Southern Soul Road Trip: Dance And Eat Your Heart Out Part 2: Asheville, Raleigh and Philadelphia

Southern Soul Road Trip: Dance And Eat Your Heart Out Part 2: Asheville, Raleigh and Philadelphia

Part II of the road trip went through North Carolina which has been my stomping grounds for the past four years as a graduate student.  Asheville is the perfect mountain getaway for fresh air, good beer and wacky people.  Tourists do not usually flock to Raleigh but there’s a lot of free, fun stuff if you know where to look (and thanks to me, you’ll get some good tips!).  This was our first stop in Philadelphia for years and we only had an afternoon to spend but it’s a fun, blue-collar, down-to-earth city, covered in colorful murals and mosaics, cobblestone streets and interesting neighborhoods.

Asheville, NC:

Nine Mile Restaurant: A vegetarian-friendly, Caribbean fusion restaurant and one of my favorite places to eat on the planet.  The restaurant is in more of a residential area of Asheville and has a low-key atmosphere with reggae music spreading the love. Stop by for lunch served from 11:30-5 for generous portions of gourmet pasta and rich dishes.  Two of my favorites (I’ve been to this restaurant three times) are Soon Come (fresh sliced bananas, apples, currents & grilled pineapples, sautéed with white wine, butter & pumpkin spice- tossed with cheese stuffed tri-colored tortellini and onions) and the Empress Menen Salad (apples, toasted almonds, chickpeas, smoked gouda and house tempeh with sesame garlic tahini dressing).

The Wedge Brewery, River Arts District, Asheville, NC

The Wedge Brewery, River Arts District, Asheville, NC

Bend and Brew yoga:  Beer and yoga?  You can find almost any activity paired with beer in Beer City USA, known as the “hoppiest place on earth” with the largest number of microbreweries per capita.  A traveling yoga teacher offers a 1-hour beginning yoga class followed by samples at a local brewery.  We participated in the Tuesday 5:30 PM class at Highlander Brewery.  Highlander is one of the biggest breweries in Asheville and its right next to Asheville Distilling Company where you can get a free tour and tasting, fridays and saturdays at 5 and 6 PM.  If you want to skip the yoga, definitely check out The Wedge brewery in the River Arts District.  The extensive lawn, lawn games and art galleries near by makes it one of my favorite places to hang out.  For even more suggestions on how to have fun with beer, check out #12 on the “unusual beer experiences in the USA” article I wrote for Epicure & Culture.

Asheville Drum Circle, North Carolina

Asheville Drum Circle, North Carolina

Pritchard Park: It’s a small park in the middle of downtown but it’s a magnet for Asheville’s famous weirdos.    You can find jugglers, free hugs and people adorned in leather assembles challenging you to chess matches.  It also hosts a friday drum circle from ~5-10 PM which is a great way to satisfy your inner tribal creature.
Moob Music Factory: Moog Music synthesizers and other electronic musical instruments are designed and lovingly handcrafted in the Moog factory in downtown Asheville, N.C and they open their factory and showroom to the public for tours and playtime.  I stopped by to play with these motion detector instruments, inspired by Soviet security alarms.  The staff is knowledgeable and fun and it’s all free.
• French Broad Chocolates: I’ve had friends that come to Asheville just to stock up on chocolates and baked goods from this factory.  Their Factory & Tasting Room is now offering 1.5 hour tours on Saturdays at 11am which take you through the entire process from cacao harvest and fermentation to chocolate bar, as well as backstage access to the facility, and an in depth tasting of our chocolate for  $10.00 (reservations recommended!).  Even if you can’t go on the official tour, you can visit the factory for daily self-guided tours from 2-5:30pm or just stop by to get a sugar rush of yumminess.

Art Loeb Trail section 3, North Carolina

Art Loeb Trail section 3, North Carolina

• Art Loeb Trail:  This 30.1 mile trail is one of the longest (but most popular) in North Carolina.  Many people backpack and spend 2-3 nights on the trail but we hiked section 3 as a day hike.  The most popular section of the trail has spectacular views of the valley, transverses several mountain balds and ends in the Shining Rock wilderness.   When we went in mid-October, the post-summer wild flowers made the hike especially memorable.  It’s an unmarked trail but we encountered plenty of people so the route was relatively obvious.

Stay in a teepee!

Stay in a teepee!

• Stay in a teepee (Eagle Rock Cove, Swannoanoa):  Slightly outside of Asheville, but if you’re looking for a cheap way for alternative mountain living, check AirBnB for unique housing accommodations including this tipi.  The owner, Everest, is undergoing a permaculture operation and he’ll be happy to tell you about his mushroom growing and show you his cute little bunny rabbits (which he eats).  I’ve written articles on USA glamping opportunities, where similar accommodations will cost you $150/night+ so this is a steal for $20/night.  The red blinking Christmas lights make it a hilarious place to spend a night with your brother!

