Of all the Hawaiian Islands, Oahu and Maui get the most media attention, but Kauai is loved by many as the jewel of the archipelago. Kauai is the oldest island in the chain. British explorer Captain James Cook landed at Waimea Bay in 1778 and was struck by its lush beauty. Known as “the garden isle”, the island is a favorite of visitors who enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking, snorkeling or just embracing some zen time.
Because Kauai does not allow much development on the island, its landscape has remained largely unchanged for centuries, so there’s a lot of green space to enjoy.
For the lesbian traveler, Kauai is gay-friendly and offers numerous bars, hotels and beaches that attract the LGBT crowd. There are a few different areas of Kauai that draw lesbian tourists, including Hanalei, Lihue and Poipu.
If you begin your island tour of Kauai in Poipu, start with a scenic horseback riding trip with CJM Country Stables (Kauai County, 808-742-6096, cjmstables.com). This is one of the only companies that allow horses on the Kauai beaches. You will ride pass breathtaking scenery like the Maha’ulepu Wilderness Area, agricultural ranch land, Kauapea (Secret Beach) and Gillin’s Beach, where they filmed Indiana Jones and a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Poipu’s beaches are located on the south shore of Kauai and are popular resting areas for humpback whales and endangered Hawaiian monk seals.
Lihue is Kauai’s gateway city and overlooks the island’s major seaport, Nawiliwili Harbor. It is also home to Wailua Falls and Kalapaki Beach. Mountain tubing with Kauai Backcountry Adventures (3-4131 Kuhio Hwy, Lihue, 808-245-2506, kauaibackcountry.com) is a must in this central area of the island. The tunnels and waterways of Lihue were hand-built in 1870 by plantation workers. Float down the three-mile stretch of waterways in a tube while you savor the verdant landscape and learn about Lihue’s flora and fauna. Lydgate State Park (808-241-4463), situated five miles north of Lihue on the Kuhio Highway, is a popular family-friendly beach that also draws LGBT travelers. Smith’s Tropical Paradise (174 Wailua Rd, Kapaa, 808-821-6895, smithskauai.com) is a worthy conclusion to a sultry evening in Lihue, where you can enjoy a walk around the tropical garden amidst dozens of peacocks. For dinner, experience a traditional luau following a buffet dinner of Hawaiian classic cuisine like sweet potatoes, poi, lomi lomi salmon and kalua pig.
Hanalei is located near Kauai’s north shore and is embraced by majestic mountains, pasture lands and the stunning Hanalei Bay. On this part of the island, take advantage of two free activities: First, go for a morning hike up the Kalalau Trail on the Napali Coast. The trail is a total of 22 miles roundtrip, and some hikers camp overnight along the route. However, there is a shorter option: a comfortable (and striking) four-mile roundtrip hike to the lush Hanakapi’ai Beach. (I even spotted one of the endangered Hawaiian monk seals suntanning on the beach.)
Take a leisurely tour of the Limahuli Garden and Preserve (ntbg.org), set against the backdrop of the Makana Mountain overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The garden preserves native Hawaiian flora like the tasty taro plant and near extinct plants like the loulu (a native fan palm found only in Limahuli Valley) and the Çlula (found only on the sea cliffs of Kauai and Ni‘ihau). For foodies, the Kilohana Plantation offers tours of the plants and fruits present on the 105-acre orchard. Sample tasty fruit like mandarin oranges, lychee, and apple bananas, grown onsite; feed goats and sheep on the farm; then follow it up with a three-course meal at Gaylord’s Restaurant (3-2087 Kaumualii Hwy, Lihue, 808-245-9593, gaylordskauai.com) situated at Kilohana.
A great budget property in Poipu is the Outrigger Kiahuna Plantation (2253 Poipu Rd, Koloa, 808-742-6411, outriggerkiahunaplantationcondo.com) because it comes with modern, condo-style accommodations with a plantation theme, beach access, a full kitchen and beautifully landscaped grounds. Native flowers drop blossoms in front of you and litter the ground from the overhanging plumeria and hibiscus plants. A big plus to the Kiahuna beach experience is the soft yellow sand; some of the best I’ve ever felt between my toes.
