It’s no secret that Asheville is an artistic Mecca. This vibrant community boasts some of Appalachia’s most inspiring and influential creatives. Their work can be seen throughout the city, where murals and sculptures abound. Even local restaurants and breweries often feel like museums. Still, certain destinations go above and beyond,
Chief among these? Asheville’s famed River Arts District (RAD). Home to the city’s finest studios and galleries, this unique enclave provides endless insight and entertainment. You could dedicate several days exclusively to this neighborhood and still yearn for more time to wander and take it all in. If you’re only able to spend a few hours in this must-visit district, you can still get a true sense of the unique atmosphere that sets it apart.
Make the most of your River Arts adventure by focusing on these key destinations:
1. Asheville Silo
The River Arts District boasts many Instagrammable spots, but none are quite as evocative as this iconic silo. Painted by the beloved Ian Wilkinson, this towering structure is always emblazoned with a thought-provoking slogan. These change from time to time, so you’ll want to stop by the silo whenever you find yourself in Asheville.
It seems simple, but this attraction could potentially occupy over an hour of your time if you find yourself as entranced as most visitors. Build in plenty of time to pose for photos or simply gaze in awe at this landmark. It’s the perfect start or end to a great day in the River Arts District.
Self-described as a “design-centric marketplace,” Marquee offers easy access to the region’s finest vendors. Antiques and vintage pieces dominate, but this isn’t just any antique mall: it’s chock full of curated selections that even the most discerning shoppers will find compelling.
Nostalgic and dramatic, this location has upscale, yet accessible vibes that exemplify both the atmosphere of Asheville and that of a European street market. The venue refers to its vendors as its cast, with both local celebrities and hidden gems represented.
3. Wedge Studios
Perched atop the amazing Wedge Brewery, this creative collective boasts a full three floors of talent. Painters, cartoonists, sculptors…you’ll find it all at the Wedge Studios. This is a go-to for any River Arts journey, and for good reason: it’s where Asheville’s finest artists gather to revel in the delight of creative expression.
Of course, your visit won’t be complete without stopping by the brewery. The previous owner John Payne left his mark here, and his love of artistic creation lives on today in both the brewery and its studios.
4. North Carolina Glass Center
After you’ve observed North Carolina’s most gorgeous creations, you might be inspired to express yourself through a new art form. You’ll have that opportunity at the North Carolina Glass Center, which offers lessons to Asheville residents and visitors. Meant to inspire curiosity and collaboration, this educational marvel schedules affordable classes for novices and experts alike. Here, glass provides the ultimate form of self-expression, not to mention a powerful means of connection.
No matter when you stop by or whether you’ve planned your visit in advance, you should be able to check out the glass center. Exhibitions are available on a daily basis, so you’ll come to appreciate this medium even if you choose not to participate. If you have time, however, you cannot miss the center’s remarkable classes and workshops. You can learn all about glassblowing and even create a keepsake, such as glass beads, pendants, or even icicles.
5. CURVE Studios
Consisting of three buildings surrounded by lovely gardens, CURVE Studios houses a variety of working artists, who are happy to share their expertise with the many enthusiasts who drop in to visit. Ceramic sculptures, jewelry, and photography are in abundant supply, although you’ll also find fiber arts and even a chair caning museum. Wander through the studios at your leisure and don’t hesitate to take your time as you explore the tranquil outdoor space.
6. Cotton Mill Studios
Blending a historic environment with modern artistic concepts, Asheville’s Cotton Mill Studios is housed in one of the city’s oldest structures. When it was a mill, this space employed 300 workers and produced a wealth of flannel and denim.
After much of the building was destroyed in a 1955 fire, a significant section was preserved, and ultimately, transformed into an artistic haven. The Guitar Bar is one of the structure’s most popular attractions, offering an intimate atmosphere and proving that, in Asheville, music is just as important as visual art.
7. Wilma Dykeman Greenway
Stretch your legs and take in Asheville’s natural scenery as you enjoy a leisurely stroll along the Wilma Dykeman Greenway. Adjacent to the gorgeous French Broad River, this bustling path attracts not only River Arts tourists, but also, local cyclists, joggers, and other active types. The path takes you near local landmarks, such as the RAD Farmer’s Market while also exposing you to the best of Asheville’s natural scenery. It’s named after an Asheville legend who famously chronicled the lives of Appalachia’s finest residents.
8. 12 Bones Smokehouse
Whether you’ve spent the day glassblowing, browsing galleries, or wandering along the French Broad River, you’ll surely have worked up an appetite. While there are many excellent restaurants in and near the River Arts District, nothing compares to the beloved 12 Bones Smokehouse. Everything on the 12 Bones menu is made from scratch — and it shows. From mouthwatering meats to exceptional sides, everything you order is bound to please.
If you stop by on a whim, beware: this local favorite is nearly always busy. In most cases, however, you won’t have to wait long. Your smoked turkey, ribs, corn pudding, or other treats will be brought to you. This isn’t exactly a leisurely experience, although you’re welcome to relax with a beer. Of course, you can also try fancier options such as The Bull and Beggar. No matter what you’re craving, you should have no trouble finding a dining establishment you adore.
The River Arts District is an Asheville must. Whether you carefully plan a day chock full of artistic adventures or simply wander through this famed neighborhood, you’ll thank yourself for exploring the artistic community that has put Asheville on the map.