Catawba Falls, Old Fort, NC

Catawba Falls, Old Fort, NC

Old Fort, NC:
Catawba Falls Hike : Our Airbnb host recommended we do this hiking trail and we loved it! There’s not much in the town but the trail is easily accessible off 40 and it leads to one of the Blue Ridge Mountain’s most spectacular waterfalls.  The main hike is about a mile, rather leisurely except for three required river fordings.  Hikers are dissuaded from climbing alongside the waterfall because of steep, rock faces but it’s a pretty fun climb.  Either way, the falls are beautiful and it’s the perfect way to split up the drive.

Winston-Salem, NC:  

• Cookies and Wine: Home of North Carolina’s famous Moravian Cookies (which make the perfect edible, carry-on friendly NC souvenir) and gateway to the Yaktin Valley wine region.  They have a cookie trail where you can explore the origins of this tasty, thin cookie.  I’d also recommend stopping at Twin City Hive coffee shop, where you can try a Moravian cookie truffle, pursue NC souvenirs and even pick up a Segway tour.

• Old Salem:  Travel back in time with this living, breathe historic village.  For an old-fashioned meal and the best sweet potato fries of your life, stop by The Tavern restaurant.  You can try the famous Moravian Chicken Pie, served to you by people in historic garb.

Raleigh, NC:
Blue Lotus Yoga: This studio offers free community meditation on Thursdays at 8:45 AM and free community yoga classes scattered throughout the week. It’s a great place to stretch your travel-weary bones.
Raleigh Times Bar and Restaurant:  An institution of North Carolina’s capital and “a timeless local watering hole”!  The Raleigh Times used to house the city newspaper and the establishment pays tribute to that era with newspaper images and newspaper-like menus that rotate regularly.  The food is tasty, the beer selection is extensive and its central location makes it a meeting point.  On the First Friday of the month, the art galleries in the city are open late and there are often music and circus performances right outside the bar.

Hobbit House at NC Art Museum, Raleigh, NC

Hobbit House at NC Art Museum, Raleigh, NC

State museums: Downtown hosts the North Carolina Museums of History and Natural Sciences, right across the street from each other. Both of these museums are free and have great exhibits about the state’s history and geography/wildlife, respectively. North Carolina also has a massive art museum where you can tour its main building and sculpture-walking park for free. On its grounds, make sure you check out the whirligig made by a North Carolina native and if you’re feeling adventurous, follow the paths into the woods to find one of my favorite structures: a little hobbit house with a pinhole camera in the ceiling.

Philadelphia Magic Gardens, Pennslyvannia

Philadelphia Magic Gardens, Pennslyvannia

Philadelphia, PA:
Magic Gardens: I love sparkly places so the Magic Gardens were made for me.  For ~$5, you can wander around the mosaic-covered hallways decorated with Latin American souvenirs, dolls, plates and bicycle wheels.  Started in the 1990s, Isaiah Zagar created a block and a half art gallery, and visionary sculpture garden perfect for photo shoots.  From April to May, on the fourth Friday of the month, they keep the gardens open late for Twilight in the Gardens where they host unique artistic experiences, live music and drinks.  Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for students and include a free drink.
South Street: From the Magic Gardens, you can immediately start your stroll down South Street (and in that part of town, you can find free parking!).  It’ll begin with a lot of smoke shops and hookah bars and get more busy as you move toward the waterfront.  Quirky shops, restaurants and bars to hop.  When you approach the intersection with 4th/5th street, look out for Jim’s Steaks, a Philadelphia institution since 1939.  Our Philadelphia hosts claim it was their favorite joint for the famous Philly sandwich.  My brother wasn’t a huge fan but I liked that they had a vegetarian option with grilled veggies and cheese.
Liberty Bell/Independence Hall: These National Park Service monuments are free of charge but may require waiting in a long line.
• World’s First Pizza Museum:  Grab a cheesy, melty slice of artisan pizza at Pizza Brain and pursue the world’s largest collection of pizza memorabilia.  Just when you think life can’t get more delicious, you’ll turn the corner and find Little Baby’s Ice Cream, which offers some of the craziest flavors I’ve ever seen, about half of which are vegan.  My adventurous friend fell in love with the Everything Bagel flavor which was soaked in actual bagels and further flavored with garlic powered, dried onion, onion powder, sesame seeds and poppy seeds.  Every third thursday, the two places throw a little party with free beer and a traveling barber who can be at your service for a shave.
Mac’s Tavern:  It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is actually filmed on a LA set but the owner of the show has a bar with its own Sunny-inspired brew.  It doesn’t look like the bar in the show but you can spot the characters in the decorations on the wall.  They usually have happy hour and Yuengling specials.

Hammocks and lights with the pop-up park in Philadelphia, PA

Hammocks and lights with the pop-up park in Philadelphia, PA

Spruce Street Pop-up Park: From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the city fills a park by the waterfront with hammocks, beach chairs and all forms of entertainment: a giant chess set, giant Jenga, badminton and all sorts of summer time fun!  And it’s free!

Song of the Moment: Wagon Wheel– Darius Rucker  “Headed down south to the land of the pines
I’m thumbin’ my way into North Caroline…”

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