We go to Brevard, North Carolina, for the better part of every summer because my husband plays in the Brevard Music Festival, and I've gotten to know the area really well as a "trailing spouse." The town of Brevard is about 45 minutes south of Asheville, and it's a real gem. In my opinion, it offers the perfect mix of amazing scenery, fun adventuring, kid-friendly activities and great food.
There's also stuff I don't care about at all, such as beer and fly fishing, so excuse my ignorance on those topics! For everything else, consider me your tour guide:
WEATHER The first thing you should know is that the region is a "temperate rainforest," which means it gets more than 80 inches of rain a year. Pack a good umbrella and wear shoes that can get wet, like Keens or Chacos. Make sure you have solid tires on your car. This is a true mountain town, at the foot of the Pisgah National Forest, and everybody walks around in outdoorsy clothing that can handle the elements. You can expect a torrential downpour at a moment's notice. Sometimes it lasts five minutes, and sometimes it lasts five days! WATERFALLS, EVERYWHERE! As a result of all the rain, this region is full of natural beauty. Brevard is known as the "Land of the Waterfalls." You can find 250 of them and 100,000 acres of public land. Try your best to avoid the crowds by getting there early, going toward dusk or visiting on weekdays. The great thing about the abundance of waterfalls is there is a waterfall for every type of person. Here are some I highly recommend, depending on what you're looking for!
Right by the Road: Looking Glass Falls If you want to drive, park, see a stunning waterfall, take a picture, and then get back into your car and move along, go to Looking Glass Falls. It's dramatic and beautiful and right by the road. You can also get down and swim in it, but you can easily see it from the road and the overlook, and you can do it all in very few steps.
Short Walk: Moore Cove Falls This one has been good for our family, especially when my kids were little and prone to lying on the ground, whining that their feet hurt. To get to Moore Cove Falls, you just mosey on through a sweet trail that's just over a mile there and back. It's very tame, but it's a lovely, scenic trail, and then the waterfall itself is gentle and narrow. There's no pool at the bottom, just a few friendly puddles that little kids love splashing in. And for more adventurous older kids, they can climb up onto the rocks (careful; they're slippery!!) and stand right under the waterfall like it's a shower with exceptional water pressure.
For Real Swimming: Hooker Falls, High Falls, Triple Falls If you want the option to fully swim in a river while taking in the view of plunging water, try Hooker Falls, in Dupont State Recreational Forest. Unlike the ones above, you can actually park in a parking lot here and not precariously on the side of a mountain road. From the parking lot, it's a pretty easy walk down to Hooker Falls, where you can really get into the water and have a real swim. You can also easily walk over to Triple Falls and High Falls, so you can knock out three waterfalls on one trip. Some of these falls are so cinematic they've been featured in the movies "The Hunger Games" and "The Last of the Mohicans."
Slip 'n' Slide: Sliding Rock Sliding Rock is a natural water slide. I'm way too uncoordinated to brave it myself, but I'm assured that it's very smooth and doesn't hurt when you slide down this big rock on your derriere. Depending on which part of the rock you choose, you may either inch your way down at your own pace or you may plunge down quickly into what looks to be pretty cold water below, based on people's expressions and squeals! It's a fun activity for big kids and adults who are kids at heart, and it's fun to watch, too! A Real Adventure: Rainbow Falls and Turtleback Falls
To really take it up a notch, you can go to Rainbow Falls and Turtleback Falls. This is about four miles round trip accessed in Gorges State Park. With young kids it was a bit of a push, but once we arrived at Rainbow Falls, I was awash with awe. It was pure magic to me because there was ACTUALLY a rainbow cast against all the water that splashes up from this waterfall. You can stand there, take in the beauty of the dramatically cascading water, feel the mist on your face, and see a rainbow, to top it all off! I'm a little afraid to go back because I feel my first experience can't be beat, and if there's not a rainbow the next time, I'll feel cheated. Turtleback Falls is like Sliding Rock -- a natural waterfall -- but bigger and scarier!
And to think: Those are just eight of the 250 waterfalls in the area!
Downtown Brevard consists of a walkable classic Main Street (called Broad Street), with a few side streets. I would describe downtown as "Mountain Southern." It's a little bit hippy, a little bit gritty, a little arty, a little kitschy, a little old-timey, and overall quite charming. It has everything you'd want from a classic small-town American Main Street, including an ice cream shop, a pizza shop, a toy store, some art galleries, some bars, a bookstore, a coffee shop, some bakeries, antique shops and more. One of the antique shops specializes in fish pictures and antler lamps and horse sculptures and all things leather, and they call themselves "MANtiques,” like a store that started out as a dad joke. The town doesn't take itself too seriously.
