a line wrapped around the building, you can find your breakfast fix here. And don’t miss the breakfast tacos from Taco Billy, the expertly crafted pastries from OWL Bakery, or the healthy bites from Simple Cafe & Juice Bar.
Take a shopping break at any of the neighborhood’s boutiques, like Flora, which is a flower shop and coffee shop; Provisions Mercantile, which is a modern-day general store selling locally-made wares and tons of great gifts; Harvest Records, which offers a killer collection of new and used vinyl and CDS; and Whist, which sells distinctive greeting cards and gifts.
West Asheville’s bar scene vastly differs from its other neighborhoods due to its love of dive bars, oddities, and late-night haunts. The Odd, for instance, is a no-frills neighborhood hangout that hosts live bands and drag shows in a quirky vintage space. Fleetwood’s is a vintage shop, music venue, and retro wedding chapel all rolled into one. The Double Crown gives you the feeling of a Halloween dive bar but has live music every night and a full bar serving high-quality cocktails alongside your standard dive bar shots and beers. Westville Pub is the oldest bar in West Asheville—since 2002—and now serves local craft beers on tap, plus brews from its in-house brewery, All Sevens Brewing.
If you’re more of a day drinker, you still have several options in West Asheville. The Whale is a craft beer collective that offers brews, wine, cider, mead, and sake from around the world, and Leo’s House of Thirst is a low-key wine bar that provides charcuterie boards, tartines, and other delicious light fare.
You won’t need to leave the neighborhood when it’s time for dinner, either. Nine Mile is a Caribbean-inspired, vegetarian-friendly restaurant and bar with three locations in Asheville; Thai Pearl is an authentic Thai food and oyster bar; Haywood Common serves eclectic, globally-inspired plates; The Admiral is perfect for a romantic steak dinner; and Jargon specializes in New American plates and creative desserts.
Although Candler is an unincorporated community in Buncombe County, it has grown into its own. West of Asheville, Candler settled as a mill town fed by the French Broad River and Hominy Creek and is known for its beautiful valleys and views of Mt. Pisgah. A growing community, Candler’s shops, restaurants, and accommodations are less plentiful than other neighborhoods in Asheville. Still, the area holds so much potential and promise for the future of our city.
When looking up in the sky, you might see a hot air balloon ascending—it’s one of the quirks of this small neighborhood, as Asheville Balloon Company has its brick-and-mortar location in the area. Still only a 20-minute commute to Asheville, many people choose to find their forever home in Candler due to its secluded areas and acreage while still being close to the city. You’ll come across several farms, wedding venues, parks, and more while passing through.
Try a bite at the few local restaurants the area offers, like Doc Brown’s BBQ, Sweet Southern Soul Food Truck, Miami Restaurant, and Griff’s Kitchen & Bar. A special hidden gem known by many throughout greater Asheville is Sand Hill Kitchen, located inside the gas station on Sardis Road. It serves up some of the tastiest sandwiches (don’t sleep on their fried chicken sandwich!) in Western North Carolina. And if you need a cup of joe, Dripolator and Earthling Coffee have you covered.
Even though it’s such a small, spread-out community, Candler still has a few tricks up its sleeve when it comes to breweries. Visitors will find Wicked Weed West, located off the beaten path, a taproom inside Wicked Weed’s production facility in Candler that serves Wicked Weed beer on draft and wine and cider by the glass. The location even has an incredible food truck to satiate your appetite while sipping a beer.
There’s an incredible list of reasons to explore the neighborhoods in West Asheville. Explore more things to do in West Asheville on our A Look at Asheville directory.