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Barbecue, Brews, and Beaches: Asheville’s Memorial Day Weekend Guide

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4 May 2021

After a year of social distancing and travel limitations, suffice it to say everyone is ready for Summer 2021. The official start of the summer season has long been seen as Memorial Day weekend, and there's no better place to kick off a season of sun and fun than Asheville. Memorial Day weekend highlights so much of what makes Asheville a world-renowned destination for artists, foodies, beer, and outdoor enthusiasts. Returning to Asheville this Memorial Day weekend is the 2nd Annual Downtown Asheville Memorial Day Weekend Festival of the Arts. Featuring nationally recognized artists, along with Asheville’s best painters, potters, jewelers, glass blowers, and more, this art festival is free and will be held downtown in Pack Square on May 29 and 30. 

Combining live theatre with a relaxing, outdoor backdrop sets the stage for the Montford Park Players production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Hazel Robinson Amphitheatre in the historic Montford district. Admission is free, but donations are always welcome. Concessions are available on site, but attendees are welcome to bring their own snacks and beverages.

It wouldn’t feel like summer without hearing the crack of the bat or the cheers of the crowds coming from Asheville's legendary McCormick Field. Baseball is a summertime staple, and there’s no better place to celebrate “America’s Favorite Pastime” than at an Asheville Tourists baseball game. The Tourists, a High-A affiliate of the Houston Astros, will be wrapping up a 12 game homestand over Memorial Day weekend versus Bowling Green. Tickets must be purchased in advance. 

Obviously, Asheville is well known for it’s breathtaking mountain vistas, lush forests, and babbling creeks, but are you aware that Asheville also has beaches? Lakeside beaches that are surrounded by gorgeous, vibrant green mountain peaks and devoid of massive crowds, sweltering heat, and crashing waves. These lakeside beaches are refreshing spots that combine the best of the two traditional vacation destinations and present a solution to the age old debate of mountain vs. beach. One of the most recognizable beaches, Lake Lure, can be found 45 minutes south of Asheville, and was featured in the movie Dirty Dancing (cue the iconic water lift scene). Opening Memorial Day weekend, Lake Lure Beach and Water Park offers beachgoers nearly 100 yards of sandy beach and a dedicated swimming area, along with an adjacent water park where you can engage in a friendly water balloon fight or race down one of two water slides. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for kids ages 4-12, and free for kids under 4.

Also opening up Memorial Day weekend is the beach at Lake James State Park. Located 45 minutes east of Asheville, Lake James beach has a 700-ft long beach area. Lake James sits at an elevation of approximately 1,200 ft., meaning that you can expect hotter days with lots of sun compared to other areas in Asheville. However, Lake James is fed by local rivers and streams, running south from the highest mountain peaks, so the lake remains cool and refreshing even amid the hottest summer days. The beach area features a large bathhouse with changing rooms and a concession stand selling ice cream, cold drinks, ice, snacks, and more. Admission to the beach is $5 per adult and $4 for children 12 and under. Visitors can also rent a paddleboard, canoe, or kayak for $5 an hour or explore the various hiking and biking trails within Lake James State Park

Those looking for a more adventurous water experience should consider visiting one of the area’s numerous rivers where you can go kayaking, paddle boarding, rafting, and tubing. Running through and past several of Asheville’s most notable sights is the French Broad River, the third oldest river in the world (pretty cool factoid to throw out there to your friends). There are numerous activities to explore over Memorial Day weekend, and we recommend taking the weekend to check off each one.

For those seeking the thrill of whitewater rafting, French Broad Adventures in Marshall is 25 miles north of Asheville and the most convenient for those staying in the area. They offer a 5-mile whitewater trip and a 9-mile whitewater trip. The 5-mile trip is the most popular trip, as it offers beginners the thrill of rafting along a calmer section of the river. The 9-mile trip continues on for 4 miles and includes a class IV section of rapids. They also offer calm water trips, which are ideal for families with little experience and those with small children. River tubing is also an incredibly fun and relaxing experience. Along the French Broad, you can make reservations with Zen Tubing or Beer City Tubing. Zen Tubing’s South Asheville location is open for Memorial Day (Midtown location opens June 5th) and while the actual float can last 2-3 hours, you’re free to go at your own pace with several sandy areas and islands where you can hop off and enjoy a quick dip or picnic. Reservations are required and prices are $25 per tube (cooler tubes also available for $5).