It's fun to wander around downtown and explore at leisure, but here are some of my favorite spots and notable places:
White Squirrel Shoppe You didn't know you needed a Christmas ornament or a coffee mug with a white squirrel on it, did you? Brevard is known for white squirrels, which are not albino squirrels but a white variant of the eastern gray squirrel. There are white squirrels everywhere! If you're there a day or two, you are sure to see one. They're iconic to the town and this whole shop is dedicated to them.
Every great downtown needs a bookstore, and this one fits the bill. The workers greet you warmly, and they have a great selection and some comfy chairs. First rule of travel: Support the local bookstore! D.D. Bullwinkel's If you need to try on athleisure dresses to see if you can rock the "I'm going to look feminine and cute on this muddy mountain bike ride through the forest" style, look no further than this store, full of everything you'd ever need if you're outdoorsy. I like to go there whenever I want to pretend that I'm the type who might hike for five miles then set up a tent, fish for my food that I cook over a fire I built after collecting kindling wood in the dark using my headlamp -- all while looking mountain-chic.
O.P. Taylor's This place is a packed-to-the-brim toy store that feeds the imagination of any child and most adults as well. It's two and a half stories of every kind of toy ever. On the lowest level you can race remote cars and view Lego sets. On the first level, you can find board games, bouncy balls, a gumball machine, activity books, and all sorts of other surprises. The top level is full of stuffed animals and toddler toys and dress-up toys and doll houses and outdoor toys and science toys and ... there's just no end to the fun. Good luck ever leaving! LOCAL ACTIVITIES
This cute, tiny movie theater from the 1930s shows first-run films and plays free movies for kids throughout the summer. It's a great way to beat the heat with your family on a Friday morning.
Crystal Mountain Gem Mine
If your kids like dirt and rocks, this is the place for you! You get a bucket of sand/dirt and sift through it one shovel-full at a time in a running trough of water to reveal a wide variety of gemstones. The workers will help you identify what you got -- whether it's rubies, sapphires, obsidian, emeralds or other fancy findings. You get to keep whatever you mined.
Brevard Clay You can walk into this shop and paint your own mugs, bowls, and other decorative items. They set you up with everything you need, and you pick up your finished pieces after they've been fired 7-10 days later. If you live out of town, they will ship it to you for a fee. This is another fun rainy day or hot day activity.
Transylvania Farmers Market On Saturday mornings, the farmers market comes to life, with lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, honey, soaps, and often live music or face painting as well. You never know what you might find. One year, there were bikes attached to blenders, and you could blend your own smoothie by pedaling the bike! July 4th
July 4th is a big deal in this town, and if you want a dose of small-town Americana, with manageable crowds and friendly faces, you can find it here. There's a parade, a car show, a hot dog eating contest, a reading of the Declaration of Independence, an art showcase, some kiddie rides and snacks such as kettle corn and lemonade. After dark, they put on a fireworks show.
FOOD & DRINK
Coffee: Cup & Saucer
I love this coffee shop. Go there if you need a latte or a matcha tea or a yummy cookie or a great wallpaper background for a hip Instagram picture.
Bread: Bracken Mountain Bakery This bakery is good for bread, cookies and scones. I'm a sucker for the blueberry oat scones and the cinnamon rolls.
Sweet Treats: Blue Ridge Bakery You can never have too many bakeries! At this one, I prefer the deli salads and the sweet treats like cake and cookies. My kids love the gingerbread men, and I once ordered a carrot cake for a friend's birthday that was so delicious I still think about it all these years later!
Soups, salads, sandwiches, pie. The wait can be slow here, but it's always worth it. The Cuban sandwich is so good, and I could drink the mustard sauce they serve with it.
Wine and Cheese: Wine Down on Main I know nothing about wine, but I do love a good charcuterie board! This is a great spot for a girls' night out or a romantic evening over drinks.
Retro Diner: Rocky's Grill and Soda Shop This legendary Brevard hotspot has been in business since the 1940s, when pharmacies often featured soda fountains (what a combo!). They cook up kid-friendly classics such as hot dogs, hamburgers, grilled cheese and BLTs. They also serve malts, milkshakes and fountain sodas. Although I generally prefer less greasy food, I've always found the service here friendly, and I love the retro vibe. In the attached gift shop, you can find old-fashioned candy, jewelry, T-shirts and all sorts of other novelties. Dinner: The Square Root For an upscale but firmly Southern option, I like this restaurant. Come early, though; it's often packed to the gills. I recommend the Bavarian soft pretzel board for an appetizer to share with a big, hungry group. This place is fun for drinks and snacks or for a full, hearty meal. The atmosphere is "lively Southern chic," or something like that. Other Places to Check Out: KILWINS -- A regional chain serving fudge and ice cream DOWNTOWN CHOCOLATES -- Chocolate truffles BIG MIKE'S PIZZA -- Good pizza to eat in or take out JORDAN STREET CAFE -- American cafe
FOOD BEYOND DOWNTOWN Sushi: Sora Our family's favorite restaurant in all of Brevard is this unassuming sushi restaurant in a strip mall by Walmart. It's just so dang good, which is why it's always packed! Come early, and make sure to order the spicy crab salad. It's so fresh and delicate and like nothing I've found anywhere else.