Drive a few minutes from the Outrigger to Keoki’s Paradise (2360 Kiahuna Plantation Dr, Koloa, 808-742-7534, keokisparadise.comrestaurant) and sample the carrot and pineapple muffins with Hawaiian red sea salt butter. For drinks, down either the Ho’o’pio cocktail made with local Koloa rum or try the whole pineapple fruit with a pina colada inside. There’s not much nightlife in Kauai, but the bar stays open until 11pm. Cheers!
Josselin’s Tapas Bar & Grill (2829 Ala Kalanikaumaka St, Koloa, 808-742-7117, josselins.com) is Sangria Central. Here, the Spanish-influenced drink has a Hawaiian twist of flavors like lychee, mango and pomegranate. Try the roasted cauliflower with kimchee sauce, kabobcha pumpkin ravioli and slow cooked butterfish–a native fish from the Hawaiian coast. The restaurant is situated in the shopping center, Kukuilula Village (2829 Ala Kalanikaumaka Rd A-101, Poipu, 855-742-0234) where you can browse art galleries and boutiques.
If you prefer to stay in Lihue, the Aqua Kauai Beach Resort (4331 Kauai Beach Dr, Lihue, 808-954-7419, kauaibeachresorthawaii.com) is a great option, featuring stunning beaches sprinkled with driftwoods, small ponds and beautiful plants. There are no umbrellas, but solace from the sun can be found lying under an exotic tree on the beach. If you’re more of a pool girl, the pools are all mineral water-based, sans chlorine. On Tuesdays, catch the property’s complimentary luau, serving mai-tais.
A culinary winner in Lihue is Hamura Saimin (2956 Kress St, Lihue, 808-245-3271, yelp.com/biz/hamuras-saimin-lihue), a local award-winning Chinese hotspot. The restaurant is affordable; the special of saimin noodles (vegetable won ton, boiled egg, roast pork, and fishcake) is only $7.50. For dinner and sunset views, visit Duke’s Barefoot Bar & Grill (3610 Rice St, Lihue, 808-246-9599, dukeskauai.com) named after Olympian Hawaiian surfer Duke Paoa Kahanamoku. The cuisine is classic Hawaiian: taro, Hawaiian sweet potatoes, hula pies and boasts tropical plantation décor.
In the Haena area of the North Shore near the town of Hanalei, consider hanging your hat at the secluded Hanalei Colony Resort (Haena Beach Park Tunnels, Kuhio Hwy, Hanalei, 808-826-6235, hcr.com). Haena is an enchanting area that inspired many of Kauai’s ancient legends. The property offers an alternative to the mega-resort experience, as the 48 two-bedroom suites come with fully equipped kitchens and private lanais, as well as an “unplugged” culture: units do not have televisions, stereos or phones. After witnessing an invigorating sunrise over Kepuhi Beach, grab breakfast at the Farmer’s Market open every Saturday in Hanalei Town. Or for more formal settings, the St. Regis Kauai (5520 Ka Haku Rd, Kauai, 808-826-9644, stregisprinceville.com) serves a breakfast buffet offering stunning views of the Namolokama mountain range. Use the Hanalei Colony Resort’s new free shuttle service to get to nearby dining destinations as well as to local beaches.
If overseas nuptials are in order, why not take the leap at the Mahina Kai (4933 Aliomanu Rd, Anahola, 808-822-9451, mahinakai.com), which opened in 1985 as an exclusively gay B&B. The property was designed by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright and blends in beautifully with Kauai’s lush surroundings. The grounds are a mixture of Japanese and Hawaii tropical gardens, including the Japanese Tea House and Organic Lagoon Pool with lava rocks integrated into the design to gather heat from the sun to naturally warm the pool.