Beer City Tubing, located just off I-26, kicks off their floating season Memorial Day weekend. This 2-3 hour float is along a section of the French Broad that is approximately 6-8 feet deep, perfect for floating and swimming. Along this route, you’ll also float right by Sierra Nevada Brewery, where you can hop off at their river takeout for refreshing beverages and tasty bites from their food truck before continuing on along the river. Beer City is open from 10:00 am-3:00 pm on the weekends and holidays and tube rentals are $15. Wai Mauna offers SUP (stand up paddleboard) rentals and private, guided tours. Wai Mauna’s guided tours offer one of the most unique ways to experience Asheville and learn about her history. The 4-mile tour will take you through Asheville's River Arts District, where you’ll finish up within walking distance to several of RAD’s incredible breweries, restaurants, and art galleries. The 7-mile tour takes you past the historic Biltmore Estate, with views of the estate and grounds. Wai Mauna offers various tours throughout the day depending on the length you choose, but the Dawn Patrol and Sunset Session 4-mile tours offer the most beautiful and relaxing times to get out on the river. Their SUP rentals also include a free lesson AND they’ll deliver rentals to guests staying at Lake Lure or Lake James.

There is not a more suitable Memorial Day meal than burgers and beer. Instead of slaving away in front of a hot grill trying to feed the family, leave the grunt work to one of Asheville’s many notable restaurants, which will never disappoint. The Hi-Wire Brewing Big Top taproom in Biltmore Village is one of our favorite spots for a low-key, relaxing evening. Described as “approachable and balanced lagers and ales,” Hi-Wire offers beers ranging from classic, crisp, and refreshing lagers to rich and decadent imperial stouts. The industrial, open taproom and bier garden is the perfect environment for tastings, conversations, and savoring a deliciously, juicy burger from the Foothills Local Meat food trucka mainstay at Hi-Wire’s Big Top location. Foothills features local, pasture-raised meats, made-to-order burgers and hotdogs, and several vegetarian options. One of the quintessential Asheville locations for a burger and beer is Burial Beer Company on the South Slope. Burial Beer is the epitome of Asheville’s craft beer scene, cultivating quality and ingenuity with every sip.

While there’s no wrong choice when it comes to their beer selection, the true star of lineup and a go-to summer beverage is their Go In Shadows soura zesty and sparkling golden sour ale with undercurrents of raspberry, lemon zest, spruce tips, juniper, cinnamon, ginger, and coriander. Along with excellent beer, their inhouse kitchen and full bar menu includes a dry-aged beef burger that is absolutely mouth watering! Bonus points go to Hi-Wire and Burial Brewing for being pet friendly! For the best burger in Asheville (and we do mean the best, better than all the rest, as voted by the people since 2014), The Vault Lounge’s Vault Burger features 100% grass-fed beef from nearby Hickory Nut Gap Farm and Cheshire Pork bacon from Heritage Farms in North Carolina. The Vault has an excellent selection of local draft beers, but they’re also acclaimed for their signature cocktails such as the Ashevillian Love Affair and rotating selection of adult slushies. Yes, you read that right. Adult slushies. 

Be sure to save room for everyone’s favorite sweet, summertime dessertice cream! For traditional options, Ultimate Ice Cream is a premium, slow-spun ice cream created from locally-sourced ingredients. Their menu includes all-time favorites like mint flaked chocolate, madagascar vanilla bean, and Lex’s cookie dough. They also have a rotation of seasonal selections, like the current flavor of the month, Manna Banana, which can only be described as banana pudding in ice cream form. The Hop Ice Cream Cafe treats ice cream like an edible art form. Developing creative and expressive flavors from local, quality ingredients, The Hop is a true culinary experience and includes milkshakes, Hopsicles, as well as non-dairy and vegan free options. Their #AshevilleStrong series is a combined effort with other Asheville area small businesses to create unique flavors, like the Penny Cup Caramel Cold Brew and Chocolate AppalaChia.

If you’re feeling the need to double down on your dessert craving (no judgement from us), hit up Sunshine Sammies for a homemade ice cream sandwich of which you’ve never experienced before. Here they take their housemade ice cream and pair them with fresh baked cookies to create devilishly delicious combinations like their salted caramel ice cream + chocolate cookie sammies or their cheesecake ice cream + sugar cookies sammies.                                                                                               

Start your summer off right with a visit to Asheville for Memorial Day weekend, and don’t hesitate to check out Greybeard Rentals’ remaining Memorial Day availability here.