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Hip downtowns in the Carolinas


Asheville, North Carolina
Tucked into North Carolina’s Blue Ridge, Asheville is known for its art, its Appalachian roots and its spectacular mountain vistas. In its hip, edgy, bohemian downtown, locally owned shops, art galleries, craft breweries and eclectic restaurants surround Pax Square Park, a 6.5-acre green space. For more than 50 years, folks have been enjoying traditional string band music, clogging and storytelling in the park at Shindig on the Green on Saturday nights, July through Labor Day.

“To that, we’ve just added another free offering on Tuesday evenings: the Blue Ridge Mountain Opry Show,” said Dianna Pierce, assistant vice president of group sales and services for the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau (ACVB). “Groups can eat a traditional barbecue supper and stay for toe-tappin’ music from April through December.”

Filled with exquisite handmade crafts, the city’s 30 downtown galleries, some with open studios, share space with the Asheville Art Museum, which offers guided tours and hands-on art projects and speakers for groups.

Nearby, a new Mast General Store, with old-fashioned toys and candies, brings new life to a renovated 1940s landmark. With two-week notice of a group visit, Mast will provide a greeter to tell store history, give every member a coupon and treat the escort and driver to a free RC Cola and Moon Pie.

An Asheville icon, the splendid Biltmore Estate now offers experiential audio tours of the Vanderbilt mansion.

“Instead of the usual curator reciting facts, the tour has added music, children laughing and dogs to take listeners back into the 1800s,” said Dodie Stephens, senior communications manager for the ACVB.