Tips for Visiting the Biltmore Estate

Even though Ashevile is Beer City, U.S.A. and a great base for exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains, it’s the Biltmore Estate that’s the biggest attraction to the area. It’s the largest privately-owned estate in America and covers a bit under 11-square miles of real estate.

While you can stay in the high-end hotel, eat at the winery, see a concert and shop, a half-day or full is plenty to explore the house, the gardens and the grounds. Here are a few pointers to plan your visit and make the most of your experience.

Buy your tickets ahead of time and print them out
Like any major attraction, you can buy online to take advance of some coupon codes. In this case, it makes a huge difference. If you drive up without a ticket, you’ll be directed towards the ticket office, park, get out to take get your tickets and yadda yadda yadda.

Be prepared — it’s not, cheap on- and off-season ($40-$75). It’s not a national park so they can charge whatever they want. Your paying for a lot more than the operation of the house, it’s 11 squares miles of forest.

If you have the tickets on your phone, they might have difficulty scanning. The person in front of me had to hand their phone and the dude was struggling with his ticket scanner thingamagig. I printed mine out and there was no problem.

There’s no best time to go, but noon to 5pm won’t be as crowded
On a Wednesday morning in July, it was a tolerable level of crowded. The weekends during the summer tends to be a nutty while off-season is perfectly fine.

As for the time of day, most people and tour groups arrive in the first hours (9-11am) and spend the rest of the day.

Four and half hours is plenty of time to see the house, follow with the audio guide and explore the gardens and surrounding grounds
The audio guide is worth the extra cost. It gives a good overview of the design, how each room functioned and some biographical information about the Vanderbilts. It also allows you soak in the grandeur and history of the space while not feeling rushed.

Dress light and don’t carry a lot
You know my stance on tourists and backpacks — they are stupid. The house is not air conditioned. Even though there are plenty of blowers around that brings down the temperature, you’ll spend a good chunk of time walking outside.

Skip the gift shops and restaurants, but get ice cream
Asheville has some major good eats, so don’t waste a meal at a place geared toward tourists. If you’re feeling a bit peckish, the ice cream shop is perfectly serviceable. It will tide you over for a late lunch or mid-afternoon snack.

The gift shops all sell crap and cheap crap. You don’t need anything there.

Spend time walking the gardens and up the hill that looks over the estate
It’s a nice view and a great place to sit on the grass and rest a bit.

I’m not much of a gardens and flowers guy, but I was mightily impressed with the grounds. The greenhouses, the small fountains and the manicured beds makes for great pictures. You can even buy a beer and enjoy it among some fine greenery. Here’s a taste…

Take the long way out
Basically, a shuttle takes you to and from the central parking lot. They give you two options when you are ready to leave. You make a left and you take the express exit out. Make a right and you’ll able to drive pass the house and gardens and then through the rest of the grounds. While the drive through the house gates and gardens are a tight squeeze and you’ll need to drive 5mph to not hit any families, it’s worth it.

You’ll get to drive through winding roads through some great scenery. I didn’t pull over to take pictures of the lakes and fields, but I saw some who did. You’ll eventually get to the winery. I didn’t visit it.

It takes about 25-30 minutes to drive out if you take the long way, but it makes a nice end to a truly grand estate.

You Can See The Sunshine Over the Blue Ridge Mountains at Highland Brewing Co.

There’s no shortage of great places to soak in the setting summer sun in Western North Carolina and the greater Asheville area. Add on top of that some of the many craft beer venue options and you have some good living.

Highland Brewing is one of the largest local breweries in Asheville. It’s on the outskirts of town, up slightly on a hill. You’ll need a car to get to the facility.

In the facility is a distillery and full concert venue where bands plan, not dopey local bands playing Van Morrison covers. The Orange Peel takes care of the 2,000 capacity version called The Meadow. Phantogram was playing the weekend I was there.

If you just want to chillax, you can do on the rooftop beer garden on the roof brewery. You can watch the sunset over a sea of solar panels.

On the ground floor is large indoor area with the largest ceiling fan I’ve ever seen. It’s like a turbine up there. There’s not much in terms of food options so you can consider it more of a pregaming type of situation.

Started in 1994, it’s one of Asheville’s original craft breweries. Founded by Oscar Wong (one the few Asian-American brewery owners in the U.S.) and run by his daughter Leah Wong Ashburn, it’s a Scottish-theme brewery with a bagpiper as their mascot. Their beers you’ll find anywhere in North Carolina, even at places that are not considered “craft”. I actually had my first taste (the Pilsner) at the Biltmore Estate.