Coffee and Donuts: Velvet Cup At the entrance to Pisgah National Forest is a food truck that serves fresh mini donuts, made to order, and amazing coffee. I get the dirty chai latte and the salted caramel donuts. DIVINE. I dream about it all year long.
Breakfast/Brunch: Morning Social
Another thing I've dreamt about all year is the breakfast I had here last summer. I ordered the Greenhouse skillet, which included the most delicious assortment of fresh ingredients, including herbed goat cheese, potatoes, gruyere, eggs, avocado and roasted vegetables. Glorious!
Ice Cream: Dolly's
Dolly's is a Brevard institution and in a great location, right at the entrance to the Pisgah Forest. People love stopping here on the way to or from their adventures in the mountains, and they have lots of flavors, some of which are whimsically named for local summer camps.
ACTIVITIES BEYOND DOWNTOWN Brevard Music Center Of course, I can't forget to mention the main reason our family travels here every summer: the music festival! There are performances all summer long featuring something for everybody. There is everything from opera to bluegrass to lots and lots of classical. There are soloists who are the best in the world at their instruments and chamber music put on by the wonderful performing faculty of the festival. There's huge variety, with concerts all throughout the week, some indoors and some outside in the open-air auditorium. You can grab a picnic and sit on the lawn or get a seat in the audience. It is summer at its best.
-Mountain Drive and Pisgah Inn
Blue Ridge Parkway is full of scenic outlooks, where you can see the layers upon layers of blue-hued mountains on all sides. It's great in any weather, but on clear days you can see farther. Stop at the Pisgah Inn, which has amazing views and also a restaurant and food shop. The Pisgah Inn and scenic overlooks are great opportunities for pictures! -Cradle of Forestry
On 6,500 acres in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains is the birthplace of forestry and forestry education in America. At this wonderful museum, you can see original and replicas of structures from the historic Biltmore Forest School, which started in 1898.
You can learn what it was like for those students, living in and studying the woods around them. You walk along trails that lead to the various buildings, such as a commissary and dormitory, and then there's also a visitors center with a discovery center full of neat facts about the forest. My kids love the simulation ride of a helicopter going over a forest fire (kind of lame for older kids but fun for the 8-and-under set.)
-Tubing We went tubing through Headwaters Outfitters on the French Broad River. I have to say that for us, it was too scary. I think the water was pretty high that day, and we all got separated and the water was rushing pretty quickly. We lucked out because a guy in our group happened to be a former rafting guide, so he was giving us helpful instructions. But without him, I would have been terrified. We do not remember it as the relaxing lazy river experience I had hoped for! But maybe you're more adventurous than we are; or maybe the river will be quieter when you go.
-Sierra Nevada The Sierra Nevada brewery is amazing! It's about 40 minutes from Brevard, close to Asheville, and full of entertainment. There's a gorgeous outdoor area, with a beautiful garden and kids play area, an outdoor stage for musical performances, and lots of seating for enjoying a drink and snack. Then there's a huge indoor area, where you can tour the facilities, visit the gift shop and eat dinner. The restaurant is fantastic, with a lot of fresh produce grown on premises. And for those who like beer, apparently that's good here, too.
Asheville is just under an hour from Brevard and really worth the visit if you have time. I could write another whole post just about Asheville, but to summarize, our favorite things to do there are to wander through the unique shops and art galleries, and to eat. Last year, the Indian street food restaurant Chai Pani was named the Most Outstanding restaurant in America by the James Beard Foundation. We went early and braved the line and enjoyed a fantastic meal there. Our other all-time favorite restaurant in Asheville is Sunny Point Cafe. It's the best brunch I've ever had. I love love love the breakfast sandwich and the carrot hotcakes, with cardamom cream cheese. It's always a long wait, but it's always well worth it. And then of course, there's always the Biltmore, the palatial estate and adjoining gardens of the Vanderbilt family, which are available for touring.
My list is even longer than this, believe it or not! This is just a start. Brevard is a wonderful place for a weekend or week-long getaway. I love it in the summer, although I'm sure it can charm in any season.
What are you waiting for? There's a waterfall with your name on it!