22 February 2012

Destinations - Asheville: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.'s eastern home to-be

Photo by Del Holston, courtesy of ExploreAsheville.com

If you live in Chico, California as I do, or if you are a Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. enthusiast, then you almost certainly are aware that the brewery announced last month that it had selected a location to build a second brewery in the eastern part of the country.  The site is in Mills River, very close to Asheville in western North Carolina.  Sierra Nevada hopes to begin operating the brewery in early 2014.

Now don't get me wrong.  I like most of what Sierra Nevada brews.  (A look in my fridge proves that.)  But I don't have any clothing that sports the company's logo (de rigeur for many in Chico), and I know I wouldn't be interested in traveling 3000 miles to take in what I can visit only 1 mile from my house.

But as I started doing research for what was going to be mostly a "mechanical" travel post (how to get there, where to stay, etc.), I realized that the company picked a terrific location for its eastern U.S. brewery.

Though I'm not acquainted with anyone who works at the brewery, I know it is considered a great company to work for.  It makes sense that founder and president Ken Grossman, would select an area that reflects the company's values and provides a community similar to Chico.  Though most of the people hired at the new plant will be locals, I'll bet at least a handful of Chicoans will make the move - some permanently - to get the operation up and running.  Likewise I'm sure that Asheville will find the brewery an excellent match due to the company's emphasis on sustainability and promoting local businesses.

Courtesy of ExploreAsheville.com
So because of the brewery's selection of the Asheville area for its expansion, it put Asheville in my sights, and my research revealed an area I'd like to visit.  Still, I'll bet there are Sierra Nevada aficionados that will visit the area just to see the expansion brewery and be able to boast in the new Taproom restaurant that they're from the Chico mother ship.

I contacted Cat Kessler at the Asheville Convention & Visitor Bureau with some questions and she replied with lots of great information.  I won't have the space to share all of it, but you can find the answers to pretty much any question you may have at their outstanding website: exploreasheville.com.  If you can't find it there, call or email the CVB.

As someone who works in the travel industry, I would like to point out the excellence of this Asheville CVB website.  Its scope and depth are remarkable, but even better, there are real people behind the website ready to answer questions.

Rather than do the mechanical part of this post now, I'll lead off with some anecdotal details presented in no apparent order even to me.  A lot of this is thanks to Cat, but some is the result of research including the Wikipedia entry for Asheville and my own travel industry resources.  Following the anecdotal details you'll find the facts about getting to Asheville and the hotels.


Sierra Nevada will hardly be the first craft brewer to call the Asheville area home.  It will be # 12, though it will be by far the largest commercial brewery.  For more see this.


Being a California weather fussbudget who absolutely positively hates humidity, I was surprised to read that summer temps seldom exceed the mid-70s.  Winter is more rigorous but not severe.  Asheville's elevation is 2130' (650 m).


Asheville has a very active running club called the Asheville Track Club.  (Members even get a discount at one of the local breweries!)  A number of races take place throughout the year in and near Asheville, including a very tough winter event called the Mt. Mitchell Challenge (marathon and 40-miler way the heck up in the mountains)  A good size half-marathon takes place in mid-Septmber and is sponsored by the local newspaper.  Trail running appears to be a big deal here, too.  Go to MapMyRun.com and search for Asheville and you'll find more than 400 routes.  Looking at race calendars, it's clear that Asheville and the surrounding area is a lot like Chico: a great place for active people.


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North Carolina is the opposite of California.  The Golden State is long from top to bottom (north to south) but relatively narrow in width.  North Carolina is quite narrow from north to south, but wide from east to west.  Asheville lies in far western North Carolina, roughly equadistant from the borders with Tennessee and South Carolina, with the Georgia border being not much further away.  Charlotte, the state's largest city, is about a two hour drive east.  The Atlantic coast is well over 300 miles away.

Chico is a nice city, but attracts relatively few visitors.  Asheville on the contrary is a real destination: it is the eastern gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and lies near the southern end of the Blue Ridge ParkwayGeorge Vanderbilt, built the country's largest home here, the Biltmore House, which started a late 19th century parade of the wealthy and celebrated to Asheville.

Biltmore Estate - courtesy of ExploreAsheville.com
Because of its significance as a destination and larger regional population, it enjoys far more air service than Chico does, even though its distance from a major airport (Charlotte - US Airways' big hub) is only slightly further than Chico is from Sacramento. (More about getting to Asheville by air shortly.)

The city

Courtesy of ExploreAsheville.com
Like Chico, it is clear that Asheville has a thriving downtown, though with more of a skyline than Chico's.  The city suffered badly during the Great Depression, but the benefit it enjoyed as a result is a largely unchanged downtown that is a living museum of Art Deco architecture.

Interestingly, Chico and Asheville are very close in size of population at about 85,000 each, though the greater Asheville area has a much larger population.  Asheville is also home to a college, the UNC Asheville campus, with about 3700 students.

