I’ve recently taken to examining Asheville’s exuberant downtown. The on-ground-research has been a joy, let me tell you. No-one's offered me free samples as of yet, but I figure it's only a matter of time before my journalistic reputation proceeds me.
Regardless, it occurred to me that while I cover downtown Asheville, I often throw around such terms as “Patton Avenue,” and “Pack Square,” as if these names were familiar to the uninitiated. Of course, why would they be? It took me—a local—twenty full years (three of which I spent trapped in a parking garage) to become familiar with downtown Asheville’s nooks, crannies, twists and turns.
While it may be simple given modern technology to locate “Patton Avenue” via one's phone, I propose that there is a certain gravitas to being able to navigate a city sans satellite data. Indeed the navigational secrets I am about to divulge shall impress your travelling companions so thoroughly that they shall come to depend on you in all things. If that doesn’t pan out, at least it’ll help you keep your eyes on downtown Asheville’s vibrant streets, instead of on Google Maps.
1: Pack Square
As I cannot tell which direction you will approach downtown Asheville from, I choose to start at the center. Pack Square lies at the intersection of College Street (running east-west) and Biltmore Avenue (running north-south), making it an excellent orientation-point no matter where you’re headed. That said, Pack Square is a destination unto itself, hosting such sites as the Museum of Art, French Broad Chocolate Lounge, colorful buskers, and a bevy of delectable restaurants, from ramen to Americana-chic.
A couple blocks north you’ll find Old Europe Pastries, a personal favorite of mine, and well-worth a detour. Walk east to find Pack Square Park, at the foot of City Hall and the Buncombe County Courthouse. Both are prime examples of Asheville’s art-deco architecture.
Parking: I usually claim a spot at the Pack Square Parking Garage. It may not be the most economical option, but it seldom ever fills and is the most convenient choice for a pedestrian in the area.
2: Patton Avenue
Running west from Pack Square, Patton Avenue frequently shows up in my articles on account of its numerous worthy restaurants. I dare say there’s something for every palette: Mediterranean at Jerusalem Garden Mediterranean, Red Ginger Dimsum, Blue Dream Curry House, Sonora Cocina Mexicana, the list goes on. The recently opened S&W Foodhall captures Patton's culinarian character in a single building, chock-full of gourmet vendors and people-watching.
If you walk down Patton from Pack Square, you’ll pass by Horse and Hero, one of my favorite galleries, as well as Breakout Games escape room, which I addressed in my very first blogpost. You could say Patton Avenue holds a special nostalgia for me. If you visit, I reckon you’ll be able to say the same.
Parking: Parking spots are in short supply on this street, so I suggest referring back to the Pack Square Parking Garage, or forwards to the Grove Arcade, at the bottom of the next entry.
3: Wall Street and The Grove Arcade
Roughly two blocks north of Patton, on Battery Park Avenue, lies the Grove Arcade, downtown Asheville’s premier indoor shopping center. The retailers here cover just about everything,
making it an excellent alternative to outdoor shopping when the weather turns sour. I’d like to make a special shoutout to the Battery Park Book Exchange. Their winding shelves and plush reading alcoves seethe with style. Also, it’s a champagne bar and a café, making it the only place in downtown Asheville in which you can obtain all three of life’s necessities.
If you exit south from the Grove Arcade, cross the street, and venture down an unassuming set of steps you’ll find yourself on placid Wall Street, tucked away parallel to Patton. I find a stroll down Wall Street inevitably soothes the spirit. It's relatively un-trafficked, well-shaded, and hosts plenty of local shops.
Parking: The Grove Arcade is ringed with parking spots all the way around. I’d put my confidence level of finding a free spot here at medium. It sometimes fills up, usually on the weekends.
4: South Slope Brewing District
The South Slope is somewhat of an oddball, in terms of navigating downtown Asheville. It denotes a broad stretch of the city, spanning from Southside Avenue in the south, to Biltmore in the west and Patton to the north. Locales of interest lie further apart from each other than the rest of downtown Asheville. As a result, I find the South Slope does not lend itself to pedestrians.
All that said, the South Slope is home to the local breweries which make Asheville famous throughout the southeast. Burial Beer, Green Man, and Wicked Weed’s Funkatorium, just to name a few. If you’re not in the mood for a brew, I recommend observing the glassblowers at Lexington Glassworks or catching some live music at the Orange Peel.
Parking: As the South Slope’s attractions lie scattered across the district, I can’t suggest a silver-bullet parking solution. Good luck, traveler.
5: North Lexington
Branching off of College Street, a short walk west of Pack Square, North Lexington offers the finest selection of boutiques for those interested in acquiring some authentic Ashevillean apparel. Other shops include Cornerstone Minerals and Gaea Gifts, vending groovy keepsakes small enough for your suitcase.
On the north half of North Lexington, just about where downtown Asheville gives away to its outskirts, you’ll find Dobra Tea, a regular hang-out of mine. I take all of my out-of-town friends here, and they all agree few places rival Dobra's serene interior and outstanding beverages, packed into a menu thick enough to serve as a cinderblock. If you’re looking for places to visit in downtown Asheville, I’d put Dobra a the top of your list.
Parking: Still north of Dobra lies McLaurin parking, my favorite parking lot in all of downtown Asheville. I didn’t ever think I’d come to feel one way or another about a mere parking lot, but here we are. I’ve never seen it full, and that’s all you can ask for.