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Sierra Nevada Brewery |
Mills River, near Asheville, NC


Photo credit:

Napa Valley of Beer

What started as a home-brewing supply store in Chico and grew into a major craft brewery in California, has become a popular destination in the Asheville area. Their East Coast home base, if you please.  Sierra Nevada Brewery is everything big and bold about beer – with a strong dose of sustainability and more than a dash of family fun.

NPR has called Asheville the “Napa Valley of Beer” and this particular brewery is a major player.  Visitors from near and far named it the Disney World of breweries and with good reason.  Go there, but first, explore their website.  You will need to choose your tour – or tours – and go ahead and reserve several weeks early.  They’re that popular.  Here are a few of our favorites.  

The IPA Tour is for those ages 21+.  Visitors will learn about the process and why these folks do what they do best.  You’ll come away with beer knowledge that will impress your pals.

The Brewhouse Tour is free and available for those ages 12+. Reservations are required, but you’ll be so happy as you follow the process from hops to brews.  Those of legal age will enjoy a tasting at the end of the tour.
The Beer Geek Tour is three hours of everything you ever wanted to know about craft beer – its ingredients and history.  You can even sample beer from the tanks.  The 20-barrel pilot brewery tops off your tour.

WOW Factor: Asheville has one of the highest rates of craft brew consumption in the Southeast.  These folks take their brewskies quite seriously, from taste, to quality, to all that makes a world-famous beer, such as their flagship Pale Ale.  When you go, notice the details, including the old kettles and the pony keg bike racks.  It’s a pretty place, with great food to go along with their masterpieces. Plan to stay for a meal – the Taproom and Restaurant offers chef-driven farm-to-table delights (that pair beautifully with their beer, of course).

Hint: Try to go when there’s live music at the Amphitheater.  Don’t rush it.  Tour the beer garden and relax on the porch.  There are short tours and self-guided tours for busy, independent folks.  In the gift shop, check out the Tropical Torpedo flamingo koozie – a perfect gift for yourself and your friends who were foolish enough to stay home.

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Drumming Circle |
Asheville, NC


Photo credit: Drumming Circle, Asheville, NC |

Heartbeat of the City

For those who happen to walk by the rounded outdoor amphitheater of downtown’s Pritchard Park on a Friday evening, the assault on the senses can be incredible.  For almost 20 years, during spring, summer and fall, Friday nights in downtown Asheville have pulsed to the beat of hundreds of people pounding on their drums and dancing to the powerful rhythms.  

The Drum Circle is a free event and it’s all about creating harmony, both in the music being created and the people mingling together.  In 2001, there were 10 drummers who met outside and began to play their instruments.  The rest is
history – today’s event is tenfold larger and stronger than ever.

WOW Factor:  This is an adventure for folks who want to be where the action is.  People who love to smile at strangers and meet like-minded souls adore this ritual.  Originally a warm weather event, the Drum Circle now has an indoor home in the winter.  The New Mountain AVL keeps the beat alive when it’s cold outside.

Hint: The drumming begins between 5 and 6pm on Fridays, and continues until about 10pm, including a few short breaks. If you want to play but doubt your percussive ability, build your confidence by taking a course at Skinny Beats Drum Shop in the downtown area.  (No drum ownership required.)  Teacher Billy Zanski is amazing.  Local rhythm leader, River Guerguerian, hosts “World Percussion Classes” every week. And he’s also founded the Asheville Percussion Festival, which takes place each June/July.  As one Trip Advisor reviewer shared: It’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on – Asheville’s ultimate local vibe.

Folk Art Center |
near Asheville, NC


Photo credit: Folk Art Center

You’ll see items that are incredibly functional today, although their form and use were developed more than a hundred years ago. Others are “merely” beautiful. Most are very affordable. Many will speak to your soul.

Whether you plan a dedicated visit to the Folk Art Center along the Blue Ridge Parkway, or its presence surprises during a cruise along the road, make time to stop and enjoy the fruits of labor and creativity from members of the Southern Highland Craft Guild. Almost 1,000 strong, these artists showcase the finest in traditional and contemporary crafts from the Southern Appalachian Mountains. For sale in the gallery you’ll find sun catchers, bowls, vases, paper creations, wooden objects, etchings, jewelry, books, dolls, textiles, a children’s store and more.

Visit during the warmer months, and you may see live craft demonstrations – fascinating. (I once stood, spellbound, as a talented artist swirled color and pattern onto large sheets of paper. The results were breathtaking.)

Even the non-shoppers in your group will enjoy the hold-in-your-hand craftsmanship around every corner. And there are goodies for the children, as well – toys that teach as they entertain.

Chartered in 1939, the Southern Highland Craft Guild is a positive presence for education, preservation and distribution of fine crafts. It’s been said that handweaving was one of the first crafts destined to be bought and taken home by visitors. Crafts from the Cherokee were useful and lovely. Isolated mountain families created household items and objects that became distinctively “theirs.”

Schools such as the Penland School of Crafts and the John C. Campbell Folk School made their appearances in the 1920s. Roadside stands and individual labor gave way to organization and a growing collective consciousness that recognized and rewarded the craftspeople.

Today, the Robert W. Gray Library at the Center houses 20,000 volumes and craft-related materials, including a relatively new audiovisual area with 100+ craft-related videos.

Milepost 382, Blue Ridge Parkway

WOW Factor: So much talent, manifesting itself in a variety of ways. A seamless timeline that incorporates the past with modern sensibilities. A combination art gallery, store and workshop. Pieces that will “please the senses.”