In June, during LGBT Pride Month, Kauai also puts on a small, weekend-long Pride event. In 2014, the host hotel was the Aloha Beach Hotel in Wailua (3-5920 Kuhio Hwy, Kapaa, 808-823-6000, astonalohabeachhotel.com). Pride events on the island include movie nights, happy hours, drag king and queens shows, dance parties and the PFLAG/Lambda Aloha family picnic and awards presentation. The event is organized by the Lambda Aloha association (lambdaaloha.com).
For a non-wedding or Pride vacation, Kauai at any other time of the year is welcoming to gay travelers. Although there’s no exclusively LGBT nightlife on the island, Kauai has a number of LGBT-frequented bars. The most popular bars for the LGBT community are the RumFire at the Sheraton (2440 Hoonani Rd, Koloa, 808-742-1661, sheraton-kauai.com/dining/rumfire), Sand Bar at the Aston Islander (440 Aleka Pl, Kapaa, 808-822-7417, astonislander.com), and the Stevenson’s Library at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort (1571 Poipu Rd, Koloa, 808-742-1234, kauai.hyatt.com). At the RumFire bar, the chef turns out tasty pan-Asian fare and colorful cocktails. Although it lacks the frenetic party scene of the original RumFire in Waikiki, the airy oceanfront outpost, anchored by a sleek elliptical bar is a popular place to drink and dine.
The Sand Bar is a kitschy thatched-roof lounge at the Aston Islander, a place where friends can sip cocktails by the pool. Some of the best bars are located in hotels, like this one, with a daily happy hour. The Sand Bar also hosts a regular LGBT meetup, which takes place by the pool.
In Poipu, the Stevenson’s Bar is located in an elegant setting at the Grand Hyatt. The interior gives the feeling of an old-school gentlemen’s club, complete with live entertainment, polished bookshelves and a 27-foot handcrafted wood bar. The bar offers smart cocktails, cognacs, ports and a comprehensive sushi menu from Fridays to Mondays.
United, U.S. Airways and American Airlines depart the NYC area for Kauai with layovers in Los Angeles or Phoenix. Kauai locals are eminently sociable, friendly and helpful to tourists. “If your car breaks down, everyone will stop to assist. It’s like having one big family”, says Hawaii resident Dara Lum. —Adrienne Jordan
QUEBEC CITY, QUEBEC
With its fairytale setting high on a cliff-top overlooking the St. Lawrence River, Québec City ranks among the most romantic and historic destinations in the Western Hemisphere. Although it’s grown over the years into a thriving metropolis of slightly more than 500,000 people, Québec City’s ancient core, which lies inside a formidable masonry fortification, retains an intimate look that reminds one more of Europe than the rest of North America.
Just three hours from Montréal, Québec City is within driving distance of Boston, New York City and Toronto. A wonderfully intimate city, it’s highly walkable and oozing with history. Geographically, the city is divided between two levels, Upper Town and Lower Town—the latter lies low along the St. Lawrence River, and the former rises high above it, perched atop a magnificent ridge on the city’s eastern flanks. Beyond the city’s western wall is the quaint heart of its small but lively LGBT scene, concentrated along Rue Saint-Jean, where you’ll find bars and boutiques popular with the gay community. Down the hill, the once prosaic Saint-Roch district has undergone a considerable renaissance, with a number of hip restaurants, bars and shops having opened in recent years.
Dominating Quebec City’s Upper Town is the city’s most recognizable feature, the 120-year-old Fairmont Le Château Frontenac (1 Rue des Carrières, 418-692-3861, fairmont.com/frontenac-quebec) whose steep copper roof defines Québec’s distinctive skyline—even if you don’t stay here, peek inside for a look. Farther up the hill is La Citadelle (1 Côte de la Citadelle, 418-694-2815, lacitadelle.qc.ca), an imposing fortress that was begun by the French to protect Québec from the British and, when this failed, completed by the British to protect the city from reprisals by the French. Tours of this regal facility are a must for history buffs.