Asheville has an interesting history that dates back to the 1790s as far as European/American settlement goes.  One of its most famous native sons was the author Thomas Wolfe, whose novel "Look Homeward, Angel" was set in Asheville.

The politics

Chico is a light blue island in a crimson sea.  Asheville is more like a sapphire blue island.  According to Wikipedia, Obama got 70% of the vote here, though what the hinterland's politics are I can't venture a guess.  North Carolina has given us neanderthal ogres like Jesse Helms in the past, but I doubt he did well in Asheville's precincts.  I like to say that Austin is Berkeley-by-the-sage, well, Asheville I can declare with pleasure, is Berkeley-by-the-Smokies.

Getting to Asheville by air

Asheville is fortunate in having a well-served airport for being a relatively small city.  The airport is a 20 minute drive from downtown Asheville, and it so happens that the new brewery will be practically next door to the airport.

Regional jet service currently connects Asheville (AVL) with Houston (United), Chicago (United), Detroit (Delta), Newark (United), and Atlanta (Delta).  Regional jet or turboprop service connects Asheville with US Airways big hub in Charlotte.  Charlotte, of course, is far better served than Asheville, but a 2 hour drive follows to get to Asheville.  For those flying out of Chico, a double connection would be necessary: for example Chico-San Francisco-Charlotte-Asheville.  (Hint: headed to Europe from the west coast on US Airways?  Make a free stopover in Charlotte, then rent a car and head over to Asheville.  See this chapter in my "Airline Fare School" series.)

Greenville-Spartanburg (GSP), South Carolina, is a slightly closer alternative to Charlotte at about 90 minutes away.  Its air service is similar to Asheville's, however, with one major exception: it is served by Southwest Airlines.

Getting to Asheville by train

Asheville lost its passenger rail service even before Amtrak was created in 1971.  The nearest stations are either Greenville or Spartanburg, South Carolina at roughly 65 miles away served by Amtrak's Crescent from  New York, Washington, DC., Atlanta, or New Orleans.

From Greenville or Spartanburg you can rent a car to drive to Asheville.  Bus service is also available.  Future note: the North Carolina Department of Transportation has identified expansion of passenger rail service to Asheville as a goal though neither Thruway bus service nor actual rail service appears to be on the horizon now.

Hotels in Asheville

Asheville has an embarrassment of riches in hotels thanks to its destination status.  The two primary areas where hotels are located are the Biltmore Village area and downtown Asheville.

Grove Park Inn - courtesy of ExploreAsheville.com
There are five AAA 4-diamond hotels in the city including the Biltmore Village Inn (more of a B&B), the Inn on Biltmore Estate, the Hilton Asheville Biltmore Park, the Grand Bohemian (an independent hotel that is part of Marriott's Autograph Collection), and The Grove Park Inn.  Most other chains are represented here in the AAA 3- and 2-diamond categories, plus motels and scads of B&Bs. 

Winter is the slow season when deals abound.  July and October (for fall color) are the busiest months for visitors.

Bele Chere
Courtesy of ExploreAsheville.com
Cat told me that the biggest annual event is Bele Chere. It's the southeast's biggest street festival, and takes place this year 27-29 July.

She also told me that another significant event in the fall is Moogfest. The inventor of the moog synthesizer, Bob Moog, was from Asheville, and he is honored with a mostly electronic music festival in the autumn.

For a complete list of hotel and other accommodations, see exploreasheville.com.

For private home and apartment rentals, vrbo.com has an impressive selection for Asheville.

It probably won't be this year, but Asheville is definitely on my future travels map.  When I do, you can expect a few more posts out of it.  If you've been to Asheville or you plan to go, hit me with a few comments about your trip.


  1. Looks lovely! When are we going, with Becky as our guide?

  2. Enjoyed your article...I live near asheville and love it. The only correction I could make is concerning the weather. Up higher (4000 ft) the summer temps rarely get above 80, but down in the valley it averages in mid 80s in summer. But it cools off nicely at night...in fact tonight we may be flirting with the upper 40's. Usually one could expect upper 50's to lower 60's at night. Winter averages 45 during the day and 25 at night....but again is highly variable. Ive seen it as cold as 20 below with horrendous wind, to temps in the 70's in January. Snow is the same...ive seen 3 ft in one day to barely receiving any measurable snowfall last year.

  3. Thanks for the true weather experience of a local!

    Here in Chico we've had a remarkably mild summer so far, with the temps today around 80 (no humidity) with lows in the 50s.

    Though snow falls in the mountains that start at the eastern edge of Chico, it is virtually nonexistent here.

    I read Thomas Wolfe's "Look Homeward Angel" with its fictionalized Asheville ("Altamont") and it's clear that it was a favorite destination for southerners fleeing the heat and humidity of the lower elevations.