Hint: Enjoy the surroundings and be inspired by the sometimes beautiful, often clever creations. Young children will become bored quickly; however, there are lovely grounds around the center. Because the Folk Art Center is on the Parkway, you cannot access it using GPS. Call 828.298.7928 for help.

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NC Center for Creative Retirement | Asheville, NC

Asheville NC - Retirement

Photo credit: Rebecca D'Angelo

If you’re within driving distance of Asheville, and you’re contemplating the next phase of this earthly adventure, consider the North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement (NCCCR). This award-winning, internationally acclaimed learning community is dedicated to lifelong learning, leadership, community service and research.

And those participating are getting younger every day (especially from this boomer’s perspective). Were you there in front of your family’s black and white TV when Elvis and/or the Beatles made their respective debuts to a bunch of screaming American teens? Wished you had the nerve to skip school and travel to Woodstock? Were passionate about all sorts of social issues? You’ll have lots in common with almost 50% of NCCCR’s members who participate in their programs and are under 64.

Are you a member of the “greatest” generation? There are 17% aged 75 and above who also participate. In between? You’re welcome there, as well, and you’ll have lots of company.

What will you do? Whatever tickles your fancy, from special interest groups such as bridge, backgammon, MAC users, poetry lovers and skeptical inquirers (15 groups and growing), concerts, astronomy, theatre, opportunities for volunteering, political discussions and so much more. Some programs are ongoing; others are special events.

WOW Factor: Their Paths to Creative Retirement Weekend. Join more than 500 people from around the U.S., Canada and England who’ve attended these weekends. You’ll come away with insights on how to spend the rest of your life. The possibilities are endless.

Hint: These weekends will fill up quickly, so go ahead and visit or contact Michelle Rogers at 828.250.3871.

LaZoom Tours | Asheville, NC


Asheville NC - LaZoom Tours

Photo credit: LaZoom Tours

OK, the purple bus is the first clue that this is not your grandmother’s town tour. It’s a bit quirky, for sure, but even locals rave about learning new tidbits about Asheville. LaZoom Tours has recently received Trip Advisor’s certificate of excellence, and garnered great reviews as well.

The tour guides are informed entertainers who showcase the considerable charms of Asheville, recently named, “Quirkiest City in America” by Travel + Leisure magazine. Jen and Jim Lauzon are the owners of LaZoom, and share their love for the city with every tour.

These adventures are interactive, with surprise guests along the way. Folks on the tour will learn a bit of history, a bit of culture, and enjoy a lot of laughter, with crazy comedy and more.

The city tour isn’t the only offering from this innovative group of entertainer/historians. In the evening, LaZoom offers a Haunted Comedy Bus Tour. Guides Helena Handbasket and Ghoulish Gary share local tales of scandals, deceit, murder and ghosts – plus a bit of bawdy humor. In November and December, LaZoom offers a special holiday tour, providing a seasonal spin through the city, welcoming visitors such as little Lonesome Pine Tree and a traveling Gingerbread Man. They have quite the cast of characters available and they’re not afraid to share them with lucky tour participants.

WOW Factor: Ever been on a tour that allows you to bring your own adult beverages? We haven’t, but must admit we’re intrigued at the prospect of hopping on the bus with a tiny cooler – reminiscent of time spent at a comedy theatre. There’s even a thoughtful rest stop – at a local brewery. Read the reviews. You’ll see the word “laughter” repeated a dozen times.

Hint: The staid and world-weary probably won’t enjoy the tour as much as others who can let their inner child out to play occasionally. Cost is reasonable ($19-$24, plus tax), and you must be 13 or older to ride. Take your camera and your sense of humor. Call 828.225.6932.

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Photo: LaZoom Tours

Asheville Food Tours | Asheville, NC


There are ways to learn about a town, and one of our favorites is a food tour. Asheville may be the quintessential foodie town, with so many dee-vine tasting options that you know you’ll have to return time and again just to cover all the chocolate shops, bakeries, bistros, markets and cafés. And then you’ll have to go back for more.

Asheville Food Tours is at the top of its game, attracting rave reviews from Yelp and Trip Advisor, as well as from some of my foodie friends who tried it – and loved it. What else would you expect from the home of the Foodtopian Society and one of the country’s strongest farm-to-table movements?

Choose between Downtown tours, Food Fan walking, Brunch and West Asheville. Better yet, take ‘em all, because there is no better way to survey the territory and make notes for must-come-back-here experiences.

When you visit “Paris of the South,” take a guided tour of this city’s culinary treasures, even as your guides, share tempting tidbits about history and the landmarks you see along the way.

WOW Factor: Every tour is slightly different, but odds are you’ll taste artisanal chocolate, just-baked delights, specialty foods and “handpicked” neighborhood restaurant offerings. What’s more, you’ll actually meet the creatives behind these independent enterprises. You’ll learn why they love Asheville and how they decide on their next palate-pleasing delight.

This stroll is limited, so the crowd never becomes overwhelming. Plus, you’re guaranteed to make a new friend or two, even as you pick your personal favorites worthy of a return visit – perhaps that very evening!

Hint: Wear comfortable shoes, an umbrella if the skies look threatening, and layer for the frequent in-and-out explorations. Substitutions are not possible, so consider any dietary restrictions before you go. Shopping is verboten along the way, but take your Discount Passport – available from the tour. Tours are available rain or shine, with minimums required during winter months.

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