In the taproom, you explore the whole line of goodness. They keep the beer straight-forward and traditional. Here’s what I had:

  • Black Mocha Stout
  • Oatmeal Porter
  • Gaelic Red Ale
  • Mandarina IPA
  • Karate Kat Wheat Ale
  • St. Terese’s Pale Ale

 

No Need to Get a Wedgie at Wedge Brewing in Asheville

Wedge Brewing is so popular in Asheville that it deserves two locations in town. The easiest and most convenient is the one attached to 12 Bones in the River Art District. You’ll need some suds to compliment your BBQ afterglow.

The other location, which doubles as an artists studio, is a 15-minute walk away. I guess it’s more vegan friendly.

In any case, both locations brew and pour their beers right there, so that equals freshness. With 16 taps at the River Art location, you’ll find something to your liking.

Here’s what I had:

  • Nitro Snug Irish Strut
  • Rye Porter
  • Iron Rail IPA (their flagship and available in cans)
  • Golem Belgium Strong Ale

King Daddy’s Chicken & Waffle in Asheville is a Beautiful Thing

Chicken and waffles is always a good idea. It’s works on many levels. It’s a big breakfast concept for people who had a bender the night before. It’s southern food that harnesses the power of fried food. It’s soul food to satisfy the masses whether you’re at Sylvia’s in Harlem or Roscoe’s in Los Angeles. Then, if you are among the Amish, you can have a gravy-like Chicken and Waffles.

In Asheville, King Daddy’s Chicken & Waffle takes a more retro 60s diner comfort approach with modern ideas of humanely raised chicken, gluten-free options and craft cocktails. If you hate these terms then shut-up, it’s damn good food.

What I liked was that I didn’t have to order a whole damn fried chicken because I didn’t want to send myself to an early grave with the fried food. You see, just getting a waffle and breast was perfect for me. As always, the side healthy beets counteracts any naughtiness of the fried bird and maple syrup.

Located in West Asheville, it’s not too far from the center of the town and the brewery area, it’s a good base to start a night of hoping from brewery to brewery.

Boozy Donuts Are A Dream Come True at Denver’s Habit Doughnut Dispensary

Alcohol-infused doughnuts are not a new creation. Miami’s Salty Donuts has them. I’ve had a few at Blue Star in Portland, OR.

If google you “alcohol-infused doughnuts,” the result that comes up first is Habit Doughnut Dispensary in Denver. Riffing of the marijuana dispensary-theme because its legal in Colorado, this bakery dispenses sugary goodness. It’s perfect after you get the munchies from a pot dispensary.

The booze is optional and comes in two forms, in a little plastic injector that you can infuse into the doughnut yourself like a spike in a vein or as a shot on the side to use as a chaser. When you break it down, there’s no classy way to do it. Both make you look like an alcoholic.

You have your choice of  whiskey, Bailey’s, vodka, rum, gin and whatever they have at hand. I went with the rum with beignet-style donut (The Plain Jane) and a Yuzu-glaze with some crunchy stuff on it.

If eating doughnuts in a health and fitness conscious city like Denver is bad, then add booze on top of pushes it over the edge. I have no regrets.

Feast on BBQ Like the Obamas Did at 12 Bones in Asheville

The barbecue nap is a necessary thing after devouring the best a city or state has to offer. You got your ribs, your brisket, your cornbread, your mac and cheese and a beer. That nap is need to soak in all that heat, flavor and nirvana. Then get you refreshed so that you  A) do it again at night or b) do anything productive.

12 Bones, as well as Buxton Hall, made me realize that I’ve been living in a barbecue lie.  I know nothing of authentic BBQ until you have it at the real place. Located in the River Arts District, it’s a joint that’s only open Monday-Friday at lunch from noon-6pm. It’s often that they run out of certain items because of their massive popularity, so plan accordingly. No need to camp out like Franklin in Austin. I went at 3:30pm on a Wednesday and everything was available.

I went with the Blueberry Chipotle rub for the ribs and that shit was fine like your momma. If you just want try a bit of everything, you can get such small amounts of everything (brisket, ribs, pulled pork) and squirt some sauce on them. They also had brown sugar rubs, poblano and “nekkid” (salt and pepper).

I endorse it, as does No. 44 Barry and Michelle:

The very first thing that Barack and Michelle Obama did on their vacation in Asheville, NC today was hit up 12 Bones Smokehouse, a celebrate local ‘cue joint that the first couple has a special fondness for, having dined there while campaigning back in 2008. For lunch the POTUS and FLOTUS chowed down on BBQ ribs, mac and cheese, corn bread, baked beans and greens, all washed down with sweet tea. The two immediately followed their southern food feast with a rigorous mountain hike in a nearby park. 

Oh, memories.

You can take some sauces and rubs to go home like I did. I got the bacon sugar…. yes, it’s a thing.

The interior is bare and rough. As you will see, there’s graffiti on the walls where you leave your mark or declare your allegiance to a racist demagogue. I wanted to  write one pro-45 writing, “How’s that working out for you, comrade?”