From here, stroll along Grand Allée, which commences just west of the original city wall, taking in the blocks of trendy eateries and straight but gay-friendly hangouts before eventually reaching the 1930s Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec (Avenue George VI, 418-643-2150, mnbaq.org) which contains more than 25,000 works of French-Canadian art that span the region’s history. The museum is surrounded by Plains of Abraham Battlefield Park (835 Avenue Wilfrid-Laurier, ccbn-nbc.gc.ca) which is laced with trails and sports fields, with many spots affording expansive views of the river.
Down in Lower Town, it’s fun to simply stroll the narrow lanes, visiting the atmospheric Old Port area, and popping in and out of quaint sidewalk cafes and shops. But set aside time to visit the city’s must-see attraction, the superb Musées de la Civilisation de Québec (85 Rue Dalhousie, 418-643-2158, mcq.org), a trove of interactive multimedia and computer exhibits shedding light on every epoch of the city’s long and fascinating history.
In a city famed for its history, many top restaurants occupy old-world buildings with stone walls and low ceilings, where traditional French and Continental fare dominates. Delightful Aux Anciens Canadiens (34 Rue Saint Louis, 418-692-1627, auxancienscanadiens.qc.ca) is a wonderful example of this sort of establishment—it’s in a lovely 1675 house with a red steep-gabled roof. With outdoor tables overlooking Château Frontenac, Auberge du Tressor’s Restaurant 1640 (20 Rue Sainte-Anne, 418-694-1876, aubergedutresor.com) is another inviting spot exuding old-fashioned charm. But make no mistake, Québec City is also home to some of the most innovative and stylish eateries in the country, with a number of creative chefs specializing in regionally sourced ingredients. Situated in Lower Town, Échaude (73 Rue du Sault au Matelot, 418-692-1299, echaude.com) serves outstanding modern French fare and has a charming row of tables along a quaint sidewalk—note the excellent wine list. Within the city walls, Ristorante Il Teatro (972 Rue Saint-Jean, 418-694-9996, lecapitole.com) near the grand Le Capitole theater is a sophisticated, gay-popular spot with ample outdoor seating. There are several inviting queer-friendly restaurants along Rue Saint-Jean. Try La Ninkasi (811 Rue Saint-Jean, 418-529-8538, laninkasi.ca) for craft beers and light pub fare. For artisan coffee and lively people-watching, drop by Le Brulerie Saint-Jean (881 Rue Saint-Jean, lesbruleries.com), and don’t miss Snack Bar St-Jean (780 Rue Saint-Jean, 418-522-4727, snackbarsaintjean.com), a gay fave for late-night burgers and poutine.
Although Québec City is very gay (and holds its own gay pride festival every August; check that out at arcencielquebec.ca) there aren’t many gay bars, per se. But a couple do exist, and there are other queer-friendly nightspots around the city—especially along Rue Saint-Jean and down the hill in Saint-Roch. The most famous gay hangout is Le Drague Cabaret Club (815 Rue Saint-Augustin, 418-649-7212, ledrague.com), which is just steps from Rue Saint-Jean and has a number of appealing attributes, hence its popularity with all types—gay men, lesbians and straight friends. There’s a good-sized patio along the sidewalk, a big cabaret lounge where some of the city’s top drag divas perform, stylish cocktail bar and a spacious dance floor. A block away, Bar St-Matthew (889 Cote Sainte-Genevieve, 418-524-5000) is a cozier neighborhood spot that’s male-centric and cruisey, and also caters to the leather and bear set. Among the mainstream bars, check out La Barberie (310 Rue Saint Roch, 418-522-4373, labarberie.com) for first-rate craft beers in a slightly out-of-the-way part of Saint-Roch, and Le Moine Echasson (585 Rue Saint-Jean, 418-524-7832, lemoineechanson.com), a cute wine bar on Rue Saint-Jean.
