It is a foolhardy explorer who delves into America’s wild unknowns without a native guide. A local’s savvy can make the difference between an excellent getaway, and a glorified daytrip, and Asheville can be downright labyrinthine for the unprepared tourist.
There is a surface to the city; there are the billboards you see in the airport. They tell of regionally acclaimed restaurants that my fellow Ashevillians and I have never heard of and would never recommend.
Then there is the real Asheville. It’s Czech teahouses, and bohemian style. It’s the Blue Ridge mountains, and the French Broad, and whatever man can build between the two. It’s a haven for artists, and all they can say.
Sadly, I cannot guide you through these wonders in person—I am unlicensed, and I walk at an uncomfortable pace. As a consolation, I’d like to mention some of the best tour guides in Asheville—tour guides who are as authentic to the city as possible.
1: LaZoom Tours
LaZoom (French for “The Zoom”) is an icon of Asheville. If I am ever confused as to which city I’ve found myself in, I watch the buses. If I see bright purple and comically huge lips, I know I’m home.
Everything about LaZoom is outrageous, zany, and fun—they have the liveliest tour guides in Asheville—and it’s nothing like your average trolley-tour. Their flagship “City Comedy Tour” runs daily, and takes you through downtown, the River Arts District, and the vibrantly local Montford neighborhood.
LaZoom also offers a seasonal “Trueish Crimes,” tour, which professes to synthesize horror, comedy, and local history in such a way only possible through Asheville tours. Likewise, LaZoom runs a beer and music tour, and tours aimed at children. All in all, LaZoom hits just about every angle they can, offering sightseeing and laughs for anyone with the spirit to hop aboard their busses.
City Comedy Tour: 29$ per person, 7 days per week except in January and February. Tours start from noon to 5pm.
Truiesh Crimes: 26$ per person, tours run nightly, but only through October.
Band and Beer: 34$ per person. Tours run on Fridays (departs 5:45pm), and Saturdays (1:30pm and 5:45pm). These tours runs significantly longer than the others, totaling 3 hours, due to stops at local breweries.
Kids’ Comedy Tour: 17$ per person. Tours depart on Saturdays at 11am. Aimed at children ages 5-12.
2: The Amazing Pubcycle
Asheville is a city of beer. Asheville is a city of bicycles. Somewhere along the line, a modern-day alchemist had an excellent idea: what if we combined the two?
This of course resulted in the bicycle-flavored IPA, known for its rubbery and somewhat rust-like profile. That idea lost steam pretty quickly, but fortunately, the aforementioned alchemist’s successor had an even better idea: a bicycle powered by beer.
This notion was a hit, and today you can see Asheville’s Pubcycles careening about downtown with great aplomb, while the cycle’s drivers/tour guides relates local lore to their tourists/peddlers. Of all the tour guides in Asheville, I have to take my hat off to those who direct the Pubcycles.
It takes a lot of dexterity to pilot a 13-seater mechanical chimera through Asheville’s heart, all the while ensuring the safety and education of your charges.
If you want to drink some calories, burn those calories, learn about Asheville, and make pedestrians stop and stare as you zoom about in one of the most unlikely vehicles I have ever seen, The Amazing Pubcyle is for you.
Pub Tour: 25$ per person. Usually about three tours run each afternoon, each one taking one and half hours, with two 15 minute stops at local bars and breweries.
Nomad Tour: 15$ per person. This tour takes 40 minutes and does not stop. Both tours begin either at the Aloft Hotel, or the Urban Orchard Cider Company.
3: Asheville Art Studio Tours
Moving away from the wackiness of downtown, Asheville Art Studio Tours focuses on the city’s most refined and creative aspects.
Tour groups are kept small, at only 6 adults maximum, and they meet at Ultra Coffee Bar—a fine place to obtain fuel for the day.
You’ll be led by a guide much unlike other tour guides in Asheville—they’re a local artist. These tours take their time, wandering on foot through a series of working studios in the River Arts District.
Even if you’re not an artist, seeing each creator’s techniques and tools can be fascinating unto itself.
Likewise, crisscrossing RAD (as locals know the area) offers plenty of opportunities to admire urban murals, and repurposed architecture.
If you are an artist (or would like to be), you could instead opt for an “Experience Tour,” which trades some looking for some doing—be that pot-throwing, painting, etc.
Finally, if you are somewhat acquainted with Asheville’s art scene, you can customize your tour, and your guide will be happy to help in procuring any piece which catches your eye.
2 Hour Art Studio Tour: 39$ per adult. Tours usually run on Saturdays at 2pm, and require the purchase of at least two tickets.
Experience Tours: Prices, times, and duration vary with what craft you’d like to try.
Custom and VIP Tours: Tickets start at 42. Tours are private and run at 2 hours. Specific dates can be requested, and tour groups may exceed six people.
4: Asheville Adventures
All along I had thought “Asheville Adventure” was a term of my invention, but apparently someone beat me to it. It’s no wonder. “Asheville” and “adventures” alliterate, and few words describe the city better.
Unlike most Asheville tours, Asheville Adventures takes you outside of downtown, and into the Blue Ridge mountains—arguably the most vital part of the city. Whereas most tour guides in Asheville focus on the area’s human history, Asheville
Adventures takes you into the eternal: the sky, the stones, the trees. It’s a perfect way to acquaint yourself with Asheville’s hiking scene, or maybe even with hiking itself. Asheville Adventures can take you to mountaintops, waterfalls, or on a run—the latter of which both frightens and intrigues me. In any case, transportation and nutrition are provided.
Furthermore, Asheville Adventures is partnered with Wipe Every Tear in the fight against human trafficking.
Personally, I know of no other group which combines guidance through Asheville’s true wilds (where you really need it), with private tour groups, and devotion to a good cause. If you’re going to go to Asheville, you should hike the Blue Ridge. If you’re going to hike the Blue Ridge, you should do it with Asheville Adventures.
Full Day Waterfall or Mountaintop Tour: 105$ per person. Tours last from 9am to 4pm.
Half Day Waterfall or Mountaintop Tour: 80$ per person. Hikes take place from 9am to 12pm or 1pm to 4pm.
Mountaintop Running Tour: Tickets start at 40$. Times are flexible. Exercise is described as “strenuous.”
City Tour: Tickets start at 30$. Times are flexible. Coffee is provided.
76 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
The Amazing Pubcycle
51 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
Urban Orchard Cider Company—South Slope
24 Buxton Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
Asheville Art Studio Tours
Ultra Coffee Bar
242 Clingman Ave Extension, Asheville, NC 28801
256 Bent Creek Ranch Rd, Asheville, NC 28806