There are enough distinctive, and downright romantic, accommodations in Québec City to make choosing a place to stay a challenge. You’ll find one concentration of particularly cushy and inviting hotels in the oldest section of Lower Town, around the antiques district centered along rues Saint-Paul and Saint-Pierre.
Here you might consider the luxurious and highly romantic rooms of Auberge Saint-Antoine (8 Rue Saint Antoine, 418-692-2211, saint-antoine.com), which sits next to the esteemed Musee de la Civilisation. One of the city’s most famous buildings, and undoubtedly its grandest digs, the aforementioned Fairmont Le Château Frontenac is crowned with a fantastic copper-green roof of steep gables and pointy turrets that positively dominates the Upper Town skyline. With more than 600 elegant, contemporary rooms, the Fairmont overlooks the St. Lawrence River and abounds with amenities, from an inviting bar and lounge to an impressive and extensive fitness center, pool and terrace. Those wanting the vibe of a modern, mainstream hotel that’s steps from the hip shopping and dining in Saint-Roch should consider the TRYP by Wyndham Québec Hotel Pur (395 Rue de la Couronne, 418-647-2611, hotelpur.com), an 18-story property with 240 smartly furnished rooms with tall windows that let in plenty of light—the rooms on upper floors have amazing city views.
Among LGBT-oriented properties, the Hotel Hippocampe (31 Rue McMahon, 418-692-1521, hotelhippocampe.com) has 11 handsome, reasonably priced rooms and it adjoins the men’s sauna of the same name. Situated inside the Old City walls, the hotel is less popular with lesbians and more so with gay men who favor the sauna. Near the Plains of Abraham parkland and museums, the gay-owned Auberge Aux Deux Lions (25 Blvd René-Lévesque Est, 418-780-8100, aubergeauxdeuxlions.com/en) caters to a mixed crowd and is one of the city’s most charming small properties, with 15 rooms of various sizes, all with private bath. The moderately priced Auberge Chateau des Tourelles (212 Rue Saint-Jean, 418-647-9136, chateaudestourelles.qc.ca) is along bustling Rue Saint-Jean and has 10 smartly furnished rooms, including some suites that can easily sleep four guests. On sunny days, you can relax on the hotel’s lovely sun deck, soaking up views of this richly historic city.
Québec City—abundant with old-world galleries and antiques stores, cobbled lanes, inviting sidewalk cafes, historic hotels and B&Bs—is the perfect place to steal away for a few days with your partner. –Andrew Collins
ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA
If you’ve been keeping up with the country’s most buzzed-about hipster destinations of late, you’ve heard Asheville mentioned in the mix, perhaps alongside cities like Austin and Portland. This relatively small mountain metropolis in western North Carolina has long been a creative-spirited, relatively progressive island in one of the nation’s more socially conservative regions. LGBT-owned businesses, top-notch art galleries and furniture studios, along with inviting Victorian and Arts and Crafts-style inns—and independently owned shops, music clubs, theaters and cafes—have thrived here for decades; but more recently, Asheville has cultivated an urbane, artisan-driven foodie scene that’s impressive for a city of just 85,000 residents.
With a reasonable cost of living and a moderate climate, Asheville (exploreasheville.com) is becoming a popular place for LGBTs to relocate—not just among hipsters, but all sorts of professionals of all ages, many from larger and more crowded cities. Additionally, young college grads are moving in at a steady pace—something that seldom happened in Asheville before the city began undergoing a renaissance a couple of decades ago. This leafy, hilly community has become a top weekend destination, too, with a sizable lesbian and gay following.
Downtown Asheville rests like a saucer balanced precariously amid the slopes of forested hills and mountains. It’s an impressively preserved city, with dozens of fine old buildings, many of them striking Art Deco beauties. The surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains account for much of the region’s appeal—it’s an hour’s drive west to reach Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You can also navigate a stretch of the winding, scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, which passes right through the center of Asheville on its way north toward Virginia. Many other state parks and forests are within a short drive, and right in the city you can appreciate nature with a hike through the 10-acre Botanical Gardens at Asheville (151 W.T. Weaver Blvd, 828-252-5190, ashevillebotanicalgardens.org) or the 434-acre North Carolina Arboretum (100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way, 828-665-2492, ncarboretum.org).
Downtown Asheville is great for strolling. It’s also quite hilly, though, so prepare to get some exercise. Stop by the Asheville Art Museum (2 S Pack Square, 828-253-3227, ashevilleart.org) which has a celebrated collection of contemporary American works, and if you’re a fan of modern American literature, don’t miss the Thomas Wolfe House (52 N Market St, 828-253-8304, wolfememorial.com) which includes a visitors’ center and the boarding house where the author of You Can’t Go Home Again grew up.
Almost every visitor to Asheville pays a visit to the Biltmore Estate (1 Lodge St, 800-411-3812, biltmore.com), one of America’s few true castles. The 250-room mansion and resplendent grounds were commissioned by the phenomenally wealthy railroad tycoon George Vanderbilt and executed by Richard Morris Hunt in 1895. Touring the mansion’s grandiose interior can feel a bit overwhelming, but the 8,000-acre property’s outdoor features are arguably its greatest draw. You could spend the day sauntering along the 2.5 miles of paths through the gorgeous manicured gardens, or along the rugged trails through dense woods and open meadows. Other highlights include the Biltmore Winery, the dairy farm at Antler Hill Village, and the Outdoor Adventure Center, where you can book a range of activities, from river float trips to bike excursions. Right on the property, the luxurious, 213-room Inn on Biltmore Estate (1 Antler Hill Rd, 828-225-1600, biltmore.com) offers swank accommodations, and nearby Biltmore Village abounds with upscale shops and restaurants.
A little southwest of downtown, you’ll find one of Asheville’s more recent developments, the rapidly evolving River Arts District (riverartsdistrict.com), home to both new buildings and converted industrial spaces filled with art galleries and studios, as well as a handful of cool restaurants and nightspots. The neighborhood extends north along Lyman Street from across the river from French Broad River Park all the way to the I-240 bridge, with plenty of businesses on both sides of the railroad tracks, which bisect the neighborhood.
With its rapidly emerging culinary scene, Asheville has become a favorite foodie hub. Highlights are many, but here are a handful of notables. Cúrate (11 Biltmore Ave, 828-239-2946, curatetapasbar.com) is one of the hottest spots in town, turning out authentic tapas with creative twists, such as the Catalan sausage bocadillo or the tender skewered lamb marinated in Moroccan spices. Another top table is Rhubarb (7 SW Pack Square, 828-785-1503, rhubarbasheville.com), a sleekly swish bistro situated across from the Asheville Art Museum. Favorites from the contemporary Mediterranean menu include rabbit-leek rillettes and charmoula-grilled flat-iron steak. A snazzy spot specializing in locavore-minded cuisine, Table (48 College St, 828-254-8980, tableasheville.com) has an intimate, insider vibe and serves tempting victuals like duck confit with carrots, fennel kraut and medjool dates in its handsome street-level dining room. If you’re eager for farm-to-table Southern comfort food, look no further than Early Girl Eatery (8 Wall St, 828-259-9292, earlygirleatery.com) where you’ll find mouthwatering artisanal sandwiches, garden-fresh salads and all-day breakfasts.
Feeling adventurous? Try the White Duck Taco Shop (1 Roberts St #101, 828-258-1660, whiteducktacoshop.com), an eclectic spot in the hip River Arts District serving up seriously creative tacos, sides, soups and desserts. Set inside one of Asheville’s landmark 1920s buildings, the Grove Arcade, you’ll find a wonderful wine bar and tap room, Santé (1 Page Ave, 828-254-8188, santewinebar.com). On the other side of the arcade, at the same address, Carmel’s Restaurant and Bar (1 Page Ave, 828-252-8730, carmelsofasheville.com) specializes in contemporary seafood and American fare, with plenty of seating outside along the sidewalk.
Need coffee? One of the most venerable indie bookstores in the South, lesbian-owned Malaprop’s Bookstore and Café (55 Haywood St, 828-254-6734, malaprops.com) has a large LGBT section and a nice little coffeehouse inside. And also very popular with the gay crowd, Edna’s of Asheville (870 Merrimon Ave, 828-255-3881, ednasofasheville.com) is on the north side of the city and serves terrific coffee drinks, breakfast fare and sandwiches.
Virtually all of Asheville’s nightspots, including many of the drink-centric restaurants described above, have a strong popularity with the LGBT crowd. Women-owned Tressa’s (28 Broadway St, 828-254-7072, tressas.com)—with live jazz and blues, comedy and dancing—has a loyal following in the LGBT community. There are also a few predominantly gay hangouts, the largest being the Grove House Entertainment Complex (11 Grove St, 828-505-1612, thegrovehouse.com), a rambling building that contains Scandals, Asheville’s largest lesbian and gay dance club. Downtown bar-hoppers might want to stop by Smokey’s After Dark (18 Broadway St, 828-253-2155), a laid-back, mixed, no-attitude neighborhood spot that’s fun for shooting pool and meeting locals. Drawing a mostly male crowd, O’Henry’s (237 Haywood St, 828-254-1891, ohenrysofasheville.com) is a fun neighborhood hangout that’s particularly popular with bearish types and fans of leather—the bar has been going strong for more than 35 years and adjoins neighboring dance bar, The Underground.
Asheville has several inviting, LGBT-friendly inns, from upscale historic mansions to cozy Arts and Crafts cottages. The city’s most renowned accommodation is the Grove Park Inn Resort and Spa (290 Macon Ave, 828-252-2711, groveparkinn.com), one of the nation’s foremost historic hotels, which has been fully restored to its original 1913 design. You’ll find one of the South’s most impressive spas on the lower level, and restaurants and bars affording panoramic views of the city skyline and surrounding mountains. Even if you don’t stay here, sitting in the grand lobby before the enormous fireplace, and looking out over the countryside from the terrace is a real treat.
Herb and rose gardens surround the 1889 shingle-style White Gate Inn & Cottage (173 E Chestnut St, 828-253-2553, whitegate.net), one of the city’s gay-owned properties. Same-sex marriage is not yet legal in North Carolina, but commitment ceremonies are frequently held here. The romantic, antiques-filled rooms have wi-fi, flat-screen TVs and are named for poets (Whitman, Wilde, Sandburg, etc.) Also gay-owned and a 10- to 15-minute drive north of downtown, the 1847 Reynolds Mansion B&B (100 Reynolds Heights, 828-258-1111, thereynoldsmansion.com) has 13 beautiful rooms (many with gas or wood fireplaces), a seasonal pool and lavish three-course breakfasts included in the rates. Fans of larger chain properties should consider the contemporary Aloft (51 Biltmore Ave, 828-232-2838, aloftashevilledowntown.com), right on Biltmore Avenue, steps from a number of great restaurants, bars and shops. With super-clean rooms and terrific service, the Hampton Inn Asheville-Tunnel Road (204 Tunnel Rd, 828-255-9220, hamptoninn3.hilton.com) ranks among the best mid-priced chain options in the region. And with a convenient location near the Grove Arcade, the sleek Hotel Indigo Asheville (151 Haywood St, 828-239-0239, ihg.com) is another great choice, with crisp, attractive rooms—the penthouse suites on the upper stories have floor-to-ceiling windows and amazing views of the countryside.
Asheville is within easy driving distance from Charlotte, Raleigh, Atlanta and Nashville—and about a day’s drive from Washington, D.C. If you’re visiting from New York City, you can fly nonstop on United; the flight from Newark takes less than two hours. Connecting flights on other carriers stop in Charlotte or Atlanta. —Andrew Collins and Shannon Leigh